- Justice Department, National Crime Victimization Survey: 2006-2010
- FBI, Uniform Crime Reports: 2006-2010
- National Center for Policy Analysis, Crime and Punishment in America, 1999
- Department of Justice, Felony Defendents in Large Urban Counties: average of 2002-2006
This is a rather common infographic retrieved from the RAINN website, and it’s as misleading as it is inaccurate. The problem is that the supposed “experts” writing this apparently don’t understand the difference between a “person accused of rape” and a “rapist.” In the same way, those “100 rapes” aren’t really “100 rapes,” they’re 46 alleged rapes and 54 guesses at rapes that may have happened but not been reported.
I saw a post recently that termed this kind of behavior “rape sorcery.” While these numbers might be considered shocking, in reality they’re entirely commensurate with other crimes. Note here that the actual conviction rate for rape is 5/9, or 56%, not 3% or anything remotely similar.
For now we can ignore the 54 alleged unreported rapes. The reality is that we have no idea, but when people are surveyed we overwhelmingly find that the reason so many “rapes” are unreported is because the “victim” didn’t consider it to be serious and didn’t feel they’d been harmed. If the victim didn’t feel they’d been substantially harmed, it’s debatable whether we can even consider a crime to have been committed, and at the very least we can’t count them. Once they’re subtracted, the number’s already taken a huge hit.
Of the 46 reported rapes, only a handful lead to an arrest. This is for a number of reasons. For some (this is actually quite rare, as most rapes are committed by someone close to the victim) the police might not have been able to locate a suspect. For others, they are removed as a result of accusation inflation. Basically, accusation inflation happens when someone reports a rape to the police, but for one reason or another (commonly jurisdiction issues) it’s dismissed and refiled elsewhere. This can result in an additional report even though there was only one crime. For still more, there are cases where a cursory examination demonstrates that the events reported don’t qualify as rape under the law, such as a case where two equally intoxicated people have sex. Additionally, there are cases where the alleged victim is believed to be fabricating their story outright. These aren’t the only factors, but even in short we can see how big an effect these could be.
Of the 12 that lead to an arrest, several will be dropped because the suspect is proven innocent (predominantly via alibi that wasn’t originally accessible), and others will be dropped because the DA feels the case was too insubstantial to prosecute. This could be a real crime with insufficient evidence, or a false allegation (or misdirected allegation) where the evidence doesn’t exist because the crime never occurred.
Of the 9 that are prosecuted, slightly less than half fail in court because while there was sufficient evidence to take the case to trial, there wasn’t enough to prove that case beyond a reasonable doubt. Additionally, some cases end through plea bargains, often when the DA doubts that there will be a successful rape conviction. There’s a reason it specifies “felony” convictions, as many of these plea bargains result in misdemeanor convictions. This may be accidental, or this may be a purposeful attempt to mislead.
Finally, we get to the most misleading of the statistics, that a number of the convicted rapists will not “spend even a single day in prison.” This, of course, is bullshit. The reason for this is that many rape trials end in convictions for sexual assault. Sentences for sexual assault are not as long as sentences for rape, and given the normal length of a rape trial and general proceedings what’s actually happening is that many of these offenders are being sentenced to “time served”; that is, they’re already been in prison for their entire sentence before they were convicted. As mentioned, this makes the statistic intensely and likely intentionally misleading. Even in cases where someone did in fact rape and were acquitted at trial, it’s common for them to have spent a considerable amount of time in jail first in addition to the community factors….of course this also affects a huge number of people who were falsely or inaccurately accused. They are not just letting convicted rapists go without jail time.
This isn’t the end of the problems though. See, this has all tracked cases, not people. One thing we do know about rape is that it’s normally a serial crime: the vast majority of rapists offend repeatedly, with estimates ranging between about 5 and 8 per offender. As most people familiar with the justice system will tell you, when dealing with serial offenders the courts normally take the approach of making one or two strong cases on the incidents where they have the most evidence rather than using the “shotgun” approach. (As some will know Pickton was convicted of only 6 murders, but I don’t think anyone would argue that he “got away with” the other 43.) Clearly, this can have a major effect on the data; if we were to presume that rapists were normally prosecuted for only one of the crimes they committed, the odds that a given rapist was convicted of a crime would jump by a factor of roughly the average number of offences per offender. For example, with that presumption (using the low end for average number of offences), ignoring the specious claim that convicted rapists aren’t being sentenced to jail time, and taking the number of reported rapes as accurate, we would find that on average the rate for rapists (as opposed to rapes) is about one in two. When we add in the various other problems addressed above, it only gets worse. Unfortunately, because we don’t have good numbers on the subject we can’t do much more than guess, but it’s entirely clear that this will affect the results significantly as far as the claim about “rapists” goes.
The worst part of all of this is that it utterly ignores the fact that while according to the CDC women make up roughly 40% of yearly rapists, they make up only a few percent of rapists that are actually convicted. While the attrition and conviction rates for rapists in general are roughly commensurate with those of other crimes, when we narrow things to female rapists we suddenly do start to see a massive gap.
But hey, why bother with silly things like accuracy when you can get a good infographic out of it, right?