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Update 1: The chart and post have been updated to reflect the FBI’s preliminary semiannual data for January-June 2013, which shows a 10.6% decline in forcible rapes in 2013.
Update 2: My former AEI colleague Ken Green sent an email asking about the definition of “forcible rape” and whether it includes both female and male rape. “Forcible rape,” as historically defined in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program (and used for the chart above), is the “carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will,” and would therefore exclude male rape. Starting in 2013 (but not reflected in the chart),there is a new definition of rape – the term “forcible” was removed, and the definition changed to “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” I assume this expanded definition will include male rape.
We keep hearing in the news about a general “rape epidemic” in America and more specifically about a “campus rape epidemic.” A White House task force headed by Vice-President Biden tells us that “one in five female college students has been assaulted, but that just 12 percent of such attacks are reported.” I’ve demonstrated statistically using actual crime reports from various universities that if the 12 percent under-reporting White House claim is true, then the 1-in-5 claim can’t possibly be true – it’s more like 1-in-20 or 1-in-30. So there’s a little bit of statistical hijinx, misreporting, and hyperbole going on at the White House on this issue.
But before generating hysteria by reporting that there’s a rape “epidemic” (defined generally as “a rapid spread, growth, or development”), has anybody at the White House or elsewhere bothered to actually check the crime data on rapes in the US? Because if they had, they would find that there’s been a steady decline, not an increase, in the frequency of rapes in America for the last 20 years.
The chart above is based on the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports available here and here, and shows the frequency, or rate of rapes per 100,000 inhabitants, from 1972 to 2012 based on annual data and 2013 based on preliminary semiannual data. From 1972 to 1992, the rate of rapes in the US almost doubled from 22.5 rapes per 100,000 inhabitants in 1972 to a peak of 42.8 in 1992. Then for the next 21 years, the rate declined in almost every year, and fell to a 41-year low of 23.6 rapes per 100,000 inhabitants in 2013 (based on January-June data), the lowest rate since 1972. Also note that the current rate of 23.6 rapes per 100,000 inhabitants means that there would be approximately 23.6 rapes per 50,000 women, or 1 in about 2,100.
Bottom Line: Rape is a horrific crime and even one is too many, but victims of crimes are much better served by the truth and accurate reporting about the situation than by exaggerated and false claims of a “rape epidemic.” FBI crime statistics reveal that far from an “epidemic” of an increasing frequency in rape in America, we’ve fortunately experienced exactly the opposite – the frequency of rape has been declining for more than two decades, and fell to a 41-year low in 2013.
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