Monday, May 4, 2015

What should we be doing about sexual assault and abuse of women?


Sexual assault and abuse of women is a really big thing at the moment, and while I do not believe the majority of the stats out there, I do believe that something needs to be done.  And this is where I think we need to start: Gather proper stats.

You may be wandering what is wrong with current stats.  The answer is: lots.

  1. Different countries have different definitions of rape, both in describing the legal definition as well as the social definition, not to mention whatever definition was used when gathering stats.
  2. The stats are put together by people who do not understand statistics and think that something like "total number of women divided by total rapes in the country" gives a meaningful number.  This is bad math, bad science, and bad for everyone involved.
  3. All stats need to be given in context and we need to have a minimum way of presenting the stat.  For example:
    • When stats for a particular differentiator (risk groups, geographic regions, etc...) are substantially different from other differentiators, they should not be grouped.  If all the stats are substantially different, they should not be grouped.
      For example, if there is a variance of ~3% across all risk groups except one that has a variance of 10%, or 90%, then we need to exclude that exception from combined stats.
    • Stats need to be presented by differentiator and only ever grouped if the variance is small enough that the average describes each area closely.
      For example, if there is a 0% chance of rape in one half of the provinces in country, and a 100% chance of rape in the other half, it is irresponsible to say that the chances of rape in the country are 50% (the average), since you are quite safe in one part of the country and at dire risk in the other.
    • It is NEVER acceptable o use a stat that oversimplifies to the extent of giving a false impression.
      In the above 100% rape provinces example, analysis might show that 70% of the women raped were raped on public transport, and the remaining 30% were raped within 2 blocks of a bar / strip club / political convention / whatever.  In that case, it's irresponsible to claim that the entire province has a 100% rape stat.
    • If the stat will be presented in a way that is misleading, it should not be shown.  If a stat doesn't tell a proper story, it must be given in full context, or not at all.
    • When use comparatively, stats have to be inclusive, and have to be presented inclusively.
      For example, if you are doing a presentation of female prisons, presenting a stat that shows that 42% of women in correctional facilities have been raped  at least once is probably OK.  If you are talking about discrimination against women, and you present a stat that shows that 42% of women in correctional facilities have been raped at least once, you should probably include the stat that shows that 56% of men in correctional facilities have been raped at least once.  
  4. Where stats were gathered by asking questions (eg. from a survey), the survey questions need to be provided, and the results can only be compared against surveys that ask the same questions.
    This may seem a bit harsh, but if the question is "If you were forced to, would you murder someone or rape them repeatedly?" , then publishing your results as "in a recent anonymous survey, 80% of men admit they would rape a women repeatedly."
  5. Finally, people who are caught misrepresenting stats and facts should be ostracised. A stat misrepresented is a lie as much as any other lie.

On top of this, in the context of abuse of women, specifically sexual assault, most of the people putting the stats together do not look at the reason for the assault, which is HUGE when looking at ways of combating it.  Different causes for sexual assault result in different responses.  For example:

  1. Did the sexual assault happened because the offender was drunk or under the influence of drugs?
  2. Was it because the victim was drunk or under the influence of drugs?
  3. Were both parties drunk or under the influence of drugs, and if so, can it reasonably be classified as sexual assault?
  4. Was the perpetrator mentally unbalanced?
  5. Was the perpetrator looking for sexual gratification?
    • If yes to parent question, was it clearly understood by the perpetrator that there was no consent?
    • If yes to parent question, was consent given and then withdrawn?
    • If yes to parent question, was the perpetrator's intent to rape?
  6. Was the perpetrator using sexual assault as a form of control?
  7. Was the perpetrator committing the assault because of some sort of peer pressure?
  8. Was there another reason for the assault?
  9. Did the perpetrator understand that their actions were wrong, or harmful, or undesired?
  10. For all of the above, was the perpetrator working alone?

(It's possible to ask all of the above questions with "domestic abuse", "verbal assault", etc... as the act in question.  Yes, even the sexual gratification one.)

It's important to ask these questions, because sexual assault (all abuse, really) generally falls into 3 categories:

  1. For sexual or personal gratification.
  2. To assert control over another person.
  3. Because the perpetrator was, for whatever reason, operating outside the cognitive boundaries of a normal person.

You deal with each of these types of sexual assault differently, and stats from each of these points should not be combined in any instance.

Once proper stats are being collected we can start looking at how to fix the problem.  Without proper stats, I do not believe that form of corrective action can be considered useful.  And if it's not useful, why bother doing it?

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