The AAU sexual assault survey and response rates

Predictably, there’s been a lot of criticism and backlash in the wake of the grim numbers reported from the AAU survey on college sexual assault. And some of that criticism has been apt – there are legitimate worries about the survey’s methodology and legitimate worries about the way the figures are being reported. For example, as critics (as well as the researchers involved) rightly point out, it’s a mistake to us the ‘1 in 4’ and ‘1 in 5’ as established, nationally representative statistics. Whether the reporting of these statistics, though, is a sign of ‘alarmism’ about campus sexual assault or just one of many, many instances of media not reporting social science particularly well is questionable, to say the least.

But, as Jennifer Freyd – responding specifically to an article by Emily Yoffe – points out in the Huffington Post, there are other criticisms that look more like denial tactics. Much focus has been put on the relatively broad definition of ‘sexual assault’ used by the survey. Some of this criticism just misreports what the survey actually studies – it’s very explicitly a survey of non-consensual sexual contact obtained by force, threat, or incapacitation (where this has a specific, stated definition.) So, contra some complaints, if your date kisses you without your permission and you weren’t into it, that’s not something the survey would count as a sexual assault. But it’s definitely the case that the definition of ‘sexual assault’ in play is broader than many people might’ve expected, and will almost certainly include some murky cases. But as Freyd notes, it’s will also exclude other cases:

When it comes to the definition of sexual assault, I agree that one can question the decision to include in sexual contact figures various sorts of non-genital touching. But just as importantly one can also question the decision to exclude from both the one in 10 estimates for perpetration and the one in four estimate for sexual contact, cases where the perpetrator did not use physical force or incapacitation but rather relied on verbal coercions and/or failed to get consent and/or failed to heed verbal refusals to initiate sexual contact. While events involving these tactics were measured and reported on by the AAU, they were not included in the widely publicized estimates. Thus, the category of sexual assault that was publicized may be too broad in one sense and much too narrow in another.

Predictably, critics of the study have focused heavily on the cases where it’s definition of sexual assault might over-generalize, while ignoring those cases where it might under-generalize.

The other main concern raised has been about the low response rate. And certainly the response rate is disappointingly low, and a reason to be cautious about the results. But a common refrain has been that the survey almost certainly over-estimates the incidence of sexual assault, because victims are more likely to respond. Is that true? According to Freyd:

an equally plausible self-selection concern is that those who were sexually assaulted are more likely to avoid the survey. In fact, those of us who research and work with survivors of sexual violence know that avoidance is a hallmark of post-trauma response. The pundits, however, only worry about one sort of bias. They essentially claim low response rate equals a disproportionate number of victims in the same. This claim is fundamentally what we call in science an empirical question. What does the empirical evidence have to say about this?

And helpfully, Freyd crunches some numbers for us:

The response rates varied considerably between institutions (from a low of 9.2 percent to a high of 63.2 percent). There was also variation in estimates of sexual assault victimization (for penetration with force or incapacitation the rates varied from a low of 5.7 percent to a high of 14.5 percent; for nonconsensual sexual contact with force or incapacitation the estimates varied between 12.7 percent and 30.3 percent). But are response rates and victimization rates correlated with one another?

If Yoffe and the other critics are right we should see that as the response rate goes up, the victimization estimates go down. What do we actually find? We can ask whether the most publicized victimization statistic — the rate of female undergraduates indicating they experienced nonconsensual sexual contact involving force or incapacitation — is correlated with response rates for female undergraduates. If there is a systematic bias, such that higher response rates lead to lower or higher estimates of sexual violence, we might expect to see that in this relationship. However, the data paint a clear picture of no significant relationship (although trending slightly positively such that higher response rate is associated with higher estimates – the opposite of Yoffe’s claim; with all 27 schools considered r=.08, ns).

There are plenty of things to question about the AAU survey, and – as for any such survey – the results should be treated with appropriate caution. But the endless focus on only the ways in which the results might be biased toward over-stating the problem of campus sexual assault is beginning to look fairly, well, biased.

