Whether you effective altruists decide to track and solve this issue or discover the consequences of ignoring it is up to you. Choose wisely.
The main reason I’m not looking for a full-time EA job right now is because I don’t have enough runway and financial security. I estimate that it will take around 2 years to accomplish the amount of financial security and runway I need. If you accomplish building a safety net, this might result in a surge of people going into EA jobs. I’m not sure how many people are building up runway right now, or how many hours of EA work you can grab by liberating them from that, but it could be a lot!
For this group to make an effective social safety net for EAs having a bad time, more is needed than just money. When a real problem actually does arise, people tend to spam that person with uninformed suggestions which won’t work. They’re trying to help, but due to the “what you see is all there is” bias and others, they can’t see that they are uninformed and spamming. The result is that the problem doesn’t seem real to anyone.
So, the person who has a problem, who may not have any time or emotional energy or even intellectual capacity left over, must explain why dozens of spitball suggestions won’t work.
How spitballing can totally sabotage people in need of help:
Imagine that to obtain help, you have to patiently and rigorously evaluate dozens of ill-conceived suggestions, support your points, meet standards of evidence, seem to have a positive attitude about each suggestion, and try not to be too frustrated with the process and your life.
The task of convincing people your problem is real while a bunch of friends are accidentally spamming you with clever but uninformed suggestions might be the persuasive challenge of a lifetime. If any of the ill-conceived options still seem potentially workable to your friends, you will not be helped. To succeed at this challenge, you have to make sure that every spitball you receive from friends is thoroughly addressed to their satisfaction.
A person with a real problem will be doing this challenge when they’re stressed out, time poor and emotionally drained. They are at their worst.
A person at their worst shouldn’t need to take on the largest persuasive challenge of their lives at that time. To assume that they can do this is about as helpful as “Let them eat cake.”.
There’s an additional risk that people will sour on helping you if they see that lots of solution ideas are being rejected. This is despite the fact that the same friends will tell you “most ideas will fail” in other circumstances. They know that ideas are often useless, but instead of realizing that the specific set of ideas in question are uninformed or not helpful, some people will jump to the conclusion that the problem is your attitude.
Just the act of evaluating a bunch of uninformed spitball suggestions can get you rejected!
Making a distinction between a problem that is too hard for the person to solve, and a person who has a bad attitude about solving their problem is a challenge. It’s hard for both sides to communicate well enough to figure this out. Often a huge amount of information has to be exchanged.
The default assumption seems to be that a person with a problem should talk to a bunch of friends about it to see if anyone has ideas. If you count up the number of hours it actually takes to discuss dozens of suggestions in detail multiplied by dozens of people, it’s not pretty. For many people who are already burdened by a serious problem, that sort of time investment just is not viable. In some cases the entire problem is insufficient time, so it can be unfair to demand for them to do this.
In the event that potential helpers are not convinced the problem is real, or aren’t convinced to take the actions that would actually work, the person in need of help could easily waste 100 hours or more with nothing to show for it. This will cause them to pass up other opportunities and possibly make their situation far worse due to things like opportunity costs and burnout.
Solution: well-informed advocates.
For this reason, people who are experiencing a problem need an advocate. The advocate can take on the burden of evaluating solution ideas and advocating in favor of a particular solution.
Given that it often requires a huge amount of information to predict which solution ideas will work and which solution ideas will fail, it is probably the case that an advocate needs to be well-informed about the type of problem involved, or at least knows what it is like to go through some sort of difficult time due to past experience.
What I was envisioning was a whole section within the survey where multiple questions about sexual violence are asked. For whatever reason, I described this using the word “separate”. That’s not actually what I was trying to suggest. I agree that if the questions are separated, there will probably be some bias.
If we use a definition that is vague, a lot of people will ignore the survey results. They’ll assume that a lot of what was reported is stuff they wouldn’t agree is a sexual assault. Therefore, specific definitions are needed. Ideally, I would like to see a set of specific definitions that a lot of people agree are sexual assault, and that cover a broad range of types.
