Academic claims rape cases down because porn use up

Christian Avard
Published: Friday September 22, 2006

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An academic has claimed to RAW STORY that a decline in reported rape of 85% in the past 25 years can be tied to an increase in pornography consumption.

In a study for Northwestern University's Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper Series titled "Porn Up Rape Down," Anthony D'Amato, a Leighton Professor of Law at Northwestern University, argues that the proliferation of pornography has lead to a sharp decline in rape across the United States.

According to a 2005 National Crime Victimization Survey, the national rate of rape decreased from 2.5 to 0.5 for every thousand people over a 30-year span from 1973 to 2003. The explanations offered include less lawlessness associated with crack cocaine, women being taught to avoid unsafe situations, that more potential rapists are already in prison for other crimes, and sex education classes telling boys that "no means no."

But in an interview with RAW STORY, D'Amato argues that these are minor factors and do not explain the decline in rape. "Suppose you distribute free condoms to a country, and you find, five years later, that the birth rate has gone down 85%. Would you say that it's just a cosmic coincidence or would you say that the distribution of condoms caused the drop in the rate of birth? The reasoning is the same for my position on rape: the causation factor is reasonably inferred, " said D'Amato.

In "Porn Up Rape Down," D'Amato compiled data from 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 with the highest per capita Internet access were Alaska, Colorado, New Jersey, and Washington.

When compared to Disaster Center's figures for forcible rape for the years 1980 and 2000, the four states with the lowest Internet access showed a 53% aggregate per capita increase in rape, while the four states with the highest Internet access showed a 27% decrease in incidence of rape.

"Critics argue that exposure to depictions of violence causes violent behavior," said D'Amato. "They say that rape is just a subcategory of this principle. They couldn't be more mistaken. Exposure to violent movies, TV programs, or video games has NOT produced more social violence. It has produced the opposite. The amount of social violence per capita in the year 1900 when street gangs attacked pedestrians and murders were common far exceeds the incidence of violence today. Sure, there is violent behavior, but when it happens it makes headlines. Back then it happened so often that it wasn't newsworthy."

"It's not a big mystery," says Bruce David, Editorial Director of Hustler magazine. "It's consistent with all the research data we've seen. In countries where adult material is legal, generally speaking there is a decline in instances of rape and spousal abuse and we have also seen in places where adult material is illegal that the abuse of women can be rampant, like Afghanistan where women are shot in soccer stadiums."

Will Ryder, Director of Hustler's Barely Legal and Britney Rears video line wholeheartedly agrees. "I have always felt this was an absurd claim and that quite the contrary would take place, due to the fact that most who view adult entertainment usually conclude their session with a self-satisfaction reward and are too damn tired to leave the house and rape somebody. The last damn thing he wants to do is go out and hunt somebody down," said Ryder.

D'Amato's interest in the rape-pornography question began in 1970, when he served as a consultant to President Nixon's Commission on Obscenity and Pornography. When the Commission found there was no connection between pornography and violent anti-social behavior, Nixon according to D'Amato was furious.

In the 1980s, President Reagan created a similar commission under Attorney General Edwin Meese, who D'Amato said "packed it with people who were on record denouncing pornography." In "Porn Up Rape Down" D'Amato wonders how the social facts could change so drastically in the decade between the Nixon and Reagan reports.

Critics contend that none of D'Amato's conclusions make any sense. "My experience with women across the U.S. is that women now do not report rape," said Gail Dines, associate professor of Sociology and Women's Studies at Wheelock College. "I teach and speak on campuses all over and I know that only 34% of rapes are ever reported and increasingly women are not believed when they tell their stories. I also hear stories that when women do go forward, the college or university will clamp down on women. Or the alleged rapist will get friends to harass her until she drops charges and terrorizes them out of reporting it. This happens everywhere."

Dines also disagreed with the National Victimization Survey conclusion that incidents of rape have decreased by 85%. "It doesn't matter where the statistics come from because women are not reporting. I very rarely meet a woman who has reported a rape. It's by far the exception rather that the rule."

D'Amato believes the most important lesson people should take away from "Porn Up Rape Down" is to question the results of governmental reports. "If people can learn to distrust the findings of governmental commissions, such as the Warren Report, the 9-11 report, or the Meese report on social violence, we would become a more free and democratic nation," said D'Amato. "Our government engineers these reports to shield the perpetrators or to promote the business interests of its cronies and campaign contributors. As I tell my law students, the first thing you need to know about being a lawyer is not to trust the written word."

But critics like Dines suggest that D'Amato or those who reviewed his study fail to understand the myriad factors that influence rape. "What causes rape and violence against women is a very complicated issue. No feminist I know would ever say that only pornography is the sole cause of rape. There are multiple causes," said Dines. "To look at the causes of rape you have to look at multiple factors and variables and all I can say is it was reviewed by people who are not aware of the research that's been going on or did not question the nature of debate he was using."


[Clarification: RAW STORY is not endorsing Mr. D'Amato's claim, but rather reporting it is an item of interest.]