Sunday, April 17, 2005

Bureaucratic Sieves, Rape, Applesauce, and Volokh

Eugene Volokh posted here on the issue of false reports of rape with the conclusion:

"the model does illustrate that it's perfectly possible to believe that (1) only a tiny fraction of women would ever lie about being raped, (2) a huge fraction of rapes are unreported (quite possibly even more than 50%, so that rape may be a highly underreported crime by many women, as well as overreported by a few), and yet (3) a substantial fraction of rape reports to the police are false." [Reason being, and I had to do the calculations myself, is that you're talking about two different bases: one is the large number of all women who are sexually active, a few of whom might falsely cry rape; the other is the much smaller number of women who were raped, a large proportion of whom may be reluctant to face the bureaucratic apparatus that deals with rape. ]
This got me to thinking about bureaucratic sieves. In the fall we would go to a nearby orchard, buy 3 or so bushels of apples, and mom would can applesauce. She'd cook the apples, then force the results through a sieve or strainer. What came through the sieve was applesauce to save, what didn't make it was the seeds, stems, bits of peel.

Or maybe I should think about a bloodier metaphor, perhaps a slaughterhouse. (See a Discover May 05 article on Temple Grandin and the relation of autism to the proper design of a slaughterhouse.) View a slaughterhouse as a bureaucratic machine for taking living breathing reality in all its multitudinous shapes and big brown eyes and converting it into steaks, roasts and hamburger.

My point is that sex and gender are various, interactions between male and female are wonderful and terrible and everything in between, and writers will continue to discuss the ins and outs forever. Now we come to rape, the reporting thereof, the writing of entries in blocks on prescribed forms, the conversion of reality into bureaucratic data points and decision criteria. This is one of the things bureaucracies do, transform reality into something that society can act upon.

Another way to make my point is the report of molestation in the Jackson trial. If Jackson is not convicted, was the report false? If the case had been settled out of court, would the report be true? Suppose the boy had never mentioned any of the alleged acts, but they happened, would it be molestation? Assume Jackson were dirt poor. Would the boy and his mother have gone through the bureaucratic process that led to the current trial? If so, would the alleged crime be the same or different (an innocent boy at the mercy of a multi-millionaire celebrity is a different reality than with a man with neither money, power, or (spiritual) authority)

For the purposes of Volokh's discussion, the available data is probably adequate. I maintain, however, that in the back of one's mind you must remember the process that converts apples into sauce, steers into beef, reality into statistics.

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