An Exploration of Sexual Violence Reduction for Effective Altruism Potential

Sexual violence is an important human rights issue. It’s important because it poses a significant risk of suicidal behavior, because it causes a lot of suffering, and because sex offenders can drastically reduce other people’s progress toward their goals.

Sexual violence receives a lot of attention, but attention is not the same as taking effective action. Level of attention is a heuristic we can use to quickly locate areas where the most effective options haven’t been applied yet, but heuristics are an imperfect method. We will miss things if heuristics are all that we use. Sexual violence is very complicated, there are a lot of common myths about it, and it’s hard to reason about such an upsetting topic. After spending hundreds of hours reading research, I’m concerned that too few people understand sexual violence well enough to seek out and use the most effective options. When I learned more, I saw that it is worth evaluating for effective altruism potential. The amount of impact looks huge, and multiple options are worth trying.

These figures might surprise you: unfortunately, sexual violence is very common. Figures from the Center for Disease Control show that 36.3% of women and 17.1% of men in the US have been sexually assaulted. [1] Part of this commonness is the difficulty of catching the offenders due to stigma and insufficient evidence. Using figures from the Department of Justice, RAINN showed that the majority of sex offenders walk free. [2] A meta-analysis of unreported rape studies found that 6% of men are undetected rapists [12] (and there doesn’t appear to be a study with the percentage of women who are undetected rapists). It can be hard for sexual violence survivors to talk about sexual violence. A lot of what happens ends up hidden.

I estimated various quantities related to impact including: the number of sexually violent people in EA, the number of lives that can be saved, the amount of productivity currently being lost, the effect on movement building, the effect on diversity /​ potential for disadvantage reduction, and suffering reduction. The amount of impact at stake is high.

I evaluated nineteen sexual violence reduction options and included relevant research in the tractability section.

I also addressed the question of whether this is a neglected area. William MacAskill said in “Doing Good Better” that “If a specific area has already received a great deal of funding and attention, then we should expect it to be difficult to do a lot of good by devoting additional resources to that area. In contrast, within causes that are comparatively neglected, the most effective opportunities for doing good have probably not been taken.” [13] Because no EA had previously done work to identify the most effective opportunities to reduce sexual violence in effective altruism, this should probably be considered neglected until the most effective actions have been taken. Due to time constraints, I wasn’t able to fully evaluate neglectedness on a global scale, but I have a specific concern about this which I detailed in the neglectedness section.

There is potential for an excellent cost-benefit ratio between the necessary time investment and the results that are possible. It is worth considering investing more resources into sexual violence reduction.

In-network sexual violence reduction is very likely to be an effective altruism cause as a high-leverage way to protect EAs, increase effective altruism diversity, job satisfaction and productivity, as a way to reduce the talent shortage by retaining more employees and volunteers, and as a way to attract more people and grow the movement. Outside of the effective altruism network, sexual violence reduction has potential to be an effective altruism cause through saving lives, suffering reduction, disadvantage reduction, and by increasing productivity but more research is needed to further explore EA potential on a global scale. Of the nineteen methods explored, there are two methods that have the potential to scale globally.

(Note: For those that are unfamiliar, there are some concerns about social science research which I had to work around. For instance, the replication crisis, the concerns covered in “Statistics Done Wrong”, and the various issues identified by John Ioannidis. To address these concerns, I found multiple review articles and meta-analyses wherever possible. If I couldn’t find any, I looked for as many studies as I could find and included them all.

This method is not perfect. For instance, Ioannidis has warned about some specific vulnerabilities in meta-analyses and review articles. There really is not a way to create a perfect research based article, especially not while covering this much ground at the same time. It is simply too complicated. There wasn’t a perfect method for me to use anyway.

I could have chosen to do nothing because the research is flawed. I decided that the subject is too important to ignore. I decided not to make the perfect the enemy of the good and I made the best of it.)

(Note: The belief that most effective altruists care about sexual violence is not in question. Many people, including effective altruists, do not have a strong awareness of how much risk there is, how much impact is at stake or which actions have the best chance to succeed. Additionally, some people are not aware of the amount of leverage that is possible. Awareness about these areas needs to be raised.)

Table of Contents:

Article Scope:

In-network sexual violence reduction vs. global sexual violence reduction.


Estimating the number of sexually violent people.

  • Why we should not assume that effective altruism repels sex offenders

  • About 6% of men are rapists and an unknown percentage of women.

  • A rough estimate of rapists in EA.

Sexual violence reduction as a life saver

Sexual violence reduction as suffering reduction

Sexual violence reduction for diversity and disadvantage reduction

  • Comparing sexual violence rates by gender

  • Greatly multiplied risk to women due to the gender ratio in EA

  • Gay and bisexual people have around twice the sexual violence risk

  • List of specific disadvantages that EA women, bisexuals and homosexuals face

Potential of sexual violence reduction to prevent productivity loss

  • The low estimate

  • The high estimate

Sexual violence reduction as part of movement building

  • The male sex offenders studied are shockingly prolific

  • Sex offenders increase turnover in workplaces

Sexual violence reduction for lawsuit prevention


Global neglectedness:

  • Expecting sexual violence to leave enough evidence prevents solving it.

The main challenges in evaluating neglectedness in our network:

  • Survivorship bias makes gathering numbers tricky

  • Most sex offences are not reported

  • An alternative: focusing on whether we could be more effective

Observations about sexual violence in the EA network

  • A list for informational purposes only (please take no drastic actions)

Effective sexual violence reduction isn’t an EA focus yet


The key obstacle

Alternative sexual violence reduction options explored

  • Look for work quality issues.

  • Keep an eye on suspected offenders for other forms of misbehavior.

  • Look into setting up a sting operation (sex offenders are often criminal generalists).

  • Strike a balance between dismissing accusations and witch-hunting people.

  • Create a robust sex offender detection strategy.

  • Help solve male-female relations issues.

  • Help minimize sexual violence risk factors throughout your social network.

  • Encourage careful thinking and learning about certain sexual behaviors.

  • View less serious sexual assaults like groping as a security heuristic.

  • Learn self-defence, promote self-defence, and/​or offer self-defence education.

  • Offer a prevention program.

  • Encourage sex offenders to seek help if you can do so safely.

  • Do more research on sexual violence treatment.

  • Encourage or host dry events and parties.

  • If appropriate, consider having the accused work from home.

  • Centralize reports so that survivors can ally with each other.

  • Help replace stereotypes about sexual violence situations with real information.

  • Object to pressure to go to private and secluded areas alone or with someone.

  • Join EAs and Rationalists Against Abuse (ERAA) on Facebook.



Article Scope:

In-network sexual violence reduction vs. global sexual violence reduction.

Sexual violence is a human rights issue all over the world, causing problems on multiple levels. Some of the sections in this article are limited to in-network sexual violence reduction because of the extreme cost of quantifying and scaling on a global level. For instance, the amount of sexual violence risk varies by country, sometimes by a lot. Consider the abhorrent treatment of women in Afghanistan and the unusually bad prison rape situation in Russia. The amount of variance could be quite high. There are 200 countries in the world. A good estimate of the amount of sexual violence risk present in all 200 countries would require an entire article of its own. It is necessary to quantify the amount of sexual violence in each country in order to quantify impacts like lives lost, suffering, etc. Quantifying all the impacts requires additional articles.

Another notable difference between large and small scale sexual violence reduction is that most of the methods that have a chance to get good results can only be used to ban the offender from a particular organization or group. There is no way to ban them from the entire world. The methods that do have some potential to scale globally are:

  • Sting operations to catch offenders, if they result in incarceration.* (This might be made to work without risking sexual traumas to the sting operation staff. See the tractability section.)

  • Finding a cure for sexual violence and a way to persuade sex offenders to use it. (It might be easier than you’d think to persuade them. See the tractability section.)

