The Statistics of Liberal County: Charles Blow cited a statistic in Monday’s column about the Ray Rice case.
The statistic was supposed to shock us, in a reflexive way. We had a different set of reactions:
BLOW (9/15/14): According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “More than one-third of women in the United States (35.6 percent, or approximately 42.4 million) have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime,” and nearly one in three women have experienced physical violence by an intimate partner. To put some of this in percentage terms, 30.3 percent of women in the United States have been “slapped, pushed, or shoved by an intimate partner” in their lifetime.The CDC is a very important organization. The statistic we’ve highlighted struck us as strange.
In the end, we tend to suspect that such statistics are unhelpful.
Granted, a person probably shouldn’t “push or shove” an intimate partner. Jostling an intimate partner may not be a great thing either.
That said, do you have any idea why the CDC would be compiling a statistic like the one Blow included? More specifically:
Do you think “pushing or shoving” should be lumped in with slapping an intimate partner? Is “pushing or shoving” an act of “physical violence?”
(It always could be, of course.)
Should “pushing or shoving” be in a paragraph whose topic sentence concerns “rape, physical violence and/or stalking?” All in all, do you really have any idea what that highlighted sentence means?
In fairness, Blow’s entire column was written by the numbers. It came straight out of a Liberal Pundit Safe Talk Sound Bite Machine.
It’s full of sanctimonious judgments which pander to the present instant. That highlighted statistic was intended to let us feel even more troubled by all the cruelty around us.
That said, that highlighted sentence is the sort of thing which can make us pseudo-liberals look foolish. In fairness, it does help Blow type an easy column. But it may not help in the end.
For many years, the invention of foolishness was a practice restricted to those on the right. The Limbaughs and Hannitys parroted all sorts of foolish statistical claims about all sorts of topics.
The liberal world was asleep in the woods all through the Clinton/Gore years. After Iraq, we began to rouse. When we did, we began showing the world that we can be almost as foolish as they are.
We have our own foolish statistics now, as they always did. Example: We cling to our “77 cents on the dollar” statistic, even though we know it’s grossly misleading.
(Back in 2012, Rachel pretty much lied in defense of that statistic. Does anyone doubt that she did?)
Recently, we seem to be churning some hinky statistics concerning sexual assault. Jenny Kutner is in charge of such claims at Salon.
On September 5, Kutner wrote what follows. The jumbled prose made us wonder what was going on:
KUTNER (9/5/14): It has been estimated that approximately 1 in every 6 American women has been raped in her lifetime. On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released an unfortunate amendment to that estimate: According to new statistics, 19.3 percent of women—nearly 1 in 5—have been raped.It’s certainly true that “having sex with someone who cannot and does not consent” can sensibly be regarded as rape.
The CDC estimates looked not only at “completed forced penetration,” but also at other forms of sexual violence including attempted rape, unwanted sexual contact, non-contact unwanted sexual experiences (such as being flashed or forced to view explicit images) and sexual coercion. According to the center’s definition, sexual coercion includes non-physical pressure into performing an unwanted sexual act ranging from “kissing and fondling” to penetration. Twice as many women experienced some other form of sexual violence as were raped.
Additionally, the report also considers “completed alcohol- or drug-facilitated penetration” in its definition of rape, because—contrary to a confused prevailing attitude—having sex with someone who cannot and/or does not consent is, indeed, rape.
Still, we found that presentation jumbled and confusing, sufficiently so that we decided to look at the CDC report.
What we wondered about turned out to be true! In the CDC report, “attempted rape” (“attempted forced penetration”) is counted as an instance of “rape.” So is “completed alcohol- or drug-facilitated penetration,” which may be a perfectly valid judgment depending on the way a phrase like “alcohol-facilitated penetration” is defined and applied.
(Presumably, there’s a lot of “alcohol-facilitated penetration” which no one would think of as rape.)
Kutner is right on her basic facts. According to the report, 19.3 percent of women have been raped. (Also, 1.7 percent of men.)
But only 11.5 percent of women have been subjected to “completed forced penetration.” The larger number is attained by adding in women who have been subjected to “attempted forced penetration” (“attempted rape” in Kutner’s language) or “completed alcohol- or drug-facilitated penetration.”
Obviously, no one should ever be subjected to “attempted forced penetration.” That said, do you find it strange that the CDC includes “attempted rape” (Kutner’s language) in its total number of rapes?
We’d have to say that strikes us as odd—odd, and perhaps oddly unserious. For the basic statistics, click here.
This week, a report on domestic violence appeared, the one to which Blow’s column refers. The report appeared the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.
Over at Salon, Kutner was at it again:
KUTNER (9/16/14): 1 in 5 men report committing domestic violenceIn that remarkable highlighted passage, “pushing, grabbing and shoving” are on the same list as “beating up, choking, burning, scalding or threatening a partner with a knife or gun.” That conflation strikes us as odd, and perhaps as oddly unserious.
An important takeaway from the study is something that survivor advocacy organizations have been trying to reinforce for years: domestic abusers are not just people we see on the news; they are not just the Ray Rices who get caught on tape. Twenty percent of American men report “pushing, grabbing, shoving, throwing something, slapping or hitting, kicking, biting, beating up, choking, burning or scalding, or threatening a partner with a knife or gun.” But no doubt more than 20 percent are responsible for the roughly 320,000 outpatient health visits and 1,200 deaths among women due to intimate partner violence that occur in the U.S. each year.
Every good robotic liberal will shriek at what we have said. We live in an age in which we’re entertained and hardened in tribal identity by being told how bad a wide range of situations are.
Ginned-up statistics are also employed to heighten our sense that Something Badly Needs To Be Done, which is of course always true. To us, that 11.5 percent statistic represents a full-blown nightmare all by itself. But in the world of ginned statistics, we seem to want and need a number that’s even higher.
Shouldn’t we trust the CDC and the JABFM in their judgments about such taxonomies? Actually no, we shouldn’t. Our world is full of dysfunctional “experts.” By now, they may even have a few at those exalted locales.
In our view, liberals and progressives should insist on accurate numbers whose meanings are clearly defined. Perhaps there’s something we’re missing in these two cases. But Kutner and Blow are unlikely to conduct such analyses.
We thought that paragraph in Blow’s column was extremely strange. The fuller passage from this week’s report seems to be stranger.
This used to be what Rush and Sean did. As the years go rolling by, it seems that there’s an outside chance that we are all ditto-heads too!
Should rape include attempted rape? Should “pushing” count as domestic violence, like burning, choking, beating up, scalding, threatening with a gun?
People have started to laugh at us liberals because of the way we’re doing business—for example, with that “77 cents on the dollar” statistic.
We think they’re right to roll their eyes. You simply can’t base a progressive politics on false or misleading claims.
In a similar vein, should “rape” include “attempted rape?” We’re open to being shown.
But that passage in Blow’s column struck us as strange. We’re not sure this sort of thing advances progressive interests.