To make sure the questions are relevant to the goals, I think there should be questions about things like whether the sexual harassment resulted in psychological harm, suicidal behavior, or intentions to leave the workplace or movement. I’d also like to see questions about whether sexual assaults are happening at work, EA events, etc. Depending on how well anonymized the survey is, we may or may not get answers to these sorts of questions.
Without knowing the limit to the number of questions we can add, there’s no point in discussing what should be asked. We would just waste time optimizing for the wrong trade off between detail and brevity. Also, it would be good to get some perspectives from people who do research in related areas. I’m going to hold off on investing time into planning until I have had a collaboration with the survey team.
Some people have blue eyes and other people have brown eyes. A lot of mind-related traits vary from intelligence to personality to capacity to pay attention. Not everybody even has two chromosomes (see XXY).
If not everyone experiences sexual trauma, let’s not jump to the conclusion that it’s due to culture. There are a multitude of possible reasons. For just one example: they might have different genes.
I definitely have the capacity to experience trauma, and I’m pretty sure that’s genetic, so it’s not fair to me for people to expect me not to experience it. In fact, I think it would be more traumatic for me to experience my natural instinct for trauma and then be told I shouldn’t experience trauma. Telling me I should have experienced less trauma would hurt me too.
If someone doesn’t experience trauma, don’t assume it’s genes, either. It might not be genes or culture. To assume it must be one of these is a false dichotomy. There could be dozens of different possible reasons why that might happen, and we just don’t know.
Point: just because some people didn’t experience trauma when they could have does not mean we should expect for everyone else to stop experiencing trauma. First of all, we don’t even know why some people don’t experience it. This is totally unfair to the victim because victims do not actually know how to stop experiencing trauma.
Second of all, expecting people to reduce their experience of trauma puts the responsibility onto the victim. Sex offenders might be confused by this sort of thinking. They might tell themselves “the victim shouldn’t feel trauma” and then feel good about going off to commit a whole bunch of sex offences, blaming the victims for all the negative consequences. This is how sex offenders think. They create justifications to commit crimes. These are called cognitive distortions.
By arguing in favor of an attitude that can be used as a justification to commit sex offences, you are making us all less safe.
No, I do not paint a picture of criminal men and female survivors. Direct quotes:
“Sexual violence harms the health of both men   and women.”
“Additional risk factors—rape myths that apply to male rape:”
“While looking for the number of female rapists, I found a meta-analysis on female sex offenders.”
This isn’t even in the article at all:
“along with high rates of trauma at 90%+ for female survivors.”
I haven’t even read the rest of your comment because your claims are blatantly, verifiably false.
I know about the replication crisis, I’ve read “Statistics Done Wrong” and I’ve read some Ioannidis. Perhaps I was too subtle, my way of addressing these concerns was to load up on as many review articles and meta-analyses as I could find, in all the areas where there was enough research for me to do so. In other areas, I looked for as many studies as I could find and included them all.
This is not perfect either. Ioannidis has warned about some specific vulnerabilities in meta-analyses and review articles. There isn’t something perfect for me to do. I could have chosen to do nothing because the research is flawed. I decided that the subject is too important to ignore and I made the best of it.
A social sciences research disclaimer has been added. I thought that research quality issues were common knowledge in this social network. Maybe it is. Maybe that’s mind projection fallacy. Now they have note about research quality.
Yeah. There are a lot of different people using a lot of different definitions of sex offender. There are definitions like the undetected rapist study I linked which sticks to such obvious and stereotypical behaviors that it leaves out at least half of the ways one can do obvious bad things (Example: why didn’t they ask about spiking drinks?). Then there are people who advocate asking for explicit consent for everything every time, starting with kissing. In practice, most of the people in my experience use things like context and body language to communicate about kissing rather than verbal consent. I have no idea how to resolve this mess of definitions. I guess people need to tell each other what consent philosophy they want to use in addition to stuff like sexual orientation. Maybe we need a norm of advertising our consent philosophy in prominent places the same way we do with gender, marital status and orientation.
