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rape statistics

2007-05-10 14:37:06.52351+00 by Dan Lyke 7 comments

In the "anti-porn rants" entry I've been having a back-and-forth with the proprietor of NoPornNorthampton. One of my problems with the site and the attitudes espoused therein is that there's a lot of "I believe this person because they back up my prejudice", without dunning the claims.

Kind of like the infamous Mark Klaas lies of "50,000 children abducted annually by strangers", and much like that lie, these continue to propagate without any basis in reality, simply because they substantiate the myths which underly the current social structures. As James Watt is alleged to have said, "A lie can run around the world before the truth has got its boots on".

One of the entries there is this reprinting of a letter by Robin Morgan claiming that pornography causes less remorse in rapist. All anecdotal, but I went out looking for rape statistics.

The first two pages I found were the US DOJ Rape Trends page and the Australian Institute of Criminology Trends in Recorded Sexual Assault page. My first reaction was "whoah, theirs is going up while ours is going down", but then I re-normalized the graph, and realized that ours is just approaching their levels, and has been dropping rather dramatically (and, for once, I'm not going to claim causation between lots of cheap net porn and the drop-off in assaults, but note the correlation).

The Australian numbers are going up, although that page says:

This increase does not necessarily reflect an increase in the prevalence of sexual assault, but is likely to be influenced by an increase in reporting incidents to police.

And then goes on to state that "Victimisation surveys ... suggest that between 12 and 20 per cent of sexual assaults against women are reported to police", so that also tells us nothing about how the data between the two are related, I'd have to dig into the USDOJ numbers more deeply to figure out if there's any attempt to normalize those numbers.

But what I also found interesting was that:

In 2003, the last year for which ABS data are available, 82 per cent of recorded sexual assault victims were female.

If we can extrapolate from these numbers (yeah, that's a huge "if", and there's another big "if" in here for reporting rates), that means that roughly the same number of male adults are the victims of sexual assault as women are sexually assaulted by non-acquaintances.

Huh. I have to think about that for a bit...

[ related topics: Sexual Culture Shoes ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment How Spread of Porn Could Give the Illusion that Rape is in Decline made: 2007-05-11 18:40:02.193104+00 by: NoPornNorthampton

How Spread of Porn Could Give the Illusion that Rape is in Decline (explicit language)

This recent post from NoPornNorthampton seems relevant to this thread...

How Spread of Porn Could Give the Illusion that Rape is in Decline

Last week, we pointed out that the United Kingdom represents a large counter-example to the theory that the spread of Internet porn is reducing incidences of rape. During 2000-2005, rates of Internet penetration and rates of reported rape both soared at the same time. We will now further explore why it's risky and irresponsible to draw simple conclusions of any kind from a bare correlation of the spread of porn with reported rates of rape.

Claims that porn is cathartic have been circulating since the 1970s. However, it is easy to conceive the porn might have less benign effects on viewers and sex crimes. We can, for example, hypothesize that porn conditions women to believe that rape is not a crime, or at least not a crime that they want to report. Certainly a major theme of a great deal of porn is that abusive sexual practices are normal and should be thought of as pleasurable. We imagine this would confuse many female victims of sexual assault as to whether they had been treated in an unacceptable manner.

We expand on this at Abusive Relationships and Porn: The Similarities (explicit language). Indications from books like Unhooked or Female Chauvinist Pigs suggest that many women in our present age, understandably, prefer to conceive of themselves as powerful and in control, not as victims. Female members of the porn industry like Lizzy Borden fuel this image of woman as dominator, as opposed to the dominated. A woman acknowledging she was made to have sex against her will, whether to police or to a survey-taker, would not be compatible with this self-image. We observe that sexual assault is both widespread and a substantially underreported crime.

An excerpt from our review of Female Chauvinist Pigs:

Female chauvinist pigs are women who have internalized sexist values to such an extent that they imitate the most irresponsible and aggressive kind of male sexual behavior. They have convinced themselves that it is feminist and empowering to have numerous casual, exploitative sexual encounters, and they show contempt for women they perceive as too "feminine" (meaning emotional, vulnerable and modest)...

"Women's liberation and empowerment are terms feminists started using to talk about casting off the limitations imposed upon women and demanding equality. We have perverted these words. The freedom to be sexually provocative or promiscuous is not enough freedom; it is not the only 'women's issue' worth paying attention to. And we are not even free in the sexual arena. We have simply adopted a new norm, a new role to play: lusty, busty exhibitionist. If we are really going to be sexually liberated, we need to make room for a range of options as wide as the variety of human desire." (p.200)

We can hypothesize that as women adopt the promiscuous, callous lifestyle advocated by porn, they will be less likely to report instances of rape. This might be in part because porn trains people to expect discourteous behavior in sex, and in part because of widespread beliefs that 'loose' women have little credibility when it comes to accusations of rape. A raped woman has every reason to fear that her sexual history might be mercilessly worked over in court (and/or public opinion) during a trial, especially if that history is long and messy. For reasons like these, one cannot conclude from mere correlation that porn truly reduces the incidence of sexual assault. There is no unambiguous logical connection between the two.

