Is a trend remotely charitable? Possibly – but only by professionals, who are aware of the underlying factors that affect the figures. The debate is not helped by women’s groups who report far higher incidences of unreported "rape" based on self-identification by "victims" and compound this with assertions that only a very small proportion of victims lie about such matters.
The difficulty here is definitional: It is very likely that many if not most of the women making such claims are correctly asserting that they have suffered a traumatic experience. But, as a crime, whether rape takes place or not depends on the perception of the perpetrator - whether or not he had reasonable cause to believe that consent was present.
Whilst the conviction rate for cases that get to court is considerably higher than 5 per cent (hovering around 50 per cent), it is a long way short of the 97 per cent implied by the claim that women rarely lie about such matters. Are 50 per cent of victims therefore lying? Absolutely not.
Courts are, however, acknowledging a difference in perspective between alleged victim and perpetrator that is almost certainly not resolvable in any straightforward fashion.
This issue of self-reporting is also at the heart of numerous studies that purport to demonstrate attitudes on sexual issues.
One study asked respondents whether violence towards a partner "could ever be" justified – and then used the results from this loaded question to proclaim that a high proportion of young men believed it was ok to hit their girlfriend. The best measure of behaviour is not what people say, but what they do – their "revealed preference" as economists term it – and basing policy on how individuals respond to surveys is particularly dangerous.
A furious debate on the measure used is also at the heart of questions raised in respect of proposed legislation on Trafficking. Provisions introduced in the Police Bill 2009 would make it a criminal offence to purchase sex from any individual who had been trafficked.
The rationale for this law is "research" put together by the Poppy project and other anti-prostitution groups that claims that the number of trafficked women in the UK runs into the tens of thousands. One report put the figure as high as 80,000.
On being questioned with regard to the academic credentials of their research, Poppy rather huffily suggested that this was an attempt to silence them, and they had as much right to publish research as anyone else.
Against that, the numbers of trafficked women that the police have actually managed to find are vanishingly small. A six-month investigation involving over 800 brothels turned up just 167 possible victims
Next page: Extreme porn
The failure of Rationality
I have to laugh a little at the "extreme porn" legislation. Could there be anything more blatantly manipulative than that title? Oppose this law will you? All in favour of extremism please stand up! Ok, now all you MPs out there who want to oppose this legislation, please reveal the sordid details of your porn obsessions!
The government has swapped activity for usefulness as a metric of what it thinks people will vote for. They'll pick on an issue which is emotive but only actually affects a few people (so the fight will be one-sided), work out the popular view and push through legislation to "deal with it." It has nothing to do with morality and everything to do with rational pragmatism - pushing an agenda, any agenda, which they think they can "win." Whether its necrophilia, foxhunting or a "war on terror" , its all just fuel for the administrative fire.
In an effort to make myself premier flame-bait and increase the page impressions for the benefit of El Reg, it would like to depart from what is probably going to be the consensus. Usually the introduction of morality into politics is seen as an attack on rationalism. I would suggest that it isn't. What we have is politicians making very rational decisions about which policies they should present and pursue. Why would you pick an issue where the side you oppose might contain a large number of voters when you can, instead, pick and frame your opposition as extremists and tiny unsupportable minorities?
The problem with rationalism is that the rational behaviour for a politician (attempting to pick vote winners) leads to incoherent overall policy. Thus much time is spent protecting foxes in England from one particular type of death, whereas humans in Iraq are opened up to all sorts of lethal and non-lethal abuse (not a vote-winner now, but it was thought to be so at the beginning).
Likewise, rationalism for newspapers involves publishing shock-horror-think-of-the-children stories because that is what sells newspapers. It feeds off the self-righteousness of the electorate and directly affects the rational behaviour of politicians. Sex also sells, so rational corporations publish both conservative and pornographic papers in the pursuit of profit, with no hint of embarrassment that decrying its own behavour might be considered irrational.
What we need is rational morality both in government and society in general. Pragmatism (evidence/results-based action) leads to surprisingly incoherent policy. We need less "evidence-based" policy and more morally principled behaviour. This does not mean more legislation of morality, but it does mean that we need people with coherent moral principles framing coherent legislation. It needs some honesty and explanation. We seem to have almost totally lost the idea of tolerance. Tolerance is not celebratory permissiveness or the acceptance of values which contradict your own, it is allowing people to behave differently from your own standards. It seems that there is a rush to legislate or crush everything that is deemed bad or incorrect by the electorate or the daily mail.
I may totally agree with the idea that "extreme porn" is a bad thing. I also happen to think trying to legislate against it is quagmire of illiberality and the whole thing is a waste parliamentary time. My moral compass tells me to tolerate its rather small and puny existence and get on with saving some starving people.
Not another law
I fail to see why the government has this obsession with drafting new laws to cover specific offences, when there are plenty of current statutes to cover the situation.
The author raises the issue of necrophilia; it need not be a crime in itself as there are any number of offences relating to grave robbery, failing to notify authorities of dead bodies, not to mention the old favourite health and safety regulations which would be used without stretching them too far.
The law on sexual conduct should be drastically simplified to the point where it simply says that all consensual sexual relationships which do not cause any long term harm to those involved is non of the business of the state. It could solve prostitution by only regulating matters which it should be involved in i.e. the health and safety of those involved and ensuring the government taxes the income.
Similarly, it could avoid dithering about how dangerous drugs are by decriminalising and taxing them according to risk, making them a purely medical matter, and ensuring problems with dirty needles, purity of supply etc are solved by having dispensation from pharmacists.
The extreme porn law and cartoon sex law is another prime example of the governments desire to interfere in matters which again should be none of its business. Poor Mr Timney is soon not going to be able to charge anything at all to expenses when his wife is hard at work at the Home Office, for fear of criminal charges.
Theres only one test
government policy has to pass - The Sun/Daily Mail test.
Nothing else really matters.