Reported Rapes Are Down, But Why?

The front page of today's USA Today trumpets FBI statistics showing that reports of rapes have hit a 20-year-low nationwide (when measured per 100,000 people). In the story, this finding prompts a long round of self-congratulation from various researchers, advocates, and law enforcement types, who seem to believe that the explanation for the trend is that prosecutions are being handled so much more sensitively than they were in the bad old days, and DNA evidence is so damning, that more rapists are being put behind bars where they can't offend again.

But the story doesn't offer any evidence to support that claim. It has no data on number of prosecutions or rate of rapist incarceration or anything else. Ironically, the story quotes a study saying that "women are more willing to report rape now than two decades ago"--but that hardly seems to follow from the fact that reports of rapes have dropped.

Unmentioned in the story is the fact that violent crime rates in general have been in steep decline for some time now. And rape "typically tracks with other violent crimes," says Ian Goodhew, Deputy Chief of Staff at the King County Prosecutor's Office. Goodhew says rape reports have fallen in King County too recently, along with murder, robbery, etc.

The one crime that did see a slight uptick recently is burglaries. Yet, even there, Goodhew says property crimes haven't jumped nearly as much as people imagined they would, given the dire economy. Though that could still change. Muggings and burglaries and the like are often "a lagging indicator," he says.

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