The idea that porn is cathartic or harmless is hard to square with scientific studies showing that porn causes people to take rape less seriously:

In 1995, the Journal of Communication reported on a meta-analysis of 24 different studies. Researchers found that "A relationship between pornography consumption and believing rape myths exists. Rape myths pertain to erroneous and potentially harmful ideas regarding rape, for example, that victims of rape are partially to blame for the crime, rapists should not get tough sentences, or rape is not a serious crime. This study found that violent pornography increased the acceptance of rape myths, and nonviolent pornography increased the acceptance of rape myths when compared to a control group."

It is easy to see how the propagation of rape myths would decrease reporting of rape. The victim might not be sure that an actual crime occurred, or even if they did, might not feel that our legal system will recognize their injury.

Todd Kendall, author of "Pornography, Rape, and the Internet" (PDF), is critical of the lab experiments that show porn degrades viewers' attitudes towards women and rape:

...laboratory settings may be quite dissimilar to the typical experience with pornography. In fact, by attempting to simply arouse subjects, such studies allow only for complementarity between pornography and rape, ignoring completely the potential substitutability with rape derived from the use of pornography to release sexual tension. (p.16)

Again the notion that porn is cathartic shows its enduring allure. However, plain common sense and countless reports from real people indicate that, far from being cathartic, porn motivates or instructs sexual predators and that it hurts relationships. As Diana Russell observes, few people would think of showing violent parents violent films in order to get them to be more gentle with their children. Why should sexually violent films have different effects? Sure, orgasms are present, but orgasms don't provide "release" in any lasting sense. They serve to increase the porn viewer's association of violence and abuse with sexual pleasure (conditioning). The phenomenon of porn addiction certainly doesn't suggest any notion of lasting release, only bondage and a desire for ever more extreme experiences.

Many of the lab experiments may actually be understating the hazards of porn consumption. I doubt any lab will witness scenes such as these:

Marchiano [Linda Lovelace] traveled to campuses to speak out about her two and a half year imprisonment by her husband/manager Chuck Traynor. Linda's speech encouraged women on the campus to protest outside the fraternity-sponsored showing of Deep Throat. She said that in this movie there are visible bruises all over her body that attest to part of her torture. The fraternity brothers' response, was to shout out during Deep Throat: 'Fuck her, hurt her, rip her.' Toward the other females on the screen they screamed comments such as 'Ugly bitch and whore.' They chanted, 'Bruises, Bruises, Bruises!' continually during the film.[25]

Testimony in Minneapolis > When I was thirteen, I was camping with the Girl Scouts in Northern Wisconsin. It was ten years ago in November. I was walking through the forest outside of the camp in midafternoon and came upon three deer hunters who were reading magazines and talking and joking around.

I turned to walk away and one of the men yelled, "There is a live one." And I thought they meant a deer, and so I ducked and tried to run away. I realized that there wasn't any deer in sight and that they meant me. And I started running and they ran away--they ran after me. I tripped, the forest was covered with pine needles and leaves and they caught me. And I told them that I would go away, to leave me alone, please.

And they said, "You are not going anywhere" and forced me to get up and pulled my hair and started looking at me up and down, calling me a little Godiva--I had long hair then--a golden girl, and making jokes.

They told me to take my clothes off and I did. It was very cold. It was November. I took my clothes off, and they told me to lie down and the first man started. They told me not to say anything, that if I made a sound that they would kill me, they would blow my head off...

All three of them had hunting rifles. They--two men held their guns at my head and the first man hit my breast with his rifle, and they continued to laugh.

And then the first man raped me. And when he was finished, they started making jokes about how I was a virgin and I didn't know how they knew I was a virgin, but they did. And they made jokes about this, and jokes about how they could have used something like this when they were in boot camp, and made jokes about being in the military.

The second man then raped me. None of the men attempted to kiss me or touch my breasts. They simply wanted to have intercourse. When the second man was finished, the third man was not able to get an erection and they, the other men, told me to give him a blow job, and I didn't know what a blow job was.

The third man forced his penis into my mouth and told me to do it and I didn't know how to do it. I did not know what I was supposed to be doing. He started swearing at me and calling me a bitch and a slut and that I better do it right and that I wasn't even trying. Then he started getting very angry and one of the men pulled the trigger on his gun, so I tried harder.

Then when he had an erection, he raped me. They continued to make jokes about how lucky they were to have found me when they did, and they made jokes about being a virgin. They started kicking leaves and pine needles on me and kicking me and told me that if I wanted more, that I could come back the next day.