Then, there’s the fact that most guys are not hit on by other guys, and have not seen what the range of behavior looks like. A lot of them are surprised that it’s very common for me to be asked things like whether I want to make out, whether I want to go home with him. I am coy rather than fast (referring to the distinctions Dawkins makes), so I can’t really understand this but it doesn’t bother me. I tend to assume those men are seeking fast women rather than relationships. Otherwise, I have no judgment. However, if some guy comes up and tells me to smile, my radar beeps and I want to recoil. Why? Because every guy who has ever said that to me has harassed the heck out of me afterward. I’ve been conditioned to hate it.
Plus, there’s this weird variety in pickup lit which includes everything from perfectly healthy self-confidence tips to explicit instructions to commit sex offences.
A lot of guys I know don’t have any idea what’s normal. Some of them are terrified of trying at all or have given up. It’s very sad.
I’m not fully aware of the male experience of this bizarre minefield of information. I might see only the tip of the ice berg. I can tell that it is a very confusing thing.
I really want to do something about this. I would benefit if all the men in my social network had a solid understanding of healthy boundaries. I think they would feel a lot less lost if they had that, too.
What are your thoughts on what needs to happen?
I don’t think we can have an accurate idea of how much sexual assault is happening in EA without a separate high-quality survey. This is because there are so many definitions of sexual violence which contradict one another, that to ensure an accurate picture of what’s going on, we’d have to wrangle with definitions for a long time—and we’d end up asking a set of questions, not just one question.
I’d love to see a yearly undetected sex offender survey given to both men and women regarding how much sexual violence they committed against EAs in the last year, and a yearly sexual violence survey given to both men and women to ask how much sexual violence they received from EAs in the last year. If they added this to the yearly survey that would be awesome!
Then we’d have a way to track progress, and that’s important. The survey would have to be designed very carefully from the beginning though.
The reason I want to write a separate article about the number of sex offenders in EA is because it appears quite controversial. If we can get closer to having a consensus on sexual violence related matters, I think this will make us more effective at reducing it. The purpose of the article is not to create a more accurate number. I’m not even sure that’s possible. The purpose of the article is to address the controversy, explore the complexities, and encourage people to compensate for the various biases that may be interfering.
Edit: I’ve set up a collaboration with the yearly EA survey team!
On punishment and stigma: I think it would be better for everyone if we found a cure for sexual violence and persuaded all the offenders to use it. That said, I have no idea what the rest of the world will choose to do. I suggested two options which can scale globally, sting operations and researching a cure. I cannot leave out an option if it might succeed because that would be a failure of honesty, and because I think using either option is much better than letting them run amok.
I did note that finding a cure for sex offenders is probably more cost effective because most of the cost will be paid by the sex offenders themselves when they pay for their prescription and because I think it will scale better. Also, a cure can prevent offences from happening in the first place if people use it early on. Justice can only happen after harm has been done. A prevention method would get at more of the problem for this reason, and therefore has a chance to be more effective.
I think a cure is both more fair to the taxpayers who didn’t cause this problem and shouldn’t have to pay to fix it, and more fair toward offenders and non-offending paraphilia sufferers who did not choose to have their paraphilias—especially if they would choose to be cured if a cure were available.
I definitely relate to the desire for justice. I suspect that it reduces psychological trauma if justice is swift—like in that study about self defence which shows people experienced less trauma if they fought back, even if they didn’t win. I have occasionally had an opportunity to tell off an offender immediately after an offence, and that does seem to reduce the harm to me.
I don’t know if justice improves the survivor’s health days or weeks or years after the fact, but I suspect justice does help if it’s swift enough.
