The Real Issue
Researching the "Rape Culture" of America
An Investigation of Feminist Claims about Rape
By Christina Hoff Sommers
Associate Professor of Philosophy
As an associate
professor of philosophy at Clark University, Dr. Christina
Hoff Sommers specializes in contemporary moral theory. She
has written articles for The New Republic, The Wall Street
Journal, the Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and The
New England Journal of Medicine.
As a crime against the person, rape is uniquely horrible in its
long-term effects. The anguish it brings is often followed by an abiding
sense of fear and shame. Discussions of the data on rape inevitably seem
callous. How can one quantify the sense of deep violation behind the
statistics? Terms like incidence and prevalence are
statistical jargon; once we use them, we necessarily abstract ourselves
from the misery. Yet, it remains clear that to arrive at intelligent
policies and strategies to decrease the occurrence of rape, we have no
alternative but to gather and analyze data, and to do so does not make
us callous. Truth is no enemy to compassion, and falsehood is no
Some feminists routinely refer to American society as a "rape culture."
Yet estimates on the prevalence of rape vary wildly. According to the
FBI Uniform Crime Report, there were 102,560 reported rapes or
attempted rapes in 1990. The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates
that 130,000 women were victims of rape in 1990. A Harris poll sets
the figure at 380,000 rapes or sexual assaults for 1993. According to
a study by the National Victims Center, there were 683,000 completed
forcible rapes in 1990. The Justice Department says that 8 percent of
all American women will be victims of rape or attempted rape in their
lifetime. The radical feminist legal scholar Catharine MacKinnon,
however, claims that "by conservative definition [rape] happens to
almost half of all women at least once in their lives."
Who is right? Feminist activists and others have plausibly argued that
the relatively low figures of the FBI and the Bureau of Justice
Statistics are not trustworthy. The FBI survey is based on the number of
cases reported to the police, but rape is among the most underreported
of crimes. The Bureau of Justice Statistics National Crime Survey is
based on interviews with 100,000 randomly selected women. It, too, is
said to be flawed because the women were never directly questioned about
rape. Rape was discussed only if the woman happened to bring it up in
the course of answering more general questions about criminal
victimization. The Justice Department has changed its method of
questioning to meet this criticism, so we will know in a year or two
whether this has a significant effect on its numbers. Clearly,
independent studies on the incidence and prevalence of rape are badly
needed. Unfortunately, research groups investigating in this area have
no common definition of rape, and the results so far have led to
confusion and acrimony.
Rape: "Normal Male Behavior"
Of the rape studies by nongovernment groups, the two most frequently
cited are the 1985 Ms. magazine report by Mary Koss and the
1992 National Women's Study by Dr. Dean Kilpatrick of the Crime Victims
Research and Treatment Center at the Medical School of South Carolina.
In 1982, Mary Koss, then a professor of psychology at Kent State
University in Ohio, published an article on rape in which she expressed
the orthodox gender feminist view that "rape represents an extreme
behavior but one that is on a continuum with normal male behavior
within the culture" (my emphasis). Some well-placed feminist
activists were impressed by her. As Koss tells it, she received a phone
call out of the blue inviting her to lunch with Gloria Steinem. For
Koss, the lunch was a turning point. Ms. magazine had decided
to do a national rape survey on college campuses, and Koss was chosen to
direct it. Koss's findings would become the most frequently cited
research on women's victimization, not so much by established scholars
in the field of rape research as by journalists, politicians, and
Koss and her associates interviewed slightly more than three thousand
college women, randomly selected nationwide. The young women were
asked ten questions about sexual violation. These were followed by
several questions about the precise nature of the violation. Had they
been drinking? What were their emotions during and after the event? What
forms of resistance did they use? How would they label the event? Koss
counted anyone who answered affirmatively to any of the last three
questions as having been raped:
8. Have you had sexual intercourse when you
didn't want to because a man gave you alcohol or
9. Have you had sexual intercourse when you
didn't want to because a man threatened or used some degree
of physical force (twisting your arm, holding you down,
etc.) to make you?
10. Have you had sexual acts (anal or oral
intercourse or penetration by objects other than the penis)
when you didn't want to because a man threatened or used
some degree of physical force (twisting your arm, holding
you down, etc.) to make you?
Koss and her colleagues concluded that 15.4 percent of respondents had
been raped, and that 12.1 percent had been victims of attempted rape.
Thus, a total of 27.5 percent of the respondents were determined to have
been victims of rape or attempted rape because they gave answers that
fit Koss's criteria for rape (penetration by penis, finger, or other
object under coercive influence such as physical force, alcohol, or
threats). However, that is not how the so-called rape victims saw it.
Only about a quarter of the women Koss calls rape victims labeled what
happened to them as rape. According to Koss, the answers to the
follow-up questions revealed that "only 27 percent" of the women she
counted as having been raped labeled themselves as rape victims. Of
the remainder, 49 percent said it was "miscommunication," 14 percent
said it was a "crime but not rape," and 11 percent said they "don't feel
In line with her view of rape as existing on a continuum of male sexual
aggression, Koss also asked: "Have you given in to sex play (fondling,
kissing, or petting, but not intercourse) when you didn't want to
because you were overwhelmed by a man's continual arguments and
pressure?" To this question, 53.7 percent responded affirmatively, and
they were counted as having been sexually victimized.
The Koss study, released in 1988, became known as the Ms.
Report. Here is how the Ms. Foundation characterizes the
results: "The Ms. project-the largest scientific investigation
ever undertaken on the subject-revealed some disquieting statistics,
including this astonishing fact: one in four female respondents had an
experience that met the legal definition of rape or attempted
The Official "One in Four" Figure
"One in four" has since become the official figure on women's rape
victimization cited in women's studies departments, rape crisis centers,
women's magazines, and on protest buttons and posters. Susan Faludi
defended it in a Newsweek story on sexual correctness.
