Monday, January 15, 2007

Alexander Pring-Wilson and the Duke Rape Case

When I was living in Cambridge--a few blocks away from Harvard--a young man stabbed another young man. One man was a white Harvard Grad Student, the other was a hispanic high-school dropout short-order cook. One was heavier, taller, and armed with a knife, and he stabbed his opponent to death--not too far away from my apartment.
We often stereotype criminals as hispanics with low levels of education, so it came as some surprise to me that the attacker was actually the Harvard Grad Student. Alexander Pring-Wilson was convicted of manslaughter, a conviction that was later thrown out and is currently tied up in the Massachusetts Supreme Court.

I remember reading a comment by a leader in the African-American community at the time that went something like this: "One can almost imagine that the defense will be 'white upper-class Harvard Graduate Students don't murder people in dark alleyways."
Of course, that's not true. Men are the most likely to commit violent acts of all types, and this is a dramatically stronger causal relationship than any ethnicity.

When paired with the Duke Rape Case Accusations, we see a series of similarities that tell us about violent crimes that are perpetrated by a dominant group member against a non-dominant group member:

The aggressor feels strongly that the other group is "beneath" him". See above.
The attacker is motivated by a perverse sense of masculinity. In the Duke Case, they had hired a stripper and actually threatened to sodomize both strippers. In the Pring-Wilson case, it was because some people had dared laugh at him.
The initial reaction to both are that "these are good kids". In Pring-Wilson's case, there's actually an entire website devoted to establishing his humanity and how he fits our image of a young man who can do no harm. In the Duke Case, you can see the favorable coverage given to the attackers by 60 Minutes. After all, the model of our society is a white man who goes to a prestigious college and participates in extra-curriculars.
Both times, the attackers are turned into "victims". In the Duke Rape Case, there is a great deal of time devoted to showing how the lacrosse players were supposedly unfairly targeted because of their sex, class, ethnicity, etc. And you can see the same thing in Pring-Wilson, this time stating that he is the victim of a "politically correct society" and "judicial mismanagement."

It is almost as though the media screams, "wait, the justice system is supposed to reinforce patterns of dominance, not break them!"

Other thoughts?


percusso said...

You say that "men are the most likely to commit violent acts of all types, and this is a dramatically stronger causal relationship than any ethnicity". Could you please provide some evidence for this causal relationship? The vast majority of men aren't violent. How then does maleness cause violence? Statistically, men are more likely to commit violent acts than women, but statistically African Amercians are more likely to commit crimes than White Americans. NEITHER of these statistical facts are causal: to claim so is surely sexism and/or racism. Crime isn't caused by ethnicity or gender. Surely we must look past such bigoted lenses and look at the real causes of violence and crime, such as a person's individual upbringing and circumstance, social pressures and role models, etc.

JusticeForAll said...

Thanks for bringing that up--I'd like to reference the Study Guide for "Tough Guise" again, which is the only thing I can find online at the moment. They have a litany of stats that back me up on the correlational relationship. I've linked to it in the main segment.
I think it's important though (and I agree with this) that you brought up that not all men are violent. Most men (at least statistically, by whatever threshold you want to establish) are NOT violent. Saying that most violent individuals are male is not the same as saying men are violent.
It is interesting that you cite the fact that African-Americans are more likely to commit violence than white males. That's technically true, but my statement actually INCLUDES yours. Violent African-Americans are nearly always violent males. Violent males are (approximately half the time) violent African-Americans. Thus, it is more helpful to look at the violent African-Male as a subset of the violent Male, rather than vice-versa.
Moreover, being African-American isn't as strong a risk factor as you might think, since often African-American males have a ton of other risk factors present (fractured families, low family income, more likely to witness violent behavior, etc--Not all of them do, but statistically it's a pretty high number). However, being male is a pretty potent risk factor, as evidenced by the fact that there are hosts of young men who don't display many of the "stereotypical" risk factors who commit violence. Pring-Wilson is a great example of that.
Despite all that, I don't think we disagree all that much. The reason why young men are so violent is because the models they have to choose from in the media and often within their communities are uniformly violent, which is why seemingly "normal" males become violent. Young men are so often violent NOT because they are predetermined to do so, but because they are taught (through words and actions) that being violent is part of being a man. Again, the study guide has a lot of evidence for that.

percusso said...

Thanks for agreeing that the link between maleness and violence is merely a correlation, not a cause. I think we agree on a number of points.

Yes, violent African-Americans are nearly always violent males. Yes, violent males are (approximately half the time) violent African-Americans. Yes, often African-American males have a ton of other risk factors present (fractured families, low family income, more likely to witness violent behavior, etc. Not all of them do, but statistically it's a pretty high number).

