College Athletes Rape Study: More Than Half Have ‘History’

A college athletes rape study conducted by a team of researchers lead by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Fellow Belinda Rose-Young is claiming that more than half have a “history” of sexual coercion.

The news has gotten more than a few media outlets talking about it with the Independent and Russia Today broadcasting that as much as 54 percent of college athletes admit to rape of their partners.

However, Reason takes a closer look at the figures and comes up with a much different prognosis, though no more encouraging.

According to the libertarian-leaning site’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown, the figures don’t quite add up, and the ones that do are suspect.

First thing’s first, the study consisted of 379 male participants, all of whom were undergraduates and 191 of whom were non-athletes, with the remainder playing intercollegiate sports (29) or intramural (159).

“We found that 54.3 percent of the intercollegiate and recreational athletes and 37.9 percent of non-athletes had engaged in sexually coercive behaviors — almost all of which met the legal definition of rape,” study author Sarah Desmarais said.

Brown points out that it was “unclear” just how the definition of rape was articulated.

“As far as I’m aware, no state defines ‘rape’ as mere ‘insistence’ that a hesitant partner have sex,” Brown adds, remarking that that is exactly what the “study” uses to define the term.

Essentially the college athletes rape finding hinges on one question, Brown notes, which is whether the individuals “insisted on sex [when a partner] did not want to [but did not use physical force].”

The definitions of “sexual coercion” ran the gamut from using physical force to using threats to get their way. Of the ones who admitted to using force — hitting, holding down, using a weapon — 20 fessed up, 18 of whom were college athletes.

The study also accounted for use of force to have oral and anal sex (17 respondents/16 athletes) and the use of threats for oral and anal — “18 students (all athletes) and 19 students (all but one athlete), respectively,” Brown writes.

She continued.

“If we assume overlap among athletes in these categories, we’re looking at around 9.5 percent who report using some sort of force or threats to obtain sexual activity. Even if we assume all those who used threats are different than those who used force, and so on — which seems highly unlikely — we arrive at a maximum of around 37 percent of student athletes who admit to the legal definition of rape or sexual assault, not 54 percent.”

While college athletes and rape or sexual coercion do go a little too hand-in-hand per these findings, regardless of definition, the percentage inflation does do a disservice to the plight of rape and sexual assault victims, according to some commenters on Reason‘s website.

Others questioned the validity of the results, theorizing that the self-reported survey was taken by a number of male students who either a) didn’t take it seriously or b) were “white knights” trying to inflate the numbers to bring further awareness to the cause of sexual assault on campus.

Either way, commenters observed, it could cheapen the message of the research. With a difference of 17 percent as Brown has pointed out, unclear distinctions between trying to convince someone to have sex with you and actually forcing them diverts the argument away from the disturbing possibilities.

And besides, as Desmarais herself said in comments to Medical Daily, “We don’t know how representative these findings are. The reality is that we are limited to a sample that self-selected to participate in the study and were willing to disclose this information.”

But what do you think of the college athletes rape findings, readers — shocking, overblown or not surprising? Sound off in the comments section.

[Image via Flickr Creative Commons/Wolfram Burner]