Koss again

I’ve previously written about Mary P. Koss’ 1993 paper Detecting the Scope of Rape : A Review of Prevalence Research Methods in a post titled Exactly what is inappropriate? and how she recommends one defines rape.

Some may argue that 1993 is 20 years ago and that she might have changed her opinion since then.

So let’s take a look.

She published a paper titled Emerging issues in the measurement of rape victimization (abstract) in 2011 in the Violence Against Women journal. That paper seem relevant and may shine some light on what her current stance is on this issue. Unfortunately that paper is behind a paywall and hence I haven’t read it. So we’ll have to look elsewhere.

Let’s start with this paragraph from a paper preliminary titled Sexual Victimization in College Men in Chile: Prevalence, Contexts and Risk Factors she co-authored with Jocelyn Lehrer and Evelyn Lehrer in 2010:

It would also be desirable to conduct further quantitative inquiry using the revised SES (Koss et al. 2007), which contains items that have been crafted with behavior-specific wording to elicit information on a range of SV experiences. This will make it possible to base men’s rape prevalence estimates with more specificity on acts that involve sustaining forced penetration, leaving less leeway for men’s individual perceptions of what constitutes ‘forced sex.’

This paper later was submitted to Archives of Sexual Behavior in September 2010 and after a revision it was published online in late 2012 and on paper in early 2013. It has now changed its title to Unwanted Sexual Experiences in Young Men: Evidence from a Survey of University Students in Chile and it’s available to browse for free for 5 minutes if one registers at DeepDyve. 5 minutes were just enough time for me to verify that the paragraph quoted above were still present in the revised and published paper.

In that paper an affirmative response(from male respondents) to:

Someone forced me to have sex using physical force.

…was coded as physically-forced sex.

Lehrer, Lehrer, Lehrer and Oyarzún have, using the same 2005 dataset, written a paper called : Prevalence of and Risk Factors for Sexual Victimization in College Women in Chile.

In that paper an affirmative response (from female respondents) to:

Someone forced me to have sex using physical force.

…was coded as rape.

The survey was done using Mary P Koss et al’s SES questionaire/methodology.

So what about the revised SES they state would be better to use for male respondents?

A Mary P. Koss et al 2007 paper titled Revising the SES: A Collaborative Process to Improve Assessment of Sexual Aggression and Victimization has a paragraph stating this:

Although men may sometimes sexually penetrate women when ambivalent about their own desires, these acts fail to meet legal definitions of rape that are based on penetration of the body of the victim.

Oh, that is an insidious and clever sentence. First note how male victimization is being downplayed by the victims being described as being “ambivalent about their own desires”. Secondly note how the part about legal definitions heavily imply that all legal definitions of rape require the victim to be the one being penetrated. Some doesn’t – for instance Ohio’s law on rape (1) and Koss’ home state Arizone has removed rape as a legal definition and use gender neutral defined sexual assault.

And if one looks at the actual questions used in the revised SES one’ll see that none of them are suited for capturing male victims who were made to penetrate (or men ambivalent about their desires as Koss describes them). The revised SES is available here at Measure Instrument Database for the Social Sciences (MIDSS).

1: Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2907.02 Rape:

Felony of the first degree

No personal shall engage in sexual conduct with another who is not the spouse of the offender or who is the spouse of the offender but is living separate and apart from the offender, when:

The offender substantially impairs the other person’s judgment or control by administering any drug, intoxicant, or controlled substance to the other person surreptitiously or by force, threat of force, or deception.
The victim is less than thirteen years of age.
The victim’s ability to resist or consent is substantially impaired because of a mental or physical condition or because of advanced age.

Sexual conduct is defined as

“Sexual conduct” means vaginal intercourse between a male and female; anal intercourse, fellatio, and cunnilingus between persons regardless of sex; and, without privilege to do so, the insertion, however slight, of any part of the body or any instrument, apparatus, or other object into the vaginal or anal opening of another. Penetration, however slight, is sufficient to complete vaginal or anal intercourse.

Elements of this article have previously been published as comments here on FeministCritics and here on Genderratic and possible other places as well.

8 thoughts on “Koss again

  1. Hi Tamen, it took me a while to finish this off in response to your earlier comment. I’ll post this to your blog too, although I think it’s also relevant here because it adds to your example of a small number of influential people, especially Mary Koss, publishing research that (I think) promotes one particular perspective without sufficient justification.