Unfortunately, there just isn’t enough information on these two methods to make global level estimates yet. Good researchers need to be hired. Research funding is needed. I am not qualified to do this research by myself, though I’d be happy to get involved. I hope the information I included in this article is useful to people interested in investing in research on these methods. Feel free to contact me through the effective altruism forum or Facebook if you’re interested in doing large scale sexual violence risk reduction.

* Due to the high rate of prison rape, increasing the rate of incarceration for a given country may not reduce the sexual violence rate on net in that country.


Estimating the number of sexually violent people.

Why we should not assume that effective altruism repels sex offenders:

Effective altruism probably attracts more altruists, but does it repel sex offenders? Four things to consider:

1.) It appears common for people to believe that sex offenders are never empathetic or altruistic. People also seem to believe that altruistic and empathetic people never commit sex offences. According to studies, rapists demonstrated more empathy than other types of criminals [14], however rapists have empathy deficits specifically toward their victims [14][15] and have higher hostility toward women. [15] Rapists may have a comparable amount of empathy to others. [16] How can this be? “It is suggested that empathy deficits in rapists might better be construed as cognitive distortions specific to their victims.” [14] Essentially, rapists have irrational thinking patterns that seem to selectively sabotage empathy for their victims. Being capable of empathy isn’t everything a human needs to behave well. We also need to think clearly enough to avoid prejudices and misunderstandings so that we can empathise with everyone in each situation.

2.) There have been some incidents in the EA social network which suggest that having more effective sexual violence reduction methods would be an improvement for EA. For anonymized examples, see the neglectedness section.

3.) Some sex offenders are masters of deception. “The first author interviewed one sex offender who reported that he had used newspaper reports of his release (including an old newspaper photograph of his face) as the pretext by which he entered into conversations about sex with new victims. Many sex offenders have histories of using demonstrations of “good touches” and “bad touches” to enter into sexually inappropriate activities with children. One of the most notorious sadistic pedophile murderers of all time, John Wayne Gacey, worked in disguise as a clown.”—“Myths and Misconceptions about Sex Offenders” [18] One of my two EA sex offenders was both stealthy in committing his offence and cunning in covering it up with a smearing attack afterwards. Some sex offenders are not particularly strategic. Many rapists are drunk at the time of the offence. Some are opportunistic and take advantage of time and place. Multiple types of sex offenders exist. We may not have a complete list of different types yet. It’s not safe to assume that any type of sex offender will simply leave altruists alone.

Exploitative people may actually prefer effective altruists as targets because many of them are young, so more likely to be naive. They would find it easier to target us if we tend to trust other group members more. We might trust people too much because a lot of people think that altruism and criminal behavior are mutually exclusive. Additionally, altruists may be more generous or forgiving, so highly selfish and exploitative people may particularly seek us out. Psychopaths are known for their charm and for their ability to blend in. Date rapists are known for enticing people to go on a date and then spiking their drink or luring them into a secluded location. If we happen to have anything that harmful people want or prefer, there is no reason to believe that they’d keep out. They are known for blending in.

4.) Dawkins doesn’t believe that the selfish simply leave altruists alone:

“Even in the group of altruists, there will almost certainly be a dissenting minority who refuse to make any sacrifice. If there is just one selfish rebel, prepared to exploit the altruism of the rest, then he, by definition, is more likely than they are to survive and have children. Each of these children will tend to inherit his selfish traits. After several generations of this natural selection, the ‘altruistic group’ will be over-run by selfish individuals, and will be indistinguishable from the selfish group. Even if we grant the improbable chance existence initially of pure altruistic groups without any rebels, it is very difficult to see what is to stop selfish individuals migrating in from neighboring selfish groups” [17]

About 6% of men are rapists and an unknown percentage of women.

It’s hard to find figures for sexual harassers and gropers, but less hard to find these for rapists. One obstacle to finding out how many rapists there are is that most are undetected, that is to say they are never convicted or even taken to court. One study pooled the results of four self-report studies together to find out what percentage of men are undetected rapists. Unfortunately, the study only has a figure available for men. That number is 6% (ranging from 6%-14.9% in the studies it referenced). [12] Rapists don’t usually say “yes” when you ask them if they are a rapist. For whatever reason, they just do not self-identify as rapists. In this study, rapists were defined as people who answered yes to one of the following questions:

  1. Have you ever been in a situation where you tried, but for various reasons did not succeed, in having sexual intercourse with an adult by using or threatening to use physical force (twisting their arm, holding them down, etc.) if they did not cooperate?

  2. Have you ever had sexual intercourse with someone, even though they did no want to, because they were too intoxicated (on alcohol or drugs) to resist your sexual advances (e.g., removing their clothes)?

  3. Have you ever had sexual intercourse with an adult when they didn’t want to because you used or threatened to use physical force (twisting their arm; holding them down, etc.) if they didn’t cooperate?

  4. Have you ever had oral sex with an adult when they didn’t want to because you used or threatened to use physical force (twisting their arm; holding them down, etc.) if they didn’t cooperate?

There are more actions that count as rape than are listed here, for instance: intercourse with a non-consenting disabled person (in which case they may not employ physical force), intercourse with a sleeping person, intercourse with an adult over whom someone else has legal power of attorney. It may be that 6% is a low estimate.

While looking for the number of female rapists, I found a meta-analysis on female sex offenders. The percentage of sex offenders reported to the police who are female is 2.2%. The police data seems to have a reporting bias. The percentage found in surveys is 11.6%. [19] Please remember that these are the percentages of sexually violent people who are female, not the percentage of females who are sexually violent.

I don’t see a way to use the 2.2% and 11.6% figures to estimate the number of female rapists. If I calculate 2.2% or 11.6% of police reports or convictions, the result will have a massive under-reporting bias. Numbers from victim reports are not directly comparable to numbers from undetected rapist surveys. Therefore, if I try to compensate for the under-reporting bias by taking 2.2% or 11.6% of the 6% male rapists figure from undetected rapist studies, this will be inaccurate. Among other things, reports from victims can include the same rapist more than once because one rapist might target multiple people. Therefore, multiplying numbers from victim reports of sex offences against the percentage of undetected rapists might give an exaggerated result. For what it’s worth, female sex offenders are unlikely to reoffend. (Their recidivism rate is less than 3%.) [24] However, I’m still not sure that the numbers from victim studies are comparable enough to the numbers from undetected rapist studies to put them together for an estimation.

Unfortunately, no undetected female rapist studies were found in the search. Given the appearance that female rapists are rare, it’s doubtful that such studies exist. There just doesn’t seem to be a good way to estimate them using the available information.

A rough estimate of rapists in EA:

There are a large number of factors that may influence the number of sex offenders in a particular group. For instance, Younger men have higher testosterone levels, and younger women are more likely to be targeted for sexual violence. Determining how each of these factors influences sexual violence risk can be very complicated. For instance, do highly educated people commit fewer crimes, or are they simply more likely to get away with crimes? Do people of a particular race commit more crimes, or are they just more likely to be convicted due to prejudice? Given the very large number of studies on sexual violence risk factors, and the complexity of processing them all, it would be extremely time consuming to take all of the factors into account. It could easily require an article of the same length as this one, just to create an estimate which takes all known relevant factors into account. To ensure enough time for the other parts of this article, a simple rough estimate has been created based on information about the overall population. Please remember that this is an *estimate*.

According to the 2015 survey of effective altruists, there were 2,352 respondents who consider themselves an EA. [20] Some people are so uninvolved that they would not take the EA survey. They should not be counted. Others are so very busy that they might not take the EA survey either, even though they should be counted. Unless research is done to determine what percentage of EA takes the EA survey, we cannot assume that it is accurate. For that reason, I am using the total number of EAs from the survey as the low estimate. For the high estimate, I am using the EA Facebook group. There are over 13,861 people in the effective altruism Facebook group. [21] Not all of these people are active. The exact number of EAs is unknown but probably lies between these two figures. So, as an estimate, there are probably between 2,352-13,861 people in the effective altruism movement.

