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GROUNDHOG DAY at the GRAUNIAD (or A Tale of Two Errors)

by on August 9, 2009

‘According to Hebrew lore, Lilith was the original partner of Adam, the world’s first man. Lilith and Adam argued – some legends say she was too proud to submit to Adam’s wishes – and Lilith departed Eden, where she was succeeded as Adam’s mate by Eve. In other ancient legends Lilith is considered a demon or a mother of demons, and is supposed to haunt desolate places. The name of Lilith is mentioned only once in the Bible, in Isaiah 34:14, where she is listed along with hyenas and jackals as those who dwell in the ruins of God-forsaken Edom.’   Source  

THIS IS the story of an error. Two errors, in fact. But not just any old errors, as we shall see.

Back in 2003, an organisation known as Lilith produced a report entitled Lap Dancing and Striptease in the Borough of Camden (an area within London).

Lilith, along with the anti-sex traffickinglapdance Poppy Project, is part of Eaves Housing, the London vulnerable women’s support charity. These organisations receive much of their funding from the Government and London Councils and are generally regarded as being enormously influential in shaping Government policy. Within Eaves, the Lilith Project carries out “research, education, campaigning and training to prevent violence against women.”

By far the most quoted fragment of Lilith’s Camden report are statistics which seek to connect the arrival of four lap dancing clubs to cases of rape and sexual assault in the borough.

“Comparing the rape and indecent assault figures for 1999, before the establishment of Spearmint Rhino and Secrets Holborn, Finchley Road and Euston, and 2002…rape of women in Camden has increased by 50%, …[and] indecent assault of women in Camden has increased by 57%,” it announced.

The story, of course, grabbed the headlines, both in Camden and nationally. Women in the vicinity of lap dance clubs everywhere lived in a climate of fear, and were very likely induced to join the bandwagon of the moral crusade led by Eaves, which finds its goals realised in many ways in today’s Policing and Crime Bill.

The figures, though, were wrong. Indeed, they have been known to be wrong for awhile, but they still sit in the report on the web, and thus continue to be relied on by social conservatives in normally responsible reports and newspapers – often the very newspapers that have published the fact that they are wrong.

The figure for indecent assault, to be fair, was nearly right. The increase was 55%, not 57%. And although the figure for rape showed an increase of a third, not 50%, the difference is unlikely to persuade the average woman that she should be overenthusiastic about having a lap dance club in the vicinity.

Do the errors matter that much? Even if it could be shown that the presence of a lap dance club would result in but a single rape, should society allow it?

Let us shift, for a moment, from percentages to actual numbers. For these figures, we shall rely on one of the corrections published by the Guardian on the subject: this one on January 12 this year.

Over the relevant periods, the Guardian announced “the Metropolitan police have provided us with the following figures: 72 rapes and 162 indecent assaults in the borough in 1998-99, and 96 rapes and 251 indecent assaults in 2001-02…”

So, 72 rapes p.a. before the four lap dance clubs, and 96 p.a. afterwards. BUT was the increase due to the lap dance clubs? Since then, of course, the clubs have continued operating, supplemented perhaps by others. Which is odd, as in the two years up to last June the average number of reported rapes per year in Camden was only 40, a drop of over 44% on the period when Camden had NO lap dancing clubs.

Furthermore figures for all other sexual crime – not just assaults – are now barely above the pre-lap dance club sex assault figure. 

So do lap dance clubs, in all but the short term, result in a reduction in rapes, and are the good ladies of Lilith proposing moves that would increase violence to women?

We can go further. We can ask: “What is a reported rape?” Now I’m not one of those males who goes around saying there are women who make up rape stories, undoubtedly there are but I’m sure they are only a small minority. But I do wonder what use the figures are when they include people reporting rape who are honestly unsure whether they’ve been raped or not.

With the prevalence of alcohol drinking among young women, to say nothing of drugs used by rapists, how many women in Camden have woken up after the party the previous night and been unable to tell whether they’ve been raped or not? Could Camden be among the six London boroughs exposed last March as not classifying rape crimes properly?

That would certainly be consistent with the recorded 29 rapes to June, 2008 suddenly rising to 51 in the year to last June, and though both figures are well below Lilith’s stats, it would be odd if no non-rapes showed up in them.

But back to the story, which is only part about Lilith’s poor stats and rather more about their use by commentators in the media.

A search of Lilith + Camden + rape in the Guardian reveals eight stories and two corrections during the last two years.

  1. First appearance on the search list is a story by Rachel Bell on March 19 last year, I was seen as an object, not a person. This is based on an interview with a disillusioned lap dancer, and highlights the Lilith report as “academic research” which, it says, “has linked lap-dancing to trafficking, prostitution and an increase in male sexual violence against both the women who work in the clubs and those who live and work in their vicinity.” Academic research, incidentally, has done no such thing, though the Lilith report tried hard.

