Letter to the Editor #2 – April 18 Issue

To the Editor:

I write in response to statements attributed to Provost Mick Smyer in the article “Sexual Assault: Research vs. Reality,” which appeared in the April 11, 2014 issue of The Bucknellian. Three assertions are made in that section of the article. One is that the Sexual Experiences Survey (SES; Koss et al., 2007) is a measure of sexual “conduct,” but not necessarily of sexual assault. The second is that my interpretation of responses to the SES is mistaken in assuming that all such responses are reports of assaults. The third assertion is that my research, therefore, is not comparable to other research on sexual assault.

My student research team and I have used the SES in each of our surveys, earlier results of which figured prominently in the Campus Climate Task Force Report (The President’s Task Force on Campus Climate, 2011), providing evidence for subsequent, important steps taken by the University to address the issue of sexual assault at Bucknell. Our research findings have been peer-reviewed, published in scholarly journals, and presented at professional conferences. In their scholarly article, “Assessing sexual aggression: Addressing the gap between rape victimization and perpetration prevalence rates,” Kolivas and Gross (2007) had this to say about the SES: “The SES developed by Koss and Oros (1982), and since revised by Koss et al. (1987), is by far the most popular measure used to collect sexual victimization prevalence data … The SES … is generally considered to be the best available measure of women’s sexual victimization experiences” (emphasis in the original).

The SES was revised (RSES; Koss et al., 2007) a few years ago, and among the changes made to it was the incorporation of language in each item measuring sexual assault and rape that stipulates lack of consent as a defining characteristic (the previous, SES version, used language about “unwanted sex” but did not specify lack of consent). Language in the RSES is behaviorally specific in characterizing sexual assault and rape, but does not use those words because research has demonstrated that doing so depresses response rates. In this regard, it is also interesting to note that a recent report from the National Research Council (Kruttschnitt, Kalsbeek, & House, 2014) has recommended changes to national surveys of rape and sexual assault conducted by The Bureau of Justice Statistics that will make those surveys more consistent with the RSES-based approach.


Bill Flack

Associate Professor

Bucknell University




Kolivas, E.D., & Gross, A.M. (2007). Assessing sexual aggression: Addressing the gap between rape victimization and perpetration prevalence rates. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 12, 315-328.

Koss, M.P., Abbey, A., Campbell, R., Cook, S., Norris, J., … & White, J. (2007). Revising the SES: A collaborative process to improve assessment of sexual aggression and victimization. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 31, 357-370.

Kruttschnitt, C., Kalsbeek, W.D., & House, C.C. (Eds.) (2014). Estimating the incidence of rape and sexual assault. Panel on Measuring Rape and Sexual Assault in Bureau of Justice Statistics Household Surveys, Committee on National Statistics, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, National Research Council, Washington, DC.

The President’s Task Force on Campus Climate (September 2011). The campus climate for Bucknell University students: A multifaceted analysis presented to President John Bravman. Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA.

(Visited 74 times, 1 visits today)