Friday, June 23, 2006

Give Glenn a break

It's a sensitive subject to be sure, but I have to say that I'm coming down on Glenn Reynolds' side on this new and misinformed iteration of the porn and rape debate. From new Justice Department numbers:

One measure is the Justice Department's National Crime Victimization Survey, which asks thousands of respondents 12 and older about crimes that have happened to them. This survey, which is meant to capture offenses that weren't reported to police, is the one that depicted the 85 percent decline in the per-capita rape rate since 1979.

So, right off the bat, let's dispense with the (not completely ridiculous) reporting rate vs. crime rate objection. The NCVS does not rely on the reporting rate, and the survey even includes questions about situations to which many may not attach the word "rape" but would be considered rape by law. An example would be asking whether you'd been coerced into sex, or whether you'd been involved in a sexual encounter that you don't remember.

Reynolds, in response, says:

So while I won't go so far as to argue that porn actually prevents rape, it seems clear that the claims of some people — including a commission headed by former Attorney General Ed Meese back in the 1980s — that pornography promotes rape are, at best, overstated. I suspect, though, that anti-pornography crusaders are unlikely to heed this lesson.

And, judging by the comments I've seen at Feministe, Reynolds is somewhat correct in his prediction of feminist response. Granted, it seems that many Feministe commenters haven't RTFA (something of which I am often guilty, myself), but I have to say that what I'm reading surprises me. Also, please note that he expressly says he is not arguing that porn prevents rape. This is a sensitive subject over which a lot of women are hurt, but let's at least stick to the things people are actually saying here.

I have argued before against a strong causative relationship between pornography consumption and rape before, so I do alreay have feelings on the subject. I am more inclined to agree with this assessment given in the WaPo article, however.
One school of thought holds that rape has declined for the same reasons that other violent offenses have: a reduction in the lawlessness associated with crack cocaine, a shrinking population of young people and an increased number of criminals in jail.

Rapists "tend to commit other crimes," said Richard Felson, a professor at Pennsylvania State University. "The way we say it in criminology is that offenders tend to be versatile." By this logic, locking up robbers, killers and drug dealers reduces the pool of potential rapists out on the street.
Like Jill, at Feministe, I can't believe that it's not "feminist efforts to de-stigmatize rape; not survivor-outreach programs; not rape crisis centers; not information campaigns which emphasized to men that rape is not ok; not the general empowerment of women; not a shift in social ideas about women being the property of men" having any effect on this trend. Later in the WaPo article, police officers are itnerviewed saying that the rape rate has probably not decreased, but given that they are only exposed to the reported rapes, I would have to give Jill's list some credit for increasing the reporting rate as the actual sexual assault rate declines. I would also like to add that these data put a lot of holes in Wendy Shalit's idiotic contention that the increased knowledge of and decreased shame about sex resulting from the sexual revolution have led to a rise in sexual violence.

Reynolds is certainly not my favorite commenter, but even a broken clock is right twice a day, right?
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