Naomi Wolf refers to it in The Beauty Myth, calculating that
acquaintance rape is "more common than lefthandedness, alcoholism, and
heart attacks." "One in four" is chanted in "Take Back the Night"
processions, and it is the number given in the date rape brochures
handed out at freshman orientation at colleges and universities around
the country. Politicians, from Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, a
Democrat, to Republican Congressman Jim Ramstad of Minnesota, cite it
regularly, and it is the primary reason for the Title IV, "Safe Campuses
for Women" provision of the Violence Against Women Act of 1993, which
provides twenty million dollars to combat rape on college
When Neil Gilbert, a professor at Berkeley's School of Social Welfare,
first read the "one in four" figure in the school newspaper, he was
convinced it could not be accurate. The results did not tally with the
findings of almost all previous research on rape. When he read the study
he was able to see where the high figures came from and why Koss's
approach was unsound.
He noticed, for example, that Koss and her colleagues counted as victims
of rape any respondent who answered "yes" to the question "Have you had
sexual intercourse when you didn't want to because a man gave you
alcohol or drugs?" That opened the door wide to regarding as a rape
victim anyone who regretted her liaison of the previous night. If your
date mixes a pitcher of margaritas and encourages you to drink with him
and you accept a drink, have you been "administered" an intoxicant, and
has your judgment been impaired? Certainly, if you pass out and are
molested, one would call it rape. But if you drink and, while
intoxicated, engage in sex that you later come to regret, have you been
raped? Koss does not address these questions specifically, she merely
counts your date as a rapist and you as a rape statistic if you drank
with your date and regret having had sex with him. As Gilbert points
out, the question, as Koss posed it, is far too ambiguous:
What does having sex "because" a man gives you
drugs or alcohol signify? A positive response does not
indicate whether duress, intoxication, force, or the threat
of force were present; whether the woman's judgment or
control were substantially impaired; or whether the man
purposefully got the woman drunk in order to prevent her
resistance to sexual advances.... While the item could have
been clearly worded to denote "intentional incapacitation of
the victim," as the question stands it would require a mind
reader to detect whether any affirmative response
corresponds to this legal definition of
Koss, however, insisted that her criteria conformed with the legal
definitions of rape used in some states, and she cited in particular the
statute on rape of her own state, Ohio: "No person shall engage in
sexual conduct with another person . . . when . . . for the purpose of
preventing resistance the offender substantially impairs the other
person's judgment or control by administering any drug or intoxicant to
the other person" (Ohio revised code 1980, 2907.01A, 2907.02).
The Blade Cuts Deep
Two reporters from the Blade a small, progressive Toledo, Ohio,
newspaper that has won awards for the excellence of its investigative
articles-were also not convinced that the "one in four" figure was
accurate. They took a close look at Koss's study and at several others
that were being cited to support the alarming tidings of widespread
sexual abuse on college campuses. In a special three-part series on rape
called "The Making of an Epidemic," published in October 1992, the
reporters, Nara Shoenberg and Sam Roe, revealed that Koss was quoting
the Ohio statute in a very misleading way: she had stopped short of
mentioning the qualifying clause of the statute, which specifically
excludes "the situations where a person plies his intended
partner with drink or drugs in hopes that lowered inhibition might lead
to a liaison." Koss now concedes that question eight was badly
worded. Indeed, she told the Blade reporters, "At the time I
viewed the question as legal; I now concede that it's ambiguous."
That concession should have been followed by the admission that her
survey may be inaccurate by a factor of two: for, as Koss herself told
the Blade, once you remove the positive responses to question
eight, the finding that one in four college women is a victim of rape or
attempted rape drops to one in nine. But as we shall see, this
figure too is unacceptably high.
For Gilbert, the most serious indication that something was basically
awry in the Ms./Koss study was that the majority of women she
classified as having been raped did not believe they had been
raped. Of those Koss counts as having been raped, only 27 percent
thought they had been; 73 percent did not say that what happened to them
was rape. In effect, Koss and her followers present us with a picture of
confused young women overwhelmed by threatening males who force their
attentions on them during the course of a date but are unable or
unwilling to classify their experience as rape. Does that picture fit
the average female undergraduate? For that matter, does it plausibly
apply to the larger community? As the journalist Cathy Young observes,
"Women have sex after initial reluctance for a number of reasons . . .
fear of being beaten up by their dates is rarely reported as one of
Katie Roiphe, a graduate student in English at Princeton and author of
The Morning After: Sex, Fear, and Feminism on Campus, argues
along similar lines when she claims that Koss had no right to reject the
judgment of the college women who didn't think they were raped. But
Katha Pollitt of The Nation defends Koss, pointing out that in
many cases people are wronged without knowing it. Thus we do not say
that "victims of other injustices-fraud, malpractice, job
discrimination-have suffered no wrong as long as they are unaware of the
Pollitt's analogy is faulty, however. If Jane has ugly financial
dealings with Tom and an expert explains to Jane that Tom has defrauded
her, then Jane usually thanks the expert for having enlightened her
about the legal facts. To make her case, Pollitt would have to show that
the rape victims who were unaware that they were raped would accept
Koss's judgment that they really were. But that has not been shown; Koss
did not enlighten the women she counts as rape victims, and they did not
say "now that you explain it, we can see we were."
Koss and Pollitt make a technical (and in fact dubious) legal point:
women are ignorant about what counts as rape. Roiphe makes a
straightforward human point: the women were there, and they know best
how to judge what happened to them. Since when do feminists consider
"law" to override women's experience?
