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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics


When I was in graduate school for social work, a startling statistic dripped from the lips of many female students with whom I attended classes. Apparently, during college, 1 in 4 women would be raped while 1 in 3 women were said to be sexually abused at some point during their lifetime.


The perpetuation of sexual assault and rape was said to be so high that it constituted a “rape culture” within the United States (U.S.). From that time, I recall self-declared radical feminists within the university pointing proverbial fingers at me and other male students.


We were told that the alleged epidemic of sexual battery against females was our fault. Using the irrational belief related to a global evaluation concerning all men, my female colleagues treated men as a monolith—an organized whole that acts as a single unified powerful or influential force.


Their absurdly illogical and unreasonable claim was easy to dismiss. After all, it was so irrational that if a variable other than “men” were substituted, the claim would be quickly disregarded. To understand what I mean, consider the following modus ponens syllogism:


Form – If p, then q; p; therefore, q.


Example – If men rape, then all men rape; men rape; therefore, all men rape.


Imagine using the same illogical premises regarding women:


Example – If women accuse all men of rape, then all women are bat shit crazy; women accuse all men of rape; therefore all women are bat shit crazy.


The absurdity of irrational proposals such as these relies on overgeneralization. As a man, I’m not responsible or accountable for the behavior of other men. Nevertheless, my female peers used motivated reasoning and appeals to emotion to cast aspersions against all males within the university.


For those men who dared to challenge the Kafka trap set for us, even mainstream publications ridiculed the rational “not all men” defense. Still, it isn’t as though I didn’t understand the ludicrous nature of arguments leveled against all men.


After all, statistical data didn’t manifest out of thin air. As an example, “The Campus Sexual Assault (CSA) Study” painted a grim picture of college campus rape.


This is where critical analysis of information is required. Erroneous data categorized by misinformation (mistakes), disinformation (deception), or malinformation (inconvenient truth) may be used to paint grim pictures, though intentional or unintentional misrepresentations warrant criticism.


Just as not all men are rapists, not all information is trustworthy. Likewise, not all statistics are accurate, just as not all people who use stats intend on providing valid and reliable information.


According to one source, “The full quote — “There are three kinds of lies: Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics” — has been attributed to Mark Twain, who himself attributed it to British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, who might never have said it in the first place.”


Irrespective of who originated the quote, it describes the persuasive power of statistics to bolster weak arguments. Revisiting the aforementioned CSA data, what comes to your mind when considering the terms “sexual assault” and “rape”?


Do you envision a person staring at you for longer than you’d like, an accidental brush of a hand across your body, or an unwanted kiss? According to one source which critiques the shortcomings of the CSA and similar surveys:


Other critics have focused not so much on the limited scope of the survey, but rather its broad definition of sexual assault, which includes kissing and groping. The study’s definition of sexual assault includes both rape — described as oral, anal, and vaginal penetration — and sexual battery, which was described as “sexual contact only, such as forced kissing and fondling.” Some argue that an unwanted kiss should not be conflated with other kinds of more severe sexual assault or rape.


I argue that a grandmother who forcefully kisses her grandchildren on the cheek has not sexually assaulted or raped the children. As well, sexual assault in the form of forced groping isn’t the same thing as forced anal penetration. Conflation of these terms skews statistical data.


Another example of conflation that became quite popular when I was in graduate school was how the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) categorized military sexual assault. According to one source:


VA uses the term “military sexual trauma” (MST) to refer to sexual assault or threatening sexual harassment experienced during military service. MST includes any sexual activity during military service in which you are involved against your will or when unable to say no. Examples include:


·  Being pressured or coerced into sexual activities, such as with threats of negative treatment if you refuse to cooperate or with promises of better treatment

·  Sexual contact or activities without your consent, including when you were asleep or intoxicated

·  Being overpowered or physically forced to have sex

·  Being touched or grabbed in a sexual way that made you uncomfortable, including during “hazing” experiences

·  Comments about your body or sexual activities that you found threatening

·  Unwanted sexual advances that you found threatening


By this standard, I experienced MST when being touched and grabbed in a sexual way, which made me uncomfortable, during hazing experiences in the Marine Corps. Likewise, I can’t recall a time when serving in the military that comments about my body and sexual activities weren’t present.


Again, I argue that there’s a difference between something like being “overpowered or physically forced to have sex” and annoying or disrespectful comments about one’s physique. Nevertheless, the conflation of these experiences leads to lies, damn lies, and statistics.


Keeping with an uncontroversial topic (/sarcasm), I now turn to a 2023 study conducted by the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Sydney. Researchers purportedly found that around “one in six (15.1%) Australian men reports sexual feelings towards children.”


It further concluded that “Approximately one third of this group reports sexually offending against children,” and, “Around one in ten (9.4%) Australian men has sexually offended against children.” Is one to accept at face value these stats or think critically about the data?


