More on Porn and Rape: Does Internet Access Increase Sex Crimes?

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Last week we wrote about a new Scientific American Mind cover story that makes the case for a link between internet pornography and lower cases of rape – something we’ve been skeptical of in the past, and remain so today.

A new study from researchers in Norway and the Netherlands offers evidence that suggests the opposite effect, that higher levels of broadband access actually increase the rate of sex crimes.

The study is titled,”Broadband Internet: An Information Superhighway to Sex Crime?” Here’s a full version. And here’s the abstract:

Does internet use trigger sex crime? We use unique Norwegian data on crime and internet adoption to shed light on this question. A public program with limited funding rolled out broadband access points in 2000-2008, and provides plausibly exogenous variation in internet use. Our instrumental variables and fixed effect estimates show that internet use is associated with a substantial increase in reported incidences of rape and other sex crimes. We present a theoretical framework that highlights three mechanisms for how internet use may affect reported sex crime, namely a reporting effect, a matching effect on potential offenders and victims, and a direct effect on sex crime propensity. Our results suggest that the direct effect is non-negligible and positive, possibly as a result of increased consumption of pornography.

As the authors point out, there’s little (if any) causal evidence of the link between internet use and sex crime, and much of what we know is either circumstantial or anecdotal. But this study may finally have some solid evidence. It uses a unique Norwegian data set to study one particular kind of consumption externality: how internet use affects the prevalence of sex crime in general, and rape and child sex abuse in particular. The data come from Norway’s government rollout of broadband across the country in the late 1990s. This gave the authors the chance to conduct a natural experiment, one with a nice before and after picture. Here’s what they found:

Our IV estimates show that internet use is associated with a substantial and statistically significant increase in reported sex crime: Overall, the estimates suggest that about 3.5% of the total number of sex crimes, rapes and child sex abuses that occurred between 2000 and 2008 would have been avoided if broadband internet had not been introduced. The difference peaks in 2006, when we estimate that roughly three out of 50 sex crimes per 100,000 inhabitants would have been avoided if broadband internet had not been introduced. Our analysis also suggests that internet use in 2006 explains about one out of eleven rapes and one out of 22 child sex abuses, per 100,000 inhabitants.

 

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  1. Enter your name says:

    It would be interesting to run a different study: what’s the likelihood that a man who’s charged with a sex crime has used a credit card to pay for online porn vs a similar (age, race, income) man?

    I’m sure that the credit card companies could get that data, and this would be a more direct connection than access to the internet in general.

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    • Michael says:

      That wouldn’t really work, because there is a lot of free pornography on the internet, so that would miss that point, plus I am pretty sure most of these pedophile rings don’t charge for “membership”.

      Saying that makes me think that it’s interesting to note the validity of this report in that what correlation does pornography to say YouTube showing clips of Hannah Montana shows produces. It’s not entirely accurate to suggest that internet “porn” is the cause, unless you have the IP of every site and every person that connects to it in the area you are recording.

      Sounds to me the new version of “does TV make you violent”? Didn’t we go through this in the 80′s? Michel Heneke has done films relating to this very subject.

      And don’t forget about video games – did the study suggest some games online has the same effect.

      Oh my, the list can go on and on and on and on…

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  2. Santosh Anand says:

    Does the study take into account the racial makeups of the areas where the crime occurrences were measured.
    Something tells me broadband access would not have had any effect in homogeneous Norwegian areas.

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  3. Sarah says:

    I agree with the ‘enter your name’ comment tying the charges to the person, seems the most balanced comment, however, how would they guage potential fraud or using others’ identity info? Obviously to me some would try to be annonymous.

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  4. Consumer says:

    Last week’s article drew a connection between Internet PORN and decrease in sex-related crime. This article is about a connection between Internet ACCESS and increase in sex-crime. But what is the relationship between ACCESS to internet and PORN usage? Is there any?

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    • Tarjei Havnes says:

      I think you’re misunderstanding: the study considers the link between internet use and sex crimes (similar the article discussed last week). But we are concerned that internet use depends on some (unobserved) factors that can also be related to sex crimes. We therefore use a staggered expansion in internet access created by a public program to extract variation that should not be correlated with sex crimes via other things than internet use. That the internet makes pornography more readily available is uncontroversial. In particular since explicit pornography was banned in Norway over this period.

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  5. Sarah says:

    Or simply using others internet, people who share accounts or if someone uses a connection unbeknownst?? Skewed, questionable results?

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  6. Eric M. Jones. says:

    Can I predict that we’ll be discussing this or something quite similar 10,000 years from now.

    Oh, those Victorians…they took all the bad words and sexual jokes out of the plays of Aristophanes. How’d THAT work out…? And the British Museum has a dark storehouse for pornographic ancient drawings and statues, even Egyptian smut….even topless Minoan babes.

    If it weren’t for porn there’d be no VCRs, DVDs, and who knows what else.

    They made us all safer.

    It reminds me of my favorite Bible passage (Ezekiel 23: 21):

    “..Yet she became more and more promiscuous as she recalled the days of her youth, when she was a prostitute in Egypt. So she longed for the lewdness of her youth, her body was caressed and her young breasts fondled. She lusted after her lovers there, whose Johnsons were like those of donkeys, and whose hot spunk exploded like that of mighty stallions.” Amen….

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  7. Trent says:

    I didn’t get a chance to read the entire study, but did they differentiate between sex crimes against children and child pornorgraphy? Please don’t get me wrong, both are child abuse and are beyond horrible, but I don’t think this study is offering anything overly surprising if it is showing that an increase in internet access led to a proliferation I’m child pornography.

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    • Tarjei Havnes says:

      Child sexual abuse includes only actual offenses against children. All crimes related to pornography consumption and distribution is taken out.

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  8. JustSayin says:

    I think it’s from all the pirating of porn movies. PIPA and SOPA will fix this as well. Downloading free content is a gateway crime to more serious crimes.

    http://www.freakonomics.com/2012/01/12/how-much-do-music-and-movie-piracy-really-hurt-the-u-s-economy/

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