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January 6th, 2008 at 10:06 am

Internet Porn Shown to Decrease Incidence of Rape.

Anthony D’Amato
of Northwestern University School of Law says that the correlation
between a newly-documented drastic decline in sexual violence in the
United States and a major increase in social access to pornography -
most recently over the Internet – casts doubt on widely-accepted
government findings on the causal connection between pornography and
criminality and suggests that one impact of porn may actually be
positive.

The headlines are shouting RAPE IN DECLINE![1]
Official figures just released show a plunge in the number of rapes per
capita in the United States since the 1970s. Even when measured in
different ways, including police reports and survey interviews, the
results are in agreement: there has been an 85% reduction in sexual
violence in the past 25 years. The decline, steeper than the stock
market crash that led to the Great Depression, is depicted in this
chart prepared by the United States Department of Justice:

Source:
U.S. Department of Justice • Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of
Justice Statistics, National Crime Victimization Survey. The National
Crime Victimization Survey. Includes both attempted and completed rapes.

As
the chart shows, there were 2.7 rapes for every 1,000 people in 1980;
by 2004, the same survey found the rate had decreased to 0.4 per 1000
people, a decline of 85%.

Official explanations for the unexpected decline include:

  • less lawlessness associated with crack cocaine;
  • women have been taught to avoid unsafe situations;
  • more would-be rapists already in prison for other crimes;
  • sex education classes telling boys that “no means no.”

But these minor factors cannot begin to explain such a sharp decline in the incidence of rape.

There is, however, one social factor that correlates almost exactly
with the rape statistics. The American public is probably not ready to
believe it. My theory is that the sharp rise in access to pornography
accounts for the decline in rape. The correlation is inverse: the more
pornography, the less rape. It is like the inverse correlation: the
more police officers on the street, the less crime.

The
pornographic movie “Deep Throat” which started the flood of X-rated VHS
and later DVD films, was released in 1972. Movie rental shops at first
catered primarily to the adult film trade. Pornographic magazines also
sharply increased in numbers in the 1970s and 1980s. Then came a
seismic change: pornography became available on the new internet.
Today, purveyors of internet porn earn a combined annual income
exceeding the total of the major networks ABC, CBS, and NBC.

“Deep Throat” has moved from the adult theatre to a laptop near you.

National trends are one thing; what do the figures for the states show?
From data compiled by the National Telecommunications and Information
Administration in 2001, the four states with the lowest per capita access to the internet were Arkansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, and West Virginia. The four states with the highest internet access were Alaska, Colorado, New Jersey, and Washington. (I would not have guessed this.)

Next I took the figures for forcible rape compiled by police reports by
the Disaster Center for the years 1980 and 2000. The following two
charts display the results:

TABLE 1. STATES WITH LOWEST INTERNET ACCESS [2]
STATE Internet 2001 Rape 1980 Rape 2000
Arkansas 36.9 26.7 31.7
Kentucky 40.2 19.2 27.4
Minnesota 36.1 23.2 45.5
W. Virginia 40.7 15.8 18.3

All figures are per capita.

TABLE 2. STATES WITH HIGHEST INTERNET ACCESS [3]
STATE Internet 2001 Rape 1980 Rape 2000
Alaska 64.1 56.8 70.3
Colorado 58.5 52.5 41.2
New Jersey 61.6 30.7 16.1
Washington 60.4 52.7 46.4

All figures are per capita.

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While the nationwide incidence of rape was showing a drastic decline, the incidence of rape in the four states having the least access to the internet showed an actual increase
in rape over the same time period. This result was almost too clear and
convincing, so to check it I compiled figures for the four states
having the most access to the internet. Three out of four of
these states showed declines (in New Jersey, an almost 50% decline).
Alaska was an anomaly: it increased both in internet access and
incidence of rape. However, the population of Alaska is less than
one-tenth that of the other three states in its category. To adjust for
the disparity in population, I took the combined population of the four
states in each table and calculated the percentage change in the rape
statistics:

TABLE 3. COMBINED PER CAPITA PERCENTAGE CHANGE IN INCIDENCE OF RAPE.
Aggregate per capita increase or decline in rape.
Four states with lowest internet access Increase in rape of 53%
Four states with highest internet access Decrease in rape of 27%

I find these results to be statistically significant beyond the .95 confidence interval.

