Playing With Figures

Posted by Viktoria Michaelis on January 25, 2014 in Immoral Conversations |

A while back I wrote about statistics and how they can be used to influence people, even when the figures are used in such a manner as to create the wrong impression. Now, I am not saying that this example will necessarily create a certain impression amongst readers, but it is set up in such a manner that it does show us a picture which we cannot immediately understand. It uses two forms of statistics – big numbers and small numbers – to bring a point across, and relies on readers not doing any mental arithmetic for themselves. From Naomi Wolf’s latest offering: Vagina: A New Biography:

‘1.3 million American women annually may be victims of rape or attempted rape.’ (One in seventy-one men has been raped….)

This is taken from The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey by Roni Caryn Rabin which studied 16,507 adults.

The use the specific numbers of women who may be victims of rape or attempted rape is purposefully published as a large number; it has more effect. The number of men raped – not ‘may be victims’ – is a small associative number.

According to the United States Census 2010 there are 157 million women  and 152 million men in the United States. Taking 1.3 million women we have a small number relationship of one in one hundred and twenty women, not quite double the small figure for men. Taking the one in seventy-one men we have a large number relationship of 2.1 million men.

If these figures are correct, more men are raped in the United States than women although, looking at the way the figures have been presented in my quotation, anyone would, at first glance, get the impression that the number of women is exceptionally high, the number of men low.

Whether these figures are correct, whether the report refers to men over a longer period of time, I cannot say. And I am certainly not saying that this belittles the number of women who are raped – rape is wrong no matter what – but it is interesting to see how the presented figures – quoted – influence our impressions when changed to match one another, as I have done above.

Love & Kisses, Viki.

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  • Francois says:

    The quote read (past tense) as meaningless even after the numbers were translated: it remains a comparison of apples with oranges.

    As you point out, the time base is not defined. Neither are the critical terms in the case of women: “may be”, “rape or attempted rape”. Not clear.

    More than two million American men are rape victims?
    I find that difficult to believe. Why, rape would then be a federal crime and there would be active prevention measures. Sad, is it not?

    The US Bureau of Justice states that 91% of victims are women, 9% men and 99% of perpetrators are men.
    (Report here: http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/SOO.PDF)

    Form the same report, perpetrators are
    26% current or former spouse / SO
    7% relative
    38% friend or acquaintance
    26% stranger.

    The word “rape” needs to disappear from legislation and be replaced with “aggravated assault” to take away any sexual connotation (it has nothing to do with sex) and make it what it is: a violent crime in which grievous harm is caused to the victim. Psychological harm is often permanent and untreatable.

    • Removing the ‘sex’ from the assault might, possibly, make it easier for women to come forward and have their day in the courts, although I suspect that many defense attorneys would bring the sexual nature of the attack right back into the public forum.

      One of the reasons that I wrote this post is because I find these figures – whether actual, from whichever source, or quoted by Wolf – hard to follow, hard to accept. I appreciate that she has a message she wishes to bring across, but facts work far better than playing with figures, and complete information rather than suspicion, would have furthered her argument a good deal more. As it is, what she presents is open to dispute, and runs the risk of wiping out anything ‘good’ she may have wished to show.

      • Francois says:

        Rape is one of those rare crimes in which “presumption of innocence” should be replaced with neutrality, both parties having the same burden in establishing facts. The “sex” defense is inadmissible in Canada (and possibly other countries) and the courts treat rape exactly as aggravated assault.

        I do not know what Wolf set out to do but I assume she wanted to communicate that (most) victims are women. That is true. The way she went at it may have been dictated by the facts she had available. There is an astonishing paucity of data on rape compared to other violent crimes. Victims not reporting (although declining) still account for about one third of cases.

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