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An Exploration of Sexual Violence Reduction for Effective Altruism Potential

This response is correct. Additionally, a major point I want to reiterate is that convicted sex offenders are a much narrower and more pathological group than any offenders who may exist in EA.

Even if medicalization and surgery was a successful and ethical intervention for convicted offenders—which you shed doubt on—it does not follow that such interventions would be helpful for other contexts, like corporations, academia, or EA. When sex offender are convicted using legal methods of due process, this is a much smaller and more pathological population than people who are accused under extra-legal processes, like corporate/academic kangaroo courts, or community witchhunts around he-said, she-said cases. This is not an apples-to-apples comparison of offenders or offenses.

Convicted sex offenders are a small and pathological group, and it is unlikely that there are many people who fit that profile in EA. It is likely that the vast majority of disputes over consent that might occur in EA will be misunderstandings, drunkenness, recklessness, or negligence, which does not rise to the level of intentional assault. It is both a statistical error—and a moral error—to suggest interventions designed for such criminal populations in one's own community. Unless, of course, one believes that their community contains a bunch of criminals.

An Exploration of Sexual Violence Reduction for Effective Altruism Potential

Nearly everyone studying sexual assault in academia, regardless of their purported field, are feminists, are heavily influenced by feminist ideas, or are heavily citing researchers who are feminists or influenced by feminist ideas. Specifically, a focus on "gender-based violence" or "violence against women" is nearly always associated with acceptance of feminist ideology about a high rate of female victimization and male perpetration, and beliefs about "patriarchy" and male dominance or control.

The notion that Mary Koss and Catharine MacKinnon's positions are nothing to do with feminism is untenable. MacKinnon is considered to be one of the most famous and influential feminists of all time, for creating sexual harassment law and driving anti-porn ordinances.

As for Koss, I've found a history of her ideas and work.

BEFORE 1985, when Koss published the initial findings from her survey, there was a general consensus among scholars that the best way to measure rape was to ask about it directly, like any other illegal act: Have you ever been raped? But outside the ivory tower, feminists had begun to argue that rape was not analogous to a crime like, say, robbery; it was a crime of power, used by men to keep women in a state of fear. In her 1975 book, Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape, the journalist Susan Brownmiller argued that women tended to blame themselves for instigating rape—and as a result, they often did not conceptualize what had happened to them as a crime...

Koss had read Brownmiller's book, and as she was constructing the survey, she realized that women might be reluctant to label their unwanted sexual experiences as rape. So instead of straightforward questions about whether women had been raped, Koss developed a series of behavioral queries about specific acts, such as: "Have you been forced to have sex without saying yes?"

So, Koss reads Brownmiller's Against Our Will (a one-sided portrayal of female victimization), which leads her to believe that there is a hidden epidemic of rape. Then she comes up with a new methodology—different from the accepted methodology of her field at the time—and "discovers" a much higher rate of rate. She then works with Gloria Steinem (another of the most famous feminist activists of all time) who helps her seek funding. Koss is a feminist through and through, and her ideas about rape came from feminism (via Brownmiller) prior to her doing research.

Next, Koss' research greatly influences other fields, and is heavily cited. Her methodology comes to look like normal social science, because typical social science is so heavy on badly designed self-report studies. Then they fuel badly-design public policy and laws which are applied top-down.

As for top-down application, you can look at university sexual assault policy and kangaroo courts, and sexual assault policies in the workplace. These are all top-down and involve ridiculous overbroad definitions and miscarriages of justice. For an excellent example, look at the Orwellian persecution of Laura Kipnis where she was accused of sexual harassment for criticizing college harassment policy.

People in the professions or academia are subject to an intellectual monoculture about rape, sexual harassment, and sexual assault—at least for what can be expressed in public. I believe that this leads to a false consensus emerging, where people are biased towards feminist views of those subjects, and any other views are persecuted, leading to the perception that any other views cannot be valid and must be held by horrible people.