Koss also found that 42 percent of those she counted as rape victims
went on to have sex with their attackers on a later occasion. For
victims of attempted rape, the figure for subsequent sex with reported
assailants was 35 percent. Koss is quick to point out that "it is not
known if [the subsequent sex] was forced or voluntary" and that most of
the relationships "did eventually break up subsequent to the
victimization." But of course, most college relationships
break up eventually for one reason or another. Yet, instead of taking
these young women at their word, Koss casts about for explanations of
why so many "raped" women would return to their assailants, implying
that they may have been coerced. She ends by treating her subjects'
rejection of her findings as evidence that they were confused and
sexually naive. There is a more respectful explanation. Since most of
those Koss counts as rape victims did not regard themselves as having
been raped, why not take this fact and the fact that so many went back
to their partners as reasonable indications that they had not been raped
to begin with?
The Toledo reporters calculated that if you eliminate the affirmative
responses to the alcohol or drugs question, and also subtract from
Koss's results the women who did not think they were raped, her one in
four figure for rape and attempted rape "drops to between one in
twenty-two and one in thirty-three."
The "One in Eight" Study
The other frequently cited nongovernment rape study, the National
Women's Study, was conducted by Dean Kilpatrick. From an interview
sample of 4,008 women, the study projected that there were 683,000 rapes
in 1990. As to prevalence, it concluded that "in America, one out of
every eight adult women, or at least 12.1 million American women, has
been the victim of forcible rape sometime in her lifetime."
Unlike the Koss report, which tallied rape attempts as well as rapes,
the Kilpatrick study focused exclusively on rape. Interviews were
conducted by phone, by female interviewers. A woman who agreed to become
part of the study heard the following from the interviewer: "Women do
not always report such experiences to police or discuss them with family
or friends. The person making the advances isn't always a stranger, but
can be a friend, boyfriend, or even a family member. Such experiences
can occur anytime in a woman's life-even as a child." Pointing out
that she wants to hear about any such experiences "regardless of how
long ago it happened or who made the advances," the interviewer proceeds
to ask four questions:
1. Has a man or boy ever made you have sex by
using force or threatening to harm you or someone close to
you? Just so there is no mistake, by sex we mean putting a
penis in your vagina.
2. Has anyone ever made you have oral sex by
force or threat of harm? Just so there is no mistake, by
oral sex we mean that a man or boy put his penis in your
mouth or somebody penetrated your vagina or anus with his
mouth or tongue.
3. Has anyone ever made you have anal sex by
force or threat of harm?
4. Has anyone ever put fingers or objects in
your vagina or anus against your will by using force or
Any woman who answered yes to any one of the four questions was
classified as a victim of rape.
This seems to be a fairly straightforward and well-designed survey that
provides a window into the private horror that many women, especially
very young women, experience. One of the more disturbing findings of the
survey was that 61 percent of the victims said they were seventeen or
younger when the rape occurred.
There is, however, one flaw that affects the significance of
Kilpatrick's findings. An affirmative answer to any one of the first
three questions does reasonably put one in the category of rape victim.
The fourth is problematic, for it includes cases in which a boy
penetrated a girl with his finger, against her will, in a heavy petting
situation. Certainly the boy behaved badly. But is he a rapist? Probably
neither he nor his date would say so. Yet, the survey classifies him as
a rapist and her as a rape victim.
I called Dr. Kilpatrick and asked him about the fourth question. "Well,"
he said, "if a woman is forcibly penetrated by an object such as a
broomstick, we would call that rape."
"So would I," I said. "But isn't there a big difference between being
violated by a broomstick and being violated by a finger?" Dr. Kilpatrick
acknowledged this: "We should have split out fingers versus objects," he
said. Still, he assured me that the question did not significantly
affect the outcome. But I wondered. The study had found an epidemic of
rape among teenagers-just the age group most likely to get into
situations like the one I have described.
A Serious Discrepancy
The more serious worry is that Kilpatrick's findings, and many other
findings on rape, vary wildly unless the respondents are explicitly
asked whether they have been raped. In 1993, Louis Harris and Associates
did a telephone survey and came up with quite different results. Harris
was commissioned by the Commonwealth Fund to do a study of women's
health. As we shall see, their high figures on women's depression and
psychological abuse by men caused a stir. But their finding on rape
went altogether unnoticed. Among the questions asked of its random
sample population of 2,500 women was, "In the last five years, have you
been a victim of a rape or sexual assault?" Two percent of the
respondents said yes; 98 percent said no. Since attempted rape counts as
sexual assault, the combined figures for rape and attempted rape would
be 1.9 million over five years or 380,000 for a single year. Since there
are approximately twice as many attempted rapes as completed rapes, the
Commonwealth/ Harris figure for completed rapes would come to
approximately 190,000. That is dramatically lower than Kilpatrick's
finding of 683,000 completed forcible rapes.
The Harris interviewer also asked a question about acquaintance and
marital rape that is worded very much like Kilpatrick's and Koss's: "In
the past year, did your partner ever try to, or force you to, have
sexual relations by using physical force, such as holding you down, or
hitting you, or threatening to hit you, or not?" Not a single
respondent of the Harris poll's sample answered yes.
How to explain the discrepancy? True, women are often extremely
reluctant to talk about sexual violence that they have experienced. But
the Harris pollsters had asked a lot of other awkward personal questions
to which the women responded with candor: six percent said they had
considered suicide, five percent admitted to using hard drugs, 10
percent said they had been sexually abused when they were growing up. I
don't have the answer, though it seems obvious to me that such wide
variances should make us appreciate the difficulty of getting reliable
figures on the risk of rape from the research. That the real risk should
be known is obvious. The Blade reporters interviewed students
on their fears and found them anxious and bewildered. "It makes a big
difference if it's one in three or one in 50," said April Groff of the
University of Michigan, who says she is "very scared." "I'd have to say,
honestly, I'd think about rape a lot less if I knew the number was one
When the Blade reporters asked Kilpatrick why he had not asked
women whether they had been raped, he told them there had been no time
in the thirty-five-minute interview. "That was probably something that
ended up on the cutting-room floor.'' But Kilpatrick's exclusion of
such a question resulted in very much higher figures. When pressed about
why he omitted it from a study for which he had received a million-
dollar federal grant, he replied, "If people think that is a key
question, let them get their own grant and do their own study."
