This Rapist is the Statistical Outlier

WSB gives us the sort of story that glues eyeballs to the local news, and is the sort of thing most people think about when they consider urban crime:

[East Point, a slowly gentrifying inner-ring suburb] Police are following several leads since they released a composite sketch of a man they believe is kidnapping women at gunpoint, forcing them to drive to ATMs and then sexually assaulting them.

Police think the same man who attacked a teacher last Friday kidnapped, robbed and raped two women Wednesday morning.

Police have released a composite sketch and a flier hoping the images on them will encourage someone in the community to come forward with information.


There’s more detail in the links, but this is the sort of story most of us are at least broadly familiar with, a staple of TV cop shows: woman leaves work feeling confident, hears/sees something suspicious, gets nervous, turns out to be something obviously harmless, laughs it off. Then all of a sudden she’s grabbed by a gun-wielding maniac on a dark city street, and ends up thinking rape and robbery could have been worse. 

We all know how this will end. Someone like this can’t help but get caught, especially since the brutality and perceived typicality of the crime will generate a lot of media and police attention. And to be fair, it’s a brutal crime—but what it isn’t is a typical one. This guy is two standard deviations away from your median rapist. Perusal of rape statistics in the USA is depressing as hell, but also reveals that 80% of rapes are committed by someone known to the victim, and 47% by a friend or acquaintance. I’ll wager most of 20% of stranger rapes are not a guy with a gun grabbing her; many of them are drunk/drugged women being preyed upon by predatory men.

So this guy is in no way what we ought to be thinking about when we think “rapist”. He’s fundamentally unrepresentative. It might be exciting and action-filled to write a story narrating the manhunt for him, or to write the psycho-thriller of what goes on inside his rapidly decompensating mind. but it would also promote a wildly incorrect stereotype. If we’re really going to tell a rape story, this guy is background, or counterexample, or prelude or interlude. The real story is the Nice Guy friend with a roofie, or the second Tinder date who won’t say no—or the child’s caregiver.

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