Media hysteria over rape and sexual predation

Gene Expression has done a series of posts over how the media hype over violence, rape and sexual predation is at odds with the statistics on these phenomena.

Here’s Your generation was more violent:

Let’s begin with homicide. The Bureau of Justice Statistics, part of the US Department of Justice, has taken homicide data from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics and put it into a straightforward graph. I see five trends in the graph: an increase from 1900 to the mid-1930s, a decrease from the mid-1930s to about 1960, an increase from 1960 to the late 1970s, a fairly steady high level (with oscillations) throughout the 1980s, and a decrease from 1992 to the present.

Incidently murder rates have been falling since the 1990s, at precisely the time since photorealistic violent computer games started to appear; so going by the evidence, if anything violent computer games have made society less violent. Of course, the anti-games lobby aren’t interested in statistics, or in reality in general. They want the games banned because they have an emotional response against them. But they know that if they campaign for games to be banned because it makes them feel bad, they’ll be unsuccessful, so they invent a spurious link between computer games and violence.

What about the intersection of sex and violence — how have forcible rape rates changed over time? Again we turn to BJS data, although they do not go back nearly as far as homicide data, the earliest year being 1960. After retrieving data from this page, looking at the entire United States, forcible rape rate, from 1960 to 2006, I put them into a simple graph:

USA rape rates 1960-2007

USA rape rates 1960-2007

There are only two trends here: an increase from 1963 to 1992, and a decrease afterward. In fact, the two trends look pretty linear on first glance. The slope of the increasing trend is about +1.11, and the slope of the decreasing trend is about -0.85, confirming the hunch that the decline of civilization snowballs more quickly than its restoration proceeds. As with homicide, Boomers and Gen X-ers cannot complain about rape epidemics in recent generations. This is particularly true for the Boomers and Gen X-ers who manufactured and continue to prop up the myth of the campus rape crisis.

In The myth of sexual predators: a positive feedback model, agnostic notes:

As a special case of the downward trend in homicide and forcible rape beginning in the early 1990s, from 1990 to 2004, sexual abuse of minors steadily declined by 49%, reversing an upward trend from the 15 years before 1990; and from 1993 to 2004, sexual assaults against 12 to 17 year-olds steadily declined by 67%. See Finkelhor & Jones (2006) (free PDF here) for a review of the data, why they are real declines, and some proposed explanations. Also see Wolak et al. (2008) (free PDF here) for a review of the fact and fiction about internet sexual predators — in particular, it appears that most sexual relationships involving teenage females that began with internet contact are voluntary (although still statutory rape if the female is under the age of consent), often repeated, and that the males rarely use deception. Unwholesome, but not what you see on To Catch a Predator.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the recent panic that the mass media have been fueling about “sexual predators” is horseshit. For the same methodological reasons as in this post on the rape hysterias, I look at data on the popularity of the “sexual predator” theme in the New York Times. It is the opposite of the prediction from a “following the beat” view of journalistic practice, instead fitting a “spreading an unfounded rumor” view. I propose a simple model and estimate the annual growth rate of the rumor. […]

To wrap up, the panic over “sexual predators” is a lot like the Early Modern witch-hunts, which could not have succeeded without mass communication to spread the rumors of well-to-do worry-warts. Because it’s easier to swallow rumors than to investigate them, there’s a clear incentive for most reporters to do just that. And most of the blogosphere too, for that matter. The desire to know is just not uniformly distributed among the population, even among the affluent sectors. That’s something to consider any time you find yourself parroting the hype — if it were based on good work, then it would pay to buy into it. But most journalists are too stupid, lazy, credulous, or moralistic to figure out what’s going on. And most of the blogosphere too, for that matter.

So the next time you read a newspaper article decrying the increase in crime, violence, murder, rape, sexual predation, etc, remember to engage your bullshit detector.

This entry was posted in censorship, crime, digital rights, politics, society, USA. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Media hysteria over rape and sexual predation

  1. Pingback: Bookmarks about Rape

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