    Based on the various quotes you give above, I agree with you that Koss seems to still be defending her one-sided definition of rape. The CDC’s responses to questions about their exclusionary definition of rape also suggest that either Koss herself or other people are certainly still using this definition today.[1,2] One thing that’s come up often in my discussions with feminists is just how many of them also think her (and, in some sense, the CDC’s) definition of rape is ridiculous. This would be a good thing for us to campaign on imho. We’d find a lot of support from many feminists. Not only that but lots of good feminist arguments can be made for our view.

    Lehrer, Lehrer, Lehrer and Oyarzún have, using the same 2005 dataset, written a paper called : Prevalence of and Risk Factors for Sexual Victimization in College Women in Chile.

    Yes. So first off I had to check that you didn’t have a typo in the author list! Perhaps another incestuous field of research? Beyond that, it’s interesting to compare the results of this paper (see link [3] below) to those of Lehrer, Lehrer and Koss (2010) [4 and 5, for the draft and journal versions, respectively] which, as you say, used data gathered at the same time using the same survey with the same group of students but focused on the male victims rather than the female victims. The paper on male victims reported a slightly higher lifetime prevalence (up to college age) of completed rape than did the paper on female victims (10.3% vs 9%). Female victims were somewhat more likely to report less severe forms of sexual violence, including attempted rape and unwanted touching. Overall these data are not entirely consistent with the gender-based violence conception of sexual abuse imho.

    These results being published in separate papers written in different styles over 3 years apart makes it a bit harder to see this comparison. Perhaps more significantly, the authors don’t seem to encourage a comparison: indeed, as far as I can see, they don’t ever say anything about the possibility of comparing equivalent data for men and women. A concise but typical example of their wording can be seen in the abstract: “We administered a closed-ended questionnaire to students enrolled in general education courses at a major public university in Santiago. This study utilizes the sample of men (N=466).” The idea of comparing results is at best left hanging. The Discussion section has several paragraphs under the subheading “Prevalence of [sexual violence] since age 14” but no mention of the fact that men reported completed rape at least as often as did women is to be found. Instead the entire section is basically an argument that being made to penetrate isn’t rape and that, since so many of the perpetrators were women, it might only have been “moderately upsetting” anyway.

    There are surprisingly few ties binding the papers together, to facilitate a comparison, as well. The first paper, on women victims, contains the following footnote

    In additional studies, currently in progress, we are analyzing other data collected in this survey, including women’s experiences of physical and psychological dating violence.

    which clearly focuses on women and doesn’t explicitly remind the reader of the results for men. The subsequent paper on male victims certainly references this (women victims of sexual violence) paper by Lehrer, Lehrer, Lehrer and Oyarzún (2007). However, at no point, as far as I can see, does it state that this reference has equivalent results for women. All four mentions of the paper are found in the following paragraph

    Regarding other risk factors, measures of poor family functioning and cohesiveness have been linked with heightened risk of subsequent SV (Classen et al., 2005), and some studies suggest that witnessing domestic violence in childhood may
    increase vulnerability (Lehrer et al., 2007; Vézina & Hébert, 2007). Mixed findings have been reported regarding socioeconomic status of the family of origin (Hines, 2007; Lehrer et al., 2007). With regard to living arrangements, college students who reside away from their parents have less supervision and family support and may therefore be more vulnerable (Lehrer et al., 2007). Other research has found associations between measures of voluntary sexual activity (e.g., frequency of consensual sex, multiple partners) and exposure to potential sexual aggressors (Bachar & Koss, 2001; Rickert & Wiemann, 1998). Urbanicity may also affect such exposure (Lehrer et al., 2007), but has received less attention to date.

    which clearly doesn’t show the reader that (Lehrer et al., 2007) is almost equivalent to the current paper and based on the same data but for women victims. I think this is a serious flaw in the paper. Many researchers and policy makers would want to compare equivalent data for various demographic groups from the same survey/sample. If such a comparison for men and women isn’t valid, then imho the authors should explain clearly and directly why not, which I don’t believe they do, and why we should trust the data at all in that case.