Kilpatrick had done an earlier study in which respondents were
explicitly asked whether they had been raped. That study showed a
relatively low prevalence of five percent-one in twenty-and it got very
little publicity. Kilpatrick subsequently abandoned his former
methodology in favor of the Ms./Koss method, which allows the
surveyor to decide whether a rape occurred. Like Koss, he used an
expanded definition of rape (both include penetration by a finger).
Kilpatrick's new approach yielded him high numbers (one in eight), and
citations in major newspapers around the country. His graphs were
reproduced in Time magazine under the heading, "Unsettling
Report on an Epidemic of Rape." Now he shares with Koss the honor of
being a principal expert cited by media, politicians, and activists.
There are many researchers who study rape victimization, but their
relatively low figures generate no headlines. The reporters from the
Blade interviewed several scholars whose findings on rape were
not sensational but whose research methods were sound and were not based
on controversial definitions. Eugene Kanin, a retired professor of
sociology from Purdue University and a pioneer in the field of
acquaintance rape, is upset by the intrusion of politics into the field
of inquiry: "This is highly convoluted activism rather than social
science research." Professor Margaret Gordon of the University of
Washington did a study in 1981 that came with relatively low figures for
rape (one in fifty). She tells of the negative reaction to her findings:
"There was some pressure-at least I felt pressure-to have rape be as
prevalent as possible . . .. I'm a pretty strong feminist, but one of
the things I was fighting was that the really avid feminists were trying
to get me to say that things were worse than they really are."
Dr. Linda George of Duke University also found relatively low rates of
rape (one in seventeen), even though she asked questions very close to
Kilpatrick's. She told the Blade she is concerned that many of
her colleagues treat the high numbers as if they are "cast in
stone." Dr. Naomi Breslau, director of research in the psychiatry
department at the Henry Ford Health Science Center in Detroit, who also
found low numbers, feels that it is important to challenge the popular
view that higher numbers are necessarily more accurate. Dr. Breslau sees
the need for a new and more objective program of research: "It's really
an open question. . . . We really don't know a whole lot about
"Rape Crisis" Hysteria: "Potential Survivors" and "Potential
An intrepid few in the academy have publicly criticized those who have
proclaimed a "rape crisis" for irresponsibly exaggerating the problem
and causing needless anxiety. Camille Paglia claims that they have been
especially hysterical about date rape: "Date rape has swelled into a
catastrophic cosmic event, like an asteroid threatening the earth in a
50's science fiction film." She bluntly rejects the
contention that "'No' always means no . . ..'No' has always been, and
always will be, part of the dangerous, alluring courtship ritual of sex
and seduction, observable even in the animal kingdom."
Paglia's dismissal of date rape hype infuriates campus feminists, for
whom the rape crisis is very real. On most campuses, date-rape groups
hold meetings, marches, rallies. Victims are "survivors," and their
friends are "co-survivors" who also suffer and need counseling. At
some rape awareness meetings, women who have not yet been date raped are
referred to as "potential survivors." Their male classmates are
Has date rape in fact reached critical proportions on the college
campus? Having heard about an outbreak of rape at Columbia University,
Peter Hellman of New York magazine decided to do a story about
it. To his surprise, he found that campus police logs showed no
evidence of it whatsoever. Only two rapes were reported to the Columbia
campus police in 1990, and in both cases, charges were dropped for lack
of evidence. Hellman checked the figures at other campuses and found
that in 1990 fewer than one thousand rapes were reported to campus
security on college campuses in the entire country. That
works out to fewer than one-half of one rape per campus. Yet despite the
existence of a rape crisis center at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital two
blocks from Columbia University, campus feminists pressured the
administration into installing an expensive rape crisis center inside
the university. Peter Hellman describes a typical night at the center in
February 1992: "On a recent Saturday night, a shift of three peer
counselors sat in the Rape Crisis Center-one a backup to the other two.
. . . Nobody called; nobody came. As if in a firehouse, the three women
sat alertly and waited for disaster to strike. It was easy to forget
these were the fading hours of the eve of Valentine's Day."
In The Morning After, Katie Roiphe describes the elaborate
measures taken to prevent sexual assaults at Princeton. Blue lights have
been installed around the campus, freshman women are issued whistles at
orientation. There are marches, rape counseling sessions, emergency
telephones. But as Roiphe tells it, Princeton is a very safe town, and
whenever she walked across a deserted golf course to get to classes, she
was more afraid of the wild geese than of a rapist. Roiphe reports that
between 1982 and 1993 only two rapes were reported to the campus police.
And, when it comes to violent attacks in general, male students are
actually more likely to be the victims. Roiphe sees the campus rape
crisis movement as a phenomenon of privilege: these young women have had
it all, and when they find out that the world can be dangerous and
unpredictable, they are outraged:
Many of these girls [in rape marches] came to
Princeton from Milton and Exeter. Many of their lives have
been full of summers in Nantucket and horseback-riding
lessons. These are women who have grown up expecting
fairness, consideration, and politeness.
