Aggregate Indicators: the Incidence of Sex Offenses and Pornography Availability:

Part: 
Four
Chapter: 
3

One of the most frequently cited studies has been the analysis of sex crimes in Denmark before and after the legalization of pornography in the 1960s (see Kutchinsky, 1973; BenVeniste, 1970). Kutchinsky's data showed a drop in the number of reported sex crimes after legalization and he argued that the availability of pornography is cathartic as it siphons off potentially dangerous sex impulses-the "safety valve theory" (Kutchinsky, 1970, p. 288; Kutchinsky, 1973). Kutchinsky's work was lauded by the British pornography commission (Williams, 1979) for its thoroughness and the restraint with which he interpreted his findings. It singled out the dramatic reduction in offenses against children coinciding with the availability of pornography and, while the Commission did not endorse the "safety valve" hypothesis, agreed that Kutchinsky's interpretation was plausible, absent any other likely factor (p. 84).

On the other hand, Kutchinsky's study and conclusions did not go unchallenged. First, the weight of empirical evidence amassed in the last two decades by social psychologists, particularly in the area of media violence and aggressive behavior, hardly supports catharsis (see Weiss, 1969; Geen and Quanty, 1977; Bandura, 1973; Bramel, 1969; Comstock, In Press; NIMH, 1982).

Second, a number of problems have been raised with Kutchinsky's analysis and interpretations (see Cline, 1974; Bachy, 1976; Court, 1977; Baron, 1984; Malamuth and Billings, 1985). Some of these problems included the lumping together of sex offenses masked a stable, if not an increased, rape rate (Cline, 1974; Court, 1984). Also, such crimes as voyeurism were no longer recorded by police. Kutchinsky (1973) also noted that other activities such as homosexuality were simply tolerated more and certain social changes such as earlier sexual experiences for females meant reduced reports of intercourse with minors (Bachy, 1976).

The problem of using aggregate social indicators such as crime reports is well illustrated not just with reliability problems in reporting, but also in differential use of the data. For example, by Bachy's (1976) review of Copenhagen rape statistics between 1965 and 1974 which showed increases in rape and attempted rape as a proportion of total sex offenses. These offenses included intercourse with minors and indecent exposure, in addition to rape and attempted rape. Court's (1984) analysis of rape statistics for Copenhagen showed a similar upward trend while a fluctuating pattern was demonstrated by Kutchinsky's figures for the same crime in the same city between 1965 and 1970.

More recently, Kutchinsky (1985) has maintained that the increased availability of "hard-core" pornography in Denmark "may have been the direct cause of the real decrease in incidents of peeping and child molestation" (p. 313) and has proposed the "substitution" hypothesis as the most likely explanation. He further cites a similar pattern in West Germany with legalization of pornography in 1973 bringing about a decrease in sex offenses against children. This proposed causal link should be viewed with extreme caution, particularly since pornography availability statistics have not been presented.

Other data are available that allow further cross-cultural comparisons. Abramson and Hayashi (1984), in analyzing pornography in Japan, noted that while it was illegal to show pubic hair and adult genitals in sexually explicit stimuli, pornography appeared to be widely available in this country, including the prevalence of bondage and rape as recurring themes. In terms of rape statistics, however, they concluded that a low incidence of rape appears to be the case and suggested that certain socio-cultural mediating circumstances may be involved. Unfortunately, no data are provided by Abramson and Hayashi on availability or rape rates and at least one study indicates that these rates may actually be increasing. Goldstein and Ibaraki (1983) found that while crime rates have decreased or remained relatively stable among adults, juvenile crime increased from twenty-three percent of all crimes in 1976 to forty-two percent in 1980, occurring mainly in violent crime categories, including rape. The unique character of rape in Japan is also evident from these authors' findings that fifty-seven percent of the total reported rapes are groupinstigated and seventy-five percent are committed by juveniles. Finally, an informal survey reported in this study showed that ninety percent of the women interviewed said they would not report the rape to the police if they had been victimized (pp. 317-318).

Other cross-national data from areas as disparate as England, Australia, Singapore, and South Africa were analyzed by Court (1977, 1982, 1984). His studies compared rape rates in countries or areas where pornography is widely available, and those where restrictions exist. On the basis of his findings, Court advanced the propositions that (1) rape reports have increased where pornography laws have been liberalized, while the same steep rise is not in evidence where restrictions exist; (2) intermittent policy changes or changes in the law are temporarily related to changes in the rape rates; (3) the increase in rape reports does not parallel the increase in serious nonsexual offenses.

While Court's data are intriguing, the case he presents is weakened by (a) the selective use of a small number of countries, and (b) the lack of direct correlational analyses between sexual offense statistics and pornography distribution/circulation figures. The Williams Committee in England (Williams, 1981), in fact, took exception with Court's data, pointing out that he did not take into account the rise of crime in general in England (p. 74) and that the rising trend in rape and sexual assaults started well before what Court determined was the date marking the availability of pornography (p. 76; see Court, 1980, 1985 for responses to the Williams Report). Cocrane (1978) has similarly disputed Court's analysis and interpretations.

