Data feels

cn: rape, sexual violence, & CSA juxtaposed with cold data. This is being crossposted to my other blog.

Some of my most important activist work is in volunteering technical skills for the Asexual Census, a survey of English online ace communities. This past week, I’ve been on a roll analyzing our 2015 survey. No numbers will be reported here, this is just a personal account.

Unsurprisingly, as soon as I was done with prep work, my attention was drawn to the statistics on sexual violence. As a programmer, I’ve been trained to always use descriptive variable names. Now I’m looking at variables named “rape” and “rapeCombined”.

It’s “combined” because it combines people who explicitly said they were raped, and people who said they’ve had sex they didn’t/couldn’t consent to. A lot of respondents see a distinction between the two. I don’t agree that there is or should be a distinction. Probably sexual coercion should be combined too. But I’m not sure how appropriate it is to impose my views on the data. Probably I’ll defer to the judgment of the committee.

“rapeCombined” hovers around 10-20%, depending on the group. This number is not immediately meaningful to me. Is it high or is it low? You can’t get “high” or “low” out of a single number, you have to compare at least two. So I find myself comparing subgroups, and soon it’s a competition. Contra certain people on the internet, *this* group shows higher numbers than *that* group by two whole percentage points, which is slightly larger than our margin of error. Data trumps theory, jerks! I’m totally gonna win some arguments with this. Winning arguments, the consolation prize for losing in life.

Another thing that popped out to me, the age that people first experience sexual violence is bimodal. I can objectively draw a dividing line between child sexual abuse (CSA) and other sexual violence. This is information that I never asked for, but now I have it.

I mean, the dividing line is only sort of objective. Do I draw a dividing line where the distribution hits its minimum, or do I fit it to two Gaussians and draw the line halfway between the peak positions? Or maybe I should find the age where each Gaussian has an equal contribution. Okay, so maybe the methodological question is a bit ridiculous, but wouldn’t you rather think about math than about sexual violence? Anyway, someone needs to think about the math, those are the skills I’m volunteering.

I feel like a dragon sitting on all this data. It’s important for the community to see, but that importance just means we have to take the time to do it right. You know, write a proper formal report or something. By committee. This is incredibly slow. In the mean time, I’ll just sit on this mound, admiring the bits that are especially beautiful or grotesque.


  1. says

    A lot of respondents see a distinction between the two. I don’t agree that there is or should be a distinction.

    What is “a lot”? Presumably you have an actual percentage and a sample size? That would be interesting information. I’m guessing it depends a lot on the way the question was asked (e.g.: yes/no versus “on a scale of 1-5 how consensual was your experience?”)

  2. says

    “A lot” is the weasel phrase I use to avoid conveying any specific information. 🙂

    Let’s just say that a significant fraction of people who say they had nonconsensual sex do not say that they were raped. Most people who were raped also say they had nonconsensual sex. This is what we expected based on sexual violence literature.

    Pure speculation: Many people don’t like applying the word “raped” to themselves. Additionally, people might believe it doesn’t count as rape if it were, for example, CSA or alcohol-assisted. Finally, some people do not consider rape to be sex (and therefore it wouldn’t be nonconsensual sex).

    You can see the precise question/answer phrasing on page 17 of this document.

  3. Siobhan says

    Many people don’t like applying the word “raped” to themselves

    Oh good, statistics corroborate my misery.


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