Yet proof of correlation is not the same thing as causation. If autumn
regularly precedes winter, that doesn’t mean that autumn causes winter.
When six years ago my former Northwestern colleague John Donohue,
together with Steven Levitt [4,
found that legalized abortion correlated with a reduction in crime,
theirs would have only been an academically curious thesis if they had
not identified a causal factor. But they did identify one: that prior
to legalization there were many unwanted babies born due to the lack of
a legal abortion alternative. Those unwanted children became the most
likely group to turn to crime.

My own interest in the
rape-pornography question began in 1970 when I served as a consultant
to President Nixon’s Commission on Obscenity and Pornography. The
Commission concluded that there was no causal relationship between
exposure to sexually explicit materials and delinquent or criminal
behavior. The President was furious when he learned of the conclusion.

Later President Reagan tried the same thing, except unlike his
predecessor he packed the Commission with persons who passed his
ideological litmus test. (Small wonder that I was not asked to
participate.) This time, Reagan’s Commission on Pornography reached the
approved result: that there does exist a causal relationship between
pornography and violent sex crimes.

The drafter of the
Commission’s report was Frederich Schauer, a prominent law professor.
In a separate statement, he assured readers that neither he nor the
other Commissioners were at all influenced by their personal moral
values [5].

Professor Schauer’s disclaimer aroused my skepticism. If the
commissioners were unbiased, how could the social facts have changed so
drastically in the decade between the Nixon and Reagan reports as to
turn non-causality into causality? My examination of the Commission’s
evidence resulted in an article published by the William and Mary Law Review [6].

Although the Reagan Commission had at its disposal all the evidence
gathered by psychology and social-science departments throughout the
world on the question whether a student’s exposure to pornography
increased his tendency to commit antisocial acts, I found that the
Commission was unable to adduce a shred of evidence to support its
affirmative conclusion. No scientist had ever found that pornography
raised the probability of rape. However, the Commission was not seeking
truth; rather, as I said in the title to my article, it sought
political truth.

Neither Professor Schauer nor the other Commissioners ever responded to my William & Mary
article. Now they can forget it. For if they had been right that
exposure to pornography leads to an increase in social violence, then
the vast exposure to pornography furnished by the internet would by now
have resulted in scores of rapes per day on university campuses,
hundreds of rapes daily in every town, and thousands of rapes per day
in every city. Instead, the Commissioners were so incredibly wrong that
the incidence of rape has actually declined by the astounding rate of
85%.

Correlations aside, could access to pornography actually
cause a decline in rape? In my article I mentioned one possibility:
that some people watching pornography may “get it out of their system”
and thus have no further desire to go out and actually try it. Another
possibility might be labeled the “Victorian effect”: the more that
people covered up their bodies with clothes in those days, the greater
the mystery of what they looked like in the nude. The sight of a
woman’s ankle was considered shocking and erotic. But today, internet
porn has thoroughly de-mystified sex. Times have changed so much that
some high school teachers of sex education are beginning to show
triple-X porn movies to their students in order to depict techniques of
satisfactory intercourse.

I am sure there will be other
explanations forthcoming as to why access to pornography is the most
important causal factor in the decline of rape. Once one accepts the
observation that there is a precise negative correlation between the
two, the rest can safely be left to the imagination.

Notes

1. E.g., Washington Post, June 19, 2006; Chicago Tribune, June 21, 2006.

2. Statistics on Internet Access compiled from National Telecommunications and Information Administration, at http://www.ntia.doc.gov/reports/anol/index.html.

3. Statistics on forcible rape compiled from http://www.disastercenter.com/crime/.

4. Author of Freakonimics (2005).

5. U.S. Dept. of Justice, Final Report: Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography 176-79 (1986) (personal statement of Commissioner Schauer).

6. Anthony D’Amato, "A New Political Truth: Exposure to Sexually Violent Materials Causes Sexual Violence," 31 Wm. & Mary L. Rev. 575 (1990), downloadable at http://anthonydamato.law.northwestern.edu/Adobefiles/A90b-newtruth.pdf

Via The Jurist

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