Serious Misallocation of Funds
The Blade story on rape is unique in contemporary journalism
because the authors dared to question the popular feminist statistics on
this terribly sensitive problem. But to my mind, the important and
intriguing story they tell about unreliable advocacy statistics is
overshadowed by the even more important discoveries they made about the
morally indefensible way that public funds for combatting rape are being
allocated. Schoenberg and Roe studied Toledo neighborhoods and
calculated that women in the poorer areas were nearly thirty times more
likely to be raped than those in the wealthy areas. They also found that
campus rape rates were 30 times lower than the rape rates for the
general population of 18-to 24-year-olds in Toledo. The attention and
the money are disproportionately going to those least at risk. According
to the Blade reporters:
Across the nation, public universities are
spending millions of dollars a year on rapidly growing
programs to combat rape. Videos, self-defense classes, and
full-time rape educators are commonplace. . . . But the new
spending comes at a time when community rape programs-also
dependent on tax dollars-are desperately scrambling for
money to help populations at much higher risk than college
One obvious reason for this inequity is that feminist advocates come
largely from the middle class and so exert great pressure to protect
their own. To render their claims plausible, they dramatize themselves
as victims-survivors or "potential survivors." Another device is to
expand the definition of rape (as Koss and Kilpatrick do). Dr. Andrea
Parrot, chair of the Cornell University Coalition Advocating Rape
Education and author of Sexual Assault on Campus, begins her
date rape prevention manual with the words, "Any sexual intercourse
without mutual desire is a form of rape. Anyone who is psychologically
or physically pressured into sexual contact on any occasion is as
much a victim as the person who is attacked in the streets" (my
emphasis). By such a definition, privileged young women in our
nation's colleges gain moral parity with the real victims in the
community at large. Parrot's novel conception of rape also justifies the
salaries being paid to all the new personnel in the burgeoning college
date rape industry. After all, it is much more pleasant to deal with
rape from an office in Princeton than on the streets of downtown
Another reason that college women are getting a lion's share of public
resources for combatting rape is that collegiate money, though
originally public, is allocated by college officials. As the
Blade points out:
Public universities have multi-million dollar
budgets heavily subsidized by state dollars. School
officials decide how the money is spent, and are eager to
address the high-profile issues like rape on campus. In
contrast, rape crisis centers-nonprofit agencies that
provide free services in the community-must appeal directly
to federal and state governments for money.
Schoenberg and Roe describe typical cases of women in communities around
the country-in Madison, Wisconsin, in Columbus, Ohio, in Austin, Texas,
and in Newport, Kentucky-who have been raped and have to wait months for
rape counseling services. There were three rapes reported to police at
the University of Minnesota in 1992; in New York City there were close
to three thousand. Minnesota students have a 24-hour rape crisis hot
line of their own. In New York City, the "hot line" leads to detectives
in the sex crimes unit. The Blade reports that the sponsors of
the Violence Against Women Act of 1993 reflect the same bizarre
priorities: "If Senator Biden has his way, campuses will get at least
twenty million more dollars for rape education and prevention." In the
meantime, Gail Rawlings of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape
complains that the bill guarantees nothing for basic services,
counseling, and support groups for women in the larger community: "It's
ridiculous. This bill is supposed to encourage prosecution of violence
against women, land] one of the main keys is to have support for the
victim. . . . I just don't understand why [the money] isn't
Because rape is the most underreported of crimes, the campus activists
tell us we cannot learn the true dimensions of campus rape from police
logs or hospital reports. But as an explanation of why there are so few
known and proven incidents of rape on campus, that won't do.
Underreporting of sexual crimes is not confined to the campus, and
wherever there is a high level of reported rape-say in poor
urban communities where the funds for combatting rape are almost
nonexistent-the level of underreported rape will be greater still. No
matter how you look at it, women on campus do not face anywhere near the
same risk of rape as women elsewhere. The fact that college women
continue to get a disproportionate and ever-growing share of the very
scarce public resources allocated for rape prevention and for aid to
rape victims underscores how disproportionately powerful and
self-preoccupied the campus feminists are despite all their
vaunted concern for "women" writ large.
Once again we see what a long way the New Feminism has come from Seneca
Falls. The privileged and protected women who launched the women's
movement, as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony took pains to
point out, did not regard themselves as the primary victims of
gender inequity: "They had souls large enough to feel the wrongs of
others without being scarified in their own flesh." They did not act as
if they had "in their own experience endured the coarser forms of
tyranny resulting from unjust laws, or association with immoral and
unscrupulous men." Ms. Stanton and Ms. Anthony concentrated their
efforts on the Hester Vaughns and the other defenseless women whose need
for gender equity was urgent and unquestionable.
Much of the unattractive self-preoccupation and victimology that we find
on today's campuses have been irresponsibly engendered by the inflated
and scarifying "one in four" statistic on campus rape. In some cases the
campaign of alarmism arouses exasperation of another kind. In an article
in the New York Times Magazine, Katie Roiphe questioned Koss's
figures: "If 25 percent of my women friends were really being raped,
wouldn't I know it?" She also questioned the feminist perspective on
male/female relations: "These feminists are endorsing their own utopian
vision of sexual relations: sex without struggle, sex without power, sex
without persuasion, sex without pursuit. If verbal coercion constitutes
rape, then the word rape itself expands to include any kind of sex a
woman experiences as negative."
The publication of Ms. Roiphe's piece incensed the campus feminists.
"The New York Times should be shot," railed Laurie Fink, a
professor at Kenyon College. "Don't invite [Katie Roiphe] to your
school if you can prevent it," counseled Pauline Bart of the University
of Illinois. Gail Dines, a women's studies professor and date rape
activist from Wheelock College, called Roiphe a traitor who has sold out
to the "white male patriarchy."
