G.L.Piggy [at] gmail.com
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Here I put in all this leg work, and Ezra Klein puts up a
correction update at Wonkblog citing the due diligence of Amanda Marcotte:
Update: Rape statistics are notoriously hard to collect, and Amanda Marcotte has a compelling critique of the methods used here, which Enliven describes in more detail here. So while the phenomena described here are real (and Marcotte argues that, if anything, the chart exaggerates the number of false accusations), be aware that the exact numbers are subject to dispute.
What about that critique though? What is it critiquing? Conveniently enough, it critiques some of the data used to produce the graphic in question but not the journalistic integrity of Dylan Matthews or Wonkblog or WaPo or Ezra Klein. Nor does it address the speciousness of the argument put forth by Enliven. Marcotte says that they “have the best intentions”. The lesson here is that the right intentions will always and forever trump precision and integrity.
There are plenty of interesting veins in all of this. One can discuss rape statistics and methodology and think through the entire process from the rape incident to the false rape accusation/prison sentence. That’s legitimate. One can also discuss the perpetuation of myths and lies. I happened to find room to discuss both. Marcotte focuses only on the statistics rather than looking at the process behind the proliferation of the lies. She acknowledges that the cause is not helped by untruths, yet she says absolutely nothing about how that untruth came to be. As if the untruth just existed without the aid of Dylan Matthews, Enliven Project, and Wonkblog.
Even though Marcotte discredits the graphic, she still misleads:
The graphic overestimates the number of unreported rapes. It’s hard to measure how many rapes go unreported, because, duh, unreported. Making it even harder to get an accurate count, a lot of rape victims don’t identify as rape victims, because it’s so stigmatized. Still, improved public education has made it easier for rape victims to report. RAINN (the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), using government numbers, estimates that 54 percent of rapes go unreported. Tweaking the infographic to reflect this more conservative number wouldn’t make the image less convincing, but it would make it more accurate. (emphasis added)
Actually, tweaking that number does make the graphic less convincing. The graphic itself is one giant tweak. That’s what all graphics are. That’s the reason the graphic was made – in order to be extreme and dramatic and therefore more convincing.
Tweaking that number even in line with the statistic Marcotte accepts as more likely to be true discredits her next argument:
The graphic overestimates the number of false accusations. This infographic is intended to drive home how rare false accusations are, and yet, because of a simple error, it overestimates how many actually occur. The problem is that the Enliven Project conflates “false reports,” which only require the claim that a crime has happened, with “false accusations,” which require fingering a supposed perpetrator.
When adding a corrective it is best to be correct all the way through. Even if Marcotte is correct that the number of false accusations is less than the number of false reports, this would not mean that the graphic itself overestimates the number of false accusations. It might overestimate the rate, but it does not overcount the little stickmen which are doing all of the lifting power of the graphic.
If you assume 1000 rape incidents, a 46% report rate is 460 reports. The false report rate, according to Marcotte who cites the commonly accepted range, is 2-8%. She lowers that number by distinguishing between accusations and reports (though since most rapes are acquaintance rapes, it is hard to imagine that the gap would be all that large). If you want to half the range, we’d have between ~5 and ~18 falsely accused men. And based upon the other assumptions about rape reports, you’d have a larger pool of men who are charged, prosecuted, and imprisoned for the crime. The entire chart is altered along two opposing vectors – vectors which are unkind to the feminist argument here.
Marcotte addresses a question I had about the punishment of rape. She writes “If more rapists saw a jail cell the first time they raped someone, the number of victims would decline dramatically.” At least a few commenters at Slate seemed to agree with the comments I made there that not every single incident classified as a rape should lead to a jail sentence. What about plea bargains? Fines and probation and marks on permanent records? Surely prison isn’t the only form of punishment, yet assuming that anything less than imprisonment is always an injustice makes the graphic all the more powerful. I’d like to see feminists discuss rape and the punishment for it in more concrete terms.
Finally, Marcotte makes a similar argument to mine – that repeat offenders commit the vast majority of rapes. She thinks that if the chart denoted “Rapes” rather than “Rapists” everything would be hunky-dory. But that doesn’t settle the issue because the graphic is comparing the number of men falsely accused, imprisoned, etc. You can’t switch from incidents to individuals just to make the argument more compelling.
That’s what got all this started in the first place.
By the way, I communicated with Klein via email. He told me about the correction update. I pointed out my fuller critique but am not surprised to have not heard back from him.