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Rape statistics

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Reliable sources? | What we can definitely say about rape

Benjamin Disraeli once commented that there are three kinds of lies: Lies, damned lies and statistics. Unfortunately, because of years of systematic manipulation and dishonesty, the credibility of rape statistics coming from advocacy groups is largely unreliable. The real numbers are always bad enough, but the tendency to over-exaggerate does no one -- except the advocate group -- any benefit.

Recognize a simple economic reality. Crisis centers and advocacy groups rely on funding. While they also commonly rely on volunteer help, the money that keeps the lights on and doors open comes tends to come from government resources. The fact is there are lots of other programs that are all competing for the same funding. This makes for an extremely cut throat approach to not only keeping one's, but increasing, funding. One of the best ways to do this is have a popular, well attended program. Failing that, another way to achieve this is to overstate the numbers and promote alarmist rhetoric.

The problem with lying for a good cause is that it is still lying and it destroys your credibility.

The following section is dedicated to why most commonly tossed about numbers regarding rape are wrong and alarmist. Unfortunately, these numbers are the foundation of much of the other misinformation about rape that is out there. If you are just interested in points about rape that pretty much everyone agrees on skip down to What we can definitely say about rape

Reliable sources?
It is a well known fact
that the numbers of reported rapes are much lower than the number of the rapes that actually occurred. For example, pretty much everyone in the field agrees that the number of reported rapes committed in 2002 of 94,634 by the Uniform Crime Report is low. Nobody is going to argue that fact, not even the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

However,  beyond that point we get into pure speculation.

Back in the 1990s, Rape Crisis Centers would often quote numbers like "for ever ten women who comes to us for help, only one will want to report the rape to the police"  Then, using that number, they estimated from there. You'd then be told that for every woman that came to them, nine more women who were also raped don't.

Let's for the moment, suspend the commonsense question of "How do you know the numbers of the women who don't come to you?".

While we're at it, let's even overlook the dropped qualifier of "estimated." A qualifier that turned the statement from speculation into something being presented as a fact. (It's called a 'bare assertion fallacy')

So let's pretend we didn't see those problems. Even so, we're talking a magnitude of math that should make you sit back and blink. As in: If these numbers are right then no woman should go outside without an armed, eunuch bodyguard.

To begin with, this "one in ten number of reported rapes" is unsubstantiated. It is a mythical number that we are expected to take on faith. We are not allowed to see the source numbers. To this day, Rape Crisis Centers will not reveal information about their cases (the raw numbers) claiming confidentiality. Nor will they show you the aggregate data they used to come up with their statistics (i.e. not the actual incident reports, but numbers used. For example: Of the 150 cases used in this study, in 93 both parties were under the influence of alcohol.) You are instead expected to take the statistical percentages presented without questioning the methodology (or definitions) used to arrive at them.

What is interesting is how often these organizations will not even release the number of cases they dealt with to the public. Yet you know these numbers have to be known because they have to be presented for funding. review.

But where are the hard numbers? This "one in ten" claim lacked the credibility of stating "In 1998 we dealt with 952 women who (said they) were raped. Of them only 95  were willing to go to the police and file a report"  Yet you will hardly ever encounter that kind of accuracy -- then or now.

What you will encounter is estimates based on questionable numbers arising from protected and loosely defined sources.

Speaking from a purely mercenary standpoint, that's a smart thing to do when it comes down to groups relying on public funding because the bigger the crisis, the more money they can ask for. People's imaginations will carry them farther with vague "one in ten" rather than hard numbers. Because face it, in a city of 1,000,000 people 952 rapes -- while not good -- isn't as pressing as a public service that effects many more people.

*Warning* statistics ahead. Like we said before: If you are just interested in points about rape that pretty much everyone agrees on skip down to What we can definitely say about rape

There's a reason the "One in Ten" approach  faded. Let's run with squaring that number. Let's say that there were 500 rapes reported in a major city in a year. That means that the rape crisis centers would have dealt approximately with 5000 (500 x10). Now if we use the same math to speculate about the unreported rapes, we end up with 50,000 rapes occurring in a city every year.

49,500 being unreported to any authorities. This is why we said the numbers should make you blink. 49,000 women are raped in silence in the city you live in every year? Somehow the idea of everyone  50,000 women being raped every year in one city and it not causing a major uproar is highly unlikely. This is especially true in looking at that number over five years. According to this math, in five years a quarter of a million women would be raped within city limits.

That's what you get when you talk about only 10%. It sounds good, until you do the math. It's kind of like putting a grain of rice on a chessboard square and doubling it on consecutive squares. The numbers rapidly become outrageous. Why do we say this? Remember, we're talking in that city alone. Nationwide if that 10% statement were true we're talking about hundreds of millions of women sexually assaulted every year and in this country alone.