Reflections on running a women-only summer school in philosophy

Really interesting reflections from the organisers of the MCMP Summer School in Mathematical Philosophy.

Organizing such a summer school two years in a row does not yet allow us to draw conclusions about the impact this event has on the issue of female underrepresentation. However, we collected some data to address the more general question of how female students perceive philosophy as an academic discipline and themselves within that discipline. One striking result that seems to emerge from our data is that while female students do not necessarily see the immediate need and advantage of female-only events in advance, experiencing the event and being exposed to interaction and discussion with only female studies has a positive impact on them. While they initially consider the status quo as the ‘norm’ and acceptable, being exposed to a female-only event gives them a wholly new idea of how the experience of academia could be different. The experience allows them to compare such an environment to the status quo they encounter in their everyday university setting, which makes them see things differently. Female students who have experienced such a female-only environment can make their needs and worries explicit and voice concrete suggestions about how they think the academic environment should change to make it accommodating and comfortable for them.

New Narratives in the History of Philosophy

The new website for the New Narratives project is up and running. Here is an introduction from Lisa Shapiro:
There is so much good work already underway and more getting off the ground in efforts to reinvigorate the philosophical canon. This is particularly true of those working in the history of philosophy of the early modern period, where lots of attention is being paid to the women philosophers and intellectuals of the period. This New Narratives in the History of Philosophy Project, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), aims (among other things) to provide some coordination of efforts internationally so that limited resources are used effectively. The project website at will strive to be a hub directing interested students and researchers to all the great work that is going on right now to diversify the standard stories which form the history of philosophy. So, if you have a project or an event, please let us know and we will aim to add it to the site (The contact info is on the site.) (See Related Activities under Projects for what is already listed.)
We are also undertaking some projects of our own, including an open access bibliography of works by women of the early modern period (and beyond). We are particularly interested in tracking which works are already digitized (and in what form) and what digitizations are underway.  This is a great project for students to see the hard work that goes into the editions that they and many of us have taken for granted. If you’d like to get involved, or would like your students to get involved, please let us know. We are trying out a collaborative software that allows for those involved in the project to ask questions and get answers on a discussion thread (rather than fill email boxes).
Once the bibliography gets a bit more content in it, we’ll share the link to the Google Sheet.

Brown, Fordham, and Marquette Revoking Honorary Degrees to Bill Cosby

Story here. A statement from the president of Brown discusses the reasoning behind the most recent decision, including the following:

The conduct that Mr. Cosby has acknowledged is wholly inconsistent with the behavior we expect of any individual associated with Brown. It is particularly troubling as our university community continues to confront the very real challenges of sexual violence on our campus and in society at large

Female Theologians as “strawberries on the cake,” Francis says.

I try to be tolerant of others’ metaphors. After all, who knows where in the culture – or even a person’s recent past – such things come from? Talk to someone about strawberry shortcake and some inane metaphor employing those words may well appear shortly in their mouths. Still, Pope Francis seems very politically skilled in his speech, but also surrounded constantly by an exclusively male clergy. It is just too possible he thought women would enjoy his cute expression, one making them a sweet addition to the substance of the cake.

Maureen Dowd draws out some of the implications of Francis and the lack of women in the clergy:

Yet his very coolness is what makes his reign so hazardous. Watching the rapturous crowds and gushing TV anchors on his American odyssey, we see “the Francis Effect.” His magnetic, magnanimous personality is making the church, so stained by the vile sex abuse scandal, more attractive to people — even though the Vatican stubbornly clings to its archaic practice of treating women as a lower caste.

Pope Francis would be the perfect pontiff — if he lived in the 19th century. But how, in 2015, can he continue to condone the idea that women should have no voice in church decisions?

In a scandal that cascaded for decades with abuses and cover-ups, the church was revealed to be monstrously warped in its attitudes about sex and its sense of right and wrong.

