CDC Inflated Data About Teen Girls and Sexual Assault
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) inflated data about teen girls and sexual assault in a news release about a new CDC report on teenage mental health. In 2021, the percentage of teen girls who reported that they had ever been “forced to have sex” was up 27 percent since 2019, the health agency said, calling it “the first increase since the CDC began monitoring this measure.”
The percentage of teen girls reporting this in the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey reporting did rise, unfortunately—but not by quite the magnitude that the CDC news release said, reports Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler. The actual increase was not 27 percent, but 18.4 percent.
And even this number leaves some room for doubt, owing to differences in data collection between previous-year surveys and 2021.
“The CDC’s focus on the challenges facing teenage girls — especially regarding mental health — is timely and important. But the CDC’s use of inflated figures on sexual violence could undermine its larger message,” suggests Kessler.
The first problem with the CDC’s data stems from rounding. In 2019, 11.4 percent of teen girls in the Youth Risk Behavior Survey said they had been forced to have sex; in the 2021 survey, it was 13.5 percent. That’s a rise of 2.1 percentage points or—put another way—an 18.4 percent increase. In presenting the data, however, the CDC rounded the 2019 number down to 11 percent and the 2021 number up to 14 percent. Using these rounded numbers, you get a 27 percent increase.
Any increase here is concerning, of course. And whether it’s 11 or 14 percent, that’s still a disturbingly large percentage of teen girls who say they’ve been forced to have sex.
But some experts suggest that CDC data inflate a rise in recent years, since a lot of schools surveyed refused to ask students questions about sexual violence.
The increase in the number of schools choosing not to ask that question is huge. In 2017, 4 percent of schools surveyed didn’t ask their students about any sexual violence and 2 percent didn’t ask about rape, according to mathematician David Stein. In 2019, a quarter of schools surveyed failed to ask questions about any sexual violence and 18 percent didn’t ask about rape. In 2021, 23 percent didn’t ask about sexual violence and, again, 18 percent didn’t ask about rape.
“That could have biased the sample by possibly removing jurisdictions with lower rates of reporting rape and sexual violence,” Kessler points out:
Stein’s analysis of the available 2019 data suggests girls who were not given the questions were considerably younger than those who had received the questions and thus less likely to have had sex and to be sexually active — two factors, he said, that are associated with a higher risk of being a victim of sexual violence.
Elizabeth L. Jeglic, a clinical psychologist who studies sexual violence prevention at John Jay College in New York, said she could not comment specifically on the CDC methodology, but she said sampling and response rate can affect findings. “If the question is asked about lifetime occurrence and younger girls are not being sampled (or less likely to be sampled) you will likely see a higher prevalence rate as older girls will have more years to experience sexual violence than younger girls,” she said in an email.
Kessler notes that “other survey questions with more robust participation by schools — such as violence in dating and violence in bullying — indicated declines, not increases.”
For instance, the National Crime Victimization Survey suggests teen rates of experiencing sexual assault and rape have declined over the past three decades. And the CDC’s Adolescent Behaviors and Experiences Survey (ABES) puts the rape victimization rate at 10.4 percent and the sexual violence victimization rate at 15.3 percent.
Kessler also noticed that the 2019 to 2021 rise was not actually the first increase. The rate also went up between 2001 and 2003 (from 10.3 to 11.9), between 2009 and 2011 (from 10.5 to 11.8), and between 2015 and 2017 (from 10.3 to 11.4).
“The recently released report provides insight on the changes that occur from the beginning to the end of the time period (in this case, 2011 to 2021),” CDC spokesperson Paul Fulton Jr. told Kessler in a statement. “CDC began monitoring the 10 year trends in the 2017 [Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data Summary & Trends Report] …In that report and again for 2019 (2009-2019) there were no significant increases in forced sex across those time periods.”
Full data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey will not be published until April. The data we have currently come from the CDC’s “Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data Summary & Trends Report: 2011-2021” report.
Sexual violence against teen girls is certainly a problem worth attention. But addressing the problem requires accurate knowledge about what’s working and what isn’t, and part of that means getting an accurate picture of whether sexual violence is increasing or decreasing and by how much. The CDC doesn’t do teens any favors by inaccurately representing the data.
Could lack of independence explain teen mental health problems? For social psychologist and pundit Jonathan Haidt (and many, many others), declines in teen mental health measures are primarily a function of social media and too much time in front of screens. And p
Article from Reason.com