So the ten times ten trend faded away. But now, the new number is 16%. Where sixteen came from we have no idea. But in the last few years, we've heard it used over and over. Whether it is only 16% of rapes are reported (well that's up from 10% ) to "It is estimated a serial rapist has committed 16 prior rapes before he is caught." 

Now on this one we have documented numbers. In Denver in 2003 there were 354 forcible rapes reported. 29 were discovered to be unfounded (which is another problem with getting accurate numbers about rape) So the actual numbers of rapes came in 325. Taking  both numbers and a quote from the official Denver Website we find

    "The Rape Assistance and Awareness Program estimates that this number only represents 16% of the total incidents of sexual violence, which suggests that 7,500 incidents of sexual violence occurred in Denver in 2003."

325 to 7,500? Seven thousand, five hundred women were raped and only 325 came forth? 7175 women didn't say a word? Excuse us, but the mafia has a higher 'squeal rate.'

*Warning* the following section is about changing definitions to inflate numbers. Are you sure you don't want to skip to What we can definitely say about rape?

To start with, what you think of as 'rape' and what these groups consider rape may not be the same thing. These groups have come up with all kinds of interesting variations and shadings all of which are lumped under the title of rape. Then you have to realize that "rape" and "sexual violence" are not necessarily the same thing. But when they are used in the same sentence it is natural for people to assume they are.

By including this second category one can greatly enhance the numbers. Furthermore, the definition of "sexual violence" is somewhat hazy, it apparently can range from everything from sexual torture to a drunk pawing you at a party to a husband/boyfriend swatting you on the butt. While the former is obviously sexual violence, if one were to include the lower end incidents into the mix then you can see how they reached the 7,500 number.

And aren't 7,500 incidents of rape and sexual violence worth more funding than 325?

Even a passing acquaintance with the statistical process will often reveal how these numbers can be, and often are, spun -- especially since most of the sources are either anonymous or misquoted. So-called "facts" from "reliable" sources are often misinterpreted and distorted.

Unfortunately, these distortions of the truth and on occasion outright lies (1) are not only used to boost funding. They also serve to further enrage the already outraged personality type that is so often drawn to these organizations.

What is less obvious, however, is the damage to the group's credibility with the very people they claim to represent and claim to be advocates for. Putting it bluntly, most women have a very hard time accepting such radical statements as "All men are potential rapists" of the men in their lives that they love or deal with on a regular basis. What started out as a well meaning warning to acquaint women with the potential danger of rape was turned into a stance of extreme paranoia and anger. One that most women are not interested in accepting.
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What we can definitely say about rape
While you cannot come up with exact numbers you can come up with known trends when it comes to rape. These trends are very common to rape and are -- at least in principle -- mostly agreed upon by those in the field.

    Most rapes/sexual assaults are not reported to the police. Unfortunately this is true. For whatever reason -- and there are many -- most women choose not to go to the police and report the incident. This leaves us with only the Uniform Crime Report as a source of reliable numbers.

    What is common, however, is women who have been sexually assaulted will confide in a friend... usually of the same age. If someone you know confides in you about such event, even if you cannot convince her to go to the police, at least encourage her to get some counseling/therapy. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a common emotional/mental result of being raped. PTSD can -- and will -- manifest in many different destructive ways in your friend's life.
    Many women after being raped do not seek professional help
    As much as it may seem that we are against rape crisis centers, we aren't. It is just that often we find ourselves at logger heads with their agenda because we are focused on prevention. They specialize in victim's assistance(2). As such they do provide valuable assistance to traumatized women. If you have been raped go to a rape crisis center, a women's center, church counseling,  victim's assistance, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder  counseling, psychologists, therapy and even the local victim's assistance program in the front of the local phone book. Do not try to deal with the long term effects by yourself.

    The truth is that trauma has a long term effect on you. Furthermore it will effect you in areas that you will not expect. If you try to suppress feelings and emotions, the effects will leak out in other areas. In time, these repressed problems can develop into other problems. For example, in attempting to deal with the feelings and problems arising from suppression, people tend to try to self-medicate. In doing so one can become addicted to drugs or alcohol. But the truth is the process and pitfalls of recovery is well known to professionals. They can help you find the best path and avoid the pitfalls. This is why it is important to seek some kind of counseling or help.
    While it is tempting only to talk to your friends about what occurred, although they are your friends they are not qualified to handle the enormity of what has occurred. Please, we strongly encourage you to seek professional counseling.

