How Not to use a Press Release

How did a press release titled “Promiscuous men more likely to rape” become a news story, “Women who dress provocatively more likely to be raped”?

According to the Daily Telegraph, women who are dressed provocatively, are flirtatious and drunk or a combination of any are more likely to be raped.  Yet the research actually showed that how women dressed and behaved had no statistically significant effect and men were actually more likely to coerce sober women into sex.

Moreover, Sophia Shaw, an MSc student at Leicester University, was surprised to be referred to as an expert scientist in the Daily Telegraph.  The research was towards her dissertation.  She complained to the paper that their version placed all the blame on women which was definitely not her intention at all.

The real story is that 101 men aged between 18 and 70 were asked how they would respond in various scenarios with a woman, varying how the woman was dressed, how sober she was, how assertive she was and how many sexual partners she had had.  The results found that men with more sexual experience were more likely to coerce a woman into sex.  The findings were discussed at an academic conference, where it was clear the research was not finished and the findings were very preliminary.

There are also flaws, which both the Daily Telegraph and the original press release fail to mention, chiefly that 101 men of such a broad age range is a very small, unrepresentative sample.  The survey relied on the men’s replies only and people, especially when surveyed about their love lives, tend to be economical with the truth.  The survey did not take into account that the men may have behaved differently when playing the same scenarios whilst under the influence of drink.

The survey is valid as initial research which indicates further areas to study.  But why did the British Psychological Society see fit to turn unpublished, unfinished research into a press release?  Following up the story, Ben Goldacre, had to personally phone the student because he couldn’t read the research for himself.

There are two major fails here.  Firstly the British Psychological Society should not be issuing press releases of initial research.  Secondly, journalists should not be twisting any such press release into a story that fits their own agenda, especially when that agenda seeks to lay all the blame for rape with women.

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