The internet increases sex crime. Who’da thunk?

Broadband Internet: An Information Superhighway to Sex Crime?
Date: 2011-04
By: Bhuller, Manudeep (Statistics Norway)
Havnes, Tarjei (University of Oslo)
Leuven, Edwin (CREST (ENSAE))
Mogstad, Magne (Statistics Norway)
Does internet use trigger sex crime? We use unique Norwegian data on crime and internet adoption to shed light on this question. A public program with limited funding rolled out broadband access points in 2000-2008, and provides plausibly exogenous variation in internet use. Our instrumental variables and fixed effect estimates show that internet use is associated with a substantial increase in reported incidences of rape and other sex crimes. We present a theoretical framework that highlights three mechanisms for how internet use may affect reported sex crime, namely a reporting effect, a matching effect on potential offenders and victims, and a direct effect on crime propensity. Our results indicate that the direct effect is non-negligible and positive, plausibly as a result of increased consumption of pornography.

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17 Responses to The internet increases sex crime. Who’da thunk?

  1. Ken Parish says:

    But there’s US research suggesting almost exactly the opposite e.g. D’Amato; Kendall. The paper you cite mentions Kendall in several footnotes and discusses possible reasons for the contrasting results at page 22. I don’t think it’s a “who’da thunk” issue at all. Some porn viewers may get satiated from viewing porn and masturbating, whereas others may get ideas that they’re impelled to put into practice irrespective of the presence of a consenting partner. It’s not obvious in the absence of evidence which group is likely to predominate in a given population.

  2. fxh says:

    I’d be willing to bet that there are more pictures of stupid cats, goofey dogs and ugly babies on the net than porn.

  3. Jacques Chester says:


    I remembered hearing the same thing — that there might be a substitution effect (I believe the same argument has been made for violent video games).

    As you point out the net effect is interesting, but I suspect we’ll never get a clean reading because of the deep politicisation of this area. Particularly amongst the god-bothering set. They see boobs as an affront to God or something.

    Naturally to remain a libertard in good standing I need to point out that I feel it’s a right to obtain and consume pornography.

  4. wilful says:

    Yeah I’m also really unwilling to go “well duh”. Not to reject this one study outright, but in my mind at least there’s a whole stack of different things that need to be unpacked, this isn’t a “well who’da thunk it” moment at all.

  5. Nicholas Gruen says:

    For clarification, I didn’t see myself adding any editorial overtones by adding ‘Who’da thunk?’ to the heading.

  6. wilful says:

    Ken and I did.

  7. john walker says:

    Just a though – a lot of ‘crime'( probably much ) involves impulsive short term acts , ‘ Idint think, i just grabbed it’ , rather than carefully plotted acts. Could be that it is measuring a side effect of reduced attention spans , poor focus and so on caused by interminable exposure to the generic ‘web’ ?

    PS the increase in, fairly widespread, Ice use provably also corresponds pretty well to the increase in web use, did they rule it (Ice) out as a cause of increased rates crimes of violence?

  8. john walker says:

    The commercially/practicable photo dates to about 1850, ‘porn’ was one of the early adapters there are quite a few ‘filthy daguerreotypes’, something that is No mean feat given the exposure times , with the advent of easier and quicker technologies in the 1870-80s it really took of. Much the same story with home video players in the 70s-80s. Porn is a pretty good indicator of technologies of image making and distribution that are taking off in a big way.

    Humans are famously over sexed. Because porn has been so much a widespread part of culture, for so long (and ‘porn’ is so hard to define) porn is a bit like ‘toothpaste’- found in so many human locations that false positive results are very likely.

  9. desipis says:

    I read through the paper a bit yesterday. The thing that struck me was they considered how the internet might impact the rate at which people interact, but as far as I could see ignored any impact on how people interact. I’m constantly coming across stories of how one person met up with another after meeting online, only to have the experience go badly (fraud, adultery, etc). Surely the way the internet makes it easier to be deceptive while becoming familiar with people who are otherwise strangers is going to increase the misplaced trust that can lead to people being vulnerable to sexual assaults.

  10. john walker says:

    The web is a sort of giant Turing test, no?

    Mind you as Galbraith once famously observed there are no new forms of fraud just new names.

    Last year SMH reported the story of a researcher reading a 1900 SMH and coming across a report of a Gentleman in Armidale who had received a letter from a unknown spanish stranger , a “spanish princes”; She was in a spot of bother and was asking him to help her get a lot of money out of Spain .

  11. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Adultery? I thought you said it went badly?

  12. john walker says:

    wash your mouth out.

  13. Ken Parish says:

    Presumably Nicholas’s better half is not a Troppo reader, or knows when he is writing tongue in cheek.

    More seriously (and taking a throwaway line much more seriously than Nicholas intended), long-term Troppo readers will know that I went through a divorce some years ago. More aspects of it than I care to remember were documented on this blog (fortunately some have subsequently disappeared through various changes of Troppo’s hosting arrangements over the years). Rehashing all that is something I have no intention of doing for a range of reasons. However I can appropriately record that I was guilty of marital infidelity before the marriage breakup. Although that wasn’t the reason for the breakup (which was at my instance and essentially acknowledged an existing sadly doomed state of affairs), I still deeply regret the infidelity. In fact it’s probably the one big regret of my life. I confided the situation to my sister well before the marriage breakup, and her reaction was one of classic commonsense that I should have accepted and implemented instantly at the time. She said words to the effect that basic decency and honesty required that, whatever the individual factors, you should always act openly and decisively to end one marital relationship cleanly before starting another*. I had lots of rationalisations at the time as to why that wasn’t advisable and would cause more pain than otherwise, but at the end of the day my sister was right. For all the people who argue that humans are not by nature monogamous, at least in our culture honour and decency dictate that adultery (though unquestionably very common) is just plain wrong and always causes unnecessary and morally unacceptable pain.

    *I should stress that I’m not talking about Jen here. I didn’t even meet Jen until after the marriage breakup.

  14. Jacques Chester says:

    I’m constantly coming across stories of how one person met up with another after meeting online, only to have the experience go badly (fraud, adultery, etc).

    News is never about the ordinary case, it’s always about the unpleasant outliers. According to the news everyone gets assaulted, raped and murdered every day.

  15. Jacques Chester says:

    By definition, if it’s the ordinary case, it isn’t “News”.

  16. desipis says:

    Being rare isn’t the only way for something to be “news”. A recent phenomenon (at least from media/public perspective) can also be “news” even if its now somewhat common in the present day.

  17. john walker says:

    “even if its now somewhat common ‘ are you thinking of celebrity?

    I immediately thought of the likes of Paris Hilton- Being pretty ordinary and not much any good at anything, is no bar to endless media interest.

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