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. Bob says:

    Two things are interesting to note.

    1) During this time frame prostitution was legal in Norway. This possibly eliminates the primary mechanism through which the availability of pornography may decrease rape in that an alternative outlet for sexual release already existed in Norway.

    2) There are very few reported rapes in Norway. At the beginning of their sample there was less than one rape per municipality. When you remove municipalities that have no rape, their results on rape completely disappear. Does that mean the interpretation should be: pornography makes it less likely to have zero reported rapes in a municipality; but pornography doesn’t increase the amount of reported rape in a municipalities having nonzero reported rape.

    You can see this again in that their results get even stronger when they exclude large cities. This suggests large cities face no increase in rape with an increased availability of pornography.

    Due to this I feel like their paper actually suggests that we should not expect pornography to cause an increase in rape in most areas in the United States.

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