The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) inflated data about teen girls and sexual assault in a news release about a new CDC report on teenage mental health. In 2021, the percentage of teen girls who reported that they had ever been “forced to have sex” was up 27 percent since 2019, the health agency said, calling it “the first increase since the CDC began monitoring this measure.”
The percentage of teen girls reporting this in the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey reporting did rise, unfortunately—but not by quite the magnitude that the CDC news release said, reports Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler. The actual increase was not 27 percent, but 18.4 percent.
And even this number leaves some room for doubt, owing to differences in data collection between previous-year surveys and 2021.
“The CDC’s focus on the challenges facing teenage girls — especially regarding mental health — is timely and important. But the CDC’s use of inflated figures on sexual violence could undermine its larger message,” suggests Kessler.
The first problem with the CDC’s data stems from rounding. In 2019, 11.4 percent of teen girls in the Youth Risk Behavior Survey said they had been forced to have sex; in the 2021 survey, it was 13.5 percent. That’s a rise of 2.1 percentage points or—put another way—an 18.4 percent increase. In presenting the data, however, the CDC rounded the 2019 number down to 11 percent and the 2021 number up to 14 percent. Using these rounded numbers, you get a 27 percent increase.
Any increase here is concerning, of course. And whether it’s 11 or 14 percent, that’s still a disturbingly large percentage of teen girls who say they’ve been forced to have sex.
But some experts suggest that CDC data inflate a rise in recent years, since a lot of schools surveyed refused to ask students questions about sexual violence.
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