Monday, May 4, 2015

Abuse - who are the real victims?


I'm the kind of guy who believes that men should protect women, regardless of anything else.  I am also opposed to all forms of abuse.  But I'm also the kind of guy who believes that bad facts lead to flawed actions, and that we can only really do good when we act with all the information.

I'm going start by focussing a lot on sexual assault for reasons that will become clearer later in this article. So, to start with, most of the stats people quote are from the US, and the US stats are so messed up they are closer to a work of fiction than anything else.  I'm not sure how much you, the reader, understands about stats, but stats are usually misunderstood even by people with otherwise very strong math skills. (See this article)

I often see a stat that claims that 1 in 6 women will be raped in the US.  The 1 in 6 rape stat is misleading for a number of reasons, including that it includes a lot of things that are not strictly speaking rape in the numbers, and because the stats themselves are incorrectly calculated for the way they are expressed (and cannot possibly be accurate for the way they are expressed.  Again, See this article).

But even other rape stats from other countries are more cloudy than clear.  Lets look at South Africa as an example. (Unless otherwise stated, all stats are between 1993 and 1998)

Two studies carried out in 1998 and 2000 showed that between 2.1% and 4% of women older than 16 across all population groups had been raped at least once.  A different south African report said that 1 in 3 women had been raped.  A UN report for the same period ranks South Africa first worldwide for rapes per capita.  How can we have two stats (3, really) that vary so widely?  1 in 3 is 33%, yet we also have the 2.1% and 4% stats.  Which one do we believe?

The answer is none of them.  Stats are only ever meaningful if you give the criteria for the stats.  For example, if I told you that the 1 in 3 stat (which I have seen quoted as a South African stat for rape) was actually taken from a sample of 4000 women in Johannesburg, the disparity becomes clearer.  If I told you that the women interviewed were in an at-risk group, suddenly the stats make a lot more sense, and are even less meaningful in the general sense.  If I added that the stat looked at the number of rapes in total (including multiple rapes per person) and not just if they had been raped at least once in their lifetime, you will understand that the stat is meaningless in pretty much any other context (and you may wonder why it was ever brought up).

Now, if we accept that 4% (the higher of the stats) of South African women will be raped at least once in their lives, that statistic becomes 4 in 100, 2 in 50, or 1 in 25.  But even that stat includes all sorts of at-risk groups.  It's OK to include some at-risk groups in this stat (i.e. displaced & homeless families, immigrants, etc...), but it's NOT OK to include other at-risk groups (sex workers, drunk women who were not violently raped, etc...), and yet this 1 in 25 includes everyone.  So I will use the 1 in 25 stat, but understand that it is flawed.  For the record, there are no organisations (women's rights or otherwise) looking at producing proper stats for South Africa.

There is also a study that shows that 25% of South African men admitted (when questioned anonymously) to raping someone at least once.  Half of the men who admitted committing rape  admitted to raping more than one person.  Of the original 25%, 3 out of 4 said they had raped a women younger than 20, and 1 in 10 admitted raping a girl before the age of 10.  So 2.5% of South African men admit to raping a child.  Of course, as with all stats, if you look at this in context you will see that this was a survey of 1'738 men from KZN and the eastern cape.  And given the small pool, it stands to reason that they were from a relatively small catchment area in those provinces. With all this in mind, how trustworthy / useful is this stat when looking at anything other than men from the catchment area in KZN and the Eastern cape?

Back to the US claim that 1 in 6 women will be raped in their lifetimes.  That's a difficult stat to swallow if you remember that, according to the UN, South Africa is #1 for rapes, and our (flawed) stats are 1 in 25.  It quickly becomes apparent that the 1 in 6 stat is sensationalist and rubbish.  More so when you see that in war torn Colombia, during a long running civil war, internally displaced women face a 1 in 5 risk of being raped.  Is the US really as unsafe as war torn Colombia?

Why is this important, and how does it affect the fact that women are abused?  In many instances, from many sources, women are made to feel victimised / generally at risk when they are in fact safer than they think.  Bad stats are used to do that.  For example, would stats comparing women dating and socialising within their current cultural and social groups show that they were more or less at risk of rape and sexual assault than women outside of their social or cultural group?  Are women in Sandton, Randburg, Roodepoort, Krugersdorp, etc at higher or lower risk than women from Soweto, Khayelitsha and diepsloot?  Similarly, would women from all groups be more or less at risk if they were meeting with a man with strong stated moral principles, or a drunk man, or a drug addict?  What would the risk be if they were meeting with a white guy from Pretoria vs. a black guy from Alexandra. Or how about a black guy from Pretoria vs. a white guy from Alexandra?

The answers to these questions would vary depending on a number of factors, I guess, but we would get really interesting stats as to what groups were at higher risk, which is something to act on, even if only identifying where to run awareness campaigns.

But what we are doing is telling women all women equally that they are at risk, and that causes fear, and fear leads to it's own problems.  We are also telling them that all men are, equally, the problem.

