Since online debates about rape generally degenerate into one side saying it’s all The Patriarchy’s fault and everyone who says otherwise is sexist, one side saying it’s all biologically determined and everyone who says otherwise is brainwashed by feminism, or both, it’s a good idea to write about rape starting from a purely empirical viewpoint.

First, I’m going only to talk about hypotheses explaining rape that can be tested sociologically. Anthropological data is generally worthless, because it’s too variable; sociological data, such as rape rates in various Western countries in the last 30 years, is more instructive since it’s more precise.

My starting point is that rape is a crime; hence, things that cause crime, especially violent crime, will also tend to increase the rape rate. The facts bear me out here, since in most cases, rape rates rise and fall with the general crime rate. So what’s really there to explain is a) that rape is mostly male-on-female and b) that occasionally, the rape rate crashes without a corresponding decrease in crime. Effect a) can be reduced to the fact that most rapists are men and most men won’t have any sexual contact with another man (but note that there are even fewer female rapists than female robbers, assaulters, and murderers).

Some radical feminists have tried explaining rape using porn: pornography causes men to rape women. This is itself based on a very convoluted and very factless theory about sexual consent, and contradicts available evidence. This hasn’t prevented either radical feminists or religious conservatives from asserting a porn-rape link, but neither group is famous for its concern for facts.

Contrariwise, C. L. Hanson is trying to advance the exact opposite theory: sexual prudishness leads to rape by making women sometimes say “no” when they mean “yes” and causing men to then consider a “no” to be a “yes.” That theory isn’t blatantly wrong, which already makes it better than Catharine MacKinnon’s theory, but the falsifiable predictions it makes don’t make it come out that good.

The simplest way to test that theory is to compare porn consumption to rape rates. Generally, the correlation between the two tends to be negative, as seen in Japan and Denmark. However, available studies are based on reported rates; violent crimes other than murder are usually seriously underreported, with a law-and-order social attitude contributing to higher reporting, and with gender equality increasing the reporting rate for rape.

In the US, the rape rate generally followed the general crime rate except that it started crashing in 1990 while the violent crime rate only did in 1995, and that from 2000 to 2005 the rape rate went down 50% while violent crime barely went down. In addition, there was a crash in the rape rate between 1980 and 1985, which was obviously not related to porn consumption, which didn’t go up or down during that period of time.

10 Responses to Rape

  1. SLC says:

    I think one has to be careful about relationships between porn and rape. I don’t know if the studies cited distinguished between your standard porn (i.e. conventional sex) and sado-masochism porn ( i.e. bondage, beatings, forced sex, etc.). There may be a difference between them relative to their influence on the incidence of rape.

  2. Alon Levy says:

    The correlation studies don’t distinguish between the two, but neither do obscenity laws. The porn crusaders who do focus on S&M porn vastly overestimate both its obiquity and its level of violence. Most S&M porn doesn’t involve beatings or forced sex; it generally involves women wearing latex and smiling, or sometimes women wearing latex and bound in leather, and smiling.

  3. C. L. Hanson says:

    I’m not sure exactly which falsifiable predictions you’re talking about.

    Human sexuality and power relations are extremely complex. I’m not trying to propose a simplistic immediate stimulus-response theory here, but it’s a little tricky to explain my point in a readable blog entry or two. ;^)

    The crux is women’s sexual autonomy, which is something that has changed quite recently and quite dramatically in our culture. In the Bible, for example, rape seems to be treated more as a crime against a woman’s male guardians than against the woman herself. Similarly, it is a fairly recent idea that it is even possible for sex between husband and wife to be rape.

    Our modern idea that the woman herself is the one who chooses when she will and will not have sex is probably mostly the result of effective, accessible contraception and/or women’s economic advances.

    The (novel?) idea I’m promoting is that erotic materials can help train males to understand (and value) the difference between real consent and assumed consent: (1) by depicting consensual sex as the standard, default case (2) by breaking down taboos, so people in a dating situation are more comfortable making their intentions and expections clear before any lines are crossed.

  4. Alon Levy says:

    The falsifiable prediction I’m talking about is that if erotica helps men understand the meaning of “no,” then we’ll see a negative correlation between porn consumption and rape; in fact the correlation we see is only weakly negative.

  5. anon says:

    Pity one can’t check the correlation between the *type* of porn being watched and the rape rate. I would hypothesize that heavily pro-consensual porn would be correlated with a reduced rape rate and heavily anti-consensual porn would be correlated with an increased rape rate. But who knows, since there’s no easy way to study *what sort of* porn is being bought.

  6. Alon Levy says:

    Actually, there is, in a very indirect way. Different porn magazines have vastly different standards for consent. Penthouse is more hardcore than Playboy; specifically S&M-themed porn is more hardcore than Penthouse. So you can try tracking consumption of different magazines, or maybe traffic to different sites.

    The main problem with that approach is actually not the lack of directness, but the lack of an objective way to measure how hardcore something is. Without a definition that people can agree on before the actual study takes place, it’ll be very easy to fudge the results by shifting magazines’ hardcore rates.

  7. SLC says:

    The filth one can find on the internet makes even porn magazines like Hustler seem quite tame. I was particularly appalled by a site I accidently came upon showing humans having sex with animals (absolutely sickening).

  8. zukahn says:

    all porn corrupts and prosition should be banned porn leads to rape increase in perversity ~ leads to cause one not to be serious in a relationship , diseases , cause man and woman not to have a clean record bad reputation ,and most of all its a total abomination to GOD

  9. zukahn says:

    they should shut down online porn they should destroy every VHS tape in the world every dvd in the world and every porn magazine existing today ~ in the world from past to present all of them

  10. Zukahn1 says:

    Hey dudes I’m the real Zukahn fuck all off you

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