Using the number above (6% of men are rapists) to estimate, and after encoding the following information in rot13 to keep it out of search engines and discourage quoting: fvapr 73% bs gur fheirl erfcbaqragf ner znyr, gurer ner na rfgvzngrq 100-600 (103-607) znyr encvfgf va gur rssrpgvir nygehvfz zbirzrag, tvira 2,352-13,861 crbcyr gbgny.

Additionally, there are an unknown number of female rapists.

Sexual violence reduction as a life saver:

Sexual violence harms the health of both men [3] [4] and women. Multiple studies have shown that rape survivors have a greatly increased risk of death via suicide. [5] [30] This is true even in very tough individuals, like those in the military. [31]

A summary of a study of 4008 women conducted by National Institute of Drug Abuse: “When asked if they ever thought seriously about committing suicide, 33% of the rape victims and 8% of the non-victims of crime stated that they had seriously considered suicide. Thus, rape victims were 4.1 times more likely than non-crime victims to have contemplated suicide. Rape victims were also 13 times more likely than non-crime victims to have actually made a suicide attempt (13% vs. 1%).” [5] Multiple sources attributed the suicidal behavior to rape or the psychological impact of rape.

Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to find specific sexual violence information that pertains to male sexual violence survivors, and sometimes no study has been done. Therefore, only the number of female rape survivors who attempted suicide will be used in the following rough estimates.

For a sense of how suicide differs by gender: women are more likely to attempt suicide while men are more likely to die from it. [6]

Suicide attempts are not always fatal: 25 people attempt suicide for every death. [7]

Each rapist might have committed an average of 7.2 rapes (there isn’t an unbiased sample available that I could find). [8]

So far we have:

7.2 rapes per 1 rapist.

12% higher chance of a suicide attempt after a rape (a 13% chance minus the 1% usual risk).

4% chance of a suicide death for each suicidal person (1 in 25).

0.48% chance of a death for each person raped (1 in 208).

3.5% chance that each rapist contributed to a death on average.

Notes: Sometimes rapists may target the same person more than once. It would be difficult to find research on how frequently this happens. In theory, the rape-related suicide risk already includes this, so attempting to adjust for that might exaggerate the suicide risk estimate. The estimate is not based on studies about future rapes, this is based on studies of past rapes. This is the information that is available. For that reason, it’s not possible to use this to provide a figure like “For every X rapists stopped from committing future rapes, we will save one life on average.” For the sake of curiosity, a different estimate can be provided:

If a rough estimate of 29 would-be rapists were stopped before they started, at least one life would be saved (on average). The “at least” is there to hint at the fact that because past rapes don’t include future rapes, the would-be rapists might have targeted more than 7.2 people over their lif etimes.

To go about it a better way: for every 208 people we prevent from being raped, a rough estimate of one life will be saved on average.

Sexual violence reduction as suffering reduction:

According to a systematic review, rape is “one of the most severe of all interpersonal traumas”. [44] Another study said “Rape victims were found to be significantly more depressed, generally anxious, and fearful than control subjects.” [45] In a study called “The Psychological Impact of Rape”, the impacts are explored in detail. [46] Here is a summary:

Effects hours later:

92% were terrified and confused

96% were scared, worried and trembling

96% felt exhausted

88% felt restless

84% felt depressed

1 week later:

94% met the criteria for PTSD (though not the time requirement)

2 weeks later:

75% were depressed (mildly to severely)

1 month later:

44% were moderately to severely depressed

Many still met the PTSD criteria.

3 months later:

47% still met the criteria for PTSD
Likely to experience fear, anxiety, self-esteem trouble and sexual dysfunction.

Significantly more distressed than non-victims.

1 year later:

Likely to experience fear, anxiety, self-esteem trouble and sexual dysfunction.
Significantly more distressed than non-victims.

2 years later:

More likely to experience fear, social adjustment issues, depression and sexual disorders.

3 years later:

Differences on several fear and anxiety measures compared with non-victims.

Rape causes intense suffering to most survivors, and the suffering can last a long time for some of them.

Sexual violence reduction for diversity and disadvantage reduction:

Comparing sexual violence rates by gender:

According to the most recent NISVS report by the Center for Disease Control, far more women than men have experienced sexual violence over their lifetimes, though men and women experienced a comparable amount of rape* in the 12 month period the survey covered. [1] (See tables 3.1 and 3.5.)

* It is important to note that the way rape against men is defined in research often leaves out envelopment or puts this in a different category like “made to penetrate”. Envelopment has been included in the rape definition used for this article. When reading sexual violence research, please remember to check the definitions and categories of violence to see what is contained in each.

Women experienced more sexual coercion, unwanted sexual contact and non-contact unwanted sexual experiences both over their lifetimes and also in the year the survey covered.

Greatly multiplied risk to women due to the gender ratio in EA:

The 73% /​ 27% male to female ratio in the effective altruism movement creates a significantly worse sexual violence risk for women (though some areas of the movement have a different gender balance like in animal charities). Please remember the estimate of male rapists in the effective altruism movement from the beginning of the article. It is not possible to calculate the exact number of rapists in the movement. Estimating them is the best that anyone can do.

There are 635-3742 women the male rapists in the movement might target. The ratio of male rapists to women outside the movement is around 1:17 (3:50), based on a 5050 gender ratio. The estimated ratio of male rapists to women in the EA movement is 1:6, which is significantly worse. In the rationalist diaspora sector of the movement (like LessWrong) the gender ratio is 83.6% /​ 16.2% [47] and the estimated male rapist to female ratio is around 1:3.

Worse, according to one study, the rapists surveyed committed an average of 7.2 rapes each. [8]

To tie it all together:

Outside EA: A 1:17 ratio means 7 rapes per 17 women on average.

Inside EA: A 1:6 ratio means 7 rapes per 6 women on average.

Rationalists: A 1:3 ratio means 7 rapes per 3 women on average.

Note 1: Some women are targeted multiple times.

Note 2: The 7.2 rapes per rapist is based on past rapes. It’s not a prediction of future rapes. This is to give the reader a sense of the disadvantage women face in male dominated environments.

Note 3: We cannot assume that EA rapists target only other EAs. Sometimes, they might target people outside the social network. We cannot assume that EAs are targeted only by EA rapists. Sometimes they might be targeted by people outside the social network. Depending on how much of an EA’s social life consists of contact with other EAs and also depending on how sociable they are, their individual risk will vary. There is not enough lifestyle information available on EAs for me to include numbers on this into the estimate.

Female lawyers often work in offices with a similar gender ratio to EA. [48] According to The American Bar Association, between half and two thirds of female lawyers experienced or observed sexual harassment by male superiors, colleagues, or clients during the two years prior to the survey. [37]

Gay and bisexual people have around twice the sexual violence risk:

Bisexuals and homosexuals of both genders experience more sexual violence than heterosexuals. The problem can be around twice as bad for them. [41] (See tables 1 and 2.)

List of specific disadvantages that EA women, bisexuals and homosexuals face:

  1. Offenders increase their suicide risk more often.

  2. Offenders psychologically harm more of them.

  3. Offenders drive away a disproportionate number of them.

  4. Offenders reduce their progress toward their goals through psychological trauma and other health concerns.

  5. Offenders pose a threat, so they must self-impose various limitations for security purposes.

  6. Offenders damage more of their careers and reputations through cover-up slandering.

Reducing sexual violence is a way to significantly reduce their burden of disadvantage.

Potential of sexual violence reduction to prevent productivity loss:

The low estimate:

For every 208 people protected from rape, a rough estimate of 1 life will be saved due to the related suicide risk. (See also: the “sexual violence reduction as a life saver” section.) One lifetime includes up to ~80,000 hours of work. Not every effective altruist will spend their entire life working in EA, and not every effective altruist has 80,000 hours left in their career, so this wouldn’t always yield an 80,000 hour productivity boost. *Up to* 80,000 hours of productivity could be saved by saving people from rape.

The high estimate:

If just one person is stopped from committing sex offences in the effective altruism movement, that could be as high-impact as gaining one new superstar level effective altruist, possibly better.

