Rape & Fear – What is a Rational Level of Fear?

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NB: Bitter experience suggests I can’t expect people to parse this correctly. The point is, is the level of fear proportionate to the risk? Is it a rational level of fear? What IS a rational level of fear and threat mitigation? Isn’t more harm done by the fear, than the thing itself? I welcome discussion, but not accusations. Nobody is excusing or covering for rape, or trying to say it isn’t bad.

‘Not having to be terrified when walking home at night’ often seems to come up as an example of ‘male privilege’, but is this a rational thing to fear, is the degree of fear rational?

According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales men are about 50% more likely than women to suffer any kind of assault against the person, up to and including all forms of sexual assault, yet men do not fear this to anything like the same degree that women do. Why is this? Do men underestimate risk or do women overrate risk?

We also know that 4/5 of sexual assaults against women are from people known to the victim, rather than random strangers in balaclavas, lurking in alleyways.

In England and Wales in the most recent data I could find, there were around 22,000 rapes annually. Even if we round that up to 25,000 to account for Scotland and Northern Ireland, the UK population is about 64,000,000 (50% female) making that around a 0.08% chance of being raped, annually, much less in reality since multiple instances often happen against the same person and with our 4/5 stat that a 0.016% chance of a random sexual assault in the street. This isn’t completely accurate as I haven’t accounted for the rapes and sexual assaults of men, but it shows a general level of risk and men’s statistics are hard to come by on these crimes anyway.

Yet this fear is overriding for many woman. Something that guides everything from how they dress, to the choice to carry a weapon, to not go out at all, to pay extra money for taxis and so on. The fear has a much greater negative overall impact on collective female happiness than the act of sexual assault itself. Men do not carry the same level of fear of being assaulted at all, despite – statistically – being at greater risk and being at greater risk of being injured or killed.

Are the women over-assessing their risk, or are the men under-assessing their risk? What level of risk is it rational to so utterly alter one’s behaviour for and to live in fear of?

Compare with the statistics for car accidents. Around 180,000 traffic accidents happen annually in the UK, many times the risk a woman faces of being sexually assaulted. About a 0.3% risk, annually. Yet people do not act with anything like the same level of fear every time they cross the road or get into a car.

There’s a thing colloquially called ‘The Daily Mail Effect’ which is a phenomenon where, despite crime rates having dropped consistently since the 90s, people with a certain kind of media intake believe it has gone up. There are pensioners shut up in their houses, behind locks like a fortress, because of their massive over-assessment of the level of risk and criminality around them. It severely, negatively impacts people’s lives.

I propose that the fear of rape may be a similar phenomenon, a fear that is grotesquely overrated compared to the level of risk, and one that is massively, negatively impacting on people’s lives.

It’s clear that many people are too emotionally invested in this to have a conversation about it, but to me that just makes it seem more important that this sort of thing be examined coolly, calmly and rationally, looking at the facts.

What is a rational level of fear? Rape is something that happens, but rarely. So are car accidents. So are assaults on men. Why do we fear rarer, less deadly events more than more common, deadlier events?

At what level of risk does it make sense to drastically alter your actions and life choices?

Does not this degree of fear, over such an unlikely event, qualify as a phobia?

What do you think, and what’s your reasoning?

NB: Psychology offers a few insights into why we may be so bad at relative risk assessment, at least on an instinctive level:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200712/10-ways-we-get-the-odds-wrong

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-inertia-trap/201303/why-are-people-bad-evaluating-risks

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/01/16/wrong-about-risk-blame-your-brain/

http://freakonomics.com/2011/11/23/the-truth-is-out-there%E2%80%A6isn%E2%80%99t-it-a-new-freakonomics-radio-podcast/

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