An in-faux-graphic on rape statistics

by Walter Olson on January 9, 2013

In recent days media outlets, including respectable ones like Washington Post “WonkBlog”, have circulated an infographic on rape incidence claiming (among other things) that false accusations of sexual assault are a vanishingly rare phenomenon. The chart claims to be sourced to official statistics, but Mark Bennett digs in a bit and finds a pile of at best strained speculation, at worst made-up nonsense. [Defending People]

P.S. This supposedly corrective piece at Slate is if anything worse than the chart it purports to correct, straining to minimize false accusation as even rarer than portrayed. (It’s worth remembering that its author, Amanda Marcotte, has a bit of a history herself when it comes to credulity on this subject.) Bennett again provides a needed corrective: “Forensic DNA typing laboratories — as numerous commentators have noted — encounter rates of exclusion of suspected attackers in close to 25 percent of cases.” (& Greenfield; and an informative followup from Bennett regarding the incidence of false accusation.) Yet more: Washington Post ombudsman says mistakes were made.

{ 8 comments }

1 Chuck Ross 01.09.13 at 1:26 pm

Mr. Olson,

I’m glad to see someone not just reflexively applaud Marcotte for disagreeing with the stats behind the graphic. She *could have* – though she was not obligated to – taken both Dylan Matthews of WaPo and Sarah Beaulieu of Enliven to task for their chicanery. Matthews is supposed to be some sort of journalist, yet he is the one responsible for initially pushing the infographic into mainstream discussion.

I’ve documented the many ways in which Matthews basically lied about how he vetted the data.

http://glpiggy.net/2013/01/07/journalistic-rigor-from-wapos-dylan-matthews/

One reason that Marcotte’s corrective is worse is that she contradicts herself in an effort to minimize the number of false rape allegations. She argues that the graphic underestimates rape report *rates*. She then argues that the graphic overestimates the *number* false reports. But the false report stats were based off of rape report rates.

Insofar as we’re concerned here with the aesthetics of the graphic (that’s the point of the graphic in the first place), the number of little black figurines in the bottom right corner of the graph would absolutely be larger than Enliven suggests. So Marcotte is wrong on that count. She also lets Enliven off easy by saying that they are doing noble work.

I have created a new infographic as well, sorry for all the self-plugs:

http://glpiggy.net/2013/01/08/a-new-and-improved-graphic-on-rape-and-false-rape-accusations/

2 Robert 01.09.13 at 2:14 pm

Thanks for bringing this bullshit to our attention. (But you’re going to get angry letters anyway from the “how can you support rape” crowd.)

3 John David Galt 01.09.13 at 9:26 pm

Bear in mind that the 25% ruled out by DNA are only the cases in which the accuser and accused haven’t even had sex (recently). How many more cases are there in which they had consensual sex, but the woman regrets it afterward, therefore it magically becomes rape? (Especially in places like Washington State where the law doesn’t require an accuser to prove that she resisted or even non-consent — the fact that the two of you had sex is enough to convict. It’s outrageous that the appeals courts haven’t struck this down.)

4 Ron Miller 01.10.13 at 12:11 pm

I don’t know that it is a “how can you support rape?” crowd and I really can’ t speak intelligent to the statistics (a fact that limits few people). But it is worth noting that over the course of humanity’s reign, the injustice to women v. injustice to men when it comes to rape is an estimated 23 gazillion to one. Even today. How many men are in jail who have been falsely accused? How many women were raped last year? Can we all agree that the balance of injustice still heavily – heavily – tilts towards woman? Or no?

Ultimately, none of this matters much in individual cases. Juries are going to hear each case on he individual merits and not studies about how many false reports there are and what not.

By the way, none of this detracts from the tragedy of someone being falsely accused of rape? I mean, can you imagine? But on my list of fears in my life, I’m far, far more worried about the women I care about being harmed by some animal then the possibility I will one day be falsely accused of rape.

5 John David Galt 01.10.13 at 9:52 pm

@Ron: Take off the rose-colored glasses, your “23 gazillion to one” is as made-up and ignorant as the graphic that is the subject of this post. Every guy I know has been threatened many times with false accusation of rape, domestic violence, or both. As long as there is no consequence to the woman even when she’s proven to have done this, it will happen.

Due process means less than nothing if only the politically-favored get it.

6 Robert 01.10.13 at 11:04 pm

There are some crimes where it’s nearly impossible to get a fair trial, especially when the alleged victim appears sympathetic and the alleged perpetrator does not.

Everyone involved in prosecuting and documenting these crimes should be scrupulous in sticking to the facts.

7 aaaa 01.11.13 at 9:33 am

@John David Galt “Every guy I know has been threatened many times with false accusation of rape, domestic violence, or both. ”

Either you are living in a very weird social circle or you are lying. I bet on lying, but if you are telling the truth your friends should get some counseling. The focus of that counseling should be on “why am I systematically attracted to women prone to lying”.

Why do you tend to befriend only such guys would be another interesting question.

8 Ron Miller 01.11.13 at 10:32 am

“Every guy I know has been threatened many times with false accusation of rape, domestic violence, or both. ”

Literally the craziest thing I have ever read here, narrowly edging out the guys who thought that Sandusky had been set up. http://overlawyered.com/2012/09/accuser-recants-case-sent-four-women-prison/

Robert, I don’t know that rape is one of those crimes. I can’t find data that suggests otherwise in my quick Google search.

http://www.martinfrost.ws/htmlfiles/april2009/rape-conviction-rates-toolow.html

I agree with you that prosecutors have to stick carefully to the facts and what they can prove. Getting falsely accused of any crime – particularly that crime – is an awful tragedy. But so are the incredible crimes that are committed against women without justice every day in this country.

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