According to a Harvard Business School working paper, employees who engage in misbehavior like sexual harassment (which includes sexual violence, rape, sexual assault and other inappropriate touching [9] [10]) are net negative. [11] One employee of this type does enough damage to more than cancel out the value created by an unusually productive person or “superstar worker”, defined as “in the top 1% of productivity”. “Even if a firm could replace an average worker with one who performs in the top 1%, it would still be better off by replacing a toxic worker with an average worker by more than two-to-one”. In the paper, sexual harassment is provided as an example of toxic behavior on the extreme end of the scale for harm and severity, so the impact of reducing sexual violence could be greater.

The ratio of effort to impact might be really excellent. To represent the productivity boost of adding a superstar worker, I’ll estimate the impact in terms of hours gained.

Careers don’t always last a lifetime, so I’ll start my range with just a five year long career. Five years contain 10,400 hours of work. A full lifetime contains 80,000 hours of work.

Since many offences leave insufficient evidence, I’ll quantify the time it takes to review the quality of someone’s work to see whether there is evidence that they should be fired. (One strategy which has a chance to succeed, detailed below.) The time required for this probably ranges from minutes to hours.

If it takes a few hours to review someone’s work, and 10,400-80,000 hours worth of productivity are gained, then it could be that the impact gained is thousands of times greater than the time invested or more.

Reviewing the work of a person accused of a sex offence won’t always lead to a reason to fire them. The ratio of reviews to firings is unknown. Even if it were only 10:1, the cost benefit ratio is still very good.

Sexual violence reduction as part of movement building:

The male sex offenders studied are shockingly prolific:

Some sex offenders who commit offences like groping, frotteurism (crotch rubbing), voyeurism, and exhibitionism can be quite prolific and each act has a chance to scare people out of the effective altruism movement.

How prolific are they? It’s difficult to get an unbiased sample of sex offenders. Even jail samples are biased because so many sex offenders are not sent to jail. For an example, the frottage offenders (who touch or rub a clothed person) surveyed in this study targeted an average of nine hundred people each. [22] That is not a typo. Given this much activity, one offender easily has the potential to drive more than one person out of EA. These “less serious” sexual assaults could be worsening the talent shortage.

A lot of information on sexual violence includes only men or has a reporting bias that leaves out some of the female sex offenders, so I sought information on female sex offenders specifically. The studies I found said female sex offenders are unlikely to reoffend. Their recidivism rate is less than 3%. [24] [25] Sex offences committed by females are obviously still important. The point here is to gather numbers useful for getting a sense of the amount of impact that sex offenders have on the movement.

Sex offenders increase turnover in workplaces and probably movements:

There is very little research on movement building, so the chance that a sex offence will drive someone out of a movement is not known. It’s reasonable to be concerned about this because toxic behavior like sex offences can increase turnover rates in workplaces [11] and the EA movement is partly composed of workplaces.

A study with a very large military sample found that “For every 1 standard deviation increase in sexual harassment experience, there is an effect size equivalent to a 21% greater risk of turnover—despite controlling for the contribution of coworker satisfaction.” [35]. The results of another study showed that “the odds of sexually harassed employees having turnover intentions are 1.63 times greater than for employees not experiencing sexual harassment.“ [36] All of the other available studies I could locate on the topic found that sexual harassment increases turnover intentions. [37] [38] [39] [40]

Sexual violence reduction for lawsuit prevention:

A sexual harassment lawsuit can cost into the millions of dollars, and a survey shows that many company policies are inadequate and may even violate “effective action”. [42] I am not qualified to provide legal advice, I just want to raise awareness. For further information, please consult with a lawyer.


Global neglectedness:

Expecting sexual violence to leave enough evidence prevents solving it.

It does not appear to be widely known information that for every 1000 rapes committed, only 6 rapists go to jail. [2] If sexual violence tends to leave too little evidence, then calls for justice make an unrealistic demand on court systems. It seems to me that people have been expecting these crimes to leave enough evidence, so they haven’t put enough investment into other avenues that have potential such as sting operations for the criminal generalist type of sex offender or a cure for paraphilias. To get an accurate idea of whether sexual violence reduction is neglected in each country requires more research to do the question justice.

The main challenges in evaluating neglectedness in our network:

Survivorship bias makes gathering numbers tricky:

Due to survivorship bias, surveys of the movement asking about sexual violence will unfortunately be inaccurate. The problem is that people who have been targeted by sex offenders may have stopped participating in order to avoid the offenders. They may have even lost their jobs because of conflicts or mental health issues resulting from the attack. Nonetheless, a survey has been done. This survey should not be considered the main support. Data from the survey is included in the list of observations below.

This problem of survivorship bias will likely affect information from most of the methods we could use to discover whether sexual violence is being handled effectively. For instance, asking around would only give us opportunities to gather information *if* we met the sexual violence survivors before the offence. There are some who we may not have ever met, if they left before we could meet them.

Survivorship bias is a really big problem that makes gathering information about neglectedness hard.

Most sex offences are not reported:

Another problem is that the majority of sex offences are not reported. [2] One cannot simply contact EA organizations to ask how many reports they received because most of the sexual violence will not have been reported to them.

An alternative: focusing on whether we could be more effective:

Because there is not currently a way to directly measure the size of the problem in effective altruism, this section will instead focus on whether actions against known problems could be more effective.

Observations about sexual violence in the EA network:

A list of observations has accumulated over time as I participated in the movement. I’ve seen some people taking action, but there doesn’t seem to be enough awareness about what’s likely to be effective. I’ve seen others take no action. I can’t be sure I haven’t ended up with a biased view, but from what I’ve seen there have been some problems and the problems happened in a lot of places. The nature and scope of what I’ve seen suggests that there is plenty of room for improvement.

Inspired by the #metoo phenomenon, I have chosen to be a bit more candid in this section than traditional social norms would usually allow. My personal belief is that sharing *anonymized* sexual violence related events has a lot of educational value (with the caveat that it’s possible it may be experienced as entertainment by the people we’re trying to raise awareness about, so my descriptions are as boring and concise as possible to prevent that [43]).

Because a lot of sexual violence incidents lead to unresolvable he-said-she-said arguments, it isn’t clear to me whether publicly outing the real identities of offenders does more good or more harm. Sex offenders can and will smear their survivors with rumors when survivors fight back. This makes unwary people confused and further attacks the victim.

Sex offenders are not above trying to manipulate friends, witnesses, and investigating organizations, nor are they above gaslighting and manipulating the survivors themselves. The result of an outing can be a huge intractable mess which causes a lot of pain and trouble for a lot of people, including the survivor.

For some situations and/​or survivors, outing might do some good. For others, it will only cause harm.

Each person has to make their own decision about their own unique situation.

Because my assessment tells me that outing the following people is not productive at this time, their identities have been intentionally anonymized.

A list for informational purposes only (please take no drastic actions):

  1. I was told after one EA sex offence, by the offender’s co-worker, that the inappropriate touching was due to “confusion” related to having read pickup literature. The behavior is unacceptable regardless, but to see what was going on, I decided to read some pickup literature myself. Below is what I found after I was directed to “The Red Pill” (TRP) by a friend.

    Note: opening up the following three sources is not safe for work, though this summary of them intentionally avoids explicit descriptions. “Male Dominance: A Beginner’s Guide” on “The Red Pill Room”, a blog with over 3 million views, advocates using name-calling, hair pulling, manhandling, and general aggression with women. [32] For another example, a “Sixteen Commandments” article on Reddit claims that “Touching a woman inappropriately on the first date will get you further with her than not touching her at all.” [33] In a Reddit compilation PDF known as “The Red Pill” one author explains that /​r/​TheRedPill has become a major “front page of the manosphere” (a play on the Reddit slogan “Welcome to the front page of the internet”). Another author in the compilation states “TRP advocates taking advantage of women to bend them to your will. It absolutely says “the best basis for a good relationship is Stockholm Syndrome”.” [34]

    Perhaps not all pickup authors encourage violence, but there are definitely some notable examples who do.

