Sunday, March 08, 2009

Meditations On The Issue of Rape And Its Statistical Analysis

In a class I was taking, a discussion on rape turned to an area that made me uncomfortable: The oft-cited claim that 1 in 4 women will be raped in their lifetime. The statistic is commonly thrown around, but it's a very contentious point and statisticians and sociologists are still discussing it.

For example: According to a BBC News article, "one in 20" women ages 16-59 were raped (1). Now, the fact that the data didn't include earlier pre-teens may throw it off, but there's no compelling argument that says that the the gap between 5% and 25% would be filled by such a statistical change. It is true that this data is specifically for England and Wales, but it would be very strange for America to be so drastically different from comparable European countries. In fact, the only crime where America is simply off the charts from all other industrial nations is in gun crime. Seeing this number, I become very skeptical when I see statistics that claim that the incidence in America is an order of magnitude higher.

Further, the data that suggests that rape is that prevalent is often woefully antiquated. As Fahrenthold suggests in the Washington Post, "The number of rapes per capita in the United States has plunged by more than 85 percent since the 1970s, and reported rape fell last year even while other violent offenses increased, according to federal crime data." (2). Critics of this data argue that non-reporting plagues the numbers. That's true, but there's two problems with the assertion. First: Non-reporting cuts the data both ways. If a large portion of women don't report the crime to police or other authorities, it becomes very difficult to get a real handle on the amount of rape and sexual abuse in the population. Second: There is NO reason to expect that there has been an INCREASE in women non-reporting, and certainly not by enough to compensate for the 85% plunge in per capita rapes. If since the 1970s the population of women who were raped but didn't report it didn't increase, that'd mean that the total amount as WELL as the reported amount went down by 85%. And we have every reason to believe that, in fact, reporting of rape has INCREASED, as Special Victims Units become better trained, feminism makes impacts on the broader society, and shows like Special Victims Unit show the social issues behind rape.

And the victimization of men data is bizarre. For example, in the total population, "3% of American men experience rape". Yet 1 in every 10 victims were men in 2003! (3) This indicates changes in the data that are very large: 3% to 10% of men being victims. This makes some sense if total rape has declined and if feminism has made a real impact in the prevalance of rape. More importantly, the sharp change indicates just how difficult it is to talk about sexual abuse for the entirety of the US population with any degree of statistical certainty.

According to RAINN, "1 out of every 6 American women have been the victims of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime (14.8% completed rape; 2.8% attempted rape)" [my emphasis]. Now, this is a horrible statistic. But one solution (far from the only or primary solution) would be for men, women and police to acquire techniques to turn more completed rapes into attempted rapes and more attempted rapes into no rapes. More importantly, that's the difference between 16.6% of the population and 25% of the population. (3)

Yet another source suggests, "Colorado's rape survey invited banner headlines-and got them. '1 in 7 women raped,' said the Denver Rocky Mountain News, and that was a restrained interpretation compared with the official press release, which claimed the survey 'revealed that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 17 men have been raped.' But the results are much more ambiguous than that, and the headlines are dangerously misleading." (4).

Note that, even before looking at the results, we see that one source referring to the same survey got 1 in 7 women while another source got 1 in 4!

According to "Women, Men and Gender" by Mary Roth Walsh, many of the statistics of "rape" include discrimination against lesbians! Note that that citation is from people who do not believe that rape statistics are overblown. (5) I concur with Walsh that to dismiss the incidence of rape as mere feminist exaggeration is foolishness of the highest order, but I feel that it is vital to bear in mind the real variation in the data. These are not easy questions to answer, so numerous studies arrive at different figures. Choosing the highest figure of a broad range smacks of arbitrary propaganda.

