Pornography and rape

Everybody and their brother is sending me links to Steven Landsburg’s most recent Slate column that reports on studies by economists that suggest internet porn reduces rape and the release of blockbuster violent movies reduces violence.

While the idea might strike non-economists as crazy, the theory makes sense. When you lower the price of a good that is a substitute for a second good, the quantity of the second good should fall. It is not obvious that internet porn and rape are substitutes (they may very well be the opposite, what economists call complements), but it is not impossible.

I have to confess that Halloween with four young kids (a fairy, a witch, batman, and Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz) has been a full time job for the last week. So I haven’t read the academic articles. The paper on porn and rape was actually written by my former student Todd Kendall, now at Clemson. It is not really fair (especially to your former student) to be skeptical without reading the paper, but I have to say I am skeptical of the empirical result. The kind of variation in the data that gives the result is that states that are quicker to adopt the internet saw bigger declines in rape. He then does a nice thing in the paper, going beyond just this one prediction to test other hypotheses, like do crimes other than rape fall with the internet (he says no) and does other sexual behavior change with the internet (he says yes). The concern is always, with this kind of approach, that there are other factors that might be driving both the adoption of the internet and the decline in rape. The challenge to those who want to refute Todd Kendall’s argument is to identify those variables. The challenge for Todd is to find other kinds of “natural experiments” that support his hypothesis.

I suspect there will be no shortage of folks emailing Todd for his data to try to shoot his story down. A blog called 2x3x7 offers some thoughtful criticisms of the analysis.

By the way, Steven Landsburg, one of the kings of bringing economics to a broad audience, has an interesting new book coming out next year. I read an advance copy and enjoyed it.

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  1. dan from california says:

    There was a significant drop in rape and other sex crimes when Denmark legalized pornography more than three decades ago. I believe that there have been follow up studies from several other countries that followed suit and confirmed the trends. This was mainstream porn that was illegal in much of the world at the time. Any sociologists reading the site with access to a good database?

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  2. dan from california says:

    There was a significant drop in rape and other sex crimes when Denmark legalized pornography more than three decades ago. I believe that there have been follow up studies from several other countries that followed suit and confirmed the trends. This was mainstream porn that was illegal in much of the world at the time. Any sociologists reading the site with access to a good database?

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  3. SteveSailer says:

    Yes, the Danish experience was widely touted in the U.S. in the late 1960s and early 1970s as justifying pornography becoming more widely available here. Unfortunately, as pornography became hugely more accessible in America, our rape rate shot upwards.

    Americans aren’t Scandinavians.

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  4. SteveSailer says:

    Yes, the Danish experience was widely touted in the U.S. in the late 1960s and early 1970s as justifying pornography becoming more widely available here. Unfortunately, as pornography became hugely more accessible in America, our rape rate shot upwards.

    Americans aren’t Scandinavians.

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  5. Loren Pechtel says:

    Basically every other study shows porn reduces rape. We have *ONE* example from the US of porn laws liberalizing and yet rape going up–doesn’t this suggest that there might have been some other factor that caused rape to increase?

    If nothing else, a reduced stigma on reporting it.

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  6. Loren Pechtel says:

    Basically every other study shows porn reduces rape. We have *ONE* example from the US of porn laws liberalizing and yet rape going up–doesn’t this suggest that there might have been some other factor that caused rape to increase?

    If nothing else, a reduced stigma on reporting it.

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  7. Marshall says:

    The questions I would have are mostly centered around the general dip in crime in the nineties and wethor rape is a leading or lagging indicator of crime. The other question I would ask is if Pornography penitration (sorry I couldn’t resist) has been shown to have variable effects when earlier studies were done, the Dutch, the United States, might be we be dealing with a situation where there is absolutly no correlation between pornography availability and rape?

    Other questions, if the data is available, was there a change in rate of sexual activity for males in the normal age that men rape? What was the rate of condom use in those areas? What was the rate of STD’s, could fear of infection be a deterent to rape? What was the makeup, racial, age, class of the victoms and rapists and where there declines for those classes in other violent crime area’s? At the time in the area’s that saw a decrease where their public campaigns to inform college aged men about date rape?

    These are just some questions that popped into my head when I read the article.

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  8. Marshall says:

    The questions I would have are mostly centered around the general dip in crime in the nineties and wethor rape is a leading or lagging indicator of crime. The other question I would ask is if Pornography penitration (sorry I couldn’t resist) has been shown to have variable effects when earlier studies were done, the Dutch, the United States, might be we be dealing with a situation where there is absolutly no correlation between pornography availability and rape?

    Other questions, if the data is available, was there a change in rate of sexual activity for males in the normal age that men rape? What was the rate of condom use in those areas? What was the rate of STD’s, could fear of infection be a deterent to rape? What was the makeup, racial, age, class of the victoms and rapists and where there declines for those classes in other violent crime area’s? At the time in the area’s that saw a decrease where their public campaigns to inform college aged men about date rape?

    These are just some questions that popped into my head when I read the article.

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