Relative Risks of Rape by Age, and Is Rape “About Control … Not About Sex”?

A commenter on an earlier gun license thread writes:

It isn’t just young, pretty women who get raped, by a long shot. Middle-aged women do get attacked, and elderly women are even more vulnerable. Rape is about control (just like disarmament) not about sex.

Yes and no. It’s true that middle-aged women do sometimes get attacked, but according to the National Crime Victimization Survey (2007 data), the rate of attempted or completed rape or sexual assault is:

Age Rate per 1000
16-19 4.9
20-24 5.9
25-34 2.4
35-49 1.8
50-64 0.3
65+ 0.2

And while other crimes, such as assault and robbery, tend to affect younger women more than older women as well, the drop-off is much less sharp than with rape. [UPDATE: This is my rough way to control for some possible confounding factors, such as the possibility that younger women are more likely to be out alone in dangerous places at night, or less likely to have acquired more cautious habits.]

It thus seems to me that sexual attacks on women are pretty strongly correlated with their being in the years of maximum sexual attractiveness. (Naturally, the question whether “pretty women” are more vulnerable is much harder to study than the question whether young women are more vulnerable.) This suggests to me that rape is generally both about sex and about violence and control, not just about one or the other.

UPDATE: Some related evidence from an article cowritten by my UCLA colleague Neil Malamuth, Malamuth, Huppin & Bryant, Sexual Coercion in Buss, Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology (2005):

Research does indicate that young women are more likely to be raped than young girls or older women (Perkins, Klaus, Bastian, & Cohen, 1996; Kilpatrick, Edmonds, & Seymour, 1992) which is not equally true for other forms of physical assault (e.g., Acierno, Resnick, Kilpatrick Saunders & Best, 1999)… Additionally, the average age of victims who are both raped and robbed has been found to be significantly younger (28 years old) than that of female victims who are only robbed (35 years old) (Felson & Krohn, 1990), and young women have been found to be overrepresented as victims of rape-murder but underrepresented as victims of theft-murder (e.g., Shackelford, 2002a, 2002b). As suggested earlier, the fact that the victims are murdered is contrary to an evolutionary-based prediction, but this may be a function of the differences between ancestral conditions and modern environments where murders are sometimes committed following the rape to decrease the likelihood of detection.

FURTHER UPDATE: A note to one of our commenters: You’ll find that recommending that I delete my post, and later that I “lock this thread” to comments, generally isn’t going to get you anywhere. Persuading me to publish a correction or even a retraction is considerably easier — but, you know, that would require explaining why I’m actually wrong on the substance, something I didn’t see you doing.