Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The internet reduces rape?

Personally I'm rather unsure that you can find any definite link between the media and violent crime. This paper (warning: .pdf), “Pornography, Rape, and the Internet” by Todd Kendall of the Department of Economics, Clemson University, Sept. 2006, comes up as a bit of a surprise.
Specifically, the results suggest that a 10 percentage point increase in internet access is associated with a decline in reported rape victimization of around 7.3%. While admitting that data quality, omitted variables, functional form assumptions, and other confounding factors could potentially cause bias, I support this claim with six separate pieces of evidence. When considered as a whole, the empirical case is more compelling.

First, I use a simple differences-in-differences approach to show that states that adopted the internet quickly saw larger declines in rape incidence than other states (while no similar effect is evident for homicide).
Second, I show that this effect is most concentrated among states with a high ratio of male to female population, suggesting that men are substituting pornography for rape most when potential mates are in low supply.
Thirdly, I use regression analysis with fixed state and year effects to show a negative
correlation between internet access and rape, even controlling for a wide variety of otherfactors.
Fourth, I show that a similar analysis evidences neither a statistical nor economically significant effect of internet usage on any other violent or property crime for which reliable state-level data is available.
Fifth, using data on arrests, I am able to separate the effects of internet access on rape across different age groups. I find a significant negative effect of internet access on rape arrest rates among men ages 15-19 – a group for whom pornography was most restricted before the internet, while the estimated effects on arrest rates for other age groups are statistically insignificant and smaller in magnitude. Again, by contrast, I show that no similar pattern exists for homicide arrests.
Finally, I also provide evidence on the correlations between internet adoption and several other measures of sexuality, including teen birth rates, prostitution arrests, marriage and divorce rates, and HIV transmission.

The results generally imply that internet usage has had significant effects on sexual behavior more generally, and thus they lend credibility to the claim that the internet may impact sexual assault to the degree claimed.
I've always thought the link between porn and rape was rather dubious, rapists always seem to be motivated by extreme misogyny rather than lust.
On the other hand, with physical violence, I can't help but feel the glamourisation in films and TV does have some influence does have some influence over young people, it's difficult ever to prove anything on this score either way.


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