An Exploration of Sexual Violence Reduction for Effective Altruism Potential

I think the crux of our disagreement is that you are far more trusting of large institutions and social scientists than I am. I don't think I can convince you of my position in a comment box, I have given a couple case studies in support of it:

I brought up Koss and MacKinnon to show that feminist ideology is highly influential on the current party line about sexual violence in polite society, the workplace, and academia, and that it is not from a neutral source, or from the social consensus of the population. You can argue that this feminist influence is good, that feminists are correct about sexual violence, and that it's wonderful that they found a methodology to prove it. But it's undeniable that these ideas came from feminism and were imposed top-down via institutions, not by social consensus of the larger population.

I brought up Lisak's shadiness to suggest that the sexual assault field is full of perverse incentives, not "world-class" neutral research. Lisak cannot answer basic questions about his methodology. Also, he cut-and-pasted together decades old interviews to create the perfect rapist predator, played by an actor on a video that he shows to big institutions. This is the behavior of an activist, not a researcher. But his work is behind the policies of tons of public and private bureaucracies.

Jonathan Haidt's work is a good place to start for academic and media political bias.

An Exploration of Sexual Violence Reduction for Effective Altruism Potential

Your response comes off as very defensive and lacking in substance, so I don't have much to say other than reiterating my previous views.

Intent is a critical part of moral and legal philosophy, and rape is a general intent crime. The stigma for rape comes from a time when rape was considered to be an unambiguous or obviously intentional violation, such as a stranger jumping out of the bushes. It is both inaccurate and socially harmful to apply this stigma to a wider range of situations that may involve lack of intent or male-female communication problems.

I think the statistical approach to rape is barking up the wrong tree. Lisak's work, whether quantitative or qualitative is especially untrustworthy, and sheds doubt on the entire field. Using a more conservative, and less-debatable criteria for rape is essential, because the more aggressive definitions have large externalities in terms of distrust between men and women, policies that destroy civil liberties, and tear apart institutions and communities with finger-pointing.

People can interpret terms like "want to" differently. Here is a study by feminists discussing a category of "consensual unwanted sex."

As for other people's sexual psychology and consent practices, our perspectives seem very different, so there is little point in discussing it further.

An Exploration of Sexual Violence Reduction for Effective Altruism Potential

Academia and the media do have a high level of ideological conformity, and I am not the first person to make this kind of criticism.

Feminism has greatly influenced the present-day understanding of sexual assault and sexual harassment. In fact, both of these terms come from feminist legal activism. The word "sexual assault" was popularized in 1971.

If you look at the careers of central feminist legal scholars and researchers, like Catharine MacKinnon and Mary Koss, you will find that they have been incredibly influential. Here is an excerpt from one of the many awards that Koss has received:

In her work on gender-based violence, Koss served on the National Academy of Sciences Panel on Violence Against Women. She has twice testified before the US Senate and participated in congressional briefings. She sits on the Coordinating Committee of the Sexual Violence Research Initiative, funded by the Global Forum and the Ford Foundation based in Johannesburg, South Africa. She has consulted with the World Bank, United Nations, World Health Organization, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the US Departments of Education and Justice. Her current work involves advising the Gallup Organization on their survey of sexual assault prevalence in the US Air Force and advising Social Science International in their work with implementation and evaluation of sexual assault prevention in the Air Force. She recently served as Rapporteur on gender-based violence at the 4th Milestones of a Global Campaign for Violence Prevention in Geneva.

While EAs are working hard to save lives and struggling for mainstream acceptance, Mary Koss is hanging out at the WHO and the DOJ and collecting awards. How come? What has Koss accomplished? Something much more valuable than saving lives (in the current political climate). Koss designed the study that found that 1 in 5 women are supposedly raped, the statistic that launched a thousand rape seminars.