Then we have to start looking at definitions of rape. These are hard questions. It seems obvious that a man who sleeps with a woman who is flatly unconscious thanks to alcohol is probably committing rape. But what if the woman insisted beforehand that he do so? If we don't accept prior consent as nullifying apparent lack of consent, then BDSM and rape fantasy games are flatly out the window. Plenty of lesbians who share these fetishes will just love that assertion. At what threshold does intoxication from alcohol or other drugs make any sex rape? .1 BAC? .2 BAC? Being a little tipsy? Being stone drunk? Many people, men and women alike, even married couples, use alcohol to get past socially-programmed, sexist, Puritanical impositions and inhibitions. To say that all of that must be rape begs some harsh questions.
If someone gets convinced to sleep with someone else thanks to a "hard sell" or pressure but was under no implied or real threat of force, how do we evaluate that? Clearly rape is not simply every sexual act that one regrets. I'd say a large portion of the population has regretted some dalliance they've had, some boyfriend they've dated, some clingy girlfriend, but none of those acts constitute rape. Yet, quite clearly, someone who takes someone who is alone and scared, as the man in the article "Confessions of a Date Rapist" did, and makes them afraid to say no by the strength of their sell and the force of their words is doing something questionable, even if not out-and-out rape. If the victim fears that there was a clear threat of force and the men had every opportunity to be aware of that and rectify it, I believe there is a strong case to be made that that IS rape and that the man is culpable! Not everyone agrees with my position, however; some think that you have to offer real indication otherwise. Wendy McElroy has gone so far as to define rape as exclusively being sex due to force or the direct threat of force! I think her definition is a poor one. How highly do we rank the verbal "coercion" or strong convincing? Some people argue that rapists who use violent means or the threat of violence are preferable to those who ply their victims with GHB. Yet many argue the opposite, that the chemical and memory-altering effects of GHB make the process of recovery and confronting the traumatic event harder. Whom should we believe? What should we value more: The recovery afterwards, or avoiding physical harm during the actual event?

Suffice it to say that these are not trivial questions, and exactly how we ask them alters the data. Many studies that arrive at the higher figures in the range (1 in 4 women to 1 in 6 women as opposed to 1 in 8 women, 1 in 16 women or 1 in 32 women) aggregate domestic abuse, questionably broad categories of sex under the influence of drugs (no matter how minor the threshold), etc. This isn't necessarily bad science. Unlike men's rights reprobates, I'm not going to argue that this makes the data empty feminist propaganda. But it means we have to be careful exactly what we cite for and not merely make empty assertions.

Then we have to take into account race. Minority women are far less likely than the average member of the population to report a rape, due to a variety of factors (fear of a racist criminal justice system, in-group loyalty, the idea that one does not air one's "dirty laundry", etc.)

Only Neanderthals and extremists in the men's right movement think that rape is not a serious social phenomenon, but like most social phenomena it is difficult to actually say if it is 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, 1/6, or 1/32 of women who experience rape. Different studies, geographical areas, definitions, etc. report different things. And, unfortunately, the fact that women and men do not report many of their attacks makes it very difficult to get a handle on the data. What is clear is that the aura of fear needs to be dispelled, that we need to see only a minority of victims not reporting their attackers, and that the legal system needs a massive overhaul in order to accommodate this goal, from entry-point police officers being trained in sensitivity to end-point judicial practices. But using statistics that are questionable without noting the variation only makes us less credible in doing so. The fact that many of my fellow feminists routinely cite the highest number in a range of data for an issue that even they admit by their very nature is almost impossible to study with certainty does nothing to shore up good will.

Further, to say that high incidences of rape demonstrate an assault upon women by men is to ignore one simple, vital fact: Repeat offending. A large amount of victims, male and female, share attackers or victimizers. If we buy the "Confessions of a Date Rapist" piece, then it becomes clear that a particular category of men is the type overwhelmingly committing date rape. Now, it is true that gang rape would be a factor in the opposite direction (since one man would victimize many women), but gang rape is a very small section of the data. Further, most gang rapists are also repeat offenders, returning the balance sheet back. At the end of the day, while a large portion of the female population will be raped or abused (the majority by acquaintances within their extended social network), this does not mean an equally large portion of men are rapists. Taking that into account, it becomes far less tenable to say that a war is being waged by men against women. If a small group of bastards are assaulting a large group of women, while a large portion of men are decent and would never dream of raping someone, then the situation is more complex.

Of course, to those who think that rape says NOTHING about the broader gender oppression, one merely need to look at the overwhelming amount of male prison rape. Remove women from the picture and men use sexualized violence against each other. So there clearly are a broad variety of gender factors, and people who declare that rape is purely criminological in nature with no influence from patriarchy or sexism are missing a big part of the picture. For example: Frat houses routinely make rape possible by cultivating deeply patriarchal, masculine attitudes and encouraging a "Within the club" mentality. In my opinion, a standard "test" for fraternity membership should be to see what someone would do if they saw a rape occuring. If they would not call the police, tell a frat brother, rush into the room to stop it, or do some other proactive measure, they should be kicked out of the frat. THIS would prove that men are ready to deal with rape.