  2. Lapdancing’s Naked Truths (CiF, April 23) informed us in a strapline that “it is a nonsense to deny there is a link between legal clubs and the sex industry’s murkier side.” Beneath it, Guardian columnist Zoe Williams told us that lap dance clubs were “like market day for traffickers,” and that “the evidence shows an increase in sexual assaults when a lapdancing club opens, affecting both dancers and women who happen to live in the area,” quoting the dodgy stats to back up her act.

  3. Former stripper in both London and Manhattan Ruth Fowler was up next the following day with Stripping away the myths. This took, as one might expect, a rather more pro-club approach but Ruth managed to get the incorrect stats wrong herself, stating: “Yet again, opponents of strip clubs bring out the old tired Lilith Project’s research, claiming rapes doubled in the Camden area of London the three years prior and three years after four clubs opened in that area,” which isn’t what Lilith had said.

  4. Seven months later, Zoe Williams returns to repeat the stats again in Turned off by tart-lit. Reporting on the response to her article back in April, she states: “I got emails whose vehemence amazed me. Some were from nutters, granted. (One railed against me for citing a Lilith magazine survey on rapes, and called it “statistically insignificant” that there were 76 rapes in the London borough of Camden in one year. Statistically insignificant! 76 rapes in one year! In one borough! From a Guardian reader!)” No, hang on, Zoe, we haven’t a 76. We have a 72 before the clubs and a 92, a 29 and a 51 since the clubs, but no 76. Maybe you’re thinking of trombones?

  5. Emine Sammer is next on the scene on November 17, with It becomes wallpaper on pornographer and son of fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, Ben Westwood. Here, the stats (without the source) are somehow used to try to link porn with violence. It should be added that some Guardian writers’ use of the stats do not show up on a Google search for Camden + Lilith + rape, such as a piece by Beatrix Campbell, Sexism and the city, on December 4: “Research by Lilith and Eaves on Housing for Women in the London boroughs of Camden and Islington has shown how – despite the Lap Dancing Association’s denials – they become magnets for the activities and lawless networks that compromise neighbourhoods’ sustainability,” she says. On January 12, this year, the Guardian published its correction after its journalists finally investigated the Lilith claims, five years after the report was published. The website versions of the March 19, April 23 and November 17 stories were corrected. The world looked forward to a 2009 free of Lilith Camden report stats, at least in the Guardian. But it looked in vain.

  6. March 8 this year and it was now the Guardian’s sister paper, the Observer’s chance to foul up. “A report by the Lilith Project…found that in the three years after the opening of four large lap-dancing clubs in the area, incidents of rape in Camden rose by 50% and of sexual assault by 57%,” Rachel Cook informs us in Should lap dancing be run out of town?  Really, Rachel? We would never have known.

  7. Nine days later, and Libby Brooks back on the Guardian has obviously read Rachel’s piece, and pens Lap-dancing clubs are not cafes. They are the sex industry on the high street for CiF, featuring another disillusioned lap dancer, the ubquitous Lilith report and its stats, and impressing us with the assertion that lap dance clubs now spread from Canterbury to Stratford-Upon-Avon, thus revealing a knowledge of the existence of at least a fragment of the remainder of the UK – truly rare among London columnists (albeit demonstrating a very poor knowledge of the geography of lap dance clubs). This becomes the subject of another correction on April 9.

  8. Diligent readers will note that, thus far, no male has actually penned any of this nonsense. All that came to an end last Thursday when Tristram Hunt regurgitated the Lilith report for CiF in Betting clubs and strip clubs stand as monuments to New Labour morality. Hunt’s piece now astonishingly manages to give the right six year-old stats, but to attribute them wrongly to the Lilith report! In any case, his piece omits the fact that the rape stats have long since tumbled from 2003 when the report came out.

The problem is not, of course, confined to the Guardian. The Independent‘s prohibitionist Joan Smith had highlighted the Lilith stats before any of the Guardian writers, back in 2006, attributing seven lap dancing clubs to the borough, and Wersha Bharadwa repeated the stats in the same paper in August last year, while an example of how these distorting statistics are used to spread panic in local areas outside London can be seen in the Wisbech Standard in Cambridgeshire just last week.

One might add here that when Sweden adopted its famous law against clients purchasing the services of prostitutes, its national figures for serious sexual crime – including rape – stood at barely 9,000.

Eaves/Lilith/Poppy are very anxious the UK should adopt Sweden’s law, and, just as in the case of lap dance clubs, the Policing and Crime Bill just happens to go some way in that direction, too.

Today, Swedish sex crime stats stand at around 14,300 – up by well over 50% from when Sweden adopted its law.

Maybe Sweden lacks lap dance clubs?

There’s an old saying in journalism: never let the facts get in the way of a good story. But it is high time the Lilith Report of 2003, with its dodgy stats and puritanical thinking, ceased to dictate Government policy.

Further reading:

Of academic interest:

© Stephen Paterson and An Anthology of English Pros, 2008-2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Stephen Paterson and An Anthology of English Pros with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

One Comment
  1. Thanks for this nice post. I definitely enjoyed every little part of it. I have you bookmarked and will be reading more.

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