Friday, February 23, 2007

Generational Decline of Rape

There's an interesting opinion piece in the LA Times by Mike Males, a senior researcher at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco. Here's part of what he has to say.

The U.S. Justice Department's National Crime Victimization Survey (considered our best measure of crime because its anonymous surveys capture offenses not reported to police) reports that rape has been falling dramatically for decades. The first survey, in 1973, estimated that 105,000 females, ages 12 to 24, were raped that year. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the survey was expanded to include sexual assault and attempted or threatened offenses. Even so, the latest survey (in a young female population 1 million larger than in 1973) reported that 30,000 females, ages 12 to 24, were raped and 60,000 were victims of attempted rape or real or attempted sexual offenses (including verbal threats) in 2005.
This change from the 1970s isn't surprising to me since many of those rapes committed in the 1970s weren't covered by criminal statutes and of those that were covered by the criminal statutes, most reports to law enforcement weren't taken seriously.

The only rape cases I ever heard about back then were stranger serial rapes and statutory rape cases. The statutory rape cases were joked about by calling girls jail bait rather than understanding that it was wrong for an adult to exploit someone under the age of consent.

Once I was old enough to date, boys who attempted to force girls to have sex were considered normal. Boys who didn't try to coerce girls into sex were the abnormal ones. A date wasn't even a necessary prerequisite for coercing sex. Finding yourself alone with the wrong boy meant battling your way to safety.

Unfortunately, many people want to go back to the good old days when only "real" rapes were prosecuted and before women got fed up with the status quo and began opening rape crisis lines.

The crime surveys further indicate that the decline in sexual violence is greater among younger females than older women. In the last dozen years, they found that sexual victimization rates among girls ages 12 to 19 fell by 78% and among women ages 20 to 24 by 70%, nearly double the drop among women older than 25.
This shows me that rape prevention efforts, including education about what real consent looks like, are making a real difference.

Thanks to feminist campaigns, laws have been extended to criminalize nonconsensual sex with intoxicated, disabled, same-sex and acquaintance victims and other offenses that narrower rape laws excluded. All this makes the recent declines in teenage sexual violence even more impressive. [...]

The most likely explanation involves impressive generational developments. In 1970, women made up one-third of all college students (versus 57% today), earned about one-fourth of all young-adult income (versus nearly half today) and made up small fractions of doctors and lawyers (versus majorities of new entrants into these fields now). Women's rapidly rising status and economic independence in the larger society fostered new attitudes and laws that rejected violence against women.

That younger people growing up in this environment of greater gender equality should show the biggest decreases in rape, while older generations lag behind, is consistent with this explanation. The youngest teenagers (presumably those raised with the most modern attitudes) show the biggest declines of all. Over the last 30 years, rape arrest rates have fallen by 80% among Californians under age 15, much larger than the 25% drop among residents age 40 and older.

Ultimately, however, sexual violence remains a serious danger. That is the best reason for rigorously scrutinizing its real patterns and trends (rather than taking tiresome potshots at "young people" and "popular culture") to learn how to further reduce it.

Examining popular culture is part of what's behind the change since the 1970s and is a necessary element to continued rape prevention. What's unnecessary is stereotyping today's popular culture as if it's the first to have problems while sanitizing the popular culture of past decades.

When people talk about "these young people today" I have to laugh because I heard the same talk by adults when I was a teen.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 12:06 AM   1 comments links to this post


At February 23, 2007 12:28 PM, Anonymous Kali said...

I hope this is a real decline in rape, rather than normalization of abusive sex which leads to women/girls not labeling their rapes as real rapes. Do you think that could be one factor in the decline? I hope not.


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