Other critics, such as Camille Paglia and Berkeley professor of social
welfare Neil Gilbert, have been targeted for demonstrations, boycotts,
and denunciations. Gilbert began to publish his critical analyses of the
Ms./ Koss study in 1990. Many feminist activists did not
look kindly on Gilbert's challenge to their "one in four" figure. A date
rape clearinghouse in San Francisco devotes itself to "refuting"
Gilbert; it sends out masses of literature attacking him. It advertises
at feminist conferences with green and orange fliers bearing the
headline STOP IT, BITCH! The words are not Gilbert's, but the tactic is
an effective way of drawing attention to his work. At one demonstration
against Gilbert on the Berkeley campus, students chanted, "Cut it out or
cut it off," and carried signs that read, KILL NEIL GILBERT! Sheila
Kuehl, the director of the California Women's Law Center, confided to
readers of the Los Angeles Daily Journal, "I found
myself wishing that Gilbert, himself, might be raped and . . . be told,
to his face, it had never happened."
The findings being cited in support of an "epidemic" of campus rape are
the products of advocacy research. Those promoting the research are
bitterly opposed to seeing it exposed as inaccurate. On the other hand,
rape is indeed the most underreported of crimes. We need the truth for
policy to be fair and effective. If the feminist advocates would stop
muddying the waters we could probably get at it.
High rape numbers serve the gender feminists by promoting the belief
that American culture is sexist and misogynist. But the common
assumption that rape is a manifestation of misogyny is open to question.
Assume for the sake of argument that Koss and Kilpatrick are right and
that the lower numbers of the FBI, the Justice Department, the Harris
poll, of Kilpatrick's earlier study, and the many other studies
mentioned earlier are wrong. Would it then follow that we are a
"patriarchal rape culture"? Not necessarily. American society is
exceptionally violent, and the violence is not specifically patriarchal
or misogynist. According to International Crime Rates, a report
from the United States Department of Justice "Crimes of violence
(homicide, rape, and robbery) are four to nine times more frequent in
the United States than they are in Europe. The U.S. crime rate for rape
was . . . roughly seven times higher than the average for Europe."
The incidence of rape is many times lower in such countries as Greece,
Portugal, or Japan-countries far more overtly patriarchal than
It might be said that places like Greece, Portugal, and Japan do
not keep good records on rape. But the fact is that Greece, Portugal,
and Japan are significantly less violent than we are. I have walked
through the equivalent of Central Park in Kyoto at night. I felt safe,
and I was safe, not because Japan is a feminist society (it is the
opposite), but because crime is relatively rare. The international
studies on violence suggest that patriarchy is not the primary cause of
rape but that rape, along with other crimes against the person, is
caused by whatever it is that makes our society among the most violent
of the so-called advanced nations.
But the suggestion that criminal violence, not patriarchal misogyny, is
the primary reason for our relatively high rate of rape is unwelcome to
gender feminists like Susan Faludi, who insist, in the face of all
evidence to the contrary, that "the highest rate of rapes appears in
cultures that have the highest degree of gender inequality, where sexes
are segregated at work, that have patriarchal religions, that celebrate
all-male sporting and hunting rituals, i.e., a society such as
In the spring of 1992, Peter Jennings hosted an ABC special on the
subject of rape. Catharine MacKinnon, Susan Faludi, Naomi Wolf, and Mary
Koss were among the panelists, along with John Leo of U.S. News &
World Report. When MacKinnon trotted out the claim that 25 percent
of women are victims of rape, Mr. Leo replied, "I don't believe those
statistics. . . . That's totally false." MacKinnon countered, "That
means you don't believe women. It's not cooked, it's interviews with
women by people who believed them when they said it. That's the
methodology." The accusation that Leo did not believe "women"
silenced him, as it was meant to. But as we have seen, believing what
women actually say is precisely not the methodology by which
some feminist advocates get their incendiary statistics.
MacKinnon's next volley was certainly on target. She pointed out that
the statistics she had cited "are starting to become nationally accepted
by the government." That claim could not be gainsaid, and
MacKinnon may be pardoned for crowing about it. The government, like the
media, is accepting the gender feminist claims and is introducing
legislation whose "whole purpose . . . is to raise the consciousness of
the American public." The words are Joseph Biden's, and the bill to
which he referred-the Violence Against Women Act-introduces the
principle that violence against women is much like racial violence,
calling for civil as well as criminal remedies.
Like a lynching or a cross burning, an act of violence by a man against
a woman would be prosecuted as a crime of gender bias, under title three
of the bill: "State and Federal criminal laws do not adequately protect
against the bias element of gender-motivated crimes, which separates
these crimes from acts of random violence, nor do those laws adequately
provide victims of gender-motivated crimes the opportunity to vindicate
their interests." Whereas ordinary violence is "random," "violence
against women" may be discriminatory in the literal sense in which we
speak of a bigot as discriminating against someone because of race or
Mary Koss and Sarah Buel were invited to give testimony on the subject
of violence against women before the House Judiciary Committee. Dean
Kilpatrick's findings were cited. Neil Gilbert was not there; nor were
any of the other scholars interviewed by the Toledo Blade.
The litigation that the bill invites gladdens the hearts of gender
feminists. If we consider that a boy getting fresh in the back seat of a
car may be prosecuted both as an attempted rapist and as a gender bigot
who has violated his date's civil rights, we can see why the title three
provision is being hailed by radical feminists like Catharine MacKinnon
and Andrea Dworkin. Dworkin, who was surprised and delighted at the
support the bill was getting, candidly observed that the senators "don't
understand the meaning of the legislation they pass."
Senator Biden invites us to see the bill's potential as an instrument of
moral education on a national scale. "I have become convinced . . . that
violence against women reflects as much a failure of our nation's
collective moral imagination as it does the failure of our nation's laws
and regulations." Fair enough, but then why not include crimes
against the elderly or children? What constitutional or moral ground is
there for singling out female crime victims for special treatment under
civil rights laws? Can it be that Biden and the others are buying into
the gender feminist ontology of a society divided against itself along
the fault line of gender?
