In this article, it is claimed that 1 in 5 college women are raped (at least around the 2013-2014 time period). I have heard the claim repeated from other sources (such as the BBC, which was apparently quoting a White House figure), so to say the least this appears to be a common statistic. However, I am doubtful about this statistic, as per this question, comments in Freakonomics about how such figures might be exaagerated (intentionally or not) by organizations campaigning against sexual assault, and to a degree, personal experience.

Where are such statistics actually derived from, and are they actually accurate?

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    Part of the reason that you aren't going to get a definitive answer to this question is that it is extremely common for these cases to involve alcohol, and there is no clearcut way to define how drunk a woman can be before it becomes meaningless to ask whether she consented to sex. There's a spectrum of drunkenness, from tipsy to passed out. Reasonable people can disagree on where to draw the line along this spectrum.
    – user4216
    Commented Jun 14, 2014 at 21:43
  • It's difficult to find a definite answer, although many people feel that the number is too high to match with their perception of reality. To put those numbers into perspective and give you a sense of scale, consider that Congo, the "rape capital of the world", has a rate of somewhere around 40% for all women according to this study, although these things tend to be hard to measure accurately. If 20% of women are raped in college, it implies that American college campuses are half as dangerous as Congo.
    – user26263
    Commented May 15, 2015 at 11:21
  • Every time I've looked at the questions behind someone making this claim I've found serious problems. A common problem is defining unwanted sex as rape (thus when she has sex to keep her boyfriend from leaving it gets counted as rape.) Commented Apr 8, 2016 at 0:00
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    The comments all complain that the term "rape" is vague. One solution is to refer to the local laws and use the same definition a jury would use. Another solution is to look at the study that the figures are derived from, and use the definition they use. (You can critique the difference between the definition used and common usage if it shows the figure is misleading to the reader. I would personally rather you didn't overstep into being a rape-apologist though.)
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Apr 8, 2016 at 1:16

3 Answers 3


The claim in the linked article does not represent the full range of estimates for the prevalence of rape or sexual assault. The evidence is based on surveys that depend on self-reporting and with results that vary based on the specific question asked. The accuracy of the surveys is unknown, since there is no ground-truth data against which to evaluate.

Wikipedia's summary regarding prevalence is:

Estimates vary greatly as to the number of women who experience a sexual assault during college, with surveys focused on the United States placing it as low as 1 in 50 (2%) to as high as 1 in 4 (25%).


  • Louis Harris and Associates (1994). The Commonwealth Fund Survey of Women's Health. Jacobs Institute of Women's Healthh. p. 20.) and
  • Koss, Mary (1988). "Hidden Rape: Sexual Aggression and Victimization in a National Sample of Students in Higher Education". Rape and Sexual Assault (Garland Publishing) 2: 8.).
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    The references are >= 20 years old Commented Jun 9, 2014 at 4:00
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    @David Yes, that is even another cause for suspecting uncertainty in the results.
    – user5582
    Commented Jun 9, 2014 at 4:07
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    I'd personally consider even the lower end (1 in 50) seriously unacceptable - 2% looks like a small number but that's still 300 women raped each year per college!
    – slebetman
    Commented May 15, 2015 at 20:48
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    Another (unsourced) datum: For college coeds, rape is less likely that for other women in the same age group.
    – GEdgar
    Commented May 16, 2015 at 20:05
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    @GEdgar: Here's a source: washingtonpost.com/local/education/…
    – user4216
    Commented Sep 21, 2015 at 23:41

According to an over 100 page federally-funded study The Campus Sexual Assault (CSA) Study, studying the January 2005 through December 2007 time period:

Nearly 5% of the total sample was forcibly sexually assaulted since college entry (4.7%, box 9). More than three percent of the women (3.4%) experienced forced rape since entering college (box 11) and 1.4% experienced forced sexual battery since entering college (box 10). Approximately 11% of the women experienced sexual assault while incapacitated since entering college (box 12), with a higher percentage of women being victims of incapacitated rape than incapacitated sexual battery since entering college (8.5%, box 14 compared to 2.6%, box 13, respectively).

In this study, "rape" was defined as:

sexual assault that entailed oral, vaginal, or anal penetration

It should be kept in mind that this study is done upon women 18-25 who are full time enrolled in college. In other words, there are freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors. However, the study finds that it is mostly as freshman and sophomores that college woman are sexually assaulted. Restricting the data to only seniors (who are the only ones approaching a complete college experience):

6.9% of seniors were victims of physically forced sexual assault since entering college, and 16% of seniors were victims of incapacitated sexual assault since entering college.

While not in the original publication of the report, as pointed out by user=pericles316, two of the authors of the report released the following additional information in the article Setting the Record Straight on ‘1 in 5’:

The number of female seniors in the survey who reported being raped was 14.3%.

