Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Does Internet Porn Reduce Rape?

In my last Blog entry I looked at the efficacy of child-sex doll laws, and various associative connotations. I said that there are two important factors in that equation - one of moral preference and one of efficiency. Efficiency asks whether or not the introduction of child sex-dolls would reduce sexual acts on children, and moral preference asks whether we'd desire the dolls even if it did turn out that they reduce those acts. I concluded that the dolls should still be discontinued irrespective of what other ancillary benefits they might confer.

That leads me to this Blog topic - because I remember in a similar vein some studies done on the possible relationship between watching porn on the Internet and rape reduction - conducted by the likes of Todd Kendall, Melinda Moyer, Gordon Dahl and Stefano DellaVigna, and analysis of the analysis from Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner in Freakonomics. Apparently it looks as though rape reduction might have some causal link to increased pornography viewing on the Internet. The first thing found in the American research is that States that adopted the Internet most quickly saw the biggest declines in rape. Apparently States with the most Internet access saw as much as a 27% drop in reported rapes. Given that the Internet occurred in different States at different times, it does provide a pretty neat large-scale social experiment, appearing to show a State reduction in rape commensurate with the introduction of the Internet.

Of course, I say 'appearing to', because it's not conclusive - there may be other factors. Even if the Internet reduces rape, that doesn't mean that Internet pornography reduces rape. Hence, the question of whether other crimes like murder and burglary saw a reduction too is important (and apparently they did not) - which gives indication that it wasn't simply people looking at EBay and Rateyourmusic instead of committing crimes - it was likely that people were satisfying their sexual desire online, and as a result, not needing to go out and rape. It's still not conclusive, of course - even after that - maybe increased Internet use on dating sites and social networking forums helped match up people together, thus lessening some former perpetrators' need to rape. But the reports say the biggest resultant impact has been on teenagers, who are probably statistically the people least likely to be looking for a serious relationship online.

It is well known in economics that when you lower the price of product Y that is a replacement for product X the quantity of X should fall (take video tapes, and their replacement, DVDs as a good example). It is not proven that Internet use is a replacement for rape, but it seems that the evidence gives good exhibition to the possibility. For those who are sceptical, your job would be to think up other variables that might be driving the reduction in rape and the increased Internet usage. For those who are convinced that reduction in rape and increased Internet porn are causally related, your job would be to think of other sets of variable data that might support the conclusion. At the moment, unless I hear hypotheses to the contrary, the proposition that Internet porn has contributed to a reduction in rape seems quite plausible.

Finally though, to reiterate a point from last time; even if it's true that watching Internet porn reduces rape, that's not to say that Internet porn is a good thing - it's just a less bad thing than rape. And it remains a positive endeavour if we try to help people to get away from pornography and into things more edifying and fulfilling.

* Photo courtesy of behindthespread.com