Law Prof Glenn Reynolds Sees Some Correlation, Or Something, Between the “Porn Explosion” and A Drop In Reported Instances of Rape

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Read his observations on rape and porn in a short piece entitled “Porn: Good For America” here. Then see the Washington Post article that he links to. Just for starters, notice how Reynolds says “…rape has gone down 85%” but the article he is apparently basing this claim on actually says in pertinent part:

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.

Another way to track rape’s apparent decline is through the nation’s police reports, which are aggregated every year by the FBI. Their reports, dating to the mid-1980s, show that rape reached a peak in about 1992, with 0.4 rapes reported to police per 1,000 people.

Since then, reported rape declined about 25 percent by 2004, the most recent year for which data were available. In that year, the rate was about 0.3 reported rapes per 1,000. Besides the fact that not all rapes were being reported, the two studies’ differ because the FBI reports define rape more narrowly, excluding instances involving male victims. Both classify attempted rapes as “rape.”

Last week, the FBI released its preliminary crime data for 2005, which showed that reports of rape had again fallen slightly — even as other violent crimes such as murder and robbery ticked worrisomely upward.

Note that the article Reynolds linked to states that rape reports peaked in 1992, meaning that rape was increasing throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, while pornography was widely available. Reynolds in fact explicitly stated:

Hmm. What’s different since 1970? Lots of things, of course, though bared midriffs and short-shorts are back. But probably the most relevant difference is porn. In 1970, some people argued that porn caused rape. Since 1970, though, porn has exploded. In 1970 you had to work pretty hard to find porn. Now you have to work nearly as hard to avoid it.

So it might be nice if he explained why pornography either suddenly began to affect rapists, or suddenly stopped affecting rapists (or whatever the heck it is that Reynolds is arguing porn does or doesn’t do, that makes pornography relevant enough to rape to justify raising it in reference to an article about rape statistics) in 1992, some twenty-two years after Reynolds says “porn exploded.” I’m not a social scientist, but it strikes me as somewhat implausible that pornography could have been irrelevant to rape from 1970 to 1992, but then began having a profoundly positive effect on rape ever since, or vice versa.

If Reynolds’ point was simply that rape reports decreased while the availability of pornography either stayed steady or increased, he could have said so a lot more clearly, and without the smirky title, and distortion of the statistics (NB: He ignores the study that puts the reduction of rape below 25%, even though it is based on actual police data. Even the survey that seems to support an 85% reduction in rape starts the decline in 1979 rather than 1970). And he could have forgone stating: “…probably the most relevant difference is porn.” And that still wouldn’t have addressed the timing issues.

What did change in 1992 that might have had an effect on rape? The Violence Against Women Act wasn’t passed until 1998, but was being pursued as early as 1992, when Bill Clinton was first elected. Hmm indeedy.

Other views on Reynolds’ rape analysis are available at Feministe, Appletree, and Abyss2hope, and F-Words.

–Ann Bartow

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