This is about 1 in 7 self-reporting being raped during college. Considering that the data was collected during the winter, the seniors still had one semester of college left, so 1 in 6 is a reasonable overall estimate, but 1 in 5 is too high.

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    Is there a reason to prefer the conclusions from this study over the results of other studies?
    – Christian
    Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 17:05
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    @Christian recent, large sample size, many PhD authors, associated with a grant from the US Justice Department, very specific as to what acts occurred when and under what circumstances.
    – DavePhD
    Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 17:12
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    If you think the sample size and the amount of authors matter for believing the conclusion could you work those details into the answer? Whether the study is over 100 pages doesn't seem to be as central.
    – Christian
    Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 17:15
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    @DavePhd-The '1 in 5 campus women rape' statistical figure is also not backed up by other research such as the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics which finds that 1 in 52.6 college women would be victims of sexual assault over the course of four years. Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 5:38
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    @pericles316 The BJS nowhere says "1 in 52.6", maybe a blog about the report says that. BJS says "NCVS is an omnibus survey designed to collect information on experiences with a broad range of crimes. ... Because victims of rape or sexual assault may not consider their victimization a crime, this context could discourage or suppress recall and reporting of those incidents. Additionally, because the NCVS covers a wide range of criminal victimization, the number of screening questions related to rape and sexual assault are limited." bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/rsavcaf9513.pdf
    – DavePhD
    Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 12:11

Summary: The statistical numbers were based on Campus Sexual Assault (CSA) Study conducted in 2007 and the numbers do not present an accurate representation of the campus rape status prevailing in the whole of USA due to the evidence presented below.


  1. Referring to the researchers Christopher P. Krebs and Christine H. Lindquist themselves who were the authors of the 2007 Campus Sexual Assault (CSA) Study, the quote '1 in 5 women on campus has been raped' is factually incorrect.

As two of the researchers who conducted the Campus Sexual Assault Study from which this number was derived, we feel we need to set the record straight. Although we used the best methodology available to us at the time, there are caveats that make it inappropriate to use the 1-in-5 number in the way it’s being used today, as a baseline or the only statistic when discussing our country’s problem with rape and sexual assault on campus. Source: Setting the Record Straight on ‘1 in 5’

The limitations according to the researchers when quoting the claim of '1 in 5 women are raped on campus' were

a. The figure from the study was not the nationally representative estimate of the prevalence of sexual assault in USA.

b. The statistical number from the study included other forms of sexual assault apart from rape.

c. The statistical number did not include victims who experienced only attempted sexual-assault incidents which were not completed.

d. Nonresponse bias is noted to have an impact on the estimated numbers from the study.

  1. Also an April 2016 analysis by Caroline Kitchens, Senior Research Associate at the American Enterprise Institute found that the '1 in 5 women on campus has been raped' claim was similar to a lie since the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) estimated that about 1 in 52.6 college women would be the victims of rape or sexual assault over the course of four years. The '1 in 52.6' BJS statistical number of rape in college women is further analysed here.

Much more comprehensive data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) estimates that about 1 in 52.6 college women will be victims of rape or sexual assault over the course of four years. That’s far too many, but it’s a long way from 1 in 5. The same BJS data also reveal that women in college are safer from rape than college-aged women who are not enrolled in college. But the truth doesn’t serve the purposes of feminist activists or vote-seeking politicians. Lies work much better. And the 1 in 5 claim is tantamount to a lie. Source: ARE 1 IN 5 WOMEN RAPED AT COLLEGE?.

  • So they are saying in the Time article that 14.3% of the surveyed seniors said they had been raped while in college. The survey was in winter, so they still had one semester left (7/8ths finished college), so I would multiply the 14.3% by 8/7. Seems like 1 in 6 instead of 1 in 5.
    – DavePhD
    Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 15:21
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    The BJS definition of rape is "the unlawful penetration of a person against the will of the victim, with use or threatened use of force". This excludes the vast majority of rapes under the CSA definition. Most of the CSA rapes are due to incapacitation (victim is drunk, high, drugged, etc.). bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/rsavcaf9513.pdf
    – DavePhD
    Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 19:54
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    @DavePhD that's an old definition. The definition as of 2013 doesn't require force, just lack of consent
    – De Novo
    Commented Oct 7, 2018 at 5:13
  • @DavePhD As De Novo points out, that's not what the BJS asks. Incidents involving forced or unwanted sexual acts are often difficult to talk about. (Other than any incidents already mentioned,) have you been forced or coerced to engage in unwanted sexual activity by - (a) Someone you didn't know - (b) A casual acquaintance - OR (c) Someone you know well?
    – Edna Mode
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 15:41

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