An exercise we did in this class was to list things men and women do to avoid rape. The supposed point was that men do almost nothing and women do quite a lot. I was unable to point out that one thing men concerned about rape do is avoid going to gay bars and avoid going to prison; obviously nowhere near the amount of stress that the common rape-prevention rituals among women have, but these are things. But I also pointed out that the long list of things women do to protect themselves from rape (have their apartment on the second story, take self-defense classes, strengthen their locks and deadbolts, be prepared to use their keys as improvised weapons, watch their drinks at parties, have chaperones or travel in groups) is virtually the same list men are instructed to do to protect themselves from other crime. This underlines one key fact: Crime rates in general and rape rates in particular in our country have been declining, yet the media racializes and amplifies the data. Throughout the 1990s, crime went down yet media presentations of it went up more than six fold according to some media scholars! (See Bowling for Columbine). Many feminists properly point out that high rape rates are a real concern, but they also usually point out the vital fact: Most rape occurs from acquaintances. Virtually all of the things that we listed that women do to protect themselves are things that will not stop acquaintance rape.

Rape is a serious issue, but it has also been artificially inflated and racialized by a media determined to use fear to foment apathy and mistrust in order to insure ruling class dominance. The fact that for many white women the image of a rapist is a black mugger or burglar rather than their next door neighbor or the friendly neighborhood priest is the factor I am talking about. And the problem with simply saying, unadorned, that "1 out of 4 women are raped", is that while it MAY raise consciousness about gender issues, it sabotages our brothers and sisters of color by making many people conjure up racial spectres of black men raping women left and right. These unconscious racial fears were expressed in the mythology about rape in the Superdome during Hurricane Katrina.

I work with victims of rape constantly. I view rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse as monstrous actions that may be worse than murder, in that both a living person and their families and social networks have been destroyed and harmed. And the closest I have come in my life to assaulting another human being has been when I have been aware of sexual abuse. I am intimately, tragically aware of the veil of silence that protects victimizers and destroys victims. This tragic background doesn't need the inflated use of otherwise good statistics to amass social interest and outrage.


1. BBC News.

2. "Statistics Show Drop In U.S. Rape Cases".

3. "Who Are the Victims?" .



Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Reply to Jonathan Krohn

In response to a request from my roommates, I watched Jonathan Krohn's speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, available here: . As a impromptu reply, I posted this: . Now, the people filming were determined to applaud, and the battery on the camera ran out, so my reply was not as long or as audible as I hoped. Further, some replies have since come up. This blog post is intended to grapple with these issues.

My first thought when viewing the comments to the video so far is, "Talk about 'talking points'". So far, every conservative hack that has bothered to reply to the video has said SOMETHING about Jonathan Krohn's age, defending it by saying that the message and the messenger are separate things, etc. It's as if they are defensive about Jonathan's age, as if this idea has been thrown at them many a time, as if they were secretly aware of the absurdity of the situation...

The fact is, I made quite clear that I was saying almost nothing about Jonathan's age. True, I have some concerns that someone who is a pre-teen can really have the independent mind needed to make judgments separate from those around him. That doesn't mean, as I made clear, that we shouldn't listen to him. But when I was 13, I said things due to my peer groups, my parents, and other subtle influences that now I would reject. For example: When I was 13, I hypothesized that race in this country was primarily the effect of past discrimination and racism combined with occasional discrimination and color-blind factors such as the way the industrial economy worked. Now, I would reject that position, given the wealth of evidence that indicates that race is an independent social factor above and beyond class, gender and politics.

No, my argument, as I repeated twice, was that it says something about the people who listen to Krohn that they are buying a book and listening to a speech from a 13 year old. In my opinion, it indicates that many of their policy opinions are woefully simplistic, or that they need good propaganda from an innocent to sell their political beliefs.

Further, I made clear that I applaud Jonathan Krohn for having political opinions at his age. And for writing a book. And for being articulate, and polite, and wearing a suit, and all that. Those are all good things. Nothing I say to the young man should be taken as discouraging him; indeed, I went through the same process. But the way I grew as a political thinker was in part to be challenged, to have people ask for my sources and demand footnotes and quotations and citations, to make logical arguments. In any respect, the only comment I was making for the first part of the video was that there was a sense of absurdity (a delightful, Daily Show-worthy sense) to seeing grown men and women applaud a child for speaking platitudes.

More importantly, none of the commentators wanted to grapple with my serious argument: That these were, indeed, just platitudes, that the arguments he provided sounded nice but had no basis in reality and thus functioned as empty, willful propaganda.

It is tremendously easy for someone to come along after a political group has been in charge for the last 8 years and become immensely unpopular declaring that, "Oh, no, all of you got it wrong, we actually believe in these key principles." The problem with Krohn's viewpoint is that it's just semantics: He is simply redefining what the word "conservative" means, rather than providing any actual argument about real policy. As with all semantics, we can conclude one of two things.

