Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Raping numbers. 23.04.14

"People with stronger social relationship have a 50% lower risk of mortality." (Happify.com[1])

Numbers make us go stupid.  We swallow them unquestioningly, as if they were the unbiased bearers of a universal truth, imbued with innate authority.  We accept statistics that contradict everything we know (“the plural of anecdote is not data!”) and everything we think, because science.  If a number demonstrates it, then it must be true!  We forget that numbers are generated by people, who are often biased and untruthful and can bend them to their will.

Emotions make us go stupid too.  It’s very hard to think rationally about subjects that affect us emotionally.  In fact, it is considered offensive to do so.  If you try to be rational about emotional subjects, chances are that you will be verbally assaulted for being insensitive and uncaring[2]

Combine numbers and emotions and you can make people accept the most unrealistic concepts.  The numbers are proof!  The numbers are holy!  If they dare question the methodology behind the numbers, attack them with emotion.  How DARE you question our DATA!  How can you be so cold and calculating?  Whose side are you on?!?!

Some of the most appalling misuse of statistics I see routinely comes from the field of sexual and domestic violence against women.  Some of the figures that have now become part of the dogma quite simply don’t stand up; they are the victims of a number of critical errors in data collection, statistical analysis, semantics and just basic logic.

Our data collection is appalling.  We have allowed the definition of “rape” to have been extended to breaking point.  Someone can rape you by incapacitating, beating, forcing, intimidating, pressurizing, shaming, blackmailing, persuading, asking and even begging you to have sex.  It now includes anything from holding a gun to someone’s head to making puppy dog eyes and saying “but it’s my birthday!”  From a statistical point of view, there is no difference. 

We allow questionnaires with badly-worded yes/no questions that force people into giving truthful yet utterly incorrect answers.  I recently saw a rape questionnaire that asked “Have you been forcibly held down during intercourse?”  The available answers were yes = rape, and no = not rape.  The answer “yes, and it was grrrreat!” wasn’t available.  Bit of an oversight, that.  Another questionnaire asked “Have you ever had sex you later regretted?”  Hell, yes.  In hindsight, that would include most of the sex I have had with most of my exes.  But I sure wasn’t complaining at the time.  What wasn’t rape then can become rape retroactively.

Our data analysis is quite possibly even worse.  We extrapolate so badly we may as well pick numbers out of a hat.  Would you conduct a study of sexually transmitted diseases in a nunnery and extrapolate the results to represent the entire population?  Well, a whole chunk of the statistics thrown around regarding rape (for instance the “one in four American women is a victim”) came from studies conducted on University campuses.  At the risk of shocking and astonishing parents, I will make bold to suggest that the behaviour of people in their late teens and early twenties who have just recently discovered freedom from parental supervision and gained access to alcohol and drugs may not be representative of that of the rest of the population.

As if this wasn’t enough, we lump numbers around to suit our bidding.  For instance, we can lump together “victims of rape” and “victims of attempted rape” under “victims” in our final statistics.  Most people will not notice that and our totals will look immediately worse.  Alakazam!  Bear in mind that in order to be a “victim of attempted rape” these days you don’t need to have fought off a violent attacker; if someone wanted something out of you and you had to say no more than once, that counts.  (Incidentally, this trick also applies to the “one in four” number.)

If this is still not enough, we can descend to absurdity.  We can declare that “this many rapes go unreported”, even though the very fact that they are unreported should be a hint as to the fact that they can’t be quantified meaningfully.  We can work out how many people are “affected by” rape.  They don’t have to be affected directly, or even be close relative of friends.  They just need to have come into contact with someone who has been directly affected.  Potentially, that’s quite a little multiplying trick.  I don’t know about you, but I used to work in an open office of over 400 people.

Why would we be doing this?  Well, we can made an epidemic.  We can prove, with numbers, that we are a rotten, brutal society in which women are routinely victimised.  We can prove that most men are rapists or at least rape supporters.  We can, in fact, prove that a lot of women are rape supporters too.  We can prove that most rapists are serial rapists, and go unpunished.  Bravo!  We live in an awful world, comprising of monsters and victims.  I’ve got the statistics to prove it.

This scamming and fudging bothers me to distraction.  I am told my attitude is offensive, particularly “as a woman”.  “As a woman” I should support lies and tricks that support “my” agenda”, that defend “my gender”.  What’s wrong with me?  Am I a tool of the patriarchal hegemony?  Am I a rape supporter?  Shouldn’t I be glad of anything that encourages us to fight against the monsters and their aberrations?  Why am I trying to “muddy the waters”?

Now, if pointing out that the methodology behind your data is flawed is “muddying the water”, clearly we have a rather different approach to the scientific process.  There is far more behind my exasperation than my immoderate attachment to the concept of “fact”, though.  If you fuck around with truths long enough you can bend them and change them and make them do your bidding; push it too far, though, and you can break them.  The results may not be what you expected.

