The always excellent Christina Hoff Sommers has called for the Centers for Disease Control to withdraw its recent National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey. She does so because the survey replaces scientific rigor with political ideology and therefore gravely disserves public discourse about domestic and sexual violence. She also notes that the survey argues for massive governmental intervention to solve problems the survey has itself massively inflated. Read Sommers’ piece here (Washington Post, 1/27/12).
One of the main ways in which fathers are separated from children by family courts is mothers’ claims of abuse, either physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, financial, etc. As I’ve often noted, many of those claims are objectively false and, whether true or false, succeed in separating fathers from children with barely a nod toward due process of law. At the first claim by a mother, a restraining order is issued against the father. There may be no evidence of an offense on his part beyond the mother’s say-so, but he’s out on the street, forbidden from entering his own house or having contact with his child.
Indeed, it’s frequently the case that not even an allegation of violence is necessary for a judge to order that he have no contact with his child. Of course, eventually, he gets a hearing, but how does he prove that he didn’t yell at her? How does he prove that she’s not afraid of him when she says he is?
The recent case of Solomon Metalwala in Bellvue, Washington is a perfect example. Without evidence of violence on his part, and going almost exclusively on the word of his wife who had recently been held in a mental institution and diagnosed as a danger to herself and others, Metalwala was ordered to keep away from his children. Nine months later, the consequences of that irresponsible order became known – one of his children has been abducted, likely by the mother herself and those working with her. (That’s the optimistic view; the other is that she killed the child who has yet to be found.)
None of this would be possible were it not for the virulently anti-father discourse in the United States and elsewhere. I don’t mean to imply that all public comment is anti-father; it’s not. But there is a deep and wide strain of anti-father messages that permeates our culture. From Gender Studies curricula to popular culture to statements by public officials to the laws they pass, fathers are held in low regard, denigrated and libelled.
And it is within that strain of anti-male messages that the CDC’s survey can be found. Put simply, it is one more effort to convince its readers that men are dangerous and it stoops to some pretty offensive and anti-scientific methods to achieve its end. That’s what’s gotten Sommers’ dander up and rightly so.
The CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey found that, in the United States in 2010, approximately 1.3 million women were raped and an additional 12.6 million women and men were victims of sexual violence. It reported, “More than 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.”Some people look at the United States and see a country in which too few men are in prison. That’s in spite of the fact that, per capita, we imprison far more people than any country in the world. Now, it’s clear that the crime of rape holds the potential for imprisoning many more men and no women, so rape and sexual assault are natural organizing principles for the greater incarceration of men.
In fact, what the study reveals is the devastating impact that careless advocacy research can have on truth. The report proposes an array of ambitious government-sponsored “prevention strategies” and recommends “multi-disciplinary service centers” offering survivors psychological and legal counseling as well as housing and economic assistance. But survivors of sexual violence would be better served by good research and sober estimates — not inflated statistics and sensationalism.
The agency’s figures are wildly at odds with official crime statistics. The FBI found that 84,767 rapes were reported to law enforcement authorities in 2010. The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Survey, the gold standard in crime research, reports 188,380 rapes and sexual assaults on females and males in 2010. Granted, not all assaults are reported to authorities. But where did the CDC find 13.7 million victims of sexual crimes that the professional criminologists had overlooked?
But back in the 80s, some of those people encountered a distressing (for them) phenomenon. They found that when they asked women if they’d ever been raped, only about 2% of them said they had. Clearly, 2% wasn’t a large enough figure to get much attention, garner much governmental largess or change many laws that would imprison more men. What to do?
The answer was to change the definition of rape, and to do that, someone hit on a brilliant tactic. They found that if they asked women individual questions that suggested rape, but which in fact hugely expanded the definition of the term, they could produce far more impressive figures. It should come as no surprise that those conducting the CDC study did exactly that. As Sommers and many others have remarked, getting drunk or high and having sex is a common occurrence and no law calls it rape. But the researchers do. Why? Because they want to be able to report an “epidemic of rape” in our “culture of rape.”
It found them by defining sexual violence in impossibly elastic ways and then letting the surveyors, rather than subjects, determine what counted as an assault. Consider: In a telephone survey with a 30 percent response rate, interviewers did not ask participants whether they had been raped. Instead of such straightforward questions, the CDC researchers described a series of sexual encounters and then they determined whether the responses indicated sexual violation. A sample of 9,086 women was asked, for example, “When you were drunk, high, drugged, or passed out and unable to consent, how many people ever had vaginal sex with you?” A majority of the 1.3 million women (61.5 percent) the CDC projected as rape victims in 2010 experienced this sort of “alcohol or drug facilitated penetration.”…Sommers isn’t having it. Neither should anyone who cares about intellectual honesty and real ways of reducing domestic and sexual violence.
Other survey questions were equally ambiguous. Participants were asked if they had ever had sex because someone pressured them by “telling you lies, making promises about the future they knew were untrue?” All affirmative answers were counted as “sexual violence.” Anyone who consented to sex because a suitor wore her or him down by “repeatedly asking” or “showing they were unhappy” was similarly classified as a victim of violence. The CDC effectively set a stage where each step of physical intimacy required a notarized testament of sober consent.
Faulty studies send scarce resources in the wrong directions; more programs on sexism, stereotypes and social structures, for example, are unlikely to help victims of violence. Defining sexual violence down obscures the gradations in culpability that are essential to effective criminal law, and it holds up a false mirror on our society. The CDC should recall this study.Amen.