Then they started walking away and I put my clothes back on and it was not far from where they had set up their camp, and I looked down and saw that they had been reading pornographic magazines. They were magazines with nude women on the covers.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-05-11 18:52:14.806973+00 by: Dan Lyke

I think your hypothesis is worth pursuing, I know that long before the internet became prevalent I was aware of things that I considered rape that the women involved in thought of as "just dealing with men", and those women held little truck with pornography, but that's anecdotal.

I'm also interested in finding the "Journal of Communication" meta-analysis you cite.

I can't condone the actions of the frat boys you mention, but Linda Lovelace Marciano is a pitiable figure known for extremely unreliable testimony and changing her stories to further acceptance in whatever group she was trying to gain popularity in.

And I've no idea if your "Testimony in Minneapolis" section is from her (for completeness sake, I should note that because of bugs in the Flutterby software that post was put up by me on your behalf, so there may be formatting issues), but it doesn't establish a causal link, it doesn't even establish a correlation because we have no idea how many non-rapists were in the woods with pornography. If my pre-adolescence was any indication, it could have been quite a few...

#Comment Porn Study Citations made: 2007-05-12 15:29:10.721433+00 by: NoPornNorthampton

On this page you will find the links to the "meta-analysis" cited:


The Minneapolis testimony is not from Ms. Marchiano. It is quoted from In Harm's Way: The Pornography Civil Rights hearings. There are many other disturbing stories from porn victims in this book. Since they are public testimonies, we have reproduced large excerpts from them here:


The volume of anecdotal evidence against porn is so great that I think it would be a mistake to dismiss it as mere unusual personal experiences.

In Harm's Way primarily recounts experiences from the 80s and 90s. However, people are still writing into advice columnists today with concerns about their male partners' consumption of porn:


#Comment Re: made: 2007-05-12 19:54:59.362167+00 by: Dan Lyke

Thanks, I'll go read through that, because all of the previous studies I've seen which have addressed the correlation between easy access to pornography and rape have found a negative correlation. A quick search right now turns up things like:

The fact that your link goes to a Heritage Foundation sponsored website rather biases me against following up on your meta study further, those folks are generally not known for their scientific accuracy, but I'll dig deeper.

And just because it came up in my search:

#Comment Re: made: 2007-05-13 00:16:58.947742+00 by: Dan Lyke [edit history]

So I went and tracked down the article (Exposure to Pornography and Acceptance of Rape Myths, by Mike Allen, Tara Emmers, Lisa Gebhart and Mary A. Giery; Journal of Communication, Vol. 45, 1995. 22 pgs., had to pay a subscription to read it, but for you... [grin]), and while I'll try to read it seriously over the next few, a quick skimming gives three things that make me unwilling to use it for public policy:

  1. It's a meta-study, and it found a change in the "rape myth" only in experimental studies, not in non-experimental studies, suggesting that there may be issues such as sample selection or exposure to materials from those who aren't familiar with them in the measured effect. Which, if we really stretch, might even support my notion that it's those who keep themselves in a pornography-free bubble who are the most likely danger.
  2. In order to find even those effects it has to re-define rape myth from the accepted definition in the field. But the study is pretty good in that it acknowledges that up-front:

In sum, this set of attitudes toward rape (and coercive sexual behavior) comprises a general psychological predisposition toward rape that this paper labels "rape myth acceptance." The term used in this paper becomes more inclusive than Burt's.

  1. "Given the importance of the issues, the relatively small pool of data currently available suggests the need for more replication before providing definitive answers."

In all it looks like a good place for starting further research, but a really bad thing to draw conclusions from.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-05-13 00:59:15.055876+00 by: Dan Lyke

Okay, while I'm browsing through the place I had to pay for the subscription from, I also ran across "Intellectual Ability and Reactions to Pornography" by Anthony F. Bogaert, Carolyn L. Hafer, Ulla Woodard; The Journal of Sex Research, Vol. 36, 1999. Maybe my perspective issue is that I'm just surrounded by smart people and therefore I'm used to people who can process pornography without internalizing the messages thereof.

Which, of course, suggests that we should have IQ tests before we allow people to see Mel Gibson films.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-05-13 07:42:43.22576+00 by: topspin

That last comment really rings strongly for me.

Relatedly, I'm a Todd Snider fan and he has an interesting take on the "correlation" between rock-n-roll and schoolkids going postal.

Porn is to sex what M$oft Flight Simulator is to flying..... a limited approximation of the real experience. No one would DREAM of suggesting a serious link between pilot errors and M$oft Flight Simulator. Those who attempt to fly using Flight Sim as a basis find some similarities, but the rules are quite different in the real situation...... and those who attempt to apply the attitudes of porn flicks to real coupling/mating/sexual situations find similar features, but I would submit they find little success in the real world.

As Snider posits, I'd suggest the mixed messages our strive for success, Judeo-Christian society feeds young'uns.... "nice guys finish last" vs "the meek shall inherit..." is far more damaging to young'uns. Snider is quite funny about porn and related issues, actually.