Equity feminists are as upset as anyone else about the prevalence of
violence against women, but they are not possessed of the worldview that
licenses their overzealous sisters to present inflammatory but
inaccurate data on male abuse. They want social scientists to tell them
the objective truth about the prevalence of rape. And because they are
not committed to the view that men are arrayed against women, they are
able to see violence against women in the context of what, in our
country, appears to be a general crisis of violence against persons. By
distinguishing between acts of random violence and acts of violence
against women, the sponsors of the Violence Against Women Act believe
that they are showing sensitivity to feminist concerns. In fact, they
may be doing social harm by accepting a divisive, gender-specific
approach to a problem that is not caused by gender bias, misogyny, or
"patriarchy"-an approach that can obscure real and urgent problems such
as lesbian battering or male-on-male sexual violence.
According to Stephen Donaldson, president of Stop Prison Rape, more than
290,000 male prisoners are assaulted each year. Prison rape, says
Donaldson in a New York Times opinion piece, "is an entrenched
tradition." Donaldson, who was himself a victim of prison rape twenty
years ago when he was incarcerated for antiwar activities, has
calculated that there may be as many as 45,000 rapes every day
in our prison population of 1.2 million men. The number of rapes is
vastly higher than the number of victims because the same men are often
attacked repeatedly. Many of the rapes are "gang bangs" repeated day
after day. To report such a rape is a terribly dangerous thing to do, so
these rapes may be the most underreported of all. No one knows how
accurate Donaldson's figures are. They seem incredible to me. But the
tragic and neglected atrocities he is concerned about are not the kind
whose study attracts grants from the Ford or Ms. foundations.
If he is anywhere near right the incidence of male rape would be as high
or higher than that of female rape.
Look to the Root Causes
Equity feminists find it reasonable to approach the problem of violence
against women by addressing the root causes of the general rise in
violence and the decline in civility. To view rape as a crime of gender
bias (encouraged by a patriarchy that looks with tolerance on the
victimization of women) is perversely to miss its true nature. Rape is
perpetrated by criminals, which is to say, it is perpetrated by people
who are wont to gratify themselves in criminal ways and who care very
little about the suffering they inflict on others.
That most violence is male isn't news. But very little of it appears to
be misogynist. This country has more than its share of violent males,
statistically we must expect them to gratify themselves at the expense
of people weaker than themselves, male or female; and so they do. Gender
feminist ideologues bemuse and alarm the public with inflated
statistics. And they have made no case for the claim that violence
against women is symptomatic of a deeply misogynist culture.
Rape is just one variety of crime against the person, and rape of women
is just one subvariety. The real challenge we face in our society is how
to reverse the tide of violence. How to achieve this is a true challenge
to our moral imagination. It is clear that we must learn more about why
so many of our male children are so violent. And it is clear we must
find ways to educate all of our children to regard violence with
abhorrence and contempt. We must once again teach decency and
considerateness. And this, too, must become clear: in any constructive
agenda for the future, the gender feminist's divisive social philosophy
has no place.
[Researching the Rape Culture of America, reprinted with
permission, was excerpted from Who Stole Feminism? (Simon &
Schuster Inc., New York, 1994) by Christina Hoff Sommers, chapter 10,
1. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Crime in the United States:
Uniform Crime Reports (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of
2. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States
1990, (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, l992), p.
184. See also Caroline Wolf Harlow, Bureau of Justice Statistics,
"Female Victims of Violent Crime" (Washington, D.C., U.S. Department of
Justice, 1991), p. 7.
3. Louis Harris and Associates, "Commonwealth Fund Survey of Women's
Health" (New York: Commonwealth Fund, 1993), p. 9. What the report says
is that "within the last five years, 2 percent of women 1.9 million)
4. "Rape in America: A Report to the Nation" (Charleston, S.C.: Crime
Victims Research and Treatment Center, 1992).
5. Catharine MacKinnon, "Sexuality, Pornography, and Method," Ethics
99 January 1989): 331.
6. Mary Koss and Cheryl Oros, "Sexual Experiences Survey: A Research
Instrument Investigating Sexual Aggression and Victimization,"
Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 50, no. 3 (1982):
7. Nara Schoenberg and Sam Roe, "The Making of an Epidemic,"
Blade, October 10, 1993, special report, p. 4.
8. The total sample was 6,159, or whom 3,187 were females. See Mary
Koss, "Hidden Rape: Sexual Aggression and Victimization in a National
Sample of Students in Higher Education," in Ann Wolbert Burgess, ed.,
Rape and Sexual Assault, vol. 2 (New York: Garland Publishing,
1988), p. 8.
9. Ibid., p. 10.
10. Ibid., p. 16.
11. Mary Koss, Thomas Dinero, and Cynthia Seibel, "Stranger and
Acquaintance Rape," Psychology of Women Quarterly 12 (1988):
12. See also Neil Gilbert, "Examining the Facts: Advocacy Research
Overstates the Incidence of Date and Acquaintance Rape," in Current
Controversies in Family Violence, ed. Richard Gelles and Donileen
Loseke (Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1993), pp. 120-32.
12. The passage is from Robin Warshaw, in her book I Never Called It
Rape (New York: HarperPerennial, 1988), p. 2, published by the Ms.
Foundation and with an afterword by Mary Koss. The book summarizes the
findings of the rape study.
13. Newsweek October 25, 1993.
14. Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used
Against Women (New York: Doubleday, 1992), p. 166.
15. At the University of Minnesota, for example, new students receive a
booklet called "Sexual Exploitation on Campus." The booklet informs them
that according to "one study [left unnamed] 20 to 25 percent of all
college women have experienced rape or attempted rape."
