The dramatic decline of rapes and sexual assaults

I stumbled upon this post from Angus Johnston about the significant decline in the incidence of rape. He claims that the incidence of rape has declined 88% since 1973. I do not doubt his figures, but the resource he linked to has been moved. In my search, I could not quickly find numbers prior to 1994, but the 1994-2010 numbers will suffice here.

According to National Crime Victimization Survey — an annual survey that samples the population directly — the rate of female rape or sexual assault victimizations has declined by 58% between 1994 and 2010. In 1994, 5 in 1000 females above the age of 12 answered that they had been raped or sexually assaulted that year. In 2010, the number was 2.1 in 1000, or 0.21%. These figures include completed, threatened, and attempted rapes and sexual assaults.

The decline held for basically all demographic breakdowns, age, race, and otherwise, but there is still a significant difference between rates of victimization for different groups. Poor females, black females, rural females, and young females faced the highest levels of victimization for which the survey yielded reliable data.

During the 1995-2010 period, males accounted for 9% of all victims in the survey, and in 2010, 0.1 in 1000 males were victimized (compared to 2.1 in 1000 females for that year). Females were the main emphasis of the report because the rate of male victimization was so low that reliably breaking down the numbers more finely was not possible.

However you break it down, the decline appears to be quite dramatic. That opens up speculation as to what the cause of this decline has been. Angus Johnston’s theory is that “feminism works.” While it is obvious that feminism does indeed work, the case for feminism being at the root of this change is a bit murkier. After all, violent crime rates have been falling across the board. As Johnston points out in his post, since the 1970s, “robbery is down 69%, assault by 62%, theft by 74%.” Unless those drops are also attributable to feminism, it would seem like the decline of rapes and sexual assaults is just part of the overall trend.

Of course, that’s impossible to say for sure. As far as I can tell, there is still no settled theory as to why crime has dropped off in the past few decades so dramatically. It is possible that the decline in rapes and sexual assaults is caused by something (e.g. feminism) that is totally different from the similar drops in the incidence of other kinds of crime. Maybe the decline in each crime category has its own unique cause even. I don’t know. However, outside of some sort of strong evidence, it seems a bit stretched to break out one criminal category from a whole class of crimes that have all been dramatically falling, and then attach to it a cause that is totally different from all of the others.

Ultimately, I suppose the cause does not necessarily matter so much. That yearly incidences of sexual assaults and rapes have been cut in half in 16 years is an incredible success. I had no idea that it had declined that much.