News & Politics

Rape Stats and Silence

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If one uses the NYPD’s public crime statistics as a guide, it seems the best way to avoid getting raped in New York City is to move to the south shore of Staten Island and avoid Midtown South like the plague. But that’s like saying the night sky is only moon and stars; in fact, it’s mostly darkness.

Skeptics of the continued drop in NYPD crime stats stress that offenses only “count” in those numbers if they are actually reported to the cops, and if the police ultimately log them as index crimes (i.e., murder, rape, felony assault, robbery, burglary, larceny, and auto theft). That skepticism is especially relevant in the case of rape—a crime that is estimated to be reported only 16 to 30 percent of the time. If all rape victims called the cops, it’s possible that the differences among neighborhoods would be less stark. Perhaps Midtown South isn’t really as dangerous as Tottenville is safe, or vice versa.

Although they probably are reported at a higher rate, this critique applies to assaults and thefts as well. But in the case of rape, an additional layer of skepticism is needed.

Whatever one thinks of how the NYPD crime stats are kept, most of us would agree that accurate stats could be considered an indicator of how well the police are doing fighting crime—which includes preventing it. But the vast majority of rapes are acquaintance crimes, occurring not in a dark alley but in a bar bathroom or even a bedroom. The police can catch someone who rapes an acquaintance, after the fact. But can they prevent such attacks? If the NYPD put a squad car on every corner, cops might stop every purse snatching or mugging in progress. But they would never see most rapes.

The point is that rape (for the most part) might not really be a police-able crime. That’s why many anti-rape advocates are moving to focus on the prevention of rape as a function not of law enforcement, but of cultural change. Read more about it here.

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