16. The Violence Against Women Act of 1993 was introduced to the Senate
by Joseph Biden on January 21, 1993. It is sometimes referred to as the
"Biden Bill." It is now making its way through the various congressional
committees. Congressman Ramstad told the Minneapolis Star Tribune
(June 19, 1991), "Studies show that as many as one in four women
will be the victim of rape or attempted rape during her college career."
Ramstad adds, "This may only be the tip of the iceberg, for 90 percent
of all rapes are believed to go unreported."
17. Gilbert, "Examining the Facts," pp. 120-32.
18. Cited in Koss, "Hidden Rape," p. 9.
19. Blade, special report, p. 5.
21. Koss herself calculated the new "one in nine" figure for the
Blade, p. 5.
22. Cathy Young, Washington Post (National Weekly Edition),
July 29, 1992, p. 25.
23. Katha Pollitt, "Not Just Bad Sex," New Yorker, October 4,
1993, p. 222.
24. Koss, "Hidden Rape," p. 16.
25. Blade, p. 5. The Blade reporters explain that the number
vanes between one and twenty-two and one in thirty-three depending on
the amount of overlap between groups.
26. "Rape in America," p. 2.
27. Ibid., p. 15.
28. The secretary of health and human services, Donna Shalala, praised
the poll for avoiding a "white male" approach that has "for too long"
been the norm in research about women. My own view is that the
interpretation of the poll is flawed. See the discussions in chapters 9
29. Louis Harris and Associates, "The Commonwealth Fund Survey of
Women's Health," p. 20.
30. Blade, p. 3.
31. Ibid., p. 6.
33. Dean Kilpatrick, et al., "Mental Health Correlates of Criminal
Victimization: A Random Community Survey," Journal of Consulting and
Clinical Psychology 53, 6 (1985).
34. Time, May 4, 1992, p. 15.
35. Blade, special report, p. 3.
36. Ibid., p. 3.
37. Ibid., p. 5.
38. Ibid., p. 3.
39. Camille Paglia, "The Return of Carry Nation," Playboy,
October 1992, p. 36.
40. Camille Paglia, "Madonna 1: Anomility and Artifice," New York
Times, December 14, 1990.
41. Reported in Peter Hellman, "Crying Rape: The Politics of Date Rape
on Campus," New York, March 8, 1993, pp. 32-37.
42. Washington Times, May 7, 1993.
43. Hellman, "Crying Rape," pp. 32-37.
44 Ibid., p. 34.
45. Ibid., p. 37.
46. Katie Roiphe, The Morning After: Sex, Fear, and Feminism
(Boston: Little, Brown, 1993), p. 45.
47. Blade, p. 13.
48. Andrea Parrot, Acquaintance Rape and Sexual Assault Prevention
Training Manual (Ithaca, N.Y.: College of Human Ecology, Cornell
University, 1990), p. 1.
49. Blade, p. 13.
50. Ibid., p. 14.
51. Alice Rossi, ed., The Feminist Papers: From Adams to de Beauvoir
(New York: Columbia University Press, 1973), p. 414.
52. Katie Roiphe, "Date Rape's Other Victim," New York Times
Magazine, June 13, 1993, p. 26.
53. Ibid., p. 40.
54. Women's Studies Network (Internet: LISTSERV @UMDD.UMD.EDU), June 14,
55. Ibid., June 13, 1993.
56. See Sarah Crichton, "Sexual Correctness: Has It Gone Too Far?"
Newsweek, October 25, 1993, p. 55.
57. See Neil Gilbert, "The Phantom Epidemic of Sexual Assault," The
Public Interest, Spring 1991, pp. 54-65; Gilbert, "The Campus Rape
Scare," Wall Street Journal, June 27, 1991, p. 10; and Gilbert,
"Examining the Facts," pp. 120-32.
58. "Stop It Bitch," distributed by the National Clearinghouse on
Marital and Date Rape, Berkeley, California. (For thirty dollars they
will send you "thirty-four years of research to help refute him
[Gilbert].") See also the Blade, p. 5.
59. Sheila Kuehl, "Skeptic Needs Taste of Reality Along with Lessons
About Law," Los Angeles Daily Journal, September 5,
1991. Ms. Kuehl, it will be remembered, was a key figure in
disseminating the tidings that men's brutality to women goes up 40
percent on Super Bowl Sunday. Some readers may remember Ms. Kuehl as the
adolescent girl who played the amiable Zelda on the 1960s "Dobie Gillis
60. International Crime Rates (Washington, D.C.: Bureau of
Justice Statistics, 1988), p. 1. The figures for 1983: England and
Wales, 2.7 per 100,000; United States, 33.7 per 100,000 (p. 8). Consider
these figures comparing Japan to other countries (rates of tape per
U.K. (England and Wales only) 12.1
(West) Germany 8.0
Source: Japan 1992: An International Comparison
(Tokyo: Japan Institute for Social and Economic Affairs, 1992), p.
61. "Men, Sex, and Rape," ABC News Forum with Peter Jennings, May 5,
1992, Transcript no. ABC-34, p. 21.
62. Ibid., p. 11.
64. Senator Biden, cited by Carolyn Skomeck, Associated Press, May 27,
65. "The Violence Against Women Act of 1993," title 3, p. 87.
66. Ruth Shalit, "On the Hill: Caught in the Act," New Republic,
July 12, 1993, p. 15.
67. See ibid., p. 14.
68. Stephen Donaldson, "The Rape Crisis Behind Bars," New York
Times, December 29, 1993, p. A11. See also Donaldson, "Letter to
the Editor" New York Times, August 24, 1993. See, too, Wayne
Wooden and Jay Parker, Men Behind Bars: Sexual Exploitation in
Prison (New York: Plenum Press, 1982); Anthony Sacco, ed., Male
Rape: A Casebook of Sexual Aggressions (New York: AMS Press, 1982);
and Daniel Lockwood, Prison Sexual Violence (New York:
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