On the day that “The Invisible War” was released, @Invisible War tweeted, “15% of incoming recruits had committed rape before entering the military – 2x the rate of civilians.” Garry Trudeau and retired Brigadier General Loree Sutton used a similar figure in their op-ed that ran in, among other publications, the Washington Post: “Several Navy studies administered anonymously reveal that as many as 15 percent of men have attempted rape or have raped someone before they enlisted — twice the percentage of their age-matched peers.” Brigadier General Sutton is featured in The Invisible War, which makes a similar claim about incoming sailors.
Yet, according to the study mentioned by Jim Clark in a comment to Phil “My Liege” Cave’s post on The Invisible War, 123 of 1,146 participants in a study of incoming Navy enlisted members reported engaging in premilitary activity that the study’s authors characterize as rape or attempted rape. That’s 10.73%, not 15 percent.
The 15% figure probably came from an earlier study by four of the five authors of the study that Jim Clark cited. That study found that in a sample of male Navy recruits questioned anonymously, 12% “reported perpetrating completed rape and 3% reported perpetrating attempted rape.” Merrill, L. L., Stander, V. A., Thomsen, C. J., Crouch, J. L., & Milner, J. S. (2005). Premilitary adult sexual assault victimization and perpetration in a Navy recruit sample at 9 (NHRC Tech. Rep. No. 05-28), San Diego, CA: Naval Health Research Center.
But the survey didn’t actually ask the recruits if they had perpetrated rape or attempted rape. Instead, it asked questions from the 1985 version of the Koss & Gidycz Sexual Experiences Survey — questions that have been criticized (righly in my view) as poor proxies for rape and attempted rape.
Here are the two questions (identified by NHRC Rep. No. 07-16 but not by NHRC Rep. No. 05-28) that, if answered affirmatively, would label a recruit as an attempted rapist:
Have you attempted to have sexual intercourse with a female (tried to insert your penis in her vagina) when she didn’t want to by giving her alcohol or drugs but you did NOT succeed?
Have you attempted to have sexual intercourse with a female (tried to insert your penis in her vagina) when she didn’t want to by threatening or using some degree of force but you did NOT succeed?
And here are the questions (as identified by NHRC Rep. No. 07-16) that would label a recruit as an actual rapist:
Have you made a female have sexual intercourse (putting all or part of your penis in her vagina even if you didn’t ejaculate or come) by giving her alcohol or drugs or getting her high or drunk?
Have you made a female have sexual intercourse (putting all or part of your penis in her vagina even if you didn’t ejaculate or come) by using some degree of force or threatening to harm her?
Have you made a female do other sexual things like anal sex, oral sex, or putting fingers or objects inside of her or you by using some degree of force or threatening to harm her?
I think there’s a serious risk that a survey participant might answer the first question in the actual rape category affirmatively if he once gave a date a glass of wine in an attempt to “get her in the mood” before engaging in intercourse with her. Since more of the affirmative answers were in the alcohol and drug category than in the force category, misinterpretations of the questions could have had a substantial skewing effect.
A great deal of skepticism appears to be warranted when considering the claims advanced by The Invisible War. While the 15%-of-incoming-Navy-recruits-raped-or-attempted-to-rape-someone claim has some actual support (unlike some other claims advanced by the film), I find the research underlying the claim insufficient to substantiate it.