The work of Koss, MacKinnon, and all the other feminist figures, influences policy from the university, to the workplace, to high schools, to global bodies like the UN and the Hague. This feminist framework has became the bedrock of respectable middle-class sexual ethics, which is mandatory due to policies of the workplace and university that are necessary due to state coercion via EEOC sexual harassment law and Title IX. This framework was not adopted due to its accuracy or fruitfulness, it was adopted for political reasons. When put into practice, it creates alienation between men and women, and gross violations of civil liberties.

Everything you think you know about sexual assault, sexual violence, and sexual harassment actually comes from the tireless influence of feminist legal activism that has been operating for decades. Regardless of whether you think this perspective is correct or not, it's important to understand the history of where your foundational moral concepts come from so that they can be examined.

An Exploration of Sexual Violence Reduction for Effective Altruism Potential

Methodologies like Lisak’s—where respondents check a box on a multi-clause question—leave room for doubt over whether the respondent read the question carefully and understands the terms in the same way that the researchers do. Any of the terms that you believe are diagnostic of rape, such as "force", "didn't want to", etc... might be interpreted differently from how you would interpret them. You might think that the additional clauses would help clarify the matter, but actually the longer the question is, the higher the chances that the respondent will misinterpret it or focus on only one part of it.

Remember, most of the people answering these surveys are not feminist programmers or BDSM-practicing logicians. Words mean different things to different people.

The other way to get a false positive would be if someone agreed with one of those questions, but lacked the element of intention of mens rea. Rape refers to a crime involving mens rea. Feminists often discuss rape as an experience of violation by a victim, but this is a redefinition and case of the non-central fallacy. The high stigma of rape is calibrated towards cases where the perpetrator knows what he is doing. Cases of reckless or negligent sexual conduct—even if they cause an experience of violation—should be placed in a morally separate category from intentional or purposeful violations.

These issues are going to lead to a certain rate of false positives for Lisak's methodology, or Mary Koss' "Sexual Experiences Survey", or another methodology based on them. What is that rate of false positives? 1%? 10%? 50%? Who knows. But there is always going to be a cloud of doubt hanging over these methodologies.

Why might men answer positively on Lisak's study, if a rape had not occurred? I feel like you are trying to lay a trap with these questions rather than having open-minded curiosity. I don’t know why someone might check those boxes as a false positive. Maybe someday someone will do a study and ask them what happened. I don’t pretend to know what goes on in other people’s bedrooms. But what I do know is that sexual practices are highly varied based on culture, class, and ethnicity. I think we should be careful to avoid generalization from our own consent practices and interpretation of terms about consent that other people may not share.

I have it on good authority that sometimes neurotypical humans lightly spank each without getting consent first. In the wild, feral homo sapiens sometimes bite each other, scratch each other, or pull each others’ hair without verbally clearing it with each other. Is this nonconsensual BDSM behavior a “bad practice,” and must they change their ways? Is it sexual assault?

The problem with bourgeois-feminist sensibilities around sex is that they portray people with different norms as constantly assaulting and violating each other, when these people naively think they are fine. This variation in sexual practice and communication styles—such as some populations having a higher baseline level of verbal indirectness, mutual physical forcefulness, or token resistance—makes it harder to design a one-size-fits-all survey to demarcate rape.

What would be a better methodology for measuring rape perpetration? There are 3 methodologies that I would consider plausible:

  1. A criminal conviction.
  2. An explicit admission that uses the word "rape."
  3. A qualitative interview, where followup questions can clarify what happened, and establish intention and mens rea.

These methodologies would establish the lower bound of rape perpetration, and I don’t think anyone could debate them, because they don’t have interpretive gaps. I think that this is better than trying to establish the upper bound in a questionable way. Unfortunately, the ecosystem of activists, bureaucrats, journalists, and politicians, need the high stats for political reasons. It might be worth thinking about how to approach sexual assault prevention without using prevalence statistics.