    Even if, as some sources claim, some women do like aggressive behavior, this is definitely not true of all women. In addition, it seems to be the case that there is a risk of psychological trauma even among women who can enjoy aggression. Encouraging sexual aggression is not a low-risk thing to do.

    A lot of other people have mentioned pickup. It seems to me that a lot of people in my network have been influenced by pickup artistry. That there exists a sexually aggressive form of pickup and that it has likely influenced or confused some of the people in our social network is concerning. That EAs might use the existence of this pickup lit as an excuse to commit sex offences, or as a way to cover them up is also concerning.

    “The Red Pill” is not merely a stream of crudeness. There are many valid pains and complaints listed in the compilation PDF, mixed with things like exercise and health tips, in between its insults and encouragements to be insolent and aggressive. The book depicts a large schism between men and women. This is very detailed, so it isn’t easy to evaluate how many of the problems it describes are accurate to reality, but at least some of the problems are real. There are wounds to be healed between men and women and the wounds are on both sides.

    There are deep problems here. They won’t be solved overnight. We need to fix various male-female relations issues and promote accurate information about healthy sexuality.

  2. I took an informal survey of the group Women and Non-Binary in Effective Altruism. I included an anonymous feedback form so that participants would feel more comfortable with replying. One of the respondents reported a bad experience with bringing a sex offence to an authority in our social network.

  3. During an after party for EA Global, someone came up from behind and committed frotteurism against me. There was an obstruction in front of the security camera at the time. These might be unrelated, but it makes sense to think that sex offenders are more likely to strike when accountability is low.

  4. In an EA workplace, one of the workers unexpectedly kissed me. I was not trying to date this person or anything. I had already turned him down, explaining that I wasn’t available. After he kissed me, I told him “I don’t want you to kiss me.” and he did it again immediately.

  5. I’ve encountered a significant minority of people who do oppose sexual violence but don’t regard the problem as important. In other words, there is too little “herd immunity”. Information about impact could go a long way.

  6. An investigator was hired to check for evidence of a sex offence, but sex offences usually leave insufficient evidence. What evidence is left by a kiss, a grope, a rub? Nothing. Money was spent on the investigation. It seems like the right thing to do. However, given that sex offenders usually aren’t caught, one cannot simply investigate a sex offence and decide it didn’t happen because there was no evidence of it. If interpreted this way, investigations can create a false sense of security.

    To be accurate, one has to become very knowledgeable about all the unintuitive ways that victims can respond and choose very carefully between conclusions like that it was an unsubstantiated /​ unfounded accusation, a partially true /​ partially false accusation, a false accusation and various others. It takes a lot of information to do this accurately and even professionals in the criminal justice system are known to make mistakes according to research. Professionals like psychologists who work with sexual violence survivors are also needed. A lot of education is needed. (See also: the “Help replace stereotypes about sexual violence situations with real information.” section.)

  7. A group was being targeted with an unusual number of communications that promoted things like a sexual violence method and sexual violence risk factors. This activity overwhelmed one of the members of the management team. Instead of addressing the problem of an increased number of people promoting sexual violence in the group, most of the management team abandoned the group.

Given these observations, I think there is a lot of room for improvement.

Effective sexual violence reduction isn’t an EA focus yet:

Even if most EAs wouldn’t neglect sexual violence on purpose, most of them don’t have the time to do a thorough job of figuring out what might be an effective way to solve such a complicated and challenging problem. This is not an area that any EA organization specializes in. Sexual violence is more of an issue that comes up from time to time when people are busy working toward other goals. Given the impact at stake, the time required to do the topic justice, and the fact that no EA organization has specialized in it, I believe it’s likely that effectiveness has not yet been maximized throughout the movement. Promoting information on the options and their effectiveness has a chance to do a lot of good


The key obstacle:

Unfortunately, as the Department of Justice showed, sex offenders *usually* evade the law. The data supplied by RAINN shows that even in cases where the police become involved, the suspects are likely to go free.

The law has high standards. Our legal system insists that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. In the legal system, there are serious punishments at stake, so this approach makes sense. Unfortunately, sexual violence often does not leave enough evidence for the criminal justice system to work with.

Anger is natural, but if we insist on punishment as our only strategy against sex offenders, our burden of proof will leave us mostly undefended.

In cases where we have too little evidence, we can’t just punish people. This would create a culture of witch hunting. If we create an opportunity to witch hunt, we’ll open ourselves up to being taken advantage of by unscrupulous people.

Sexual violence is an important enough issue that this challenge shouldn’t stop us. It is for this reason that I offer an exploration of alternative options.

Alternative sexual violence reduction options explored:

  1. Look for work quality issues.

    Periodically double checking the quality of work being produced by all employees may create opportunities to remove toxic workers. This includes sexually violent people. Harvard Business School explains in a working paper that “workers with poorer quality performance are more likely to be toxic. Here, a one standard deviation increase in the quality of production results in a 27% decrease in the hazard.“ [11]

  2. Keep an eye on suspected offenders for other forms of misbehavior.

    Some sex offenders misbehave in other ways. One study found that 99 sex offenders committed 20,000 nonsexual offences. [22] That’s not a typo. That’s an average of over 200 offences per person.

    Rapists contributed a disproportionate share.

    Some of the other misbehavior by sex offenders might leave more evidence behind than their sex offences, creating opportunities to oust them. Think carefully about the rules they might have been tempted to break, and any details that seem out of place. Report any useful observations to authorities.

    It could be worthwhile to check the quality of their work as well.

  3. Look into setting up a sting operation (sex offenders are often criminal generalists).

    Obviously, there is an ethical concern worth worrying about when it comes to what might happen to people participating in a sting operation to bust sex offences. Participants could be traumatized by a sex offender. Gladly, there seems to be significant overlap between sexual violence and other forms of misbehavior which are easier to set up a sting operation for. Therefore, well-designed sting operations meant to detect crimes like theft or fraud may also catch people who commit sex offences. A well-designed sting operation could result in you having the evidence you need to get rid of sex offenders and other criminals by firing the person, having them banned from events, or possibly even put in prison.

    It takes skill to design something which only catches people who are actually misbehaving without generating a bunch of false positives. It also takes skill to avoid unfairly causing people to misbehave (called “entrapment”).

    Before attempting a sting operation, ask a lawyer about what is legal for you to do in your region. Also ask what you’ll be able to legally accomplish with the type of evidence you might collect. To minimize risks like false positives and entrapment, please get a knowledgeable person to help design the sting operation.

  4. Strike a balance between dismissing accusations and witch-hunting people.

    What percentage of rape accusations are false? According to DiCanio, the researchers and prosecutors generally agree on a number somewhere in the range of 2% to 10%. [23] Since 90%-98% of rape accusations are probably true, it makes sense to take them seriously. Since there is a much lower but still uncomfortable chance of them being wrong, it also makes sense to be concerned about punishing an innocent person.

    Additionally, there is concern that if we punish people based on accusations alone, more people will make accusations. This is because an incentive would be created for people to make false accusations. Depending on what the punishment is, unscrupulous people could use accusations for all sorts of strategies. Accusations could also be abused in a general way: threatening to make an accusation against someone could be used to control them.

    There are some things which are appropriate to do in the event of an accusation. For instance, do not send people off to be alone with the accused in a meeting room. Do consider reviewing their work for quality issues, looking for evidence of other types of misbehavior, and persuading them to seek treatment if these things can be done safely.

    There are other things which are not appropriate to do in the event of an accusation such as putting them in jail without evidence.

    What is and isn’t appropriate will vary from one situation to the next. Please think about this very carefully.

  5. Create a robust sex offender detection strategy.

    Given the state of psychology research, studies on the personality traits of sex offenders *alone* are unlikely to be enough to give us the level of accuracy we desire when it comes to figuring out which people are likely to commit sex offences and which people are not. However, that does not mean they’re worthless. Combining a lot of different numbers and types of research together has the potential to produce far more accurate information than using one type of research alone.

