Friday, June 04, 2010

How The Religious Right Misrepresents Sexual Assault Statistics

Repeating the "gays are evil" mantra that the right wing likes to push, we find a study published entitled Homosexuals In Military Three Times More Likely to Sexually Assault Than Straights: Survey.

Superficially these kinds of statistical analysis almost seem convincing:

a review of the "case synopses" of all 1,643 reports of sexual assault reported by the four branches of the military for Fiscal Year 2009 (October 1, 2008 through September 30, 2009) found that over eight percent (8.2%) of all military sexual assault cases were homosexual in nature. Yet homosexual activist groups themselves have stated that less than three percent of Americans (2.8% of men and 1.4% of women) are homosexual or bisexual.

The inference is clear enough - if the population ratio is correct, then there's a huge disproportion of gays committing sexual assaults, after all look at the rate of "homosexual assaults".

Well ... it's not quite so clear cut as all that.

First of all, they are making the inference that a male who commits sexual assault on another male is homosexual. This is a highly contentious inference - and one that deserves some more careful examination.

Sexual assaults, especially in the context of rape, are about power not sexuality. To assume that the offender who commits rape is straight or gay based on the target of their rape is apt as not to lead you to incorrect conclusions.

In an environment like the military, where men still substantially outnumber women, it's not at all surprising that there are a significant number of male-male sexual assaults. In such an ultra-masculine environment, the power play fact cannot be overlooked. To be a "submissive" male is to fall immediately to the bottom of the power hierarchy socially - even if the rank says otherwise. There are a hundred reasons why someone with the right psychopathology would choose to commit a sexual assault against someone of the same sex in such an environment.

A similar bit of logical fallacy has been propagated in the Catholic abuse scandals, where many have tried to label the pedophile priests as "homosexuals", when in fact the gender of the victim has very little to do with the perpetrator's motives.

The best examples of this come out of prison environments (although similar issues have historically been reported in naval contexts too) where male prisoners may well participate in homosexual acts during the period of their incarceration. Once they are released from prison, they return to heterosexual activity as had been their pre-incarceration norm.

In short, male on male sexual violence doesn't say anything about the perpetrator's sexual orientation - especially not in substantially closed environments such as the military or the priesthood.

The Family Research Council's recent bit of pseudo science incorrectly associates sexual identity with the nature of a sexual assault, and conveniently doesn't examine any dimensions of the assailant's motives in the assault or their sexual identity. In terms of science, this is like claiming that fairies paint leaves green at night because we observe that the leaf is green.

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