An Exploration of Sexual Violence Reduction for Effective Altruism Potential

The most confrontational things I've said were calling the author's sting proposals creepy, I compared them to witch hunts, and I made fun of the author and the entire audience for sleeping through the validity lectures of Psychology 101. The rest of my criticisms were directed at specific claims and specific feminist arguments. After reading my case, anyone is welcome to decide whether my approach is over the top if my premises are correct.

While I understand that many of the readers here are trying to be sympathetic and find things to like about this piece due to their abhorrence for sexual assault and empathy for survivors, such a response downplays serious problems with the piece and deprives the author from getting critical feedback.

If articles with certain types of errors aren't called out and instead they are lauded, then further argumentation of the same type will be incentivized.

That's how we get to point where 6% of male EAs are categorized as rapists who should be captured in stings and medicated. Either this argument is in bad faith—or something has gone horribly wrong if someone can make it and think they are operating in good faith.

(I missed this before, but an additional criticism is that the 6% figure comes from a study by David Lisak. Lisak is known for fraudulent academic conduct. We should not only doubt his results, but we should note that this entire field has extremely broken incentives, and suspect all sensationalist studies emerging from it for cooking their books or falsifying data.)

An Exploration of Sexual Violence Reduction for Effective Altruism Potential

Truly acknowledging the problems with social science in general, and these studies in specific, would involve greatly softening your argument and shelving most of your prescriptions and impact analysis.

Sometimes, the best a field has to offer isn’t good enough to support policy recommendations, and epistemic humility requires acknowledging this. This body of research just isn’t strong enough to do the things that you want to do with it. I think that both you and the audience here has the sophistication to recognize the flaws in this research, and the lack of recognition is explained by biasing factors.

If you find feminist sexual assault research plausible based on your experiences, if you think that a large minority of men are rapists, paraphiliacs, harassers, or frotteurs, then that’s OK—everyone has their experience. But please mark your true reasons for believing those things, rather than acting like it’s scientifically solid enough to be a basis policy and community interventions. Then other people can make up their minds based on their own experiences.

Although you report following the review articles and meta-analyses, it is notable that all the evidence you discovered lines up perfectly with standard feminist narratives and your own experiences. From there, you jump into some very divisive prescriptions without seriously examining the countervailing evidence or the methodological problems. This is hasty at best, and morally questionable at worst—especially if, as you say, you were already aware of the methodological issues with social science.

Here are some of the things you either did not encounter or address. I am not claiming that you should have addressed any particular one of these, but they are critical parts of this debate:

  • The decades of criticism towards feminist rape statistics by Christina Hoff Sommers, among others.

  • The false accusation research.

  • The reality of how people communicate consent, which is primarily nonverbal and implicit, counter to the ideals of feminists and the BDSM community. This paper (unfortunately paywalled) cites a bunch of studies finding things like large percentages of women believing that they are giving consent to sex by doing nothing, or not resisting.

  • The problems of self-justification, unreliable memory, and sex differences in communication pointed out by feminist sociologist Carol Tavris.

  • The research on token resistance. Token resistance is often considered to be a misogynistic PUA red-pill rape myth, but it turns out that the concept has been extensively studied by feminist researchers, who find that women are often very internally divided about sex. One study found that 39% of women had engaged in token resistance, though later research complicated this figure. If indeed there is such a thing as token resistance, or “nonconsensual wanted sex”, or “consensual unwanted sex”, then this validates the common male complaints about women giving mixed signals, and Tavris’ claims about misunderstandings. It also causes significant problems for 3rd parties adjudicating he-said, she-said situations if communication is not straightforward.

  • The collapse of many of the high profile rape accusations backed by the media, such as the Rolling Stone story where a reporter went looking for a sympathetic rape victim, and the story fell apart. This proves that media coverage of sexual assault is inaccurate and biased towards feminism.