    We can combine all the following together into one probability estimate:

    1. The prior probability that an individual is a rapist based on unreported rape research.

    2. Research on recidivism and the amount of activity different types of offenders tend to have can be used to help estimate future risk.

    3. We can adjust probabilities based on the percentage of accusations that are found to be true and false.

    4. We can take into account behavioral risk factors such as whether the person believes rape myths.

    5. We can then tweak a probability further using personality research.

    This could also help people who have been falsely accused to be deemed low risk.

    It might identify people who are low risk due to having reformed, if there is enough relevant research about that.

    This could help us predict and prevent sexual violence.

    It turns out that there is a plethora of information on the various personality traits and other characteristics of sex offenders. [57] [58] [59] [60] (The first citation in this list contains a wide variety of related references. These are just what I found with searches for links between the big five and various terms for sexual violence. A much broader search could be done for links between sexual violence and other personality tests or characteristics.)
    A thorough analysis is needed to process the available research and to develop and test research-based methods of calculating sexual violence probabilities.

  6. Help solve male-female relations issues.

    Providing a constructive alternative to sexism and hostility could help to reduce these risk factors for sexual violence. For instance, we could open up a dialogue with double crux sessions between people of different genders, focusing on gender related issues. This would take attention away from people who are promoting hatred to people in the group and channel that attention into positive progress.

  7. Help minimize sexual violence risk factors throughout your social network.

    Various studies show that certain beliefs about sex and gender are risk factors for sexual violence. [61] [62] [63] [64] [65] [66] If we succeed at reducing confusion and either change aggressive attitudes or drive away the people who harbor them, this could help reduce our risk.

    Specific examples of risk factors:

    1. Adversarial attitudes about relationships [61]

    2. Attitudes that violence is acceptable (both the offender and survivor) [62]

    3. Rape-supportive attitudes and beliefs [65]

    4. The presence and acceptance of violence [63] (review)

    5. Rape myths [61]

    6. Male patriarchal values [66]

    7. Men’s acceptance of traditional sex roles [61]

    8. Some gender attitudes [65]

    9. Peer influence (both the offender and survivor) [62]

    10. Miscommunication about sex [61]

    11. Sexual misperceptions [64]

    The research probably has not identified a complete list of risk factors. For example, unfortunately, little research has been done to help prevent sexual violence against men. I did find one study on myths about male rape [67] so I can provide a few examples.

    Additional risk factors—rape myths that apply to male rape:

    1. “Men cannot be raped.”

    2. “‘Real’ men can defend themselves against rape.”

    3. “Only gay men are victims and/​or perpetrators of rape.”

    4. “Men are not harmed by rape (or not as much as women).”

    5. “A woman cannot sexually assault a man.”

    6. “Sexual assault by someone of the same sex causes homosexuality.”

    7. “Homosexual and bisexual individuals deserve to be sexually assaulted because they are immoral and deviant.”

    8. “If a victim physically responds to an assault he must have wanted it.”

    Please do not stigmatize sexual violence survivors by claiming they’ll become rapists. The abuse to abuser hypothesis is questionable. For one example of why you shouldn’t believe this: more women have been raped than men, but more men are rapists than women. Even if having been sexually abused is a risk factor for some subset of the population who commit sexual violence, we should not assume most survivors will become sex offenders, and this applies to both genders. For more detailed information on the abuse to abuser hypothesis, read “Myths and Misconceptions about Sex Offenders”.

  8. Encourage careful thinking and learning about certain sexual behaviors.

    Some believe there is a distinction to be made between some form of aggressive play or ritualized aggression and certain other forms of aggression which are deemed unacceptable. When the distinction is made, the version perceived as acceptable might be called “kink” or “BDSM”, etc. Some do not think that this distinction should be made, and believe that aggression should not be combined with sex. The purpose of this section is not to determine the best way or to advise. Making all of the ethical and health distinctions required for this would be a very large project in and of itself, so is outside the scope of this article. That would be unlikely to resolve the controversy anyway. The purpose is simply to refer to a few of the main ways of making the distinctions and to encourage careful thinking, reading and professional consultations to reduce the risk of negative consequences.

    This is not mental health advice, but it’s worth noting that there are books psychologists use to make distinctions between what is considered normal and the class of mental disorders known as paraphilias. Specifically, the ICD-10 (International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems) and DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistic Manual). Visiting a psychologist is one way to make distinctions.

    Don’t take anything in this article as legal advice as I am not a lawyer. Not every kink is legal to act upon in every region. Even if mental health professionals deem a behavior normal or kinky, the legal distinctions don’t always match the psychology distinctions. For another source of relevant information, contact a lawyer in your area.

    Please take this as a summary of information, not as encouragement or advice: Some believe that BDSM (Bondage, Domination, Submission/​Sadism, Masochism) can be done ethically and in a healthy way. Even if you have a genuine intent to practice BDSM, you could still commit a sex offence by accident or cause physical harm. For instance, an attempt to practice BDSM role play rape can accidentally result in rape, complete with psychological trauma. Safety practices are employed to make BDSM safer such as consent (sometimes under BDSM specific consent philosophies), negotiation techniques, training, and use of a BDSM philosophy like RACK (Risk-Aware Consensual Kink) or SSC (Safe, Sane, Consensual). Even when all precautions are taken to reduce risk, BDSM still poses some risk. Like sports or motorcycle riding, even things like a helmet won’t bring your risk to zero. If you choose to explore BDSM please keep in mind that people who have received or caused harm during BDSM activities are more likely to leave the community. If you never meet them, you will not learn from their mistakes, and you will not see their level of risk aversion reflected in the community. If you meet people who encourage you to take risks you’re not comfortable with, consider that they may be the lucky people who were left over after an unknown number of unlucky people stopped participating. If you‘re interested in BDSM, please consider all the risks very, very carefully and be sure to consult with knowledgeable professionals about the risks rather than just participants.

    If you are not qualified to advise people on which behaviors are ethical and healthy, you can certainly encourage people to think very carefully about the distinctions, explore the best sources of information, and visit all the relevant types of professionals.

  9. View less serious sexual assaults like groping as a security heuristic.

    Because those who commit frottage can be so prolific, sexual assaults like groping are worth reporting on their own. There’s an additional reason to do so:

    Paraphilias are the mental disorders that motivate sex offences, and they tend to come in multiples. One study found that only 10.4 percent of paraphiliacs experienced a single paraphilia and 37.6 percent of them had five to ten paraphilias. [26] An offender with toucherism, the groping paraphilia, could have one or more other paraphilias which motivate them to do other kinds of things. Some paraphilias might not harm others (like masochism). However, hidden among our gropers, there are probably paraphiliacs with biastophilia or pedophilia, the paraphilias that motivate rapists and child molesters. A less serious offence does not necessarily mean you’re dealing with a less serious offender. Ignoring gropers is a gamble.

  10. Learn self-defence, promote self-defence, and/​or offer self-defence education.

    In 2005, the National Institute of Justice commissioned a report on the impact of victim self-protection. [27]. Based on this, they created a web page listing certain self-defence actions which reduce the risk of rape and injury: attacking or struggling against the attacker, running away, and verbally warning the attacker. [28]

    Other actions were found to increase risk: stalling, cooperating and screaming from pain or fear.

    Additionally, NIJ shared a study that showed mental health outcomes were better in those who fought back, even if they didn’t win. [29]

    Warning: It’s possible that these research results were skewed by a minority of people who have serious training and/​or experience. Some experts regard self-defence courses as likely to give you a false sense of security. Before investing in self-defence training, an in-depth evaluation of effectiveness needs to be completed.

  11. Offer a prevention program.

    Many programs were found to be ineffective [68][69] so you’ll need to be careful when selecting a program. One important thing to consider when seeking a program is whether the effects are long-term. [70]

    I found one program which, according to one systematic review, “demonstrated significant effects on sexually violent behavior” and has long-term results: Safe Dates. [69] The longest follow-up period assessed for the Safe Dates program was 4 years.

