I don’t believe the terrible stats on sexual violence, so they can’t be true?
A recent Telegraph article, by Neil Lyndon, entitled ‘Why do we believe such terrible things about men that can’t be true?’ reveals breathtaking ignorance from a journalist known for his unsavoury views towards women and feminism. What has got Lyndon so het up, incredulous and spitting venom at women and feminists? The ‘small matter’ of the global incidence of sexual violence against women. Specifically, he is incredulous at a United Nations (UN) report published recently, which highlighted that one in three women experience sexual or physical violence in their lifetime. The report said : ‘at least one in three women is beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused by an intimate partner in the course of her lifetime.’ To emphasise his disbelief, Lyndon turned to his own mother and asked her if she or her 5 sisters have ever experienced anything like this. “Of course not”, came the reply. Lyndon then uses the anecdote to make claims about report findings, as if personal anecdotes provide the best source of information on which to base our beliefs and better still global policy on serious matters. Why not disband the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UN and instead use personal views to develop policy?
This is obviously a rather facetious response, but it’s hard to take the author’s staggeringly ignorant views seriously. It does not deserve a response that refers to evidence such as the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal) revealing that 1 in 10 women in Britain have experienced some form of sex against their will (attempt or actual); it does not deserve defense of a WHO or UN report.
Nevertheless, Lyndon assumes that answering a question about personal experience of sexual violence would be unproblematic, and that his mother and aunts would be open and willing to disclose such experiences without hesitation. This is startlingly naïve. Decades of research have documented the widely spread non-disclosure of sexually violent experiences in women’s lives, to the extent that many women tell no one. We also know that many women have difficulty naming experiences as sexually violent. They may struggle with how to make sense of, give name and meaning to, the experience in their own lives. These difficulties in both disclosure and naming, are not made easier with the culture of silence that has long surrounded sexual violence in our society and reports of mistrust by the police when cases were reported. Lyndon’s article contributes to perpetuating unhealthy myths about sexual violence, as being less common than we would like.
Looking at the evidence with a critical mind is important, as it can help us sift the sound from the flawed. If anyone is shocked by the ‘1 in 3 women’ figure and finds it outrageous, they should read the report, consider the methodology and think about whether it all stands up to scientific scrutiny. Rather than waste time countering Mr Lyndon’s article point by point, it’s perhaps wiser to raise a wider point about the value of social science research. At a time when we see so many of the world’s problems requiring a social perspective not just a scientific one, we are seeing social sciences ‘unloved and sidelined’. To understand sexual violence, demands an understanding of gender, class, race, culture, politics and economics, to name a few. It is up to social science researchers to find better ways of engaging the public with research, and develop their awareness of reliable evidence when reading the media, so that they don’t believe anecdotes held up as ‘evidence’ by poor journalism.
Today’s piece has been provided by a collaborator of Research the Headlines but is posted without attribution.
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