Monday, November 5, 2007

When Conservatives and Feminists Unite

As Stephen Chapman reminds us, in the 1980's, conservatives and feminists took up the common cause against the evils of pornography, not only on the basis of morality but on the basis of the supposed correlation between porn and sexual violence. As Chapman notes, pornography is more available than ever:

That's due in substantial part to the rise of the Internet, where the United States alone has a staggering 244 million Web pages featuring erotic fare. One Nielsen survey found that one out of every four users say they visited adult sites in the last month. So in the last two decades, we have conducted a vast experiment on the social consequences of such material. If the supporters of censorship were right, we should be seeing an unparalleled epidemic of sexual assault.

But all the evidence indicates they were wrong. As raunch has waxed, rape has waned. This is part of a broad decrease in criminal mayhem. Since 1993, violent crime in America has dropped by 58 percent. But the progress in this one realm has been especially dramatic. Rape is down 72 percent and other sexual assaults have fallen by 68 percent. Even in the last two years, when the FBI reported upticks in violent crime, the number of rapes continued to fall.

No one is going to suggest that correlation means causation, but this is worth looking at, if only for the intuitive result that the prognosticators were far off the mark (ok, so I like to stick it to nanny-state do gooders and moralists once and a while). Chapman also notes a paper presented at Stanford Law School that suggested that sexual urges do play a role in rape "and that pornographic Web sites provide a harmless way for potential predators to satisfy their desires". It is not conclusive theory, but from my own reasonableness standpoint, it does not sound out of the realm of reason.

Even with all this supposed moral evil, society seems to be doing quite fine, if the numbers are telling the right story.

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