In December, I examined the claim that, if we include prison rape, the incidence of rape is higher in men than in women. The standard usage of this claim is to tell feminists to shut up when they’re talking about rape or to claim that feminist lie with statistics.
Recently, the old post has been getting new attention. As far as I can tell, what set this off was Christopher Glazek’s n+1 article on incarceration that included this statement:
In January, prodded in part by outrage over a series of articles in the New York Review of Books, the Justice Department finally released an estimate of the prevalence of sexual abuse in penitentiaries. The reliance on filed complaints appeared to understate the problem. For 2008, for example, the government had previously tallied 935 confirmed instances of sexual abuse. After asking around, and performing some calculations, the Justice Department came up with a new number: 216,000. That’s 216,000 victims, not instances. These victims are often assaulted multiple times over the course of the year. The Justice Department now seems to be saying that prison rape accounted for the majority of all rapes committed in the US in 2008, likely making the United States the first country in the history of the world to count more rapes for men than for women.
So, according to the comments received since then, I’m just one more feminist lying with statistics, especially since someone, somewhere also looked at the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) and discovered that there are a lot of men who answered that their experiences match the definition of rape, as long as you don’t require rape to be defined as being penetrated. (For the record, this is a change I’ve been advocating for.)
This assertion that I’m lying with statistics runs into two problems, however. The first problem is that my post went up on December 1, 2o11. The NISVS survey was released two weeks later. The Bureau of Justice Statistics numbers that Glazek referenced in his article were, as far as I can tell, not officially published anywhere except the Federal Register (pdf). They are not reflected in the official National Inmate Survey (NIS) or National Survey of Youth in Custody (NSYC) reports.
This is probably due to the fact that the numbers in the Federal Register include an adjustment to reflect the fact that the prison population is a rotating population, increasing the number of exposures in a year in a way that the mandated procedures for the official reports doesn’t accommodate. That makes the higher numbers likely to be better estimates, but they’re still not easily available to anyone looking at the official sources.
The other problem with these numbers is that Glazek made his statement without doing the math or making sure the methodologies were similar. The 216,000 incarceration sexual assaults are indeed more than the 203,000 rapes and sexual assaults reported under the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) for 2008 (pdf). However, only 151,000 of the incarceration sexual assaults match NCVS sexual assault definitions. The remainder are “willing sex” with staff. They shouldn’t happen, any more than teachers should have “willing sex” with students, but the NCVS doesn’t survey the general population to determine the frequency of these events, so we can’t use them for comparison. [ETA: Since I ran these numbers in comment #39, here is a graph for this as well, using the NCVS basis.]
Fortunately, however, the NISVS data does allow us to make this comparison, as it includes sexual contact with those in authority. That means that I can do the re-analysis that my commenters have (ever so politely and without suggesting that I was doing anything dishonest in the first analysis–or not) asked for.
Once again, in this analysis, sexual assaults in incarcerated populations are attributed to men and women by the relative population sizes. This isn’t accurate, as the NIS reports show women experience more assault per capita while incarcerated. However, the percentages of men and women assaulted are not broken down in the same way the data is cut for the adjusted BJS figures, and I’d prefer to not even potentially be unfair to the men in any of these figures.
This also likely undercounts sexual assault in incarcerated women in another way. Women tend to serve shorter sentences, which means that more of them rotate through jails and prisons in a year. The way the adjustments that produced the figure of 216,000 were done, shorter sentences led to larger increases in full-year rates. No attempt has been made here to apply that kind of adjustment.
Additionally, the NISVS data includes 519,000 attempted forcible rapes/penetration as a separate item for women but not for men. I haven’t used those here. That means the men’s stats all the way through include attempted forcible rape where the women’s stats do not. The questions used don’t specify any physical contact, so these numbers are not included in sexual assault totals for women either. [Edited for clarity.]
Given all that, this is what the totals look like.
So the factoid is still wrong. Aside from that, rape in prison situations is still a problem. Rape outside of prison situations is still a problem. Rape anywhere that inequalities are created will continue to be a problem, and the sources of those inequalities need to be addressed if we want to decrease rape. We should still be talking about all of it, and a look at those of us who talk about social justice issues will generally find that we do.