Crime of violence vs. crime of sex:

Some research I was doing recently reminded me of the familiar line, “rape is a crime of violence, not a crime of sex.” It’s certainly true that rape (setting aside statutory rape and a few other unusual situations) is a crime of violence. I also suspect that most rapists aren’t just after ordinary sexual gratification, but also want the feelings of domination (or something like that) that come from the violence of the act. Given the serious penalties for rape, and even taking into account the difficulty of catching and convicting the rapist, committing rape just to get ordinary sexual gratification is a pretty expensive proposition.

But it seems to me pretty likely that there’s a false dichotomy here. In fact, rape seems to be both a crime of violence and a crime of sex — the rapist is motivation by sexual desire as well as by the desire for domination (and the two may well be intertwined). The best evidence that I’ve seen for this is the breakdown of rape by age of victim (see National Crime Victimization Survey data, table 4):

Age range

Rate per 1000 women in the age group (* = estimates based on 10 or fewer sample cases in the survey)

12-15

4.3

16-19

10.4

20-24

5.4

25-34

1.1*

35-49

0.6*

50-64

0.1*

65 and over

0.2*

Rapists seem to select victims in age ranges that are pretty highly correlated to the generally understood peaks of sexual attractiveness. Yes, there are rapes of older women; yes, women outside the highest-risk groups are sexually attractive; but the correlation is still quite striking.

Now of course there may be other explanations: For instance, younger women may spend more time in places where rapes might occur. Indeed, the simple assault and robbery rates peak in the same age ranges, too (see the same table) — but the rates level off far more gradually, for instance with simple assault per 1000 women in the age group going from 32.8 for 12-15 to 37.1 for 16-19, 23.7 for 20-24, 15.9 for 25-34, 12.1 for 35-49, 7 for 50-64, and 1.4 for 65 and over. (Simple assault is defined as successful or attempted “[a]ttack without a weapon resulting either in no injury, minor injury . . . or in undetermined injury requiring less than 2 days of hospitalization”; the way the NCVS treats this, it seems to exclude the great majority of rapes or attempted rapes.)

Also, younger women tend to date younger men, younger men tend to be more likely to commit crimes, so younger women may be more likely to be victimized by date rape. But though roughly 2/3 of rapes involve nonstrangers (see table 27 here), 1/3 involve strangers, so the drop-off even for stranger rapes seems to be quite striking (see table 29 for data, though note that again there are relatively few cases in the survey for each category).

Again, perhaps there’s some other explanation that completely eliminates the connection between rape and the offender’s likely sexual interest in the victim. But given the data, I find that pretty implausible. Rape seems generally to be a crime of violent sex, not of violence or sex alone.

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