A) Krohn means to refer to real-life "conservatives": Republicans, some Independents, and people generally defined as the right wing. Given that he is speaking for CPAC, I am guessing that this is how his comments are meant to be taken. If this is the case, Krohn's statements are simply, verifiably, and directly false. The people he is talking about overwhelmingly do not hold these principles, as can clearly be determined. Perhaps some peripheral "true believers" do in fact hold these opinions, but the majority of both the rank and file seem to not hold such opinions and vote for candidates who do not hold such opinions. The case becomes more difficult when we include voter data that indicates that a majority of people voting for Bush and Reagan actually opposed their policies, but insofar as Krohn is offering propaganda that helps exacerbate such misconceptions and continues to keep elections about platitudes, Krohn is amplifying this problem.

B) Krohn seeks to redefine the group of "conservatives" to include people who share his four principles. If this is the case, nothing has changed. Krohn has created a new, trivial definition within which almost no one fits, and which ironically includes a great variety of liberals and leftists). Certainly, this definition does not describe the intellectual movement which most people accept as "conservative" or right-wing. We must now find a new definition for people who are politically right, vote Republican, and tend to be pro-war, pro-gun, pro-military and pro-religion.

It is possible that Krohn is talking about traditional conservativism rather than religious neo-conservativism. But if that's the case, he is again using semantics to paper over real ideological differences, differences that are tearing a party apart.

So, let us examine the circle of people whom Krohn seems to be talking about and whom CPAC as a group supports. (CPAC, of course, postures as independent and non-partisan, but their past speakers have included Ronald Reagan, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, David Horowitz, George W. Bush and Newt Gingrich). Let us compare the actions and real policies of this group to the four principles that Krohn alleges conservatism is defined by.

Respect for the Constitution? The PATRIOT act, wiretapping, and the various means through which the Bush Administration undermined the First and Fourth Amendments alone throws this out the window. Add in the fact that Bush was illegally, in violation of US law and the Geneva Convention, detaining suspected terrorists without trials and without serious charges or arrests being made with limited access to lawyers and with brutal, "cruel and unusual" torture and we have a clear cut case.

For those who don't understand my point about the Presidents since World War II and treaty violations: Article VI of the US Constitution declares that, "This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding." [my emphasis].

This means that the supreme "Law of the Land" includes any treaties ratified by the US Congress. Judges and legal authorities will be bound by them, above and beyond any state laws (which is irrelevant when federal agents carry out the actions).

As Noam Chomsky declared in Manufacturing Consent, "If the Nuremburg accords were enforced, every post-war American President would have been hung." (1). He further gives examples as to how every President violated various laws in his article, "If the Nuremberg Laws were Applied..." (2). Eisenhower's actions in Guatemala, Kennedy's actions in Cuba, LBJ and Nixon's actions in Indochina... All are serious war crimes.

The United States refuses to make honest steps towards disarmaments and has as official policy the willingness to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear NPT signatories: That is a violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Almost every war the US has waged since World War II has been in blatant violation of the UN Charter, which declares that states cannot unilaterally attack other nations except in response to imminent threat (which has a specific and unequivocal meaning: forces either in the country or directly being sent to the country, not nuclear weapons that might at some distant date be used to possibly deter the US from doing something). The US routinely flouts the Geneva Convention, such as with its waterboarding practices that even many in the Justice Department knew were clearly torture.

So we see a pattern of the incumbent President and of almost every President before going back to Truman flouting the Constitution and engaging in routine impeachable high crimes. This disproves that conservatives, as defined in the real world, are pro-Constitution.

His second prong is "respect for life". But this is even more of a joke than the first part of his principles.

How is "respect for life" held by a party which bombs innocent Iraqis and Afghanis? How is "respect for life" held by a party which held the ideology that we "have to fight them there so we don't fight them here", which declares that it's okay to turn other peoples' countries into flypaper for terrorists so you don't have to suffer loss and they do? How is "respect for life" held by a party which undercuts social policy that is designed to protect the poor? Even if one accepts that all of these things have justifications, they don't have to do with "respect for life".

It's clear that Jonathan is trying to reconcile the anti-abortion stance of many conservatives with the incredibly ugly contempt for life conservatives hold in almost every other domain. Sorry, Jonathan, but it just won't work.

Further, "respect for life" is an empty platitude. Any of his supporters can get out of my above allegations by simply redefining what the phrase means, ad nauseum, to suit their goals. Why isn't "respect for life" demonstrated by people who want to insure that pregnant mothers have options that don't involve forcing them to have a child they don't want? Protecting the rights of fetuses or unborn life isn't by itself a bad thing, but the problem is that both sides are coming at the problem with an idea of what "respect for life" constitutes that ends up being mutually exclusive.