Yet shortly after he was elected, Francis flatly rejected the idea that the institution could benefit from opening itself to the hearts and minds of women. Asked about the issue of female priests, he replied, “The church has spoken and says no,” adding, “That door is closed.”

Francis preaches against the elites while keeping the church an elite boys’ club.

As he arrived to say Mass on an altar designed by students outside the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the pope was surrounded by hundreds of white-robed male bishops, male priests and a sea of seminarians …

I so wish Dowd were wrong.

Regina Rini on Solidarity

Regina Rini has an interesting guest post over at The Splintered Mind on solidarity, micro-aggression, and worries over the ‘culture of victimhood’. In the post, she argues that:

The new so-called ‘culture of victimhood’ is not new, and it is not about victimhood. It is a culture of solidarity, and it has always been with us, an underground moral culture of the disempowered. In the culture of solidarity, individuals who cannot enforce their honor or dignity instead make claim on recognition of their simple humanity. They publicize mistreatment not because they enjoy the status of victim, but because they need the support of others to stand strong, and because ultimately public discomfort is the only route to redress possible. What is sought by a peaceful activist who allows herself to be beaten by a police officer in front of a television camera, other than our recognition? What is nonviolent civil disobedience, other than an expression of the culture of solidarity?

Are anti-sexual assault advocates on college campuses ‘hysterical’?

Stuart S. Taylor thinks they might be, as Susan Svrluga reports over at WaPo. I really only have about five minutes to put this post up — so I’ll let readers respond more thoroughly in the comments but, immediately, this part of what Taylor said struck me as something in need of corrective comment:

[T]o resolve any doubt that the respondents were far from representative of the nation’s college students, consider the facts buried in Tables 3-2 and 6-1 of the AAU survey.

These tables indicate that about 2.2 percent of female respondents said they had reported to their schools that they had been penetrated without consent (including rape) since entering college. If extrapolated to the roughly 10 million female college student population nationwide, this would come to about 220,000 student reports to universities alleging forced sex over (to be conservative) five years, or about 44,000 reports per year.

But this would be almost nine times the total number of students (just over 5,000) who reported sexual assaults of any kind to their universities in 2013, the most recent data available, according to the reports that universities must submit to the federal government under the Clery Act.

You absolutely cannot rely on the numbers reported under the Clery Act if what you want to know is how many sexual assaults are reported to universities and colleges full stop. Firstly, there’s a question about the extent to which institutions comply with the Clery Act in the first place (hence the push for increased fines as a consequence of violation in the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, and increased scrutiny under the Campus SaVE Act). Secondly, and possibly more significantly in terms of numbers, there is a limit as to which reports of assault need to also be reported under the Clery Act. If an assault happened off-campus, if it was not reported to campus security personnel (e.g., campus police), it may not be reflected in a school’s Clery report — even if it was reported to the university in other ways (e.g., a Title IX office, student disciplinary office, etc.).

CFP: Topics in Global Justice

Topics in Global Justice: Agency, Power and Policy

26, 27 May 2016

Centre for the Study of Global Ethics, Birmingham

The second annual conference of the Centre for the Study of Global Ethics in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Birmingham welcomes submissions on any topic related to global ethics, but will prioritize work focusing on the 2016 theme of agency, power, and policy.  Specifically, we are interested in the ethics and politics of public policies that aim to enhance individual agency by shaping personal decision making and changing individual behaviours. Recent years have seen a proliferation of academic research and public programming aimed at improving individual and social outcomes through overt and covert efforts to change the decisions and behaviours of individual agents.  These policies raise deep ethical questions about the proper role of government, the circumstances of justice, the nature and importance of individual agency, and the role of social norms in shaping preferences and actions.

