How to lie with an infographic

Rape is horrible.  But it doesn’t help anybody to lie about the scope of the problem.  You may have seen this infographic that’s gone viral.

Amanda Marcotte— not the least bit lacking in feminist credentials, brings to light a number of problems with the infographic.

The graphic assumes one-rape-per-rapist. Looking at the above picture, one might start to get the impression that every other man you meet is a rapist. Nearly one in five women have been raped, according to the latest substantive government numbers, and infographics like this might make people conclude therefore that one in five men is a rapist. In reality, a much smaller (though still troubling) number—an estimated 6 percent of men—are rapists. Your average rapist stacks up six victims. That’s hard to capture in an infographic, but could be clearer by just labeling the little dudes “rapes” instead of “rapists.” After all, the fact that most rapists are repeat offenders drives home how troubling it is that victims can’t find justice. If more rapists saw a jail cell the first time they raped someone, the number of victims would decline dramatically.

The graphic overestimates the number of unreported rapes. It’s hard to measure how many rapes go unreported, because, duh, unreported. Making it even harder to get an accurate count, a lot of rape victims don’t identify as rape victims, because it’s so stigmatized. Still, improved public education has made it easier for rape victims to report. RAINN (the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), using government numbers,estimates that 54 percent of rapes go unreported. Tweaking the infographic to reflect this more conservative number wouldn’t make the image less convincing, but it would make it more accurate.

I’m assuming the Rape Action and Incest Network is not sort of shill organization for rapists, so if they suggest the number of unreported rapes is 54%, it’s probably in that ballpark.  I guess Enliven just decided that figure is not dramatic enough.  In fact, if you go to there website, they simply say that the 10% they use is “plausible,” essentially admitting that it is by no means the most likely figure.

Rape is bad.  Under-reporting of rape is bad.  And on the same general feminist lines, women getting paid less than men for the same work is bad.  But playing games with statistics is really not the way you should be trying to make your case.  If it stands on its merits– and in the case of rape the problem of under-reporting is most definitely real and significant — than it should speak for itself without misleading statistics and graphics.

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