Katherine Connell in the National Review writes:
In its definition of rape, the CDC’s “National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence” survey includes sex that occurred when the victim was drunk or high, regardless of whether she was incapacitated or unable to give consent. Participants were asked to respond to the question: “When you were drunk, high, drugged, or passed out and unable to give consent, how many people ever had vaginal sex with you?” A woman could list instances of consensual sex she had while intoxicated that she did not consider to be rape — that were in fact not rape — and the researchers would nonetheless classify her as a rape victim.
Connell’s point, I think, is that although the researchers intended interview subjects to hear:
“When you were [drunk, high, drugged, or passed out] and [unable to give consent], how many people ever had vaginal sex with you?”
Perhaps what they actually heard was:
“When you were [drunk, high, drugged,] or [passed out and unable to give consent], how many people ever had vaginal sex with you?”
That would be a problem. Maybe the researchers should have put that question into some sort of context, making it clear what they were referring to? You know, like the actual, full text of the question from the survey did:
Sometimes sex happens when a person is unable to consent to it or stop it from happening because they were drunk, high, drugged, or passed out from alcohol, drugs, or medications. This can include times when they voluntarily consumed alcohol or drugs or they were given drugs or alcohol without their knowledge or consent. Please remember that even if someone uses alcohol or drugs, what happens to them is not their fault.1
When you were drunk, high, drugged, or passed out and unable to consent, how many people ever….
* had vaginal sex with you? By vaginal sex, we mean….
The National Review certainly doesn’t stand alone on this one – see Christina Hoff Sommers, who made the same mistake (or “mistake”?) in the Washington Post. As did Jacob Sullum in Reason. So did Charlotte Hayes at the Independent Woman’s Forum (although she was just quoting the Sommers piece, as did World News Daily and about a thousand right-wing blogs).
In fact, I’ve been looking all afternoon, and I haven’t found a single right-wing source discussing the NISVS that didn’t truncate the “When you were drunk, high, drugged, or passed out” question in exactly the way Katherine Connell did.
I can see how the error happened; the CDC document that Sommers linked to contains only a summary of the questionnaire, not the full questionnaire. So it would be an easy mistake to make, especially if you don’t know much about social science and what these sort of questionnaires look like.2
But it’s also confirmation bias at work. They found what they wanted, so why risk messing that up by doing further research and finding out what the questionnaire actually said?
- Note: When I originally wrote this post, I accidentally left the sentence “Please remember that even if someone uses alcohol or drugs, what happens to them is not their fault” out, due to a cut and paste error. [↩]
- That excuse won’t wash with Christina Hoff Sommers, who has been reporting on (and misrepresenting) rape surveys for decades, and should therefore have known better. [↩]