A story on an academic study finding a decrease in rape corresponding with a period of decriminalized prostitution in Rhode Island received a news report on the second page of the Providence Journal on July 15. Folks who comb the Internet for news on a daily basis have seen the study mentioned with some frequency in the weeks since.
A critical response suggesting that the study misused data pretty dramatically has thus far been relegated to the opinion pages.
First, their claim that the sex industry didn’t start expanding until 2003 is incorrect. …
Second, Cunningham and Shah claim that the rate of reported rapes in Rhode Island decreased from 2003 until 2009. Yet statistics from the FBI Uniform Crime Report show there had already been a general decline in the rate of rape at the national level since the early 1990s, with continuing declines until 2012, the last year for which data is available.
Rhode Island’s decrease in the rate of reported rape is similar to that seen at the national level. …
Also, for an unknown reason, Rhode Island had an exceptionally high rate of reported rape for 2003 (46.9 rapes per 100,000 inhabitants, compared to 36.9 in 2002 and 29.6 in 2004).
In brief, the national-news-headlining finding may have been based entirely on an arbitrarily chosen comparison year that happened to make the trend look substantial.
Unfortunately, it’s in the nature of news and cultural commentary that the response won’t get nearly the splash that the initial story received. Consequently, thousands of people will simply file away the truism that legalized prostitution reduces rape.
Whether any of them will even try to reconcile that belief with the long-trumpeted alternate truism that rape is not about sex, but about control and violence, is impossible to know.