  • The college kangaroo courts for sexual assault in universities, which are based on the same sorts of scare-mongering statistics used in the original post. This leads to immense violations of due process (e.g. Sexual Assault Injustice at Occidental: College Railroads Accused Student, and Stanford Trains Student Jurors That ‘Acting Persuasive and Logical’ is Sign of Guilt). The policies are the direct result of the adoption of the same sorts of propagandistic statistics you are citing.

I would be surprised if you have never encountered any of these arguments, and you’ve never heard of Hoff Sommers, or the Rolling Stone story. If not, then your research is so deeply steeped in feminism that it has led you astray and caused you lose sight of any other perspectives. Addressing a single one of these issues would have caused your piece to be a lot more balanced. As it is, the original post comes off as the standard feminist anti-rape narrative inside a thin shell of effective altruism.

An Exploration of Sexual Violence Reduction for Effective Altruism Potential

I read your post as painting a picture of criminal men and victimized women due to it uncritically referencing feminist statistics or narratives. Your post cites feminist research claiming that 36.3% of women have experienced sexual assault, and that 6% of men admit to rape. You then jump from these figures into discussing high trauma rates for female survivors, and male sex offender populations, even though these are from studies with totally different populations.

These prevalence figures are extraordinary claims and require extraordinary evidence, which the incredibly politicized and methodologically flawed sexual assault studies do not supply. The effect of this narrative is to exaggerate the female victimization rate, male perpetration rate, and the rate of male criminality and paraphilias beyond what the evidence supports. By suggesting radical measures like stings and medicalization, you are implying that the population of male predators is sufficiently large to make this necessary, and the evidence is sufficiently solid—an extraordinary accusation against your own community.

While you do acknowledge a lesser amount of male victimization and female perpetration—which some feminists don't acknowledge—this doesn't solve the problem that your piece drastically overestimates the level of female victimization and male perpetration, and paints an overly negative view of men, which will lead people unfamiliar with the methodological issues astray. My criticism is not that you are underestimating male victimhood: I believe that the male victimization studies suffer from the same methodological problems as the female victimization studies.

By uncritically referencing feminist statistics and narratives, your article is—likely unwittingly—inheriting the bad feminists habits of irresponsible use of evidence and self-righteous pathologization towards men. This baggage will undermine both the rigor and empathy of your case, particularly in the ears of men.

As for my claim that you were citing 90%+ trauma rates, xccf is right. That was my short-hand way of summarizing your section “Sexual violence reduction as suffering reduction”, which contains many negative consequences of rape that occur for 90%+ of the sample. I am pointing out that the studies finding these negative consequences have different populations and methodology from the studies like the NISVS, which you were using to establish a high 36.3% prevalence rate of sexual assault.

An Exploration of Sexual Violence Reduction for Effective Altruism Potential

Thanks for this post. It's brave, thorough, fair, and well-researched--a breath of fresh air compared to 99% of internet discussion on this topic.

I have seen several responses saying things like this, but in reality, the research in this article goes only as far as collecting the standard feminist narrative on sexual assault, which is not original and can be found in many places if you are familiar with this subject. The only thing that's new is attempting to marry this perspective to EA, despite the methodology being highly partisan and significantly different from EA methodology.

Among the problems:

  • uncritically taking feminist sexual assault prevalence research at face value, without addressing the many methodological criticisms
  • mixing and matching studies with very different populations and methods to maximize the perception of male perpetration and female victimhood
  • failing to address the debate on false accusations
  • failing to discover any of the complicating lines of research, such as the token resistance research, and the research on self-justification and unreliability of memory
  • discussing drastic and hasty interventions like stings and medicalization
  • accusing an entire community of males of containing hundreds of rapists based on poorly-executed studies on a totally different population

While the article is being criticized for being too long, in some ways, it's actually too short to support the extraordinary claims it is making, which are perhaps not fully recognized as extraordinary due to feminist research not being held to the same standards as other fields, and all sorts of glaring errors being normalized.

Here is my detailed rebuttal which is only enough to cover some of those problems, and here is an additional comment on the lack of balance in the original post.

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