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.

8 Responses to “More on “The Invisible War””

  1. Phil Cave says:

    Thanks ML, now I have Sunday free.

  2. Christopher Mathews says:

    Even if we assume that the respondents who answered affirmatively to the “attempted rape” question were all responding to the first question rather than the second, and that for all of those answers the affirmative response was due to an ambiguity in that question and nothing more … that still leaves 12 per cent, which seems to be a rather large fraction.  Or is there more to the numbers than meets the eye?

  3. Jim Clark says:

    The argument that the “soldier might have mistaken the question” does not ring true.  The “first question” says ” made a female have sexual intercourse .” That’s not ambiguous. It uses a pretty simple verb.  I doubt that a very large number of 18 year old Navy recruits misunderstood the question. 

  4. Jim Clark says:

    The McWhorter study from 2009 (linked above) says (p. 208 – Results) 144 of 1146 reported at least one incident of attempted or completed rape (ACR). That’s 12. 56%, which the authors round to 13%. Oh, those numbers: everyone rounds however works for them. Forty-one recruits reported ACR in the first year of their service (the only in-service year studied). Two-thirds of those sailors, however, committed multiple rapes within that first year. 

  5. Dwight Sullivan says:

    The Trudeau & Sutton op-ed referred to Navy studies that “reveal that as many as 15 percent of men have attempted rape or have raped someone before they enlisted.”  The statistic that NHRC Rep. No. 07-16 by McWhorter et al. provides for self-reported pre-enlistment acts that the study’s authors characterize as attempted or completed rape (ACR) is 123/1,146 (see page 209).  That’s 10.73%.

     

    It’s inaccurate for several reasons to state that 2/3 of the 41 Sailors who reported ACR in their first year of military service “committed multiple rapes within that first year.”  First, the number 27 in the multiple incidents column of the table on page 209 refers to reports of multiple attempted and/or completed rapes.  Second, the figure for multiple indicents can’t be 27 out of 41, since that would be 65.85% and the study’s authors say that 27 is 67% of the military ACR figure.  The note on page 209 of the study explains that “[b]ecause of missing data, n varies.”  Here, n must be 40 rather than 41.  Finally, and most importantly, the report doesn’t provide the number of respondents who “committed multiple rapes.”  Rather, it provides the number of respondents who, in answering the following questions, indicated that they had engaged in multiple incidents of the described conduct:

     

    1. 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?

    2. 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?

     

    1. 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?

    2. 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?

    3. 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?

  6. JD says:

    I wonder how women who have experinced those questions feel? When it happens in real life, do they think there was an attempted rape or rape? Leaning on the legal definition in an attempt to narrow the experience of attempted rape/rape leaves a lot of rape victims with no rapists. Perhaps the problem isn’t the statistical interpretations but a lack of clarity of what rape is in real life. It’s easier to squabble about 2% than actually use your experience and knowledge to come up with solutions to rape and the lack of prosecution of rape that occurs in the military.

  7. stewie says:

    Not to be sarcastic but what would you propose we do other than lean on the legal definition of rape?
    Particularly when framed around what you describe as a “lack of prosecution of rape that occurs in the military?”
     
    What/How does the civilian world do/does better?

  8. Maj W says:

    Gotta agree with Stewie. The military consistently prosecutes cases that civilian state and federal prosecutors would not even entertain in taking to court because of the bad facts and likelihood of acquittal etc. The military is taking this issue very seriously, but civilian officials believe that our conviction rate is due to lack of experience/ effort. This is just not true as we are typically dealing with bad facts, apprehensive witnesses and skeptical members. And yet, I never hear the senior leadership addressing these truths with our civilian critics. Young prosecutors are working these cases to the maximum extent possible under the law. While the odds are stacked against them, they press on because of the victim and justice required for their client.