Sexual Assault in the 80s and Christine Blasey Ford’s Testimony

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Dr. Ford’s testimony alleging that Judge Kavanaugh attempted to rape her when she was 15 was extremely difficult to watch as she was and still is deeply traumatized by the event. Kavanaugh’s abrasive and highly rehearsed obstructionist response was even more difficult to watch. In response I decided to look at public data to see if the type of attack Ford described was typical of that observed by social scientists.

I used the Longitudinal Study of Violence Against Women (Citation below). This study does not match her cohort as it follows women who were born between 1972 and 1973 while Ford as born in 1967. But one should thing the threats of violence against women in that time were similar to those faced by Ford. The study interviews women first entering public colleges at ages 18 during their orientation then asks them follow up questions at ages 19, 20, 21, and 22.

Over each subsequent interview period more and more of the sample dropped out of the study leaving only 47.9% who completed the full study. That said, the study is detailed with hundreds of difficult and intrusive questions that tolerant students responded to.
Ford’s Testimony
First off I would like to look at childhood sexual assault data. Was Ford’s experience typical of those suffering this kind of trauma or no?

She reported to be aged 15 at the time which is less common as the risk of such trauma increases with age.

She reported that Kavanaugh attempted to have sex with her. Most of the respondents to the study reported that they had not had yet that should surprise nobody.

Ford reported that Kavanaugh was somewhere between a casual acquaintance and a friend. She had been at several events with him in the past. One of the boys that she had dated had introduced him to her.

Finally, during the dreadful event, how did she communicate her unwillingness? Ford use both physical resistance as well as screaming to resist the attack.

Obviously a general study can have little if any bearing evaluating the truth of an individual claim. However, it is worth noting that of the women who responded to this study and the millions they are sampled from, should and would be able to personally to relate to the terrible events that happened these 37 years ago. As a man largely personally insulated from such violent and devastating aggression, I found myself deeply moved by Ford’s testimony.

Reviewing this data personally has been difficult for me.

General Trends

Use of force

Looking more generally at the data in the longitudinal study you can see women who are first interviewed at 18 slowly or quickly move from being yet unvictimized to becoming victims through their college years.

The above figure shows four variables measured at time of entry into college and each year after. The initial year for each variable does not list a number but each year after is numbered sequentially. The chart shows self reported rates from top to bottom of actions women were forced to perform or nearly so through the use of force by males: 1 Sexual acts such a oral or annual sex, 2 Sex play, 3 Intercourse, and 4 unsuccessful attempts at intercourse.

The need for imputation was due to a high drop out rate from the study especially among those who reported such acts. In order to generate the imputed numbers I just assumed that anybody that reported any of the above activities in previous years would report them in future years if they had been interviewed. As a result all of these numbers are under-representational of the actual rates of sexual assault. To calculate the percentages that these values are scaled from, I divided each total number of those being reported by the total sample size 1580.

Use of other coercive means

I also looked at the use of other coercive means in order to obtain or attempt to obtain sex from an unwilling partner.
The interviewers asked the women if they had engaged in sex because of a figure of authority forced them to through their power or position (variable 1) or if someone in authority had attempted to (variable 2). Women seemed most likely to engage in intercourse or sex play because of excessive unwanted attention from men (variables 3 and 4). Men also were successful or attempted to obtain sex through use of excessive alcohol or drugs (variables 5 and 6).

The environment in which Dr. Ford grew up in was a dangerous environment for young women in which men often preyed upon the vulnerable and naive. Obviously only Ford, Kavanaugh, and Mark Judge know what happened in that room. Ford has undergone a lie detector test and requested professional investigators look into her claims while Kavanaughand and Mark Judge have resisted any kind of criminal investigation and refused to submit themselves to a similar polygraph test.

Code on Github

White, Jacquelyn W., University of North Carolina-Greensboro, and Humphrey, John A. Longitudinal Study of Violence Against Women: Victimization and Perpetration Among College Students in a State-Supported University in the United States, 1990-1995. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2015-09-11.

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