    According to the same review, another program, Shifting Boundaries, has a building-level intervention that may be of interest. The effectiveness of Shifting Boundaries was not assessed beyond 6 months. This is better than the results of a lot of other programs which *were* assessed long-term, as the long-term assessments of the other programs showed that they were *not* effective in the long-term. Therefore, Shifting Boundaries may have something worth trying while others are less likely to be useful.

    Please note: these programs were tested on a younger age group than most of the people in EA. I don’t mention them because they are proven to be effective for our age group. I mention them because after going through every page of Google Scholar results for 11 different keyword searches, these are the only programs I found that were supported by research. There’s a chance that these are worth trying to find out whether they work for us.

    Another possibility is to choose a program that gets short-term results and apply it repeatedly, every time the results wear off. To determine whether results can be maintained this way, testing is needed.

  12. Encourage sex offenders to seek help if you can do so safely.

    Most nonincarcerated paraphiliacs in one study said they were motivated to seek treatment by family members, friends, lawyers or healthcare workers. [8] The study doesn’t say what proportion of sex offenders were persuadable. The point is that some of them were persuadable. A significant proportion of the study’s participants were referred this way, so there’s a chance persuasion could work to get sex offenders into treatment. This could be researched further.

    Whether treatment will make a difference for a particular individual isn’t easy to discern, but it’s a serious enough problem that it makes sense for them to *try* treatment to see whether anything works for them. In case believing that treatment doesn’t work for sex offenders is a self-fulfilling prophecy, it might be possible to get better results by taking a less discouraging attitude (while balancing this against the possibility of creating a false sense of security, of course).

    Most of us aren’t qualified to diagnose or treat anyone but we can certainly be part of a more open culture around discussing and promoting the treatment of sexual offending. If people have too little awareness about the treatment options, they might not consider treatment. We can make sure they’ve at least heard about the treatment options.

    If they have privacy concerns, you can urge them to see a lawyer or consider medical tourism. A visit to a lawyer is nowhere near as costly as the damage that sexual offending might cause to their reputations, careers, personal lives, and to their survivors. Some countries have more favorable privacy laws than others, and it may be viable for sex offenders to do medical tourism.

    Obviously, please remember to mind your own safety if you choose to persuade someone to seek treatment for sexual violence. Consider sending a message instead of talking in person. There are still some risks involved in sending messages such as being smeared with rumors if the sex offender is feeling paranoid. An anonymous message with no identifying information would be safer.

    It is also possible for a group to schedule an intervention with the offender to persuade them to get treatment together. This isn’t risk-free, but might offer some increase in security through safety in numbers. On the other hand, a group intervention probably increases the risk of initiating rumors (including retaliatory rumors created by the offender) or starting a kerfuffle.

    Treatments are not something for non-professionals to toy with, but we can certainly talk about possibilities and encourage people with problems to seek professional help.

    Some offenders may have already tried the available treatments without success. Consider persuading such people to switch to earning to give or participating in sexual violence treatment studies instead of working in EA. This could really improve their impact.

  13. Do more research on sexual violence treatment.

    Nothing in this article is medical advice. Please see a professional if you have any health concerns.

    Sex offenders might be treatable, but it’s unclear how effective the options are and sources differ on that. Here’s a brief introduction to the existing treatment research as well as some thoughts about additional areas that could be researched.

    According to “Myths and Misconceptions about Sex Offenders”, “Most therapists who treat sex offenders make a point of telling them early on that their condition is “Incurable” and “it should be noted that for psychological conditions, the belief of the therapist that the condition is curable is one of the most robust predictors of whether the condition will be (Frank, 1974). The assertion of incurability is thus counterproductive for therapists, for offenders in treatment, and for those attempting to develop and safely evaluate better methods of intervention.” [18]

    A large number of reviews and meta-analyses support various treatment methods [71] [72] [73] [74] [75] [76] [77] [78] [79] [80] [81]. According to The Cochrane Group, psychological interventions for sex offenders are unsupported [82]. Cochrane’s view on the state of the research in the area of drug treatment research is that it’s pretty poor, so they couldn’t draw strong conclusions about it [83]. According to other sources, it increases effectiveness to use therapy and drugs in combination. [75]

    Treatments that have been researched:

    1. Cognitive-behavioral therapy [81] [80] [78] [77] [72] [71]

    2. Hormonal medication (examples: progestogens and antiandrogens) [81] [75] [72] [71]

    3. Behaviour modification [81]

    4. The relapse prevention model of therapy [76]

    5. Circles of support and accountability [74]

    6. Treatment programs that adhere to what are known as “risk-need-responsivity principles”. [73]

    7. Antidepressants have been researched for use as a treatment [49], [50]. These do pose a risk of anorgasmia, especially if the dose is too high. Anorgasmia could be counterproductive, as frustration may increase risk. Additionally, mania is a risk and mania can include disinhibition of libido. [56]

    8. Combining SSRI with Methylphenidate SR: “Addition of methylphenidate SR (mean dose = 40 mg/​day; mean ± SD duration = 9.6 ± 8.2 months) was associated with additional statistically significant effects on paraphilia/​PRD-related total sexual outlet (p = .003) and average time per day (p = .04) in addition to improvement of putative residual ADHD and depressive symptoms.” [51]

    My thoughts on areas where more research has a chance to be useful:

    Important: There are professionals who have more insight into this than I do. Definitely do a consultation with multiple experts before spending research money to test treatments.

    Note on testosterone reduction: although reducing testosterone has been shown to drastically reduce offending, this does not mean high testosterone is the cause of sexual offending. More about this is explained in “Myths and Misconceptions about Sex Offenders”.

    1. A large SSRI sexual side effects survey might be a fast way to identify existing drugs for further testing. A description from “Myths and Misconceptions about Sex Offenders” [18]: “the case of a transvestite who had no motivation to lie about the efficacy of treatment. According to this man (and his wife), while taking buspirone (a medication with primary action on serotonergic autoreceptors), he was able to function sexually for the first time in his life with no fetishistic stimuli or fantasies. When he stopped the medication, his dependence on the activity or fantasy of wearing female clothing returned (Fedoroff, 1988). Since then, there have been numerous reports of successful treatment of the full range of paraphilic disorders with a variety of selective serotonergic reuptake inhibiters (SSRIs) (see Greenberg & Bradford, 1997; Fedoroff, 1994).”

      In one study, 56% experienced sexual side-effects on SSRIs, so there could be a plethora of potential treatments among them. [52] Some of the sexual side effects might be useless or risky (like anorgasmia), but some of them might be helpful.

    2. The “NoFap” method or similar, if there is a way to make it through the initial frustration period safely. (Which is a larger risk? A sex offender, or a sexually frustrated sex offender?)

    3. An herbal supplement called Shakuyaku-Kanzo-To might have potential, as it was shown to decrease testosterone. [53] [54] [55] An alternative option might be important for patients who have trouble with anti-androgen side effects.

    4. Testosterone reduction surgery. This could be especially useful if reducing testosterone works for a patient but they can’t tolerate medication side effects. I haven’t checked, but there might be countries where doctors offer various surgical options.

    Researching treatments for sexual offending has a chance to be the most cost effective option on a large scale because after the initial research is done, the sex offenders will pay the costs of diagnosis and treatment themselves. With incarceration, taxpayers must keep paying around $30,000 per year per offender (not including the costs involved in catching them). If 6% of men are rapists as the research shows, and there are around 200 million adults in the U.S., keeping every U.S. sex offender in jail would cost at least 180 billion per year. Over the years, this would keep adding up. Treatment research will definitely cost us less in the long-term, and is probably less costly in the short-term too.

