University News

Research indicates persistent rape culture, Orchowski says

Alternative lecture on sexual assault suggests researchers must work to find public health solutions

By
Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Lecturing to about 70 community members Tuesday afternoon, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior Lindsay Orchowski discussed the prevalence of a rape culture perpetuated by popular media. Jokes, graphic images and advertisements all “make (sexual assault) seem normal,” she said. “People believe rape is inevitable.”

Orchowski’s talk, held in the Carmichael Auditorium in the Building for Environmental Research and Teaching, took place from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., overlapping with the first hour of a Janus Forum debate entitled “How Should Colleges Handle Sexual Assault?” The Janus Forum debate featured Wendy McElroy, who argues that rape culture does not exist in the United States, and Jessica Valenti, who argues that it exists and must be combatted.

In a community-wide email sent Friday evening, President Christina Paxson wrote that Orchowski’s lecture was organized by students and administrators to “provide the community with more research and facts” about sexual assault and organized as an “alternate” to the Janus Forum event.

Focusing on rape culture on college campuses, Orchowski said data from surveys show that the “rate of sexual victimization is greater on college campuses than in the general population.”

In a study conducted in 1985, Mary Koss, a Kent State University psychology professor at the time, found that 54 percent of women reported experiencing “some form of sexual violence” between the approximate ages of 14 and 21, Orchowski said. Twenty-five percent of men self-reported having had “perpetrated unwanted sexual contact.” Because the study was retrospective, questions arose about whether the acts of violence were occurring in high school or college, Orchowski said.

What makes these findings more impactful is the lack of change in the data reflected in a 2006-09 Ohio State University study, Orchowski said. The same surveys were used, and the data “remained remarkably consistent over time,” she added.

Research on assault characteristics has revealed that about half of reported incidents involve alcohol, Orchowski said. Many sexual assault perpetrators are repeat offenders — though perpetrators comprise a “heterogeneous group,” they are often angry, “hypermasculine” and see acquiring sexual partners “as a game,” she said, adding  research also shows that victims often know their offenders, and victims tell others about assaults about half of the time.

Orchowski said only about 20 percent of sexual assault victims correctly labeled their assaults as “rape,” often reporting them as results of miscommunication or bad dates.

Only about 1 percent of assaults are reported to the police, which means researchers may be working with statistics that do not accurately reflect the prevalence of assault, she said.

Orchowski began her lecture by defining her “public health approach” — researchers must find the best preventative strategies to ensure public safety as well as the best methods to assist those affected by “tragedies,” she said.

“In order to end sexual violence, teamwork is vital,” Orchowski said. “From a public health standpoint, we all need to work together to help those affected by the experience and also promote change.”

For researchers dealing with issues related to public health and safety — such as those focused on sexual assault — the key steps researchers must take include defining the problem, discerning the factors of risk and protection, identifying and testing preventative strategies with the community and, once solidified, implementing the programs nationwide.

But these steps have yet to be completely fulfilled by sexual assault researchers, Orchowski said. While “great strides” have been made in sexual assault prevention work, researchers have not yet developed a program that is effective enough to be disseminated nationally.

Researchers must overcome the “lack of consensus” in the definition of sexual violence, Orchowski said. To compare studies, researchers need an “operational definition” that is specific, but  such a definition has yet to emerge. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have categorized different forms of sexual violence, all of which are non-consensual and include abusive sexual contact, non-contact sexual abuse and rape, which they define as a completed sex act, she said.

“Across definitions, consent is vital to our understanding of what constitutes sexual violence,” Orchowski said.

Orchowski broadly defined consent as the “overall ability to agree to or refuse an experience.” More specifically, “consent is defined as words or over-actions by a person who is legally or functionally competent to give informed approval,” she said. Vital to this definition is the acknowledgment that individuals may be unable to give consent at certain times or “unable to refuse,” she added.

“Rape myths,” such as blaming alcohol or the victim for assaults, often contribute to perpetrators not considering themselves to be rapists, Orchowski said. “There is a misperception that false accusation is common,” she added. Across studies, only 5 to 7 percent of accusations are false, Orchowski said.

On campuses, “deliberate targeting” of victims, the purposeful use of alcohol and peer reinforcement that certain actions are okay are prevalent, she said.

To make their communities safer, bystanders must intervene, Orchowski said. By becoming more vocal, the silent majority of students against sexual assault can “shift the culture.”

Students who attended the lecture said it was informative.

Tiara Mack ’16 said it helped her to realize that sexual assault “is not something that can be cleared from campus during my time at Brown.”

  • Guest

    There is a misperception that plane crashes are common. Only 5 to 7 percent of planes crash. Oh, ok. Sounds safe to me!

    Seriously, though. Sexual assault on campus is a huge problem. But 5-7% of claims being false isn’t something to brush off. If Brown has 15 cases a year, there’s a good chance one of those is a false accusation. That warrants protection in the form of due process. I’m all for justice for rape survivors, but let’s not sacrifice innocent students in order to get it.