Apparently, one source answers this question by declaring, “Overall, the study was well designed and conducted.” However, I looked further into the limitations of the UNSW methodology. Authors of the study admit:


This report is part of an international survey that included men in Australia, the US and the UK [United Kingdom], where the age of consent varies from 16 – 18 depending on the region and the offense. Accordingly, we used 18 as the age of consent for all sexual offences, although the age of consent for sexual activity is 16 in Australia. Therefore, some of what is noted as sexual contact with a child in our findings may be consensual activity (for instance, a 19 year old having sex with a 17 year old), which is a limitation of the survey.


The legal age of consent, from a federal level, is 18-years-old in the U.S. As the study suggests, the minimum age in Australia is 16-years-old, as is the case in the U.K. Thus, the term “children” may be applied to those under the age of 18, though within the legal age of consent.


Therefore, the term “children” is misleading. If 16- and 17-year-olds can legally engage in sexual activity in Australia and the U.K., then a distinction may be drawn regarding the ambiguous nature of what the study aims to report.


Is the study addressing moral and ethical considerations, legal discrepancies, or perhaps something else? Although reviewed sources within the study related to pedophilia, authors of the research were careful not to describe sampled men as pedophiles.


Could the reason for this relate to pedophilic disorder only pertaining to children 13-years-old and younger, not 16-years-old or older? Without explanation of this sort, one wonders whether the purpose of the study serves to disinform rather than inform people about men.


Shifting to a somewhat less controversial topic (/sarcasm), perhaps you recall in 2022, when President Joe Biden erroneously stated, “Guns are the number one killer of children in the United States of America.” Upon what statistical data was his proposal based?


First, it’s important to understand that the legal age of majority (adult) in the U.S. is 18-years-old. Second, Biden’s statement was issued subsequent to a report from The New England Journal of Medicine which stated:


The previous analysis, which examined data through 2016, showed that firearm-related injuries were second only to motor vehicle crashes (both traffic-related and nontraffic-related) as the leading cause of death among children and adolescents, defined as persons 1 to 19 years of age. Since 2016, that gap has narrowed, and in 2020, firearm-related injuries became the leading cause of death in that age group.


Did you catch the sleight of hand? Suppose I told you that sexually transmitted infections (STIs) were on the rise for “children and adolescents, defined as persons 1 to 19 years of age.” Would you conclude that toddlers were engaging in rampant sexual promiscuity?


Could it perhaps be that conflation of 18- and 19-year-olds would skew STI statistics, thus making it appear to be as though “children” were experiencing outbreaks of infections? Biden’s erroneous statement was based on an assessment with poor methodology.


This is nothing new, as it pertains to gun control. Perhaps you’ve heard about how gun violence is a prominent issue within the U.S. What comes to mind when you hear this claim? Do you think of 18- and 19-year-old gang members shooting one another in the streets?


According to Pew Research Center (“Pew”), “In 2021, 54% of all gun-related deaths in the U.S. were suicides (26,328).” Over half of the so-called gun violence deaths which skew data are suicide-related. Noteworthy, my critique isn’t to minimize the occurrence of gun-related deaths.


Rather, I’m highlighting that statistical data can present varied results depending on what is being measured and how results are reported. Consider that the Pew further reported:


Older children and teens are much more likely than younger kids to be killed in gun-related incidents. Those ages 12 to 17 accounted for 86% of all gun deaths among children and teens in 2021.


Could it be that many of the gun violence deaths, which aren’t related to suicide, may be due to gang violence? For context, consider what I stated in a blog entry entitled Body Count:


I make no secret of the fact that in my youth I befriended gang members. I cover this matter in blogposts entitled ‘Bout That Action, 2-Nice, Anything, and Live and Let Live.


I share this personal information, because I understand the prevalence of actual gun-related incidents of violence among gang members. Moreover, Pew reported, “Black children and teens were roughly five times as likely as their White counterparts to die from gunfire in 2021.”


As such, skewing data to misrepresent an alleged gun violence epidemic for the U.S. as a whole is incredulous, given that a relatively small proportion of individuals are responsible for the statistical spike. It appears as though black and gang-affiliated individuals are mostly responsible for this behavior.


Would you be surprised to learn Pew added that boys “accounted for 83% of all gun deaths among children and teens in 2021”? Of course, males are the issue.


Without my efforts herein to illustrate that not all men are rapists, Australian men aren’t molesting children on mass, and it’s actually 12- to 19-year-old males – particularly within the black racial demographic – who are responsible for gun violence, would you have otherwise been misled by statistical data?


You may’ve merely encountered deceptively presented statistics which were unrepresentative of truth and reality. Herein, men are inappropriately labeled rapists, we allegedly prey on children, and we’re apparently trigger-happy.


In conclusion, through use of lies, damned lies, and statistics, people may easily be misled. Although I take seriously the matters of rape, child molestation, and gun violence, I reject the misuse of statistical data that muddles the message for adequate measures to address these issues.


When working with clients, I invite people to think for themselves rather than being blindly misled by others. If this rational approach to living is something in which you may be interested, I look forward to hearing from you.


If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.


As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.


At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!



Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW




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