Is the level of sexual violence in the U.S. comparable to that of the war-torn Congo?

 A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that this is the case. According to the study, in 2010, approximately 1.3 million women were raped, while 12.6 million women and men were victims of sexual violence.

The study included this frightening tidbit:

More than 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

Before you call the locksmith and barricade yourselves inside a fortress, however, you should read Christina Hoff Sommers’s response to the CDC study.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says that the report gives “a clear picture of the devastating impact these violent acts have on the lives of millions of Americans.”

Hoff Sommers says it gives a clear picture of something else:

In fact, what the study reveals is the devastating impact that careless advocacy research can have on truth. The report proposes an array of ambitious government-sponsored “prevention strategies” and recommends “multi-disciplinary service centers” offering survivors psychological and legal counseling as well as housing and economic assistance. But survivors of sexual violence would be better served by good research and sober estimates — not inflated statistics and sensationalism.

The CDC figures are wildly at variance with official crime numbers from the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ respected National Crime Victimization Survey. The survey reports 188, 380 rapes and sexual assaults on females and males in 2010. Not all rapes and assaults are reported, but 13.7 million is quite a discrepancy.

Hoff Sommers says that this is the result of the CDC's redefining rape and assault:

Consider: In a telephone survey with a 30 percent response rate, interviewers did not ask participants whether they had been raped. Instead of such straightforward questions, the CDC researchers described a series of sexual encounters and then they determined whether the responses indicated sexual violation. A sample of 9,086 women was asked, for example, “When you were drunk, high, drugged, or passed out and unable to consent, how many people ever had vaginal sex with you?” A majority of the 1.3 million women (61.5 percent) the CDC projected as rape victims in 2010 experienced this sort of “alcohol or drug facilitated penetration.”

What does that mean? If a woman was unconscious or severely incapacitated, everyone would call it rape. But what about sex while inebriated? Few people would say that intoxicated sex alone constitutes rape — indeed, a nontrivial percentage of all customary sexual intercourse, including marital intercourse, probably falls under that definition (and is therefore criminal according to the CDC)….

Participants were asked if they had ever had sex because someone pressured them by “telling you lies, making promises about the future they knew were untrue?” All affirmative answers were counted as “sexual violence.”

We are appalled by all forms of genuine violence against women. But some of this stuff just isn’t sexual violence. While it is not nice if somebody makes empty promises about a shared future, it is hardly the same as rape or assault.

Why is the CDC is producing such flawed data? The answer, says Hoff Sommers, can be found in a posting on the White House website by Lynn Rosenthal, an adviser on violence against women.

Rosenthal wrote:

Early in the Administration, the Vice President convened federal agencies to assess trends and identify gaps in our response to violence and abuse. We identified data collection as one of the biggest challenges we face in understanding and combatting these crime.

Thanks to the hard work of [Attorney General Eric] Holder, the FBI, law enforcement leaders, and the women’s organizations who have long advocated for this change, we are one step further towards meeting that challenge.

Feminist groups are lobbying for more money for their advocacy work, and these figures are helpful. In other words: follow the money.