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.