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November 14, 2005

Innumerates anonymous

In the Toronto Sun, Thane Burnett faithfully transcribes the Canadian Crime Victim Foundation's Joe Wamback:

"Do you realize a woman is twice as likely to be raped here in Canada than in the U.S.?" Joe asks, citing a UN report.

No, I did not realize that. But according to this report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (enormous PDF alert!), there is indeed a huge discrepancy between Canada and the US. For 1999, we see a rate of 78.23 rapes and attempted rapes per 100,000 population in Canada, and 32.05 for the United States (which is more or less the figure the CCVF website cites without reference).

Common sense says this simply cannot be true. It's not that the US rate should be higher or lower than Canada, necessarily, but simply that there shouldn't be a discrepancy of nearly 2.5 times between the two countries on a crime like rape (as opposed to a vastly higher rate of gun crime in the US, for instance, or of, uh, poutine-related assault in Canada, either of which would be pleasantly logical). Also suspicious: the only countries on the list faring worse than Canada are such gynocratic locales as the Seychelles, South Africa and Swaziland — all at around 122 per 100,000 — while the only other country even in the same ballpark is Australia, of all places, at 74.23.

Time for the reveal. 23,859, the number of rapes ostensibly committed in Canada in 1999, is actually the grand total of all varieties of sexual assault (per Statistics Canada). 89,110, the number of rapes ostensibly committed in the US in 1999, is in fact the number of "forcible rapes". The United Nations has provided the world with 2.3 megabytes of portable document comparing apples to oranges. That' s exactly the sort of thing I'd expect them to do.

Bigging up crime numbers, meanwhile, is exactly the sort of thing I'd expect crime victim organizations to do. I note that the CCVF devotes a large section of its website to a list of legal rights granted to Canadians accused of criminal acts; victims, they say, have none, which is a bit rich. I've always been suspicious of victims' rights outfits, though the CCVF's platform as outlined in Burnett's Sun article sounds very reasonable. I guess the question that's always nagged me is this: If the goal is more rights for victims, why is at least 80 percent of the movement's labour focused on taking rights away from criminals and accused criminals?

Posted by Chris Selley at November 14, 2005 10:53 PM

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Your apples to oranges comment is apt. It gets worse.

Most rapes go unreported, making rape one of the most unreliable statistics around. It is also impossible to know whether incidences of reporting are consitent between juristictions, making comparisions even more problematic.

If that wasn't bad enough many juristictions define sexual assult differently. For example, until quite recently, a husband couldn't be charged with raping or sexually assulting his wife. The law was changed and the statistics surrounding rape and sexual assult jumped. Obviously behaviour hadn't changed, but society appeared much more dangerous. Statistically at least.

There are generally only two reliable crime statistics: Murder and auto theft.

And even those stats can be very misleading and open to manipulation.

Posted by: wsam at November 15, 2005 10:57 AM

Don't those stats bear out exactly what the CCVF and the UN claim, though? The absolute number in the US is obviously way higher, but relative to the population, Canada's incidence of rape is twice that of the United States. Or am I missing something?

Posted by: matthew at November 15, 2005 07:44 PM


You're missing something (unless I'm missing something). The UN publication used the American numbers for rapes, and the Canadian numbers for sexual assaults. All rapes are sexual assaults, but nowhere near all sexual assaults are rapes.

Posted by: Anonymous at November 15, 2005 09:09 PM

Ohhhhh...Sorry about that. I read too quickly, and didn't notice that difference. Thanks for clearing it up for me!

Posted by: matthew at November 15, 2005 10:39 PM

The stats are still bullshit.

They only thing they measure is how often women report being sexually assulted and/or raped. Not how much it happens.

Posted by: wsam at November 16, 2005 09:40 AM

"The stats are still bullshit."

Yes; that's a fair summary. The number of reports over time would be interesting, even though it would conflate both the actual incidence and the likelihood of reporting.

Posted by: DCardno at November 16, 2005 01:32 PM

Well, when I was in Law School and my CrimLaw prof was talking about the (then-relatively-new) Criminal Code provisions surrounding the concept of "sexual assault," he gave the following definition of "sexual assault":

"A sexual assault is an assault that takes place which has a sexual component."

Many brows furrowed. Many hands shot up.

"Excuse me, prof? What's a 'sexual component'?"

"That's for you and I to worry about and the courts to decide on a case-by-case basis."

Yeah, baby. Since then, a body of interpretation has sprung up around the attempt to define "sexual component" (or alternatively, "sexual circumstances"), but as it turns out, the old idea of "rape" (which typically required forcible penetration of the vagina by a penis) may not be a huge percentage of sexual assaults. It's oftentimes sufficient to simply do the cliched rip-the-blouse and then slap someone. That's one type of sexual assault, and there's innumerable others. I haven't checked, but I'm not even sure that forcible penetration is tracked as a category. So we'll probably never be able to compare the U.S. per-capita incidence of rape with something like it in Canada.

Posted by: Garth Wood at November 16, 2005 02:15 PM

A new added component to the whole 'how many have been raped' issue. Drug rape. Anterograde amnesia wipes the victim's memory and usually the entire assault is not remembered. Sometimes never, sometimes not for years. Usually not for several hours or days, until well after the drugs have disappeared from the victim's system.

It's interesting to note that more men are being raped by use of drugs, as well. Easier to subdue. The length and the severity of the assaults jump when a drugging agent is used, as the victim can be rendered to basically 'rag doll' status for 8-12 hours. Longer if they are repeatedly dosed, although depending on the drug, this can cause coma and death and add to that other statistic which is more reliable. Homicide.

I find it interesing that the 'old definition' of rape HAD to be a penis. Anything else inserted against a person's will didn't constitute rape? One can see why this was changed.

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