Mumsnet rape and sexual assault survey results, and a word on statistics

On Friday, Mumsnet launched its “We Believe You” campaign, aimed at highlighting the prevalence of rape and sexual assault in women’s lives and busting the myths surrounding rape. The site has also released the results of its survey, in which over 1600 site members participated. The results won’t come as a surprise to anyone here:

The survey shows that, of respondents:

One in 10 (10%) had been raped

Over one-third (35%) had been sexually assaulted

Almost one-quarter (23%) reported being raped or sexually assaulted four or more times

In two-thirds (66%) of cases the women knew the person responsible

Many women felt unable to report rape or sexual assault:

Over four-fifths (83%) of respondents who had been raped or sexually assaulted did not make a report to the police

Over one-quarter (29%) didn’t tell anyone at all, including friends or family, about the assault/rape

Over two-thirds (68%) said they would hesitate reporting to the police due to low conviction rates

And over half (53%) would not report due to embarrassment or shame

The results also reveal that most women feel that rape victims are treated poorly:

Nearly three-quarters (70%) of respondents feel the media is unsympathetic to women who report rape

Over half (53%) feel the legal system is unsympathetic

And over half (55%) feel society at large is unsympathetic

I think it’s fantastic Mumsnet are engaging with this issue, and I love the name of the campaign, but I do think the results relating to the number of women who have been raped or sexually assaulted need to be used carefully.

In the Guardian, Mumsnet co-founder Justine Roberts says: “We simply shouldn’t accept that we live in a country where one in 10 women are raped and over one third sexually assaulted”. I agree with the sentiment, but the Mumsnet survey was self-selecting, meaning the results cannot simply be extrapolated to the wider population. For example, it may be that women who have experienced rape or sexual assault would have been more likely to respond to the survey than those who haven’t. So all the survey can actually tell us is that one in ten of the women who completed the survey have been raped, not one in ten of all British women.

While the above in no way undermines the significance of the data relating to the reporting of these crimes, and while the data does contribute to the overall picture of women’s experiences, rape apologists and anti-women commentators love to question the validity of statistics in order to try and undermine work to tackle the issues surrounding sexual violence, so it’s important that we use them correctly.

It’s difficult to get an accurate picture of the exact rates of sexual violence against women. Truth About Rape has more information here, including British Crime Survey data showing that one in ten women have experienced some form of sexual victimisation, and one in twenty have experienced rape. The BCS is generally thought to paint a more accurate picture of crime rates than the recorded crime figures, as it asks people whether they have been a victim of crime, regardless of whether they reported it to the police. (Of course, women would not necessarily feel comfortable disclosing this information to a researcher, so these figures can’t be fully relied upon either.) Other studies have found that one in four women experience rape or attempted rape.

What’s important here is the fact that rape and sexual assault are experienced by a huge number of women, be it one in twenty or one in four, and the need to tackle it is no less urgent, whichever statistic we choose to use. Let’s just cover our backs and make sure we use them correctly.

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