Is Rape-Report Decline A Trend Or A “Statistical Mirage?”


The number of reported rapes per capita in the U.S. has plunged by more than 85 percent since the 1970s, and reported rape fell last year even while other violent offenses increased, says the Washington Post. Experts cannot fully explain why it is occurring. In 1979, the Justice Department estimated, based on a wide-ranging public survey, 2.8 rapes for every 1,000 people. In 2004, the same survey found that the rate had decreased to 0.4 per thousand. Many criminologists and victim advocates say that these numbers could be a statistical mirage, because rape is underreported and poorly understood. Others are convinced that there is real improvement.

The Justice Department estimates that 61 percent of rapes and sexual assaults are still not reported. But that is down from 69 percent in 1996, and experts say the trend remains downward. “If there’s been a change, it’s been a very small change,” said Dean Kilpatrick of the National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center in Charleston, S.C. He said that recent high-profile rape cases such as those involving Duke University lacrosse players and basketball star Kobe Bryant may have persuaded victims to stay silent because of public scrutiny of their private lives and sexual history. One school of thought holds that rape has declined for the same reasons that other violent offenses have: a reduction in the lawlessness associated with crack cocaine, a shrinking population of young people, and an increased number of criminals in jail.


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