Sexual Assault on Campus: A Case of Battered Statistics Syndrome

Dear Mr. Dad: I’ve been reading about the recent White House study showing that one in five women will be the victim of rape at some point in her life. As a mother of twins (a boy and a girl) who are graduating high school, I’m scared for my daughter’s safety and I’m worried that my might do something unspeakable. What can I do to protect both of my children?

A: The first thing to do is calm down. For as much media coverage as the White House study got, it is one of the most flawed, inflammatory, and just plain incorrect pieces of “research” I’ve ever seen.

Let’s start with the numbers. To come up with its 1-in-5 statistic, the White House task force relied on a 2011 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) which used a very broad definition of “sexual violence,” Besides forced genital and oral sex (whether by violence, drugs, or threats—the kinds of things that most people would consider rape), the CDC included “forced kissing” and “rubbing up against you in a sexual way, even if it is over your clothes.” That behavior shouldn’t be tolerated. But dirty dancing is not rape. To suggest that it is just plain wrong.

The CDC study also includes as victims of “sexual assault” women who answered Yes when asked whether they had ever had sex with someone who had pressured them by “telling you lies” or by making “false promises about the future they knew were untrue,” or “by showing they were unhappy.” Again, not nice, but regretting a sexual encounter after the fact doesn’t make it rape.

Besides relying on the results of ambiguous questions, the White House also claimed that just 12% of campus sexual assaults are reported—meaning that 88% aren’t. Mark Perry, a professor of economics at the University of Michigan—a guy who know a thing or two about statistics—carefully looked at the data and came up with a very different story. Between 2009 and 2012, there were 137 sexual offenses reported at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. If that’s 12%, the other 88% would be 1,004, bringing the total to 1,141. Dividing that by the 22,330 female students and the University (51.6% of 43,275), reveals that a female student’s actual chance of being sexually assaulted is 5.1%–a quarter of what the what the White House is claiming—and that’s still counting dirty dancing and being lied to as rape.

The report has a number of other flaws. For example, it completely overlooks a growing body of solid research finding that sexual assault on campuses is hardly a one-way street. In fact, young men and young women are equally likely to admit to having pressured someone else into having sex.

But a more serious problem is the report’s recommendations to essentially strip accused male students of their legal rights. The report states that “[t]he parties should not be allowed to personally cross-examine each other.” Um, the Constitution’s 6th Amendment, however, grants anyone accused of any crime anywhere that exact right.
Obviously, this is a much bigger issue than I can tackle here. But the bottom line is this: talk with your son and your daughter about unwanted sexual advances and about the statistical distortions the White House is peddling. As a parent, I’m sure you don’t want your daughter thinking of herself as a victim—and I know you don’t want your son to become a victim of overzealous college administrators who see every young man as a rapist waiting to happen.
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Infertility: Not for Women Only

Dear Mr. Dad: My wife and I have been trying to have a baby for two years. Both of us have undergone lots of testing but the doctors still don’t know what the problem is. Throughout all of this, dozens of people—mostly friends and family, but also doctors, nurses, lab techs, and others—have come up to me and either offered some kind of advice, asked how my wife is doing, or told me what I need to do to support her. This whole process has been extremely stressful, and both my wife and I are emotionally devastated, but not a single person has asked how I’m doing. I’m getting really angry about being ignored and I’m trying to keep from biting someone’s head off. How should I respond?
A: Just a few decades ago, infertility was considered to be the woman’s “fault.” But today, experts know that it’s more evenly split. About 40% of the time, the cause can be traced to the woman; 40% of the time it’s traced to the man; and the remaining 20% is “unexplained.” Still, because the pregnancy would happen inside the woman’s body, society assumes that women are the only ones affected by infertility. The fact that men experience stress or grief or might be “emotionally devastated” by the shattering of their hopes and dreams rarely occurs to anyone.
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Watch Out, Baby!

Dear Mr. Dad: My husband and I both work and we have our 2-year old daughter in a lovely home daycare. We really like the provider—she makes organic food for all the kids she takes care of, and does a lot of fun activities with them. But we recently found out that she also has the kids in front of the TV or playing video games for several hours every day. It’s so hard to find good-quality, affordable childcare these days, plus our baby really loves her caregiver. How bad is it for toddlers to watch a little TV?

A: Unfortunately, the whole issue of babies and TV is far from being black and white. The official position of the American Academy of Pediatrics is that kids under two should have as close to zero time in front of screens as possible, and kids older than two should limit screen entertainment to an hour or two per day (not including time on computers that are being used for homework, of course). The point is that children should spend a lot more of their time interacting with other people than with electronics.

In an ideal world—where most of us don’t happen to live—that’s definitely the right approach. But we all have situations that call for a little rule bending, and an hour of TV while you’re taking a shower or making a phone call probably won’t cause any long-term damage. And neither will the parental magic trick most of us perform when trying to tame loud or restless kids: pulling out the tablet or smartphone and putting it gently into those little hands.
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Exploring the Culinary Arts

Dear Mr. Dad: I’m not a whiz in the kitchen but I learned enough as a kid to make it through college without having to subsist solely on peanut butter sandwiches and Ramen noodles. My wife and I both cook meals but we can’t seem to get our son (age 11) remotely interested in cooking. How do we get him interested in learning how to cook for himself?

A: You’re absolutely right—everyone should be able to cook enough to feed themselves. Most of us will never become great chefs, but it is possible to get your son to join you in the “not-a-whiz-in-the-kitchen” category. At the very least, knowing how to cook a few things will improve your son’s diet–kids who can cook are less likely to rely on fast food and more likely to eat healthier foods. There are a number of other advantages, which I’ll get to in a minute. But your first step should be to try to figure out what your son has against getting in front of the stove.
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When Tempers Flare

Dear Mr. Dad: My son is six, and he’s still having temper tantrums. Call me crazy, but I thought they would have petered out long ago. Most of the other parents we know say their kids stopped having tantrums when they were two or three. But my son is giving no indication that he’s going to relent anytime soon. What should we do? How long do we have to wait for him to stop?

A: Since you asked for it, I’ll tell you: You’re crazy. If you think you can just sit around and wait for your son to grow out of throwing tantrums, you’re going to be very, very disappointed and frustrated. In fact, given how long this has lasted, there’s a good chance that you and your spouse are the reason your son is still having tantrums in the first place. The only way to bring his reign of terror to an end is for you to step in and start doing something about it. Now.
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But, Dad, Everyone Else Has One…

Dear Mr. Dad: My wife and I have been debating this for some time but have yet to agree: When should we let our 10-year old daughter have a cell phone? She says all of her friends have one and, as far as I can tell, she’s right. I don’t feel that she needs one, nor do I think she’s old enough for a $400 piece of equipment. My wife disagrees and says our daughter needs a phone for safety. I’ve been holding my ground, but the pressure from wife and daughter is getting unbearable. What do we do?

A: Let’s start with a reality check. I’m betting that, despite what you’ve seen, not all of your daughter’s friends actually do have a phone. According to a recent study by the National Consumers League, only 56% of 8-12-year olds (“only” is a relative term).That said, as the dad of a 10-year old daughter, I feel you. Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all, black-and-white solution. Cost definitely figures in somewhere, but it’s mostly about maturity. Some 9-year olds might be able to handle the responsibilities of having a phone while some 14-year olds might not be.
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