A year ago, I wrote about the non-existent causal link between "violent" porn and sex crimes. I mused:
The Internet, now about ten years old, has made finding the offending material a quick and private matter, so you'd think that the increased availability of so-called violent porn would've produced a prolonged spike in rapes and sex killings, starting in about 1995. Well, no dice. Certainly, the perception that sexual perverts are everywhere is widespread — the result, I'd wager, of high-profile cases such as the Michael Jackson trial, and the media's insistence on bringing you the important news that thieves are after Jennifer Aniston's panties. But as for the actual data: no spike. On the contrary. There's been a pretty radical decline in serious sex offenses and other violent crimes in the last two decades. Almost every year, the picture improves.
Now comes further statistical support for that view: evidence that more porn consumption equals fewer sex crimes.
A 10 percent increase in Net access yields about a 7.3 percent decrease in reported rapes. States that adopted the Internet quickly saw the biggest declines. And, according to Clemson professor Todd Kendall, the effects remain even after you control for all of the obvious confounding variables, such as alcohol consumption, police presence, poverty and unemployment rates, population density, and so forth.
OK, so we can at least tentatively conclude that Net access reduces rape. But that's a far cry from proving that porn access reduces rape. Maybe rape is down because the rapists are all indoors reading Slate or vandalizing Wikipedia. But professor Kendall points out that there is no similar effect of Internet access on homicide. It's hard to see how Wikipedia can deter rape without deterring other violent crimes at the same time. On the other hand, it's easy to imagine how porn might serve as a substitute for rape.
If smut-protesting groups like Focus on the Family and Feminists Fighting Pornography really cared about reducing sexual violence against women, they'd drop their censorious efforts right now.
But wait, there's more! Much as the easy availability of porn reduces rape, so do violent movies reduce battery, robberies, and other mayhem, at least for a few hours.
What happens when a particularly violent movie is released? Answer: Violent crime rates fall. Instantly. Here again, we have a lot of natural experiments: The number of violent movie releases changes a lot from week to week. One weekend, 12 million people watch 'Hannibal,' and another weekend, 12 million watch 'Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.'
University of California professors Gordon Dahl and Stefano DellaVigna compared what happens on those weekends. The bottom line: More violence on the screen means less violence in the streets. Probably that's because violent criminals prefer violent movies, and as long as they're at the movies, they're not out causing mischief. They'd rather see Hannibal than rob you, but they'd rather rob you than sit through Wallace & Gromit.
Cheek, meet tongue: The best thing the government's crimefighters can do if they want to lower the number of violent offenses, including rape, is start a free cable channel that alternates Dirty Harry flicks with Dirty Debutantes movies — thus trapping would-be criminals in front of their TVs for days on end.