In addition to this, when we say that certain behaviours are more risky than others it's often called victim blaming ("Women have the right to go to bars in sexy outfits and get drunk!  She isn't responsible for getting raped, the man who raped her is responsible!  Don't tell me what I can and cannot do with my life and my body!").  This means that it's difficult to identify what really is risky behaviour and what is not.

These things mean that women are led to feel that they are constantly at risk, with next to nothing they can do about it.  In addition, because men in general are seen as the problem, women star to fear or distrust men, which, ironically leads to more cases of rape (I base this off stats that show that more drunk women are being raped than previously, which may be a faulty assumption, but it makes the point in any case).

These things also mean that most of the efforts to fix things are aimed at educating men in general.  A good strategy if most men were rapists, but a really lousy one if most men are not rapists.  And most men are not rapists.  For example, the only time I've ever seen this problem being discussed is between men who would never dream of actually raping a woman.  This accomplishes exactly nothing (especially since the feminists that are most active in this also say that a woman doesn't need a man to protect her, making it almost impossible for us men who are not rapists to actually do anything).

I'm not saying there isn't a problem, I'm saying that we are focussing on the wrong part of the problem, may be overstating the problem in certain instances and understating it in other instances, and may not actually even fully understand the problem.  Are women at higher risk for sexual assault?  Yes, I believe so.  But that's not all there is to the problem of abuse, and here is where it gets interesting.

Are women at higher risk of sexual abuse? Yes.  Are women at higher risk of non-sexual abuse?  No. Men are.

According to the data given by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, worldwide, 78.7% of homicide victims are male, and in 193 of the 202 listed countries or regions, males were more likely to be killed than females. In two countries, the ratio was 50:50 (Swaziland and British Virgin Islands), and in the remaining 7; Tonga, Iceland, Japan, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Latvia and Hong Kong, females were more likely to be victims of homicides compared to males.

OK, so that was homicide, what about other abuse?  There are quite a few studies that show that rates of physical aggression within the context of dating and marriage tend to be similar for men and women, or even that women are more likely to commit domestic violence against a partner (this data has been contested, but it seems the only detractors are women's rights groups who do not have viable competing studies, and so I'll discount them since the data from these studies is fairly neutral).  According to one large study, women are between two to three times as likely to be the offender in non-reciprocal partner violence. The study suggests that while women are far more prone to be the sole offender, reciprocal violence where both partners use violence has higher frequency of serious injuries, and that these injuries more often have female victims than male (if the violence was reciprocal, and the women likely started it, then I don't think women should be called victims here, I think they should be called losers.  This may seem a bit harsh, but if you start a fight and lose, it's not the other guy's fault).  IMPORTANT NOTE: Domestic violence is wrong, no matter who started it. But blaming the wrong person isn't the way to fix the problem.

To put this into a bit of numbers perspective, in the US in 2012, ~1.2 million women experienced domestic abuse.  At the same time, ~800 thousand men were the victims of domestic abuse.  And men are significantly less likely to report being abused by their female partners than vice versa, meaning this figure is probably a lot higher.

If you take a look at things in general, including all forms of assault, men are, on average, ~2.3 times more likely to be the victim of aggravated assault than women in developed countries, and quite a bit more in developing countries.  In addition, male suicide rates are substantially higher than female suicide rates  - The stats say men are 3 times more likely to commit suicide than women.

OK, so I've rambled on for quite some time, what does all this mean?  My answer is this: very little. We have stats, but looking at stats out of context is an exercise in futility - it doesn't tell you anything useful.  And we don't have enough data to look at abuse stats in context.  We don't even have enough data to make sure that stats from different countries are for the same thing (for example, rape is defined differently in the US and South Africa for the purposes of rape stats).

About the only thing that these stats show is that women are not really subject to more abuse than men.  But they think they are, and that can lead to them acting and feeling like victims.  This leads to a problem where "ending abuse" is often seen as something we should be doing for women, when in reality, ending abuse is something we should be doing for all of us.

I'll leave you with a 1998 quote from Hillary Clinton:

The quote is:
Women have always been the primary victims of war. Women lose their husbands, their fathers, their sons in combat. Women often have to flee from the only homes they have ever known. Women are often the refugees from conflict and sometimes, more frequently in today's warfare, victims. -- Hillary Clinton, the 1998 First Ladies' Conference on Domestic Violence 
That these words were taken seriously is a travesty and a tragedy.  Why did nobody ask these follow up questions: What gender are the husbands, fathers and sons who died in combat?  Where do men go when the women flee from their homes? Are the men better off wherever they are?  Where are the male refugees from conflict?  Who is more likely to be maimed or killed when a village is invaded, the women who become displaced or the men who may become soldiers?

Note: Do you have a problem with the stats in this article?  So do I .  Because of how stats are gathered, calculated and used, most stats relating to sexual assault are misleading or wrong.  What can we do abou tthis?  Read this article.

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