    The closest the authors come to this is to say that it’s possible that forced sex isn’t as unpleasant/harmful for men as it is for women. However, this is far from proven, as the authors here say themselves, and in any case this is no reason not to observe that the prevalence rates were in fact the same, even if the impact on the individuals might possibly have been different on average. It seems to me that there’s a big difference between: (1) thinking of rape as gender-based violence that some men do to women because of gender norms that privilege men etc; and (2) thinking of rape as something that both men and women do to each other but which might possibly be more distressing to women, even though that is very debatable in itself and not a perspective I would endorse or view as helpful for men or women.

    The above is based on the “preliminary draft” pdf file in Tamen’s post. However, the published journal article can also be read for free as he says and it is almost the same. This is to be expected given that the article was submitted to the journal two days after the date on the draft (ie probably the draft was no longer preliminary at that stage but they’d just left that note in).

    Tamen quoting Koss et al. (see his post above):

    Although men may sometimes sexually penetrate women when ambivalent about their own desires, these acts fail to meet legal definitions of rape that are based on penetration of the body of the victim.

    Oh, that is an insidious and clever sentence. First note how male victimization is being downplayed by the victims being described as being “ambivalent about their own desires”. Secondly note how the part about legal definitions heavily imply that all legal definitions if rape require the victim to be the one being penetrated.

    Couldn’t this also be read as the authors not understanding that an erection doesn’t equal consent? Either that or male hyperagency? It seems as if these academics are unable to imagine how a man could be made to penetrate while intoxicated, asleep or even when he knows full well he doesn’t want to proceed. They seem unable to imagine the man having a passive or entirely unwilling role in sex.

    This will make it possible to base men’s rape prevalence estimates with more specificity on acts that involve sustaining forced penetration, leaving less leeway for men’s individual perceptions of what constitutes ‘forced sex.’

    This sentence also strikes me as pretty dismissive of men’s concerns. The attitude seems to be that if men report feeling victimised too, it’s because men are cheating or not answering the questions right! Those pesky patriarchs! I doubt these authors have ever adopted a similar tone in passages about women’s “individual perceptions” of sexual victimisation.

    [1] http://www.reddit.com/r/MensRights/comments/1btu0n/ (Yes, I know I’m showing you your own thread!)

    [2] http://manboobz.com/2013/10/29/cdc-mra-claims-that-40-of-rapists-are-women-are-based-on-bad-math-and-misuse-of-our-data/ Btw the NOTE at the end of this article is funny and doesn’t exactly give confidence in the CDC’s “subject matter experts.”

    [3] https://guttmacher.org/pubs/journals/3316807.html

    [4] http://paa2011.princeton.edu/papers/110484 (Opens pdf.)

    [5] http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10508-012-0004-x

  2. I noticed something that reading one of the Congo rape studies that I think will interest you. The rate of reported sexual violence reported by men and women outside of the war context is almost equal. For women 8.5% for men 7.7%. It is in this study:

    Association of Sexual Violence and Human Rights Violations With Physical and Mental Health in Territories of the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo

  3. Thanks Mortimer,

    I have a correction though for your numbers. Table 1 in that paper is pretty hard to read and not very intuitive and I believe you’ve made an easily made mistake.

    30.5% of women reported IPV, 8.5% of these again reported sexual IPV.
    16.6% of men reported IPV, 7.7% of these again reported sexual IPV

    Doing some calculation (estimates really since these are weighted figures) we get that:
    30.5% * 8.5% = 2.6% (or 19 / 559 = 3.3%) of women reported sexual IPV
    16.6% * 7.7% = 1,3% (or 7 / 362 = 1.9%) of men reported sexual IPV

    39.7% of women reported sexual violence, of these 74.3% reported conflict-related sexual violence and 13.5% reported community based sexual violence.

    23.5% of men reported sexual violence, of these 64.5% reported conflict-related sexual violence and 6.5% reported community based sexual violence.

    Which makes the numbers less equal than you initially made them out to be.

    Also of note though is the fact that 41.1% of women reporting conflict-related sexual violence reported only female perpetrators and 0.2% reported both male and female perpetrators.

    10% of men reporting conflict-related sexual violence reported only female perpetrators and 1.1 reported both male and female perpetrators.

    This makes women the perpetrators of a significant portion of conflict-related sexual violence in Congo.

    The paper is available for free for anyone using a Norwegian IP-address from this URL: http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=186342

    The data cited above is taken from Table 1.

  4. Pingback: On derailment | Feminist Critics
  5. Pingback: On derailment | Tamen's writings

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