The data behind DayOne's 1 in 8 claim

DayOne, the Sexual Assault & Trauma Center in Providence, says: "In Rhode Island it is estimated that one in eight women have been sexually assaulted during their lifetime."

This number came up a couple of weeks ago at a news conference held by the R.I. State-Wide Task Force on Adult Sexual Assault. We were alarmed by this number and wanted to research further.

One note before we begin: following the lead of PolitiFact national, we will refrain from using our "Truth-O-Meter" for this report. PolitiFact national has based its decision on the  well-documented underreporting of sexual assault. There is, as a result, no solid data on sexual assault as there is for robbery or murder.

There are numbers for sexual assault released each year by the FBI in its   "Uniform Crime Report Crime." In Rhode Island there were 652 sexual offenses reported to police in 2015;  641 in 2014 and 708 in 2013.

 But nationally, the  Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, a private advocacy group,  estimates 68 percent of sexual assaults go unreported.

One in eight women

Peg Langhammer, the executive director of DayOne, told us the "one in eight" number came from a 2003 "Rape in Rhode Island" study completed by the National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center at the Medical University of South Carolina.

The research center  took the latest census data available at that time -- a 2000 report --- and combined it with information from two phone surveys 12,000 women, ages 18 and older, in which 13.4 percent of adult women said they had been raped.

The center then adjusted this data for Rhode Island — women of different socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds have different levels of perceived "risk" — to determine  that about 13.2 percent of Rhode Island women have been victims of "one or more completed forcible rapes during their lifetime."  

Langhammer also pointed to a 2010 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey" report that showed 14.8 percent or about 64,000 Rhode Island women have been raped in their lifetime.

That figures out to just under one in seven women. Langhammer used he South Carolina number that is lower, 7.57 to 1 to be precise.   

A 2014 National Research Council study, commissioned by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Estimating the Incidence of Rape and Sexual Assault, showed 19.1 percent of women, or one in five, nationally had been raped, but didn’t provide a state-by-state breakdown.

What is sexual assault?

The terminology gets tricky. "Rape," "sexual contact," and "sexual assault" are often used interchangeably, but do not always mean the same thing, said Claire Hall, a Title IX investigator/higher education advisor for UECAT Compliance Solutions, a private company.

"We live in a weird world where, across the country, people don’t know how to define whether they were assaulted or not," Hall said in a telephone interview.

Part of that confusion comes from the differences in the law from state to state.

Rhode Island law defines first degree sexual assault  as forced "sexual penetration" meaning "any intrusion, however slight," of a body part or object, into the genitals or "anal openings" of another person's body. This is what many people usually think of as "rape," said Hall.

But, the definition of second degree sexual assault encompasses unwanted "sexual contact," which the law defines as "the intentional touching of the victim's or accused's intimate parts, clothed or unclothed, if that intentional touching can be reasonably construed as intended by the accused to be for the purpose of sexual arousal, gratification, or assault."

And according to the 2010 CDC report: 34.9 percent of Rhode Island women —  or one in three — had experienced what in Rhode Island would be called second degree sexual assault.

For Rhode Island men, the number is 18.7 percent — or about one in five.