Indonesia | Economics

Monday, October 23, 2006

Does pornography encourage rape?

The answer to the above question is ― suprise, suprise! ― No. In fact, access to pornography is associated with a drop in rape incidences. An abstract from this paper:
The arrival of the internet caused a large decline in both the pecuniary and non-pecuniary costs of accessing pornography. Using state-level panel data from 1998-2003, I find that the arrival of the internet was associated with a reduction in rape incidence... Moreover, when I disaggregate the rape data by offender age, I find that the effect of the internet on rape is concentrated among those for whom the internet-induced fall in the non-pecuniary price of pornography was the largest –
men ages 15-19, who typically live with their parents. These results, which suggest that pornography and rape are substitutes, are in contrast with most previous literature...

Thanks to David Friedman for the pointer.

Just to be clear, the paper shows a negative correlation, which is very different from a causation. In other words, the paper did not argue that increased access to pornography via the internet reduced incidences of rape. On the other hand, it clearly rejected the claim that increased access to pornography increased incidences of rape.

Does it mean that the same will be true in Indonesia? Well, maybe not. People respond to incentives. One disincentive against rape is law enforcement. It is plausible that differences in the levels of enforcement create different relationships between rape and pornography. It may well be that, when enforcement against rape is weak, pornography may become complements, instead of substitutes to rape. Additionally, cultural differences ― which is another for of incentives ― might alter the result.

However, absent empirical evidence, neither generalizations about the correlation between pornography and rape in Indonesia can be justified ― although this paper's findings puts the proponents of the anti-pornography law at a (slight) disadvantage.

Update (11/1): Steven Landsburg reviews the study in Slate. Thanks to treespotter for the pointer (especially since he doesn't really agree with it)

3 Comments:

  • This is fairly consistent with every single peer reviewed study on pornography which shows no correlation between porn and sexual violence against women.

    Even in the face of overwhelming evidence, you'd always have people saying how porn degrades women, which is a peculiar argument, to say the least. How exactly is consensual, adult, non-violent sex degrading to women?

    By Blogger thalassa_mikra, at 10/24/2006 12:41:00 pm  

  • i'm guessing this will be a good example on how to probe those morality boundaries? :p

    By Blogger treespotter, at 10/25/2006 01:39:00 pm  

  • Thalassa,
    I am unfamiliar with the literature on pornography and sexual violence, so I can't comment. I suspect as much though ― most adults can differentiate between fantasy and reality.

    On your second point, I think, to a certain extent, some of them do degrade women. Porn is to satisfy fantasies, and it is the forbidden that is often most attractive.

    Will it translate into acts that degrade women? This study suggests that it probably will not. I suspect, though, that the result will be culture-specific.

    T/S,
    Liberalism, which is implicit in a lot of economics, is of course a moral philosophy. So, I guess, the answer is yes... ;-)

    By Blogger Arya, at 10/25/2006 09:09:00 pm  

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