His third "principle" is "less government". At this point, we do not even achieve the level of farce.

How can the party which demands ever-higher military budgets be for "less government"? The party that wants to expand the capacity of the state to pry into our personal lives is somehow for "less government"? Are these comments intended to be read seriously?

There are some honest libertarians out there who support less government all around. Only even they mysteriously seem to like folks like Ron Paul, who honestly thinks that black youth in Washington DC should be treated differently by the police than white youth (3).

In fact, "conservatives" are truly radical statists. They want the state to expand their wallets, attack their enemies and protect their interests. They use the mantra of "less government" as a generic bludgeon to beat back anything the state does that does not satisfy those interests and hope that people's attention spans don't last long enough to recognize the hypocrisy and self-contradiction.

Real "conservatives" would actually hold very few of Krohn's positions. Rather, conservativism as a philosophy stems from the idea that social change should happen slowly and organically rather than rapidly because of the fact that societies are complex systems. In this sense, Noam Chomsky, the anarchist, is a conservative! He argues that change should come incrementally from social movements. As I said in the video: The word "conservative" has become much-maligned thanks to the radical statists who have cloaked themselves in its hallowed halls.

Finally, Krohn declares that the fourth and last principle is "personal responsibility".

This would make an ounce of sense if conservatives did not come out of the woodwork with an array of irrelevant and offensive apologies to protect their favored persons from said personal responsibility. If conservatives stopped excusing Ann Coulter's argument that we should nuke people for fun, and stopped excusing every new racist who drops the n-word and blaming the victims for being too "sensitive", and stopped excusing war crimes committed by their government, this would be a fair argument.

In fact, conservatives are all too willing to pass the buck of personal responsibility onto everyone else. (4).

So, for example, when they tell black folks and women to "Get over it" (that is, get over centuries of oppression and disenfranchisement which continues), they are passing the buck onto those people to solve the racial and gender problems in the United States. They could "Get over it" themselves; that is, white, male conservatives could just admit that bad things happened in the past and stop lionizing folks like Christopher Columbus, Thomas Jefferson or George Washington. They could acknowledge that the country is built on the land of a nearly exterminated native population. But instead of taking that "personal responsibility", they demand everyone else change. This is especially egregious given that it is generally them with the power, wealth and influence, so one would think that they could afford to be magnanimous.

The irony of wagging the finger at others to have more personal responsibility is one of those many things Jonathan is apparently too young to recognize.

And what of his claim that the Republican Party is merely "the shell"? If this is the case, shouldn't people stop voting for a Party when the elected officials presented by that party routinely flout the principles Krohn cites? No, that is merely hand-waving, deceptive apologia, and no more.

Or what of his claim that conservatives are unique in that their policy is principle based? Surely Mr. Krohn must be joking. Refusing to allow a grandmother to starve, the principle behind Social Security, is a principle that animates policy, whether or not Mr. Krohn likes that particular principle. (Of course, he should, given his ostensible concern with the "right to life"). Opposing unjust, vicious, colonial wars is not only deeply principle-based but tremendously courageous, unlike Krohn's platitudes, given the real social costs those who speak up against jingoist conformity face.

In short, Mr. Krohn seems to be unconsciously relaying myths his parents, adult figures in his life, and perhaps his friends and peer groups suggest to him. But it doesn't seem that he is capable of making arguments that stand serious muster. Again, this says nothing about him. To have written a book and to be able to address adults at his age is a true feat, and something worth applauding. No, it says something about the innumerable adults who have no such excuse. It says something about the people who have graduated from high school and prestigious universities who aren't able to correct Krohn where he errs and show Krohn how much more complex the world is. It says that they are either hopelessly ignorant ideologues or hopelessly cynical demagogues.




3. "Ron Paul Is Not Your Savior". . To wit:

But it gets a lot worse: Paul's political literature has stated that it is sensible to be afraid of black men; that "95 percent of African Americans in [Washington D.C.] are semi-criminal or entirely criminal"; that black male children (but not white ones) should be treated and tried as adults for crimes they commit beginning at age 13; and he referred to two black men that were interviewed by Ted Koppel after the Los Angeles 1992 uprising as "animals". Kanye West was right when he said, "George Bush doesn't care about black people." Guess what? If his own political literature is any indication, Ron Paul loathes black people.

4. Tim Wise discusses this phenomenon frequently. See: //

And, of course, so much more can be said in this vein.