I think the desire for justice is healthy, though it can easily become twisted and go wayward. There are countless examples of a desire for justice going horribly wrong throughout history like the Salem witch hunts and the Spanish Inquisition. I try to avoid the sort of careless thinking which seems to be behind this sort of twisted behavior.
If people choose to use the justice approach, I don’t really know where people should draw the line, honestly, and this is because the whole mess is so complicated. Here are a few things I am sure of, in case sharing my perspective may be useful in some way:
If we have a credible reason to believe an offender has reformed and the risk they pose is average, there is no reason to insist that they accept a criminal label like “rapist”. There is no reason to pursue somebody who is of average risk when there are high risk people running amok. If they did the hard work to change, and to provide credible evidence that they are actually low risk, I would give them the basic acceptance they are seeking. (For instance: I would treat them like a human being when I see them around, though I’d be unlikely to invite them to my next sleep over.) That said, it is super hard for people to believe someone has reformed. I’m not sure if there is any type of evidence that is of high enough quality that it can be used for this purpose. Each individual person will make their own decisions about whether to trust someone who claims to have reformed, and some people will have much higher standards of evidence than others. At best, acceptance after reformation would be imperfect and it might be highly controversial.
If someone has not reformed, and we have every reason to believe they pose a risk, then we aught to take precautions, whether or not they were punished. This is sad, but punishment doesn’t actually cure sex offenders. Please check their recidivism rate. I know some people want to believe in “paying a debt to society” or “doing your time” but this is different from lowering risk. If someone raped someone, and they did nothing to reform, I don’t want them around me, and I think this is perfectly reasonable. Other people may have done some stuff to the rapist, and other people may have beliefs about repaying debts, but if other people did not cure the rapist, the rapist still poses a risk. I will protect myself, period.
On “minor” sex offences vs. rape: even if the 900 acts per frottage figure is wrong, I suspect that acts like groping and frotteurism are far more common than rape. Because frottage offences are so much easier to commit, I believe that frottage offences are likely to be several times as common as rape. I would even go so far as to bet that we can agree on this point.
I didn’t find any information on whether frottage causes psychological trauma. My own observations tell me that frottage offences do cause psychological trauma, but it’s usually less intense.
So, if we were to compare the average rapist with the average groper, we might find that psychological trauma caused by the groper adds up. This might compare with the amount of trauma caused by a rapist. It might even exceed that amount. Maybe it does not even come close. I have no good way to tell since I did not find any studies on the amount of trauma caused by frottage offences.
Another important thing to note is that each time someone experiences psychological trauma, their sensitivity to future trauma increases. (I suspect I learned this from “The Body Remembers” but I’m not sure.)
So, it might be that if someone is groped ten times, by the tenth time, the experience is as bad as a rape. Maybe it would take a hundred times to get to that point. Maybe three. If I had to shoot from the hip, I’d give it a Fermi estimate between 10-100 times, but I really am not sure. Maybe sensitivity would never increase so much that one frottage offence would be as traumatic as a rape.
Also, and this is really important: the amount of trauma caused by a frottage offence varies greatly depending on context.
For a comparison: I was targeted by an acquaintance in a coat closet at a night club, by a co-worker on a job, and by a popular person at a party. I never had to see the guy from the night club again, so I just avoided the night club and felt fine. The co-worker caused me more problems. I became concerned about things happening to me in workplaces. That was context.
The popular person was far worse than either of those. I was sleep deprived due to jet lag, which a friend and I estimated amplified the trauma by about 3x. Also, this person is higher status than I am and tried smearing me. That situation was several times as traumatic as any of my previous experiences. I still have nightmares about this person sometimes.
Say you have a high status frottage offender, who is very prolific, who targets people who have just flown in and have jet lag, and who likes smearing his victims afterward. I think that a particularly destructive frottage offender of this description could easily do as much damage as a rapist.
Given my level of uncertainty about the psychological effects of frottage, and given the likelihood that frottage is far more common than rape, I am concerned about it. Therefore it was included. Perhaps I need to do a better job of explaining to everyone why I am so concerned about frottage offenders.