  14. Encourage or host dry events and parties.

    According to a research review, half of all sexual assault perpetrators are under the influence of alcohol at the time of the assault (this ranges from 30% to 75%, depending on the source) [84]. Additionally, researchers have consistently found a positive relationship between sexual assault perpetration and heavy drinking. The review covered three potential explanations for this relationship: one, that alcohol causes sexual violence. Two, that offenders drink “liquid courage” in order to become bold enough to act on aggressive sexual feelings. Three, that there is some other association (for instance: that the personalities of offenders just so happen to make them likely to engage in both alcohol consumption and sexual violence). The review found that alcohol contributes to sexual assault perpetration in multiple, complex ways.

    A different study showed that being released from minimum legal drinking age restrictions was associated with “significant and immediate increases” in sexual assault perpetration among men throughout most of Canada. [85]

    From a study on the effectiveness of alcohol policy changes: “Alcohol policy may represent one promising avenue for the prevention of sexual violence perpetration at the community level, but additional research is needed.” [86]

    In any case, alcohol is not a necessary component of an EA event. Given the possibility that it might decrease risk to attendees, it seems sensible to have dry events and after parties.

  15. If appropriate, consider having the accused work from home.

    If you don’t have enough cause to fire an employee accused of sexual violence, keeping them away from the workplace might be a doable risk reduction strategy. Some people experience working from home as a reward or punishment, and some regions may have laws about this, so it could sometimes be an inappropriate option. If appropriate, getting them out of the office is a way to reduce the probability of sexual violence in the office.

  16. Centralize reports so that survivors can ally with each other.

    Sex offenders can be quite prolific. One offender could generate a lot of reports. If all of these reports go to different authorities, each authority may only perceive a single game of he-said-she-said which cannot be resolved. If all of the reports go to the same authority, their perspective may be different. If survivors approach the same person together, they can encourage an authority to assign a higher level of priority to implementing sexual violence reduction methods.

    I would be happy to introduce survivors of the same offender to each other. Unlike some of the other options, I am under no professional obligations to report any crimes or take any actions. I might share anonymized aggregated information like the total number of people reporting sexual violence, or, in cases where there are a lot of reports against one offender, the name of the offender (but not the survivors). I will not share a survivor’s name without consent of the survivor, (nor the name of the offender unless there are a lot of reports against them).

    To make a report, you can message me through the effective altruism forum or find me on Facebook.

    If you want to report something to me anonymously, you can. Anonymity limits what I can do with your report because it reduces the credibility of the report. If you want to report something anonymously anyway, my anonymous feedback forms are here:

    Plain one-way feedback:
    http://​​​​kathy_forths_anonymous_feedback_formAnonymous two-way conversation form:

    Please be aware that to make a police report, you need to visit the police directly. You can request for me to be your advocate, but I cannot make a police report for you.

  17. Help replace stereotypes about sexual violence situations with real information.

    The National Victim Center and Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center offer this recommendation: “Many widely held stereotypes about rape, who rape victims are and how they respond after the assault are not accurate. The American public, our criminal justice system, and jurors in rape trials should be provided with accurate information about these topics to eliminate misconceptions about rape and its victims.” [5]

    Human psychology can be complicated and surprising. Even in life-threatening situations like car accidents, a significant proportion of people behave in a counter-intuitive way. In “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma”, a book on psychological trauma, the author describes an emotionally detached response that many have to traumatic events called dissociation. [87]

    A few confusing examples to explain why education about this is so important:

    Example 1: A man claims that someone grabbed his bottom from behind. He didn’t yell in surprise or move away. Instead, he remained still. Is he making a false report, or did he freeze in shock?

    Example 2: A woman claims that someone groped her. Her behavior seems really strange. Did the sexual assault trigger some kind of mental health episode for her or does the presence of symptoms mean this is a false report?

    Example 3: You meet someone who claims they were raped. You don’t see any bruises or signs of a struggle. Does this mean they must have consented or that they felt too intimidated to fight back?

    Do sexual violence survivors ever experience denial, try to pretend that everything is fine and carry on business as usual? Do they ever blame themselves even though it isn’t their fault? If they’re not answering questions, could it be because they are too upset to find the words or can’t make themselves actually say such horrible things out loud?

    These are the kinds of questions we need to be asking ourselves if we encounter a sexual violence survivor who responds in a way that’s different from the stereotypes we have.

    Only a mental health professional with relevant experience is qualified to make distinctions about behaviors like these. If someone makes a report and the details don’t match your stereotypes, consider consulting a psychologist who works with sexual violence survivors.

    It is not possible to do this topic justice in this article. This topic deserves an entire long article of it’s own, complete with many references and multiple professional opinions.

    Please consider this section to be a very brief introduction to a complex problem.

  18. Object to pressure to go to private and secluded areas alone or with someone.

    Unfortunately, it is very common for people to be sexually assaulted by someone they know such as an acquaintance, friend, date or lover. Reviews of studies done with college women show that between 10% to 25% of women have been raped by someone they know and that men are targeted in 10% of acquaintance rape cases. [88] [89] [90]

    Not only do sex offenders run free, some of them manage to blend in enough to gain the sort of access necessary for a sexual assault.

    If you notice that two people are required to spend time alone together in places where accountability is low, speak up. For examples: offices with no windows, out-of-the-way meeting rooms, vehicles and elevators. It doesn’t take long to commit a sex offence, depending on what type it is. An elevator ride is easily long enough for a traumatic event to occur in the form of a groping or frotteurism. If people are sometimes required to work alone in secluded areas, this increases risk, too. Encourage management to decrease the risks employees are required to take.

    Never expect anyone to trust someone, even if you do. A sex offender might behave well around a man, but not a woman, or vice versa. They might have unexpected preferences that don’t match you, but do match your friend. Unless you have relevant qualifications, do not expect yourself to be able to tell who is and is not a sex offender by guessing. Even professionals can find this challenging.

    Respect other people’s personal security habits, even if you don’t use the same ones. If someone doesn’t want to take a ride with a person they don’t know well, don’t pressure them. If someone doesn’t want to be alone with you, don’t take it personally.

  19. Join EAs and Rationalists Against Abuse (ERAA) on Facebook.

    There is a group and a page for those tough enough to learn about and oppose abuse within the EA/​rationality social network. Even raising your own awareness makes a difference. Abusers are not always obvious. Many of them try to confuse people into accepting harmful behavior. Some abusers are confused, themselves, while others are just sadistic and have no objection to trying to hide their sadistic nature. The more shrewdness there is in our network, the more acts of abuse will be spotted and the more instances of confusion will be resolved. The more acts of abuse that are spotted, the more effective actions can be taken. Some of the abusers who’ve joined us are educated and strategic. Therefore, the more non-abusive, educated, strategic people we have increasing their shrewdness, the better.

    In emergencies, call an emergency number like 911.

    This group is NOT for organizing vigilante actions. It is ONLY for organizing effective actions that are also legal.

    The page is public. The group is secret to protect the names of the members. To request access, contact me on Facebook.


The amount of impact it’s possible to have through in-network sexual violence reduction is high and could be extremely high. In the realm of human rights, sexual violence reduction has the potential to reduce suffering, decrease inequality for homosexuals, bisexuals and women, and save lives (because some survivors kill themselves). In the realm of productivity, up to 80,000 hours of work can be saved for every 208 people protected from rape due to the related suicide risk (for the low estimate). For the high estimate, up to 80,000 hours of work, at a level equal to a highly productive superstar worker (top 1%), might be saved by stopping just one sex offender according to a working paper from Harvard.

There is no effective altruism organization which specializes in sexual violence reduction and the problem is too complex and unintuitive to assume that people will be effective by default. Additionally, there are places in the effective altruism network where there are signs that awareness needs to be increased.

There are a lot of options that have a chance to succeed. The impact could be many times greater than the effort it takes to use the options explored herein. Testing is needed to determine the effectiveness of the options. Given the human rights concerns and the potential for a large productivity impact, testing options could turn out to be very worthwhile.

Evaluate Sexual Violence Risk Reduction Options


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32.) Not safe for work:

33.) Not safe for work:

34.) Not safe for work:

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