  • > 54 percent of women reported experiencing “some form of sexual violence” between the approximate ages of 14 and 21, Orchowski said.

    RAINN says 17.6% of American women have experienced rape or attempted rape across their entire lifetime: https://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/sexual-assault-victims

    What is Orchowski’s source, and how does it define “some form of sexual violence”?

    > Only about 1 percent of assaults are reported to the police, she said.

    RAINN says it’s 40%: https://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/reporting-rates

    Where is Orchowski getting her numbers?

    • Bryce Chanlin

      The RAINN numbers are also from about 1998, so not all too reliable either. As someone in the field currently I can tell you that the numbers are going up. Maybe not as high as Orchowski, but certainly higher than a 1998 study.

      • The reporting rate is from 2008 – 2012, but the attempt / completion rate is from 1998. The latest numbers I found cited by the CDC put the number at 18.3% [1], an increase of .7%, which is awfully close to statistically insignificant. Regardless, it’s nowhere in the ballpark of Orchowski’s 54%. Again, where is she getting that number, and how does she define “some form of sexual violence”?

        [1] http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/SV-DataSheet-a.pdf

  • > Tiara Mack ’16 said [the talk] helped her to realize that sexual assault “is not something that can be cleared from campus during my time at Brown.”

    > [Orchowski said] “People believe rape is inevitable.”

    I wonder why.

    • Bob

      Lol. If anything, Professor Orchowski confirmed what kind of sloppy, slapdick “scholarship” is accepted as gospel by feminists and women’s and gender studies departments. Two of the biggest “say what?”s in her presentation:

      1. She posits that research indicates the existence of “rape culture” even though there is no “operational definition” of sexual violence and, in fact, a “lack of consensus” on the definition by researchers.

      2. Prof. Orchowski claims only 20% of “sexual assault victims” correctly labeled their assaults as rape. So women’s studies scholars will determine when a woman has been raped because women can’t be trusted to make that determination for themselves. Sure it smells like patriarchy but fear not, it’s feminism.

      • Irony like a mofo!

        Any chance Prof. Orchowski will be reviewed for such a lame defense of “rape culture”.

      • Greg

        She should be fired for her feminist lies.

  • Robert Mortimer

    There you go. A Brown Professor does research work to produce results that everybody has known already, thereby scoring browning points with the Brown president, who likes these pointless researches and debates, so that she will continue to do nothing, while those same research and student populations think that she is doing something.

    • La Raza de Norte

      No savvy.

  • I imagine when Wendy heard her debater say she had not even prepared for the event, she was rather disappointed. If you say there is no debate and give up in your first sentence, you should never have been selected for the debate. Surely someone else would have been better prepared to have a more substantive debate with McElroy, who deserved the respect as a rape survivor and who prepared intellectually for the event.

    Next time, Wendy, call your debater ahead of time and ask if they are preparing cogent argumentation and real cross-ex. If someone is not bringing their brain with them, why waste your time. Your scarce resources of capital and labor would have been better spent elsewhere.

  • Tracheal

    Actually, what we really have is a feminist gender bigot culture which profits handsomely from the Rolling Stones ‘rape culture’.

  • Jack Strawb

    Focusing on rape culture on college campuses, Orchowski said data from
    surveys show that the “rate of sexual victimization is greater on
    college campuses than in the general population.”

    What does Professor Orchowski believe she has to gain by so blatantly lying?

    Bureau of Justice statistics show that not only is rape in signicant decline–a wonderful thing–since 1992, but that it occurs notably less frequently on campus than it does off campus.

    http://reason.com/blog/2014/12/11/bjs-rate-of-sexual-assault-shows-sharp-d

    To use, as Orchowski does, Mary Koss’s absurd, ginned up numbers from a 1985 survey from two schools using preposterous definitions of rape, is the height of intellectual dishonesty. What is gotten from fraudulently terrifying women? I’m reminded of nothing so much as the right’s “law and order” campaigns starting in the Nixon era, where voters were terrified into giving police far reaching and dangerous powers.

    Lecturing to about 70 community members Tuesday afternoon, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior Lindsay Orchowski discussed the prevalence of a rape culture perpetuated by popular media. Jokes, graphic images and advertisements
    all “make (sexual assault) seem normal,” she said. “People believe rape is inevitable.

    Let’s take a simple example. Every one reading this knows, as does Orchowski, that if a network anchor or network star or producer made a single joke about rape, he would be fired. If a ballplayer joked about rape, if he kept his job it would only be after an endless apology tour. Also, what can Orchowski possibly mean by the strange, “people believe rape is inevitable.” Crime is indeed inevitable. Rape is no different. Does Orchowski want us to surrender ever more civil liberties in a vain and foolish attempt to eliminate all crime? Perhaps she does. Doubtless she supports “affirmative consent” laws, which destroy due process protections for–given the low incidence of sexual assault on campuses–no reason.

    The author and editor of this piece have done all its readers a disservice by allowing so much falsehood to parade as fact.