Kupperstein and Wilson (1970) of the 1970 Commission staff examined the incidence of sex crimes in the United States and reported that the rise in adult sex crimes (using report and arrest data) was not greater than the rise for other offenses between 1960 and 1969, despite the heightened availability of sexually oriented materials. The two indicators used for the latter were the circulation of Playboy magazine and the number of complaints reported to the United States Post Office for unsolicited sexually oriented mail. The study employed fairly crude measures, simply examining the percentage increase for various sexual and nonsexual offenses.

On the whole, a number of methodological problems characterize some of these early studies: first, the availability of pornography was simply assumed to have increased or decreased following legal changes. Second, direct correlations between the volume of pornography and sexual offense rates were not investigated. Third, sexual offenses were combined, masking important differences between various categories of offenses. Finally, the mediating effects of other variables which could affect the relationship between the circulation of pornography and sexual offense rates were not systematically investigated.

More recently, correlational evidence using more detailed statistical analyses, presents some additional insight into the pornography-sex crimes relationship on the aggregate or societal level in the United States (Baron and Straus, 1985). A fifty-state correlational analysis of rape rates and circulation rates of adult magazines was conducted, using aggregate circulation rates (subscription and newsstand sales per 100,000 population), for eight magazines (Chic, Club, Gallery, Genesis, Hustler, Oui, Playboy, and Penthouse). A fairly strong correlation+.64-was found between these circulation rates and rape rates. This relationship was present even with controls for potential confounding variables such as police practices (measured by police expenditures per capita), propensity to report rape (measured by number of rape crisis centers per 100,000 females; NOW membership per 100,000 females; MS magazine circulation per 100,000 females; and number of battered women's shelters); "southernness" (based on the higher violent crime rates in the South), and "illegitimate opportunities" (referring to greater opportunities to commit crimes in warmer than colder periods; the indicator used was average temperature).

Baron and Straus further found that rape rates are negatively correlated with the status of women when other factors are controlled for. This status-of-women index was measured via economic, political and legal indicators such as women's median income as a percentage of men's; the percentage of female members in the state legislature; and existence of laws giving women the same property rights as men. The study concluded that in a male-dominant society, the lower status of women may be reflected in higher rape rates.

Since it is possible that rape rates also may be a function of the overall culture supporting legitimate violence (that is, the societal endorsement of the use of physical force for socially approved ends, such as crime control or order in schools), the relationship between this factor and rape rates was also examined. Using a twelve-measure index that included such figures as violent television viewing, hunting licenses issued, and use of corporal punishment, no significant association between legitimate violence and rape was found. It is still theoretically possible that rape rates may be influenced indirectly by the level of legitimate violence through the Tatter's inverse relationship with the status of women; that is, cultural support for violence may contribute to sexual inequality which, in turn, may increase the risk of rape.

Finally, the level of social disorganization was also found to be directly related with rape rates and to affect these rates indirectly through its association with the circulation of pornography and the status of women. Other factors found to correlate with rape rates were the extent of urbanization, economic inequality, and unemployment.

In comparing the relative influence of these various explanatory variables, it was found that the proliferation of sexually explicit magazines and the level of urbanization help explain more of the variation in rape rates than social disorganization. The latter is also "more influential" in predicting rape than are economic inequality, unemployment, or sexual inequality. Together, these six explanatory factors explain eighty-three percent of rape rate variations, certainly a considerable proportion of the variance.

A follow-up study by Jaffee and Straus (1986) examined the impact of a variable called "sexual liberalism" on the relationship between these sexually explicit magazines' circulation rates and rape rates. It was hypothesized that a more liberal sexual climate might explain the relationship between sexually explicit magazines' circulation rate and rape by encouraging men to purchase more of these magazines and also encourage more women to report rape to the police. An index based on twenty-two questions in a national survey measuring attitudes toward a variety of sexual issues was utilized as the measure for "sexual liberalism." Results showed that the original relationship between rape rates and circulation rates of sex magazines was non-spurious and that sexual liberalism played a minor role, accounting for only nine percent of the state-to-state rape rate variations. A problem with this study, however, is that it attempts to match individual level measures of attitudes with aggregate-level social indicators, using data from forty states for the former (effectively reducing the original sample size of fifty states by a fifth).

Using the Baron and Straus data set, Scott and Schwalm (1985) essentially confirmed the sex magazine-rape rate relationship although their additional analysis showed that when rape rates were correlated with specific magazines, these correlations were higher for Playboy, Penthouse, and Oui than they were for Hustler magazine. Their contention was that sexual content in Hustler magazine was more likely to be associated with rape since this magazine has more sexually violent material than the other three magazines. Since correlations with the other four magazines were not provided, it is difficult to judge the consistency of such a pattern. Furthermore, such a breakdown is again not very helpful since the level of analysis is aggregate rather than individual. Thus, on an individual level, it will be more meaningful to correlate an individual's scores on sexual aggression measures and that individual's readership of specific magazines; on an aggregate level, it is more appropriate to relate the aggregate offense rate with aggregate availability figures for the material in question. And even on the individual level, there may still be some question as to the actual separability of individual magazine readership. A readership survey conducted for Hustler magazine among its subscribers shows that on average, the typical subscriber reads 3.6 adult men's magazines (Readex, 1984).[1121]

Scott and Schwalm (1985) also analyzed the effect of three additional variables not investigated by Baron and Straus: the effect of circulation rates on general circulation magazines (e.g., Time, Reader's Digest) and the effect of outdoor men's magazines (e.g., Field and Stream, American Rifleman), the latter using the presumption that an indicator of a "macho" environment could also account for rape rates. Alcohol consumption for each state was also examined. None of these variables was significantly related to rape rates.