    There is a reason rape charges are usually handled with a degree of skepticism by the police
    The admittedly low numbers  reported to police do not accurately reflect the whole spectrum of rape. But they do provide aspects that many advocates would rather you ignore. An example of this is that law enforcement admits that of rapes reported to them approximately 10% usually are found to be "without merit." (3). This doesn't just mean that wasn't rape, it often means it is an angry woman who is trying to get back at someone by claiming that he raped her. Another source of this behavior is claiming that consensual sex was rape. The sad truth is this can happen for many different reasons: a married/involved women being caught having an affair, a woman engaged in prostitution trying to avoid prosecution or even -- and this sound like a thriller novel, but it does happen -- a political/social assassination of someone's career or standing in the community.

    The charge of rape can be a very destructive tool in the hands of a vindictive person or someone who is trying to avoid repercussions for her actions. For example we know of  a group of under-aged  partiers at a college. The males, who were from another college, were too intoxicated to drive so the equally drunk girls snuck them into the girls dorm at their college to spend the night. But that wasn't the end of the sneaking. One of the women and one of the men snuck off and were having sex  in the bathroom late at night. In the middle of their passion an RA walked in. The drunk woman realizing she was facing all kinds of trouble because of previous violations, claimed she didn't know him and she was being raped. The police were called and the entire floor was awakened. When the other men were discovered in various dorm rooms all the intoxicated partiers were taken to the police station. Her story quickly unraveled when other people were interviewed. We know of this story because one of the under-aged drinkers was our daughter and the woman was her roommate. Our daughter and everyone else in the group had seen them pawing each other earlier that evening. One of them had seen them leaving the room together.

    That story exemplifies another reason why claims of rape are so often looked upon with caution by law enforcement. Usually even in cases where it is rape, other illegal, prohibited or questionable behaviors are involved. Behaviors that the woman often doesn't want to admit to.

    Most rapes are committed by someone the woman knows
    This doesn't mean that "every male you know is a potential rapist." As stated elsewhere, it is an established fact that stranger rapes only constitute a minute number of rapes. The exact number however is often debated. It is conservatively estimated that only between 10 and 13 percent of all rapes are committed by strangers. Sometimes this estimation can go even as low as only 7 percent. However that number does not go above 15 percent by any reputable agency. That means even if you take the conservative numbers 87 to 90 percent of all rapes are by someone the victim knows.

    These numbers take it out of popular perception about most rapes being "jump out of the bushes" and put them into a far more subtle and grey shaded category. That of human interactions, emotions, sexual conduct and expectations.

    This is why there is no "easy answer" about rape and who is to blame.

    That's the bad news. The good news, however, is that you can greatly reduce your risk of being raped by choosing who with you associate with, learning about the sexual process, understanding boundaries  -- both yours and other people's -- and understanding your powers and responsibilities.

    Rapists tend to be violent in other ways
    Dr David Lisak interviewed 1882 men associated with a college on the subject of interpersonal violence. Of this, he found that 120 admitted to committing rapes among their many acts of violence. Of these 76 (63%) reported multiple rapes. This is the much touted "source" for claim that 'all rapists are serial rapists' when, in fact, these men exhibited a wide variety of violent behaviors.

    They were violent and abusive to pretty much anyone they came in contact with -- including children. It wasn't necessarily that they were consistently rapists nearly as much as they were just consistently violent. Rape was more often just one of the many ways they exhibited this violence. This is again why strongly encourage people to look at the rapist profile that identifies traits common to individuals who are likely to rape.
    Most rapes involve alcohol or drugs
    While not the "cause" of rape, an overwhelming majority of sexual assaults occur while one or both parties are under the influence.

    This because of the effects of alcohol on the higher functions of the brain. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. What that means is that it physically suppresses the brain and nervous system's ability to function. But it effects these in a very specific way. Alcohol doesn't hit everything equally or at the same time. Think of a draining a pool; a pool that has different depths. As the pool drains the overall water level drops. Certain areas dry up first, while others will still have water. That's kind of how alcohol affects your brain, it lowers the water level.

    The brain functions as a layered mechanism. Think of these different layers as the different depths in a pool. Much of our daily activity occurs on the "top of the pool."   The depths are always there, but  most of your mental "swimming" uses the higher levels and functions of your brain. Alcohol peels away layers the drunker one gets. The first layer to go is the higher brain functions. In essence alcohol torpedos the ability to think rationally, consider consequences of actions and removing social inhibitions.

    This is why drinking can be fun. It helps you let go of your inhibitions and daily thinking. With each successive drink another level is peeled away, until you get to the levels that controls basic functions like speech and basic motor control (the deep end of the pool). That is why people who are extremely drunk  stagger, slur their words, fall down and pass out. However,  a medium buzz is in the middle. The person will have lost a degree of fine motor control (but isn't falling down drunk yet), but what is long gone is the higher brain functions that control things like rationality, inhibitions, responsibility and understanding consequences. You have a couple of drinks and something that you'd not do sober looks like a good idea.