However, I would argue that the majority of the other half of the violent males - the ones who aren't African American - also have a ton of other risk factors present (fractured families, low family income, more likely to witness violent behavior, etc.). It is these risk factors that cause their violence, not their maleness. You will find that women who have these risk factors present are also more violent than women who don't.

You say that "that there are hosts of young men who don't display many of the "stereotypical" risk factors who commit violence". I'd like to see some statistical backing for this. Yes, there are always exceptions, like Pring-Wilson, but I doubt that you will find "hosts" of such men. And I suspect that if you looked in detail at the personal background of Mr Pring-Wilson, you would find many precursors for his violent behaviour.

One last point that I forgot to mention yesterday - I'd like to challenge your assertion that "men are the most likely to commit violent acts of all types". There are exceptions to this: domestic violence and child abuse are two of them. Women are as likely as men to be violent within relationships (the effects of their violence aren't as bad as men's violence, but their actual violence and intent are). Women are also much more likely to be violent towards children than men are.

Thanks again for an interesting blog!

JusticeForAll said...

I'm not sure what you're reading about child abuse and domestic violence, but I'm almost certain you're wrong. You're almost probably using data that draws from the Conflict of Tactics scales, but that doesn't actually measure abuse. It's been widely discredited, and I just want to assert that if you're using a Conflicts of Tactics scale report, that intent is not something that is supported by those studies. It doesn't measure for that, and never has.
I'd reccomend Michael Flood (at the University of Melbourne--he does good work with American data too) and Daniel Saunders at the University of Michigan. He does a pretty good job of presenting DV and its context.
Again, I'd urge you to look at the TG study guide. It has about a dozen stats from various crime and public health orgs on violent behavior by gender. The crime investigations tend to yield a high rate of violence for men on those issues, whereas the public health groups (ie, the CDC) tend to show even higher rates.
As for violent behavior, all you need to do is go to any school and look at the kids who wind up in the office. Young (white) men just show their aggression in particularly different ways, notably the rash of so-called "school shootings" (as though black kids don't shoot people at school! ha!) Ways that, I might like to say, are normalized by our society, such as physical domination of other schoolkids.

(this is not to say that females don't also engage in controlling behavior, but most studies--done by people like Rachel Simmons, the author of Odd Girl Out--show that they prefer emotional hurt over physical. Doesn't make it any more right, but it's clearly the preferred mode of attack.)

JusticeForAll said...

One more note--women are also raised with all of those environmental risk factors around them. They do not commit anywhere near the same rates of violence. The reason why is because it's not youth violence, but violent masculinity. Their models are not physically violent, therefore they are not. It is not the biological maleness, but rather the social identity of maleness that is the problem--which is why we see dramatically varying rates of different kinds of violent crime in different countries when holding socioeconomic levels constant.

percusso said...

No, actually I'm not relying on CTS data. I'm relying on crime statistics:

1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (1996). Child Maltreatment. Reports from the States to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System

(Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1998).

Seventy-seven percent of perpetrators of child maltreatment were parents, and an additional 11 percent were other relatives of the victim. It is estimated that over 80 percent of all perpetrators were under age 40 and that almost two-thirds were females.

U.S. Department of Justice. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Murder in Families, CJ143498.1 Data provided by the Child Protective Service agencies.

Parents responsible:

Virginia (67% mothers, 33% fathers);
New Jersey (70% mothers, 30% fathers);
Texas (68% mothers, 32% fathers); and
Minnesota (62% mothers, 38% fathers); and
Alaska (67% mothers, 33% fathers).

JusticeForAll said...

That's a strange report to cite.

1) Why are there only a few states on there? It sure isn't in alphabetical order.
2) That actually doesn't measure violence--it measures maltreatment.

An example of my experiences in Iowa might help explain why that's not a good measure. About 10 of the cases that I was involved with (out of the 12 or so) were actually times in which the mother was prosecuted because she had an abusive boyfriend or husband. Because SHE was still with the abusive husband or boyfriend, she was therefore exposing the child to harm. She was then prosecuted.

The other cases (and all the other ones I heard about) where neglect situations--inability or unwillingness to provide basic human needs, rather than physical violence.

Of course, at the end of the day, the woman is "expected" to be the caretaker--so even when there is physical violence present, she's going to be the one called in.

JusticeForAll said...

I'm beginning to suspect you're not looking at the whole data--perhaps intentionally. For starters, you're using data from 1996, when data from 2004 is readily available. This is especially important given how many different mutations the system has gone through to be more accurate. The number of parents in single-parent households is overwhelmingly female--which is the household where it's also most likely. It's also pretty close to 50% within the two. And again, a huge number of these statistically are "neglect" cases, which actually aren't violent behavior.
I have to admit, I'm more than a little skeptical about your "data".