Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

Moments ago, I was happily clicking away on Facebook when all of a sudden this popped up in my feed.

Screenshot from 2014-06-09 15:40:13

My happiness was immediately replaced with anger. The last thing I expected to see on my Facebook was the image of young women being hanged. The image instantly caught my attention so I read the text.

Every 22 minutes, a woman is raped in India.

What the fuck, I thought. My anger was quickly replaced with a feeling of outrage. What a place India must be.

In a matter of seconds I had gone from being blind, to all of a sudden having my eyes opened to the true horrors of India. Obviously I clicked the link to see what I could do.

I read the first paragraph, my mouth beginning to foam with rage.

I need your help. Two young girls were hanged from a tree after being gang raped in the fields outside their home in India and a minister from the ruling party just responded by saying that rape “is a social crime … sometimes it’s right, sometimes it’s wrong.”

How could we live in a world where such gross injustices happen? Something needs to be done!

Thankfully, beside the writing was the perfect solution. A petition. I signed it feeling instantly gratified that I’d done something to prevent such horrible things from happening again. I then decided to share the link with all my Facebook friends so that we could all sign the petition together and truly help Indian women to escape from the torment of their society.

I closed the link knowing that everything would be all right in the world. I was getting hungry so I made a sandwich. Then I watched an old episode of Friends on TV. By the end of the episode I’d forgotten those Indian women even existed. But we all lived happily ever after anyway. The end.

Wait. No. Shit. That’s not what happened.

Ok, I saw the photo. Anger. Read the quote.

Every 22 minutes, a woman is raped in India.

Outrage. Clicked the link. Felt my rage building. I was almost over the edge, I was just about to enter my details into the petition’s text box when I had to stop for a moment. Went back to that quote one more time.

Every 22 minutes, a woman is raped in India.

That sounds horrible, doesn’t it? Like…you could almost say that at any one moment in India at least one woman is about to be raped, is physically being raped or has just been raped. That thought disgusts me, which is good, I wouldn’t sign a petition unless I felt strongly about it.

I’m inquisitive though. I just really love to do some maths. I wondered to myself, how many women are raped a day?

Let’s say three women an hour. Twenty-four hours in a day. Holy shit. That’s 72 women in the whole of India raped every day. Seventy-two! Fuck. Let’s sign that petition. Actually, no wait, that’s not enoough. How many women per year. Just for curiosities sake. 72 multiplied by 365 days. 26,000! Fucking hell. To put it into perspective that’s almost a whole stadium of women raped every single year in India. That’s disgusting, there’s no doubting that. That statistic is a fact and it’s a horrible one. Still, now that I’m buried in statistics I must continue.

I wonder, how many women are raped in America each year? Let me just check. Lalala.

The answer is almost 85,000. Hmmm. I’m getting confused. That’s more than India. A lot more. Actually, let’s go backwards. That’s 232 rapes every single day in America! That’s almost 10 rapes an hour. That’s a rape every 6 minutes! Chances are somebody in America, somewhere is being raped right now.

Then why is nobody saying anything about it? Where’s the petition to save American women from rape? America clearly has problems too, so why aren’t thousands of Westerners signing and sharing petitions about it? Here’s my theory – India is a developing, far away country and really it has no effect on us or our lives. Secretly, deep down inside we don’t give a shit about India. But when we’re suddenly confronted with this fact – say when we read a website detailing the horrors of India – we have to do something to prove to ourselves we do actually care.  So we sign a petition and that’s enough to make us feel like we’re doing something and that we really do care, honest!

America is too close to home though – heck, for some of us it is home. But if somebody brought the fact up to us that rape in America is just as bad, if not worse than a developing country most of us would just put our fingers in our ears and go, “Lalalala!” Not literally, of course, but we’d just shrug the information off and ignore it. Otherwise those same good morals might force us to take real action, heaven forbid we might actually have to do something!  Who the heck wants to take real action when there’s old episodes of Friends to watch on TV?

Still,I feel like doing more math. Let’s find out the percentage of women raped in each country per year.

Rapes per year divided by population of women

America – (85,000 / 161 million) x 100 = 0.052%

India – (26,000 / 600 million) x 100  = 0.0043%

So every year in America 0.052% of women are raped, where as in India it’s 0.0043%. Each percentage is pretty minuscule. So minuscule in fact that it’s hard to even care.  Once you turn all those women into numbers they cease to be women anymore. They have no names, no faces. They’re just a percentage.

We’re learning something here. If you want to use statistics to argue, don’t use a percentage. It’s too abstract. Not like

Every 22 minutes, a woman is raped in India.

which is so lovely and graphic. Who is this “woman” who is being raped? You can almost picture her in your mind, almost feel her pain.

But how much can we really trust these statistics? Nobody knows how many women actually get raped in a country, these statistics are simply reported rapes. In other words, a million women could get raped in India each year, but there’s a possibility that only a small percentage of them are reported due to the systematic oppression of women in the country. Or (much less likely) less women could be raped each year because some of the reports may be false. So really we should take all statistics with a grain of salt.