How would you feel if I took a class of young girls and told them that they don’t have to worry about rape?  That rape is, statistically, a non-violent crime?  That, statistically, they are likely to walk away from it with critically dented feelings, severe trust issues and the need for emotional or psychological support, but little or no actual physical damage?  That it is, statistically, mostly committed by someone they know and probably love?  That most rapes, statistically, happen simply because men don’t know “how not to rape” and can be stopped dead by clear, rational talking?

Do you think this would be absurd?  Well, wake up and smell the coffee, because this seems to be the new, statistically valid, dogmatically correct approach to the subject.  I found this last week in the comments section to the new Kitestring[3] app:
"Man, it's just so sad though that this is seen as rape "prevention"... the only way to prevent rape is to teach men not to rape. Not only that, but sexual assault tends to take place in one's own home with someone they know as the perpetrator (IE an intimate partner).
That's not to say doing things that risk reduction, such as Kitestring, are bad. If it makes a woman feel safer, she should do it. But it's fucked up that we place the responsibility on women to "not get raped," rather than teaching men and boys how to respect women and girls.
I understand that women and girls are socialized out of a very real threat of men's violence. In fact, as a rape prevention educator, I will ask grown women the first time they were taught any of the "rules" (such as "don't walk alone," "carry your keys in your hand," "always walk in well-lit areas") and it is as often as young as 4-5 years old. That's so fucked up.
Meanwhile, men and boys don't learn ANYTHING about sexual violence prevention unless they like, take a women's studies class in college. All the while sexual violence gets framed as a "women's issue" when in fact, 98% of perpetrators are men. If anything, that shows it's a MEN'S issue. And we men need to be doing better. MUCH better."

The above priceless piece is, may I reiterate, from a “rape prevention educator” and no, it’s not an aberration.  I’ve picked it because I found it particularly painful.  This is either what our kids are already being taught, or what campaigners want them to be taught.  This is the official dogma.  And it’s statistically valid.

Based on the official data, I can logically reach the conclusion that the only thing you need to protect against rape is the ability to explain to the men you are with that they are about to do something wrong.  As long as you have the appropriate verbiage, you can educate these clueless oafs.  They do not mean to hurt you, really; they are just ignorant.  And, you know, that would probably make most men beat a hasty retreat most of the time, because – imagine that! – most men do not want to be rapist.  They would be horrified at the thought.  Statistically, I’ve solved the problem the vast majority of the times.  Go on boldly and bravely, my child, because you are statistically safe.

That leaves us, however, with those inconvenient, statistically aberrant events perpetrated by the small minority of men who delight in evil.  They don’t care about your feelings.  They don’t care about your rights.  They don’t care about the dogma.  They want to hurt you.  And you can’t educate them out of it, because they know it’s evil and they LIKE it.  (And yes, the fact that they exist is scientifically demonstrated, with statistics and charts.  And they can’t be “educated” or “cured”, and they don’t have horns or fangs.  They look just like the rest of us.  We forgot about them, didn’t we.  Oops.)

I wish I could feel vindicated – I told ‘em that you mustn’t make lies out of truths, or they’ll come to bite you in the back, but no, they wouldn’t listen...  Actually, I feel petrified.  I had a stepdaughter, you see.  She is young now, but she'll grow up, and she'll have to live in the real world, full of teeth and sharp corners.  I keep picturing a young, naïve, innocent girl, alone in a dark place with a man, turning around to him and saying “if you push this any further it will be rape”.  I picture him smiling, because now that she’s called the game it’s going to be twice as fun.  And I picture his eyes, and I want to throw up.




(Not all statistics out there are lies.  Many are. Check the methodology, all the way from the source of the data (questionnaires, etc.) to how it's been analysed.  If you don't know enough statistics to do that, find someone who does and who doesn't have any vested interest in the data.  Some people who think they are "right with god" will do awful, nasty things to further their cause.  If a statistic is proven flawed and you can't tolerate it, then you may be one of them.)




[1] In case you missed it: last I checked the mortality is 100% for all of us.  And it’s not a risk – it’s a certainty.  You, me, the dog, everyone you know, everyone you don’t know, we all will die.  This is from “Happify.com, the science of happiness”.  If this is science, then I’m the Queen of Sheba.

[2] http://godsbastard.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/the-rise-of-patronising-hegemony-130414.html

[3] http://www.bust.com/kitestring-the-app-weve-seriously-always-needed.html#.U1NfS_ldVqX

2 comments:

Denton said...

And you missed one point: once you start doing preaching that line at men, the decent ones will avoid you and you have just increase your odds...

God's Bastard said...

Ouch - seriously. I had not thought of that.