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Lies, Damn Lies, and Social Justice Advocacy Statistics

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The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is set to expire if it is not reauthorized this year, but reauthorization is being held up by Republicans in the Senate judiciary committee. A post on the White House blog explains the importance of keeping VAWA:

Since 1994, VAWA has sent 4 billion dollars to states and local communities to develop specialized law enforcement units, provide services to victims, improve prosecution of these crimes, and train professionals about domestic violence and sexual assault. In many ways, VAWA has been successful. Since the passage of the Act, domestic violence has dropped by 58%. In spite of all this progress, we still have much work to do.

Repeat after me: Correlation does not prove causation. Correlation does not prove causation. Correlation does not prove causation.

Of course, saying "correlation does not prove causation" doesn't prove a lack of causation. An act aimed at reducing violence against women, and a large reduction against violence against women afterwards. Sounds like strong evidence for causation. But, there's some numbers that give us reason to question this.

In the same time period, vehicle theft decreased by 52%, without TAVA, the Theft Against Vehicles Act.

When looking at violent crime against women at large (rape, robbery, assault, but not murder), we have seen a decline of 57% since 1994.

In 1994, men were 46% more likely to be a victim of a violent crime (combined rape, robbery, and assault) than women, but yet it was the Violence Against Women Act that was passed. Since 1994, violent crimes against men have decreased by 64%. The decline in crimes against men has outpaced the decline in crimes against women despite VAWA. (Men are still 25% more likely than women to be the victim of a violent crime.)

Since 1994, men have seen a decrease of about 1/3 in the murder rate, though they are still 4x more likely to be killed than women.

Though from 1992-1994 there was a sharp increase in violent crimes against women, from 1978 to 1994, the incidence of rape dropped by 46%.


So, what does this all tell us? Not that VAWA hasn't been effective. Maybe there would be more violent crime against women without it. But, it does tell us that crimes of all sorts have been on the decline, and that when taken in light of a general decline in crime across the board, the White House's cited figure of 58% doesn't look all that meaningful.

[White House Blog]

[BJS - Violent victimization rates by gender, 1973-2009]

[BJS - National Crime Victimization Survey Violent Crime Trends, 1973-2008]

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