The Sciences

Bad Study of the Week: A Social Life Predisposes Women to Rape

DiscoblogBy Allison BondJun 23, 2009 8:47 PM


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UPDATE: The article discussed below has since been removed from the Telegraph's Web site, with no word on whether the story was officially retracted. As several commenters pointed out, the sensationalism of the article differed quite a bit from the actual findings of the article. Essentially, the Telegraph makes it seem as though the study makes the scientifically dubious claim that men are insensitive sex-mongers, while women who behave a certain way encourage men to rape them. So perhaps the title of "Worst Science Article of the Week" is more in order. For more discussion of this matter, see here and here. Outgoing women who drink socially and wear skirts, beware: You have predisposed yourself to being raped. At least, that's what a highly questionable study headed by psychologists at the University of Leicester asserts. The first problems lie in the study subjects, not to mention the methods: To find out the opinions of the male population (through a survey—never the most reliable of data sets) the researchers recruited 101 men from local and university soccer and rugby teams. It's safe to say that this is not an accurate sample of a diverse male population. Next, the researchers surveyed the subjects about "how far" they would go with a woman "before calling it a night." For a subject as emotionally, sociologically, and politically charged as rape, a subject that has many contributing variables, these questions are somewhat of an oversimplification, not to mention potentially misleading to both respondents and researchers. So what were the results? Here's what the Telegraph tells us:

[Researchers] found that the skimpier the dress and the more outgoing the woman, the less likely a man was to take no for an answer... "Men showed a 'surprising' propensity to coerce women into sex, especially those that were considered promiscuous. The research seems to show that men are not so much charming women into bed as coercing them," said [lead researcher Sophia Shaw]. "I was quite surprised how far ordinary men were prepared to go".... Many men admitted they would go to within a point of rape before realising the girl was not interested in sex.

The Guardian compared the Telegraph article against the actual study:

[Shaw] was surprised to have been presented as an expert scientist on the pages of the Daily Telegraph, as she is an MSc student, and this was her dissertation project. Also it was not finished. "My findings are very preliminary," she said.... Shaw spoke to about 100 men, presenting them with "being with a woman", and asking them when they would "call it a night". The idea was to explore men's attitudes towards coercing women into sex. "I'm very aware that there are limitations to my study. It's self-report data about sensitive issues, so that's got its flaws, and participants were answering when sober, and so on," she said. But more than that, she told me, every single one of the first four statements made by the Telegraph was an unambiguous, incorrect, misrepresentation of her findings. Women who drink alcohol, wear short skirts and are outgoing are more likely to be raped? "This is completely inaccurate," Shaw said. "We found no difference whatsoever. The alcohol thing is also completely wrong: if anything, we found that men reported they were willing to go further with women who are completely sober."

Related Content: Discoblog: Worst Science Article of The Week: Twitter Will Make You Eeevil Discoblog: Today’s Unscientific Media Conclusion: Boobs Getting Bigger in New Zealand Discoblog: Worst Science Article Ever? Women “Evolved” to Love Shopping

Image: flickr / 416style 

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