I plan to write a new post about estimating the number of sexually violent people in EA. I have a large number of specific concerns about biasing our estimate. For instance, a lot of people commented or messaged me saying that the estimate was too high, but they didn’t incorporate any of the information which would actually increase the estimate. They only included information that would decrease the estimate. There are a lot of other ways we could go wrong with adjusting this estimate. That’s part of why my estimate is so simple. If I adjust it at all, I could easily be introducing biases.
I will invite the whole EA community to provide specific references that are related. I don’t know that this would decrease the chance of bias. It might increase the chance of bias. However, with such a post, one will at least see how complicated it is, think about whether one’s perspective is biased, and hopefully start compensating for whatever biases are present.
The per year incidence is a totally different type of number from the numbers I used. The numbers I used cover a much longer time span. Comparing 276,000 annual cases to the number 36,53,846 is comparing apples to oranges.
It is not clear that your intent was to disagree with me. If you are throwing in an additional reference, I can’t incorporate that because the other research I referred to wasn’t using annual figures.
I suppose it’s interesting as something to check against. For an outrageously crude way to do that, you can multiply 276,000 by 80, the number of years in the average female lifespan (for one country) and compare a hacked together lifetime rate to my hacked together 36,53,846.
An outrageously crude estimate of life saving potential:
7,600,000,000 (world population)
3,800,000,000 (females, approximately half, because the suicide figure I have is for females)
760,000,000 (females raped, based on figures from just one country because I don’t have all ~200 figures)
36,53,846 (suicide deaths related to rape, phrased in past tense because the research isn’t about the future)
6,211,538,200 (cost of saving 36,53,846 people through deworming)
Point: If 6.2 billion dollars is enough to find a cure for rapists, and rapists pay for their own prescriptions so that nobody has to use charity money for their treatment, then funding research for a cure for rapists would have as much life-saving potential as deworming. Of course, I have no idea how much research funding is needed to cure rapists and it would take a lot of time to investigate that. This is why my global scope section says more research is needed. So basically all you have to do to see why I’m curious about this is to think about it on the right level of scale.
The rest of your comment contains so many egregious straw men of what I actually wrote that I have decided not to address it. There might be some valid concerns in there, but I don’t have the time to tease them apart from the straw men.
What is true is already so.
Owning up to it doesn't make it worse.
Not being open about it doesn't make it go away.
And because it's true, it is what is there to be interacted with.
Anything untrue isn't there to be lived.
People can stand what is true,
for they are already enduring it.
There are many statements people make to other people that are similarly discouraging / humiliating / upsetting. Verbal abuse is certainly bad for people, but people’s reaction to sexual abuse is very different. Making statements like the one you described does not cause the sort of sudden, deep, intense, devastating psychological trauma you see with rape. You’re comparing an apple to an orange here.
Additionally, hearing one’s dad say a rapist stole your innocence is bad, but it’s not going to account for most of the upset. Not nearly. It seems that you are vastly underestimating the intensity of psychological trauma that comes with rape.
Attributing a sexual trauma to a verbal statement is like blaming a snowflake for an ice berg. The ice berg was not caused by the snowflake. The snowflake is too small.
It seems like you’d really like to understand trauma better. There are good authors on this topic. Instead of chatting with me, it would be far higher value for you to read this book:
Part of the reason I combined various types of sexual violence together is that there wasn’t enough research on all the different types for me to explore as broadly as I would have liked. Unfortunately, that’s an element that I cannot change even though I want to write more deeply on different types of sexual violence. I just did my best with the information that was available.
I have begun to wonder what proportion of sexism against women is coming from sexually violent men. Sexism is a risk factor for sexual violence. Hostility toward women is common among sex offenders. Some people who are excited by being sexually aggressive are also excited by being verbally aggressive.
I would not be the least bit surprised if getting rid of sexual violence also gets rid of a huge root cause of sexism.