The statistics aren’t used to inform or quantify the problem, but rather to create outrage. It’s so easy for us all to feel annoyed by the plight of women in India because quite frankly the majority of us know nothing about the place. We can easily imagine it to be some dusty hell.

America on the other hand, we’ve been there, we know it’s much like any other place, so it’s harder for us to believe it may also have a rape problem. Harder to create outrage.

With so little information about India at our disposal we have to base all our opinions on a sentence such as.

Every 22 minutes, a woman is raped in India.

It’s a trueish statement, but it’s sly because it’s used to create a world in our head based on our lack of knowledge and prejudices. We instantly believe India is a place much worse than it actually is.

Obviously, my issue here isn’t even connected to rape, but rather the use of statistics to influence our emotions as well as the instant gratification people get from what they believe to be charity.

I believe rape is completely wrong and if somebody gave me a button to end rape in India, I would push it. That button doesn’t exist though, yet I believe people online think of petitions (and other forms of Internet activism) in much the same way. They think you push the button and then the problem is solved.

At the time of writing 415,000 people have signed the petition and I’m sure it will easily reach the goal of 1 million. But what will have been achieved other than making thousands of non-Indians feel gratified by putting their name in a box.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. This fucking guy right here, this smug self-righteous asshole thinks he’s better than us, but what does he do? Does he selflessly give blood to help AIDS sufferers? Does he donate half his earnings to orphans? Does he spend 10 hours a week helping the homeless?

No, I don’t do any of those things. I’m just as crappy as the rest of you. The difference is I know I’m crappy and have learnt to live with it. The question is: what’s your excuse? Oh, you shared a link on Facebook, I see, I guess you are a better person than I am after all. Good for you.

I’ll make sure to give you a wave while I’m in Hell and you’re in Heaven.

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11 thoughts on “Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics”

  1. Love this. I have used the “statistics are flawed and can be twisted in favor of either side” argument SO many times, but no one takes it to heart. I’m going to share this, so maybe people will truly understand now.

    1. Exactly, it’s so easy to twist a statistic to be used for and against an argument. Plus so few people actually think about the statistics they read. Often they don’t make logical sense once you look at them.

  2. call me cynical but I feel like every post of this type is created by or at least exaggerated by somebody some company to generate shock and achieve maximum amount of views worldwide which inturn will generate money by advertising space. it’s like this that are a photo of a baby in an incubator and the title is something like “hate cancer? like if you want this baby to recover from it’s dying condition” or they sometimes add for effect a heart rendering back story, just to really make you guilt like the page.

    1. Not sure I agree that it’s happened in this case, but there’s obviously companies out there using outrage to sell stuff or using controversy to twist your arm. It’s pretty much the way charities make money with their really depressing TV ads. On the subject of sharing and likes though, I’ve also seen a few people sharing this on Facebook.

      At first it seems quite sweet. Then you realise that it’s actually a BNP photo people are sharing. So people are unwittingly advertising for them.

  3. Social and world change will never happen while sitting down.

    Your outrage is the same thing I feel when people start circulating posts about what’s wrong with America’s educational system. Everyone comments about terrible experiences in school and it turns into a huge hate fest. And yet, I can’t get parents to come in for a parent-teacher conference or to sit down and help their student with their homework.

    Everyone likes to say or ‘post’ these things, but few have the guts or desire to do anything.

    Great post, thanks for sharing your feelings, you’re not alone on that one.

    1. People are lazy. But also, I can’t blame anybody for being that way. A lot of people have to work 40 hours a week just to stay afloat. Few people have energy after working so much to place more energy into charity. Plus I think there’s the idea in the mind that “Why should I be charitable and also work 40 hours.” It’s bitterness, why should people give their own time to help society, when society forces them to work work work?

      I’m sure even before the internet there were ways for people to feel like they’d already done something charitable when they’d done nothing.

  4. Having proved it is a universal crime, the only solution will be to have a campaign for the world’s male population to be castrated forthwith. End of problem..That would do a great deal to improve global warming, overpopulation, and housing, too.

  5. this….. Oh my gosh, ridiculously. good. I love this post. And I 100% agree with you. Honestly with the ‘a women raped every six minutes in America’ bit that everyone looks over or ignores because it hits to close to home, it mind numbingly true sadly. No one wants to believe that their own country does such vile deeds, but the reality of it is, every country has some statistics, number, toll of women raped per minute, month, year…

    and who knows? maybe there is a petition going around in Indian that ‘helps stop American women from being raped’.

    1. Exactly! It’s easier to do very little about problems in other countries because they bear no consequence to our own lives. However if we’re challenged with something wrong in our own country it’s harder to ignore the problem. Maybe that’s why we’re so interested in everywhere else, it’s like a form of denial in a way.

      (Also, I’d just like to note that I’m not saying India is an amazing crime free place, but just the way of tackling the issue is dishonest.)

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