    Unfortunately, it also can remove the mental stops and inhibitions that keep a violent person in check. See with some people there are very nasty and ugly things swimming around at the bottom of their pool. Ordinarily, the higher functions of their brains keep these things in check. The problem with alcohol is every layer that is removed brings you closer to that part of them. A good analogy is imagine a big vicious dog that wants to bite someone. Ordinarily it is kept on a chain so it can't attack, but it is always pulling at that chain. Except now, alcohol is taking a file to those chain links, weakening it. Sooner or later, the chain holding the dog back is going to break and it will run over and bite you.

    A big part of the problem is that usually people with mean streaks in them are always looking for an excuse to let it out. They want to do something violent and mean, but they know they shouldn't (higher brain function inhibition). So what they do is go out and find "excuses" to let this part of them out. Alcohol is a great excuse.

    So say there is such a guy who wants to have sex with you, but you don't want to have sex with him. He's been after you and you've turned him down, but he just doesn't let up trying to get your attention. What he might do is proceed on a course of action where he starts drinking. Then somewhere along the process it will "occur" to him that he wants to "talk" with you. Then he will somehow find a way to position himself to be alone with you. And then he will attempt to push his case.

    In weather terms this is the "perfect storm." You're isolated with him, his inhibitions are lowered, he's functioning on a far more primal level and he's obsessing on you. It is a combination of elements that only takes one more in order for it to explode. And that's you giving him the final excuse he needs. Now while some people will go off if you are too passive, what is FAR more likely to set him off is your anger. Remember the key word about letting that part of him out ... an excuse. As far as he's concerned he's the victim here. You're the one not having sex with him and then you get insulting and angry at him?

    We're not joking about this, how many times has a drunk told you that they are being rational when all they are is drunk? Except in this case the drunk isn't going to say the same thing 16 times. That ugly thing that is usually kept in check is going to attack. Your anger, your words and -- unfortunately all too often -- your ineffective use of force -- is going to give him the excuse he needs in order to attack you (4).

    This is an example of how alcohol can be a contributing factor to rape when just he is drinking. Think about how it can happen if you both are drinking.

    The most at risk ages are between 16 -24
    It is during this time that both men and women are most likely to be involved in the bonding process and high risk behaviors. Beyond that age group people tend to have settled down and are less likely to engage in behaviors that increase their chances of being raped.

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1)Another common ploy is to redefine a term without telling the population  your new -- and expanded -- definition. Therefore when you use a term you mean "abc and d," but to the average person the same term just means "a." This does wonders for allowing statistics to be skewed to support your contention -- and unless someone knows to ask what definition is being used these statistics seem credible. A very emotionally charged word like "rape" has been redefined again and again -- in one case going so far as to say "all sex is rape." With that kind of  extreme re-defining,  statements like "all women will be raped sometime in their lives" can be technically true. But they lose all credibility once you find out the "abcd" definitions.

2) While it may seem odd that we often end up on opposite sides with advocates, it's really a matter of focus. These groups are focused on the individual's feelings and recovery. A current trend with that is to excuse or minimize contributing factors in the process of recovery. We, on the other hand, are focused on helping other women not to undergo the same trauma. This approach requires that we take a hard, critical look at pre-assault behavior and other contributing factors. If we were to excuse or minimize known behaviors that are often associated with rape in order to protect the feelings of the rape victim, we would be doing a disservice to the women we are trying to help keep from getting raped. Return to Text

3) Although 10% is a commonly used number, such number tends to fluctuate from year to year in minor degrees. For example the Denver numbers of the 354 reported raped, 29 were found to be without merit. So, for that specific year, 8% of the charges in the city of  Denver were without foundation. Whereas the numbers of neighboring cities will be different. Of the 281 rapes in neighboring Aurora perhaps 12% would have been found to be without merit. Again, 10% seems to be the average. Return to Text

4) We have done both formal and informal interviews with hundreds of women who have been raped by people they knew. What we discovered in approximately 80% of the assaults the woman initiated the physical violence. That is to say that even though he touched her first the woman either threw the first blow or broke free from the grip with extreme force. In these circumstances, those actions provoke an attack. When advocates hear this they immediately start squealing about us blaming the victim. We're not. Our problem isn't with the fact that she engaged in a course of violent behavior. Our problem is that she didn't break his jaw. Had she done that, there's a good chance that he never would have mustered an attack. By throwing an ineffective blow and/or defensive reaction without a counter attack is the green light for him to attack. Anger and words are not going to work to stop someone in such circumstances. Unfortunately, most women do not have the experience with violence to engage in the explosive action necessary to stop a man in such a state. Instead, by using less effective measures they give an attacker the green light. Return to Text

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