Scott (1985) further examined the correlation between adult theaters and rape rates for 1982 and found no relationship to exist. It is quite possible that this finding may be an artifact of the decreasing number of adult theaters in this country as a result of the rise of home videos, as Scott himself pointed out (see also Newsweek, 1985; Knowledge Industries, 1985). He also correlated the number of adult bookstores in each state and rape rates and again, found no relationship. Scott's data may not necessarily be inconsistent with Baron and Straus.' It is quite conceivable that the number of stores may not correlate with rape rates but the actual circulation of the magazines in various outlets do. In any case, Scott's endorsement of the "safety valve" or catharsis hypothesis on the basis of his findings appears premature at the very least.

While Baron and Straus' work is impressive for its methodological care and thoroughness, their findings do not indicate that men are induced to rape as a result of exposure to these magazines. While this is certainly plausible, there are two caveats to their analysis. First, it is a macro-model that is being tested, examining the relationship of various socialcultural factors on rape. Second, given that this is a correlational study, there is always the possibility that there may be some third factor influencing the observed sex-magazine rape rate relationship.[1122] The crucial causal evidence has to come from an examination of the relationship under controlled conditions, and these studies are discussed below under "Experimental Findings."

On an individual level, some parallel is offered the Baron and Straus data by a recently completed large-scale study on sexual assault among the college student population (Koss, 1986). Correlates of sexual victimization and sexual aggression were examined among 6,000 college students from a probability sample of higher education institutions. This study established a relatively high incidence of sexual assault within this population (336 per 1,000 college women, a rate which includes rape, attempted rape, and forceful sexual contact). The portrait of college men who report behavior that meets legal definitions of rape shows individuals who are sexually experienced, come from homes where family violence was normative, who use alcohol fairly regularly (and reported becoming intoxicated one to three times per month), who regularly discuss with their peers "how a particular woman would be in bed," and who frequently read at least one of the widely available men's magazines.[1123]

While these results offer correlational evidence, again, they do not support any causal link between readership of such magazines and sexually aggressive behavior. There are a variety of factors that correlate with sexual aggression as this study and the Baron and Strauss (1986) study demonstrate. Both also provide an important contribution towards our understanding of the types of factors, social, cultural, situational, and individual, which interact to explain sexually aggressive behavior as the theoretical thinking behind it.

In the case of causal relationships, the demonstration of a statistical relationship (that is, that the probability of the observed relationship being due to chance is minuscule) is a first requirement. A second requirement is that other competing or alternative explanations have been controlled in order to establish that X indeed causes Y.

In the case of rape rates and circulation rates of adult magazines, establishing a significant correlation between the two is a first step. That such a relationship may in fact be a spurious one due to the existence of some third factor is a second step in establishing the validity of the relationship. Unlike experimental situations, however, where most "alternative factors" are controlled for, by randomly assigning subjects to experimental conditions, one has to be able to identify every potentially significant "third factor" in correlational research and actually account for these in the analysis. Therefore, we find ourselves, at most, in the position of accepting an observed relationship as being plausible but yet cannot fully preclude the possibility of its being spurious.

Notes

  1. The READEX survey was part of the public record as part of a court case involving Hustler magazine (Herceg v. Hustler, Inc.).
  2. Baron and Straus recently conducted additional analyses of their data by introducing a "Violence Approval Index;" based on attitude measures from the general Social Survey. By introducing this into their original equation, the relationship between the sale of sex magazines and rape disappeared. While this could offer some tentative support for the authors' contention that a "hypermasculine" climate might be responsible for rape rates, rather than sex magazines per se, they are also appropriately cautious about the severe limitations of this particular finding. They point out that while the Violence Approval index correlates in expected fashion with the percent males in the population, the percent of the population in the high-violence age group of eighteen to twenty-four, with the Legitimate Violence and Social Disorganization indices, it also has an unexpected negative correlation with the percent single males in the population and has a low correlation(.23) with the rape rate. Second, the data are restricted to forty states which, in combination with the addition of still another variable to the equation, increases the standard error. Until these problems are sorted out, the impact of this variable will have to remain speculative. It is presumably for this reason that these authors included this information in a footnote rather than in their text, and we likewise do so.
  3. The question used by Koss (1986) in this survey as a measure of pornography exposure was:
  4. How often do you read any of the following magazines: Playboy, Penthouse, Chic, Club, Forum, Gallery, Genesis, Oui, or Hustler? (check one):

    	________ Never
    	________ Seldom
    	________ Somewhat frequently
    	________ Very frequently