Possible topics for papers include:

  • Purposefully shaping social norms to enhance well-being and/or agency
  • The contexts and constraints of choice
  • The moral permissibility of behavioural nudges
  • Legitimate authority in behavioural policy
  • Individual psychology versus structural injustice
  • Power and/or ‘empowerment’
  • Praise, shame and blame
  • Shaping preferences and adaptation

Subject areas where these questions may be investigated include:

  • Health and mental health
  • Violence and conflict
  • Regulation and the law
  • Sex and sexuality
  • Reproduction
  • Poverty and deprivation
  • Body image
  • Migration
  • Environment
  • Taxation

We encourage submissions from ethically engaged scholars, policy-makers and practitioners from all disciplines, including, philosophers, psychologists, lawyers, behavioural and development economists, historians, and other relevant subject areas.  Papers will ideally emphasize relevant transnational or global issues.  We encourage applications from members of underrepresented groups, and abide by the BPA/SWIP good practice scheme.

Public Speaker:

Carl Hart, Associate Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at Columbia University, and author of the bestselling book High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self-Discovery that Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society.  Dr. Hart is a widely sought after public commentator and his work has been featured in major publications including The New York Times and The Atlantic, and on major media outlets including HBO, MSNBC, and Fox News.

Keynote Speakers:

Clare Chambers, University Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, Cambridge University

Molly Crockett, Associate Professor of Experimental Psychology, Oxford University

Serene Khader, Jay Newman Chair in the Philosophy of Culture, Brooklyn College

Abstracts should be submitted to Scott Wisor at  Please submit one 500 word abstract prepared for anonymous review, and a second document containing author name, position, and affiliation.  Abstracts are due 1 November.

To register for the conference, please visit

Further information will be forthcoming on transportation, accommodation, accessibility, and additional speakers.

REMINDER – Special Issue of Journal of Social Philosophy – call for contributions

The deadline for this cfp is fast approaching. It’s the 1st November 2015.

Reshaping the Polis: Toward a Political Conception of Disability

Guest edited by Shelley Tremain, Ph.D.

Submissions are cordially invited to be considered for a special issue of Journal of Social Philosophy on the theme of Reshaping the Polis: Toward a Political Conception of Disability. Feminist philosophers and theorists have successfully shown that the elimination of women’s subordination requires that conceptions of the social and political realms be reconfigured in ways that take into account subjectivity, embodiment, partiality, and other phenomena historically associated with women and femininity and thus excluded from understandings of these realms. Likewise, this issue of JSP aims to reshape (and enlarge) accepted understandings of what counts as the political domain in ways that emerging understandings of disability demand.

Some of the questions that contributions to the issue might address are:

  • What are the relations between current conceptions of the political realm, inaccessibility, and neoliberal agendas?
  • How do the incarceration and segregation of disabled people in nursing homes, long-term care facilities, and prisons extend the reach of biopolitical forms of power, including settler colonialism and heteronormativity?
  • In what ways can disabling epistemologies of ignorance and acts of epistemic injustice be most effectively resisted and transformed?
  • How are ableism and disability discrimination reproduced by and through current immigration, housing, education, and employment policies?

Confirmed invited contributions:

Tommy Curry, “This Nigger’s Broken: Hyper-Masculinity, ‘The Buck,’ and the Impossibility of Physical Disability in the Black Male Body”

Maeve O’Donovan, “Resisting Disability: How Misconceptions of Disability Generate Failed Policies”

Jesse Prinz, “Outsider Art, Inside”

Melanie Yergeau and Bryce Huebner, “Minding Theory of Mind”

Please send papers directly to the journal’s Managing Editor, Josh Keton, at jsocphil [at] gmail [dot] com. Submissions should be prepared for anonymous review, include an abstract of 150-250 words, and be no longer than 25 pages (double-spaced, in a standard 12 point font, including endnotes and references). More information about the Journal of Social Philosophy (including author guidelines) can be found here.

The deadline for receipt for consideration for this special issue is November 1, 2015. (Papers not included in this special issue may also be considered for future issues of the journal.) For further information, please email Shelley Tremain at s [dot] tremain [at] yahoo [dot] ca.