Crime Stats or How Silence Took Root

I had a good weekend. I went to a show that had music I enjoyed. I had a lot of tasty beers and hung out with a lot of cool people. I made a new friend. Less good, I lost an hour of sleep.

And then I got to work and I read this press release from the University of Kansas.

I was a little stunned. This is the Culture of Silence at work. Over one million violent crimes have gone unreported and investigated. That’s approximately 0.3% of the entire population of America that has been the victim of a violent attack and violation of their person, and that number is likely small. Reading this article, it is likely that this is simply the number of failures to investigate and prosecute but otherwise reported to authorities. If that is the track record for law enforcement to investigations, how many people simply refused to acknowledge their own attacks? It suddenly doesn’t become difficult to imagine that percentage creeping upwards of 1%, 30 million people, that have been the victim of a sexual assault.

“Society has an obligation to stop rape and prosecute rapists. The current practices are incredibly far from that basic precept. What is worse is that the extent of rape in America has been covered up— rape victims have been denied basic dignity, so that some police could manipulate statistics to simply achieve artificially designated crime benchmarks,” Professor of Law Corey Yung states in his press release. He’s clearly right, but what has happened that this has so grossly become commonplace in our culture? The effectiveness of the system for recording these crimes is flawed. This data is used to make policy and budget decisions, which I know as a scientist, is a recipe for disaster. Ideally any sort of statistical reporting needs to be free from bias, and a diligent record of the actual, observable nature of things. The minute that money and ego come into play, here in this case continued law enforcement funding and re-election of our woefully under equipped and variably inept political representatives, their is an enormous pressure to doctor the observed measures of your data. In my field, this has a low cost. I would lose personal credibility, and any claims I could make would be questionably valid unless someone could repeat my results. Only me and my pride suffer. But this? This is a situation where police and politicians are playing fast and loose with human lives.

In another post, I talked briefly about a case where a girl ended up committing suicide because of a lack of response to her claims of rape, and the general backlash of victim blame that she got from a police department that didn’t care or found the behaviour of the accused acceptable. This was a preventable death. I don’t find it reasonable to place blame on others for suicides in most situations, but would that girl be dead if someone had simply done the job that they were hired and expected to do? Rather than do their job, they wanted the problem to go away, to make the community appear safe by covering up an ugly problem.

This is not even a woman’s problem. Sure, the most frequent victims of sexual assault and abuse are women, and are by far at greater risk. Now think for a moment. If a woman is afraid to report that she has been a victim for fear of the report being dismissed or that she’ll get victim shamed, how likely is a man to report that he has been the victim of a sexual assault? How likely would it be that he gets laughed out of the police department? You are supposed to be tougher than that, how did you let yourself get raped? Suddenly 1% seems small.

We need to focus less on the failed war on drugs and other high profile initiatives, because we have falsely reported a decline in a violent crime that is festering in the soul of our culture. Instead of supporting and helping victims we blame them or disregard them. We covered it up. We are all complicit in this when we claimed we lived in safe communities, that we were turning the tide on crime. Worse, we hid a real cost in human lives to protect those claims, those delusions of a healthy, strong nation.

This, this here. This is the sickness and the silence that has taken root.

We strike at the root.
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