Bad Study of the Week: A Social Life Predisposes Women to Rape

By Allison Bond | June 23, 2009 4:47 pm

UPDATE: The article discussed below has since been removed from the Telegraph‘s Web site, with no word on whether the story was officially retracted. As several commenters pointed out, the sensationalism of the article differed quite a bit from the actual findings of the article. Essentially, the Telegraph makes it seem as though the study makes the scientifically dubious claim that men are insensitive sex-mongers, while women who behave a certain way encourage men to rape them. So perhaps the title of “Worst Science Article of the Week” is more in order. For more discussion of this matter, see here and here.

Outgoing women who drink socially and wear skirts, beware: You have predisposed yourself to being raped. At least, that’s what a highly questionable study headed by psychologists at the University of Leicester asserts.

The first problems lie in the study subjects, not to mention the methods: To find out the opinions of the male population (through a survey—never the most reliable of data sets) the researchers recruited 101 men from local and university soccer and rugby teams. It’s safe to say that this is not an accurate sample of a diverse male population.

Next, the researchers surveyed the subjects about “how far” they would go with a woman “before calling it a night.” For a subject as emotionally, sociologically, and politically charged as rape, a subject that has many contributing variables, these questions are somewhat of an oversimplification, not to mention potentially misleading to both respondents and researchers.

So what were the results? Here’s what the Telegraph tells us:

[Researchers] found that the skimpier the dress and the more outgoing the woman, the less likely a man was to take no for an answer… “Men showed a ‘surprising’ propensity to coerce women into sex, especially those that were considered promiscuous. The research seems to show that men are not so much charming women into bed as coercing them,” said [lead researcher Sophia Shaw]. “I was quite surprised how far ordinary men were prepared to go”…. Many men admitted they would go to within a point of rape before realising the girl was not interested in sex.

The Guardian compared the Telegraph article against the actual study:

[Shaw] was surprised to have been presented as an expert scientist on the pages of the Daily Telegraph, as she is an MSc student, and this was her dissertation project. Also it was not finished. “My findings are very preliminary,” she said….

Shaw spoke to about 100 men, presenting them with “being with a woman”, and asking them when they would “call it a night”. The idea was to explore men’s attitudes towards coercing women into sex.

“I’m very aware that there are limitations to my study. It’s self-report data about sensitive issues, so that’s got its flaws, and participants were answering when sober, and so on,” she said.

But more than that, she told me, every single one of the first four statements made by the Telegraph was an unambiguous, incorrect, misrepresentation of her findings.

Women who drink alcohol, wear short skirts and are outgoing are more likely to be raped? “This is completely inaccurate,” Shaw said. “We found no difference whatsoever. The alcohol thing is also completely wrong: if anything, we found that men reported they were willing to go further with women who are completely sober.”

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Image: flickr / 416style 

MORE ABOUT: bad science, gender, rape

    That’s very misandristic and androphobic entry!

  • Phil

    Interesting to compare the Telegraph’s reporting with the press release on the University of Leicester website:

  • Eric

    Wow, talk about a night and day difference. The Telegraph really seems to have gone out of the way to report it in a particular slant. I failed to notice, but was the Telegraph reporter an ex-footballer who had been accused of rape?

  • Christina Viering


  • Gillian Nuttall

    You and the Telegraph say, “researchers recruited 101 men from local and university soccer and rugby teams”

    Um the university article simply says that 100 men between 18 and 70 were surveyed. So, if your statement is also correct then Leicester has 70 year olds in soccer and rugby teams. Damn they stay fit a long time in Leicester!

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  • Steve Jones

    @Gillian Nuttall

    The Telegraph article (or at least the one now pointed to) reads

    “Miss Shaw and her team, who present their results at the Forensic Psychology Annual conference run by the British Psychological Society, recruited 101 men, aged 18 to 70, from their university and local rugby and football clubs. ”

    There is a big difference between being in a team and a club. Lots of people are members of the latter without being the former (often to advanced ages). So is the current Telegraph article right, is it this one or neither right? In any case, team or club, then it’s hardly a random choice of people if that was the way it was done.

    I think I’d want to see the full paper before commenting. I’m a bit dubious about this sort of survey anyway – there are all sorts of ways that wording can be interpreted differently, not to mention the use of the word coercion. Quite where wooing goes to persuasion goes to coercion is going to be at different points to different people. Without seeing the actual wording then it’s difficult to judge.

  • Jo

    Ms Bond, perhaps you shouldn’t base your comments so strongly on an article that is founded on misrepresetned facts! The Telegraph, which is where you seem to have got your information from, has recenenly adapted the online article after complaints of wrongly reporting the studies findings so far. Moreso, the information printed is still incorrect, as the actual study focuses on factors from the male point of view, rather than blaming the behaviours of women! The Guardian have since published an interesting article, which perhaps you should read, alongside the press release on the University of Leicester website.

  • Trixie Leitz

    You may be interested in Ben Goldacre’s blog on this story, at

    In short, the Telegraph story blatantly and cynically misrepresented the purpose and findings of Ms Shaw’s student project.

  • Sweets says

    I dont get it a woman can get raped with plenty clothes own it really doesnt matter if the bastard wants it hes gon take it regardless of weither shes drunk, sober or wasted! I wonder if they did a test like that for men?

  • Bunglebonse

    Seriously….lets all start telling the truth for a second…and Women…stay the f*** out of this one…you are not men…and dont think like men….A woman that is visably drunk(vulnerable, off guard etc) and wearing very few clothes thus displaying more of her body than other girls is without doubt at more risk of being raped than a woman that is Sober and dressed more conservatively…ofcourse there are other factors to be considered here. if the woman is alone, drunk, wearing revealing clothes and walking home at night then the chances of being raped by someone other than a serial rapist (who will take the opportunity with any woman) is higer than a woman in a scenario totally opposite to this….if any man says otherwise he is either a liar,saint or possibly not interested in girls.

    So is this article so outrageous…No….has it been taken out of context from the original article…who cares…it’s still a valid point…Now f*** off!!!

    [Moderator’s note: edited out the cuss words.]


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