No, Ms Magazine Never “Hired” Mary Koss

(This post is available on both “Alas” and “TADA.” No anti-feminists1 in the comments on “Alas,” please.)

On Yahoo Answers, I stumbled across this, which was part of a lengthy anti-feminist rant:

As most of us on here already know, the famous “1 in 4 women will be raped” claim is false. This comes from a study conducted by Ms. Magazine. They hired psychologist Mary Koss to direct the study. No scientific or scholarly organization was associated with the study.

I wrote a response, but before I could post it, the question I was responding to was deleted — presumably because it wasn’t really a question so much as an editorial.

But since it’s frustrating to write a response and then not be able to post it… well, what else is a blog for?

1. Koss’ study found that 1 in 4 college women surveyed have experienced rape and/or attempted rape at some point in their life. Not that “1 in 4 women will be raped.”

2. Koss designed her survey independently of Ms Magazine, and published a non-national version of the study in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology in 1982.2 This was three years before Ms. Magazine became involved. Ms. Magazine first became associated with the study in 1985, when they published an article about Koss’ work.

In 1986, Ms. Magazine donated office support to help make a national version of Koss’ already-existing methodology possible. In 1988, Ms published a book, I Never Called It Rape, reporting on Koss’ findings. And that is the extent of Ms’ involvement. Ms Magazine never “hired” Mary Koss. Koss was neither employed nor paid by Ms Magazine at any point.

3. Koss’ work was funded by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)., not by Ms. Magazine. The NIMH approved of the entire design of the study, including Ms Magazine’s participation (which was strictly limited to office support). The study was then put through the peer-review process before being published in a scientific journal (The Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology v 55 (2) p. 162-170, 1987). So your claim that “No scientific or scholarly organization was associated with the study” is inaccurate.

  1. Including MRAs and including the folks from the “feminist critics” blog. []
  2. “Sexual experiences survey: A research instrument investigating sexual aggression and victimization.” The Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology v.50, p. 455-457. 1982. []
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5 Responses to No, Ms Magazine Never “Hired” Mary Koss

  1. 1
    Lilian Nattel says:

    When I was a young adult, an older woman told me she thought it was inevitable that women would be sexually abused in some way. Later she denied that she had said any such thing and everything else she’d said in that same conversation. I think her denial came out of a sense of shame and blame of anyone victimized in this way; better to act as if it never happened. Unfortunately this denial came at a cost not only to this particular person but also to others as her denial required her to be an active participant in abusive structures. I wonder if those women who feel a need to deny Koss’ results are also ashamed of themselves underneath all that venom. I wish they wouldn’t be.

  2. 2
    timberwraith says:

    Considering the number of female friends, acquaintances, and family members I have known who have been sexually assaulted, I’m not terribly surprised by the 1 in 4 statistic. I suspect that people are in denial about how common these experiences really are. In a way, I think it’s a kind of emotional defense. How badly would this shake people’s trust of others if this statistic were taken seriously?

  3. 3
    Jessica says:

    Thanks for defending our reputation!! This has been one of the oddball conservative memes about Ms. like “Gloria Steinem was funded by the CIA” that I had never gotten around to debunking … to this I would add that there have been LOTS of subsequent rape studies that came to similar or compatible statistics. I.e.:
    — “13% of adult women had been victims of completed rape in their lifetime” (not a big jump from twice as many being victims of attempted or completed rape).
    — RAINN cites government studies that put the number at a more conservative 17.7% of women who have been victims of attempted/completed rape in their lifetimes.
    Such numbers tend to be underestimates because rape is underreported to police and victims can be hesitant to identify what happened to them as “rape”–one plus of Koss’s study, if I remember correctly, was that she described scenarios of rape rather than simply using the term.
    – Jessica Stites, Associate Editor, Ms.

  4. 4
    Ampersand says:

    Thanks Jessica!

    To your list, I’d add another few studies that have replicated Koss’ main findings:

    • The NIJ/CDC “National Violence Against Women Study” found that 14.8% of American women experience a completed rape at some time in their lifetime. A typical rape-defining question was worded like this: “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.”
    • The Department of Justice’s Sexual Victimization of College Women study included a sub-study in which college women were asked about lifetime incidence of rape (most of the study asked about rape since the beginning of the school year,which isn’t directly comparable to Koss). 10% of the women interviewed reported having been raped at some point in their lifetime. Rape was defined as “unwanted completed penetration by force or the threat of force.”
    • There’s also The National Women’s Study (NWS), a large-scale national study which found that 13% of American women have been raped in their lifetime.
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