xccf comments on An Exploration of Sexual Violence Reduction for Effective Altruism Potential - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: xccf 14 November 2017 09:55:04AM *  4 points [-]

I don't think we can have an accurate idea of how much sexual assault is happening in EA without a separate high-quality survey. This is because there are so many definitions of sexual violence which contradict one another, that to ensure an accurate picture of what's going on, we'd have to wrangle with definitions for a long time - and we'd end up asking a set of questions, not just one question.

I'd love to see a yearly undetected sex offender survey given to both men and women regarding how much sexual violence they committed against EAs in the last year, and a yearly sexual violence survey given to both men and women to ask how much sexual violence they received from EAs in the last year. If they added this to the yearly survey that would be awesome!

I think there's a tradeoff here. If this is created as a second, separate survey, there will likely be selection effects in who chooses to take it. I expect people who are more concerned about the problem of sexual assault (such as people who have been sexually assaulted) will be more likely to complete a survey that's specifically about sexual assault. Given these selection effects, I suspect it's best to settle on a relatively brief measure and include it in the main survey.

Brainstorming on what to include in that measure:

One idea is to just ask people "were you sexually assaulted" and let them use their own definition. After all, our goal is to reduce psychological trauma. If someone's experience met some technical definition of sexual assault, but it didn't bother them very much, maybe it's not something we need to worry about.

In a memo that has now been signed by about 70 institute members and advisers, including Judge Gertner, readers have been asked to consider the following scenario: “Person A and Person B are on a date and walking down the street. Person A, feeling romantically and sexually attracted, timidly reaches out to hold B’s hand and feels a thrill as their hands touch. Person B does nothing, but six months later files a criminal complaint. Person A is guilty of ‘Criminal Sexual Contact’ under proposed Section 213.6(3)(a).”

Far-fetched? Not as the draft is written. The hypothetical crime cobbles together two of the draft’s key concepts. The first is affirmative consent. The second is an enlarged definition of criminal sexual contact that would include the touching of any body part, clothed or unclothed, with sexual gratification in mind. As the authors of the model law explain: “Any kind of contact may qualify. There are no limits on either the body part touched or the manner in which it is touched.” So if Person B neither invites nor rebukes a sexual advance, then anything that happens afterward is illegal. “With passivity expressly disallowed as consent,” the memo says, “the initiator quickly runs up a string of offenses with increasingly more severe penalties to be listed touch by touch and kiss by kiss in the criminal complaint.”

Source. I don't think using a broad technical definition like this would be very useful, but a narrow technical definition of rape seems like it could be pretty useful to measure.

This blog post makes the case for vague rules like "don't be a jerk" and "don't be creepy". Maybe that could make a good survey question: "Did you get creeped out by another EA in the past year? How creeped out were you on a scale of 1 to 10? Here's a rubric." I actually think a measure like this could be less controversial than trying to precisely define sexual assault. Hopefully even the most fraternity brother-ish of EAs can recognize the case for not creeping chicks out. (Similarly, having a central registry that tells people things like "a lot of people are getting creeped out by you" seems like it could maybe work better than trying to define what exactly constitutes "assault"--it frames the problem as something you'd like to become aware of and fix, like having body odor, as opposed to grounds for ostracization? Of course ostracization is in fact justified in some cases--I'm just thinking aloud here.)

I suppose one issue with these measures is that they will fluctuate depending on the presence/absence of highly sensitive people in the movement. Overall, I'm much more comfortable using measures like these as indicators for what we should prioritize internally vs an overall measure of the moral worth of the movement. In other words, maybe we should not make them public? I don't know.

It might also be interesting to include a measure of how many women in EA would like men in EA to be more direct and sexually assertive with them--see this comment.

The reason I want to write a separate article about the number of sex offenders in EA is because it appears quite controversial. If we can get closer to having a consensus on sexual violence related matters, I think this will make us more effective at reducing it. The purpose of the article is not to create a more accurate number. I'm not even sure that's possible. The purpose of the article is to address the controversy, explore the complexities, and encourage people to compensate for the various biases that may be interfering.

Well, as a man in EA, I don't like the idea of people thinking of me as a possible sex offender--especially if I'm not, in fact, a sex offender. And whenever you try to estimate how X men in EA are sex offenders, no matter what X you tell people, you've framed things in a way that is gonna make people see me as a possible sex offender. So maybe that's why you got some pushback on that statement.

I'm happy for us to do a survey to measure sex offenses, because that will give us a way to actually measure and fight the problem. I know that any nonzero number that survey finds is going to reflect poorly on me, a man in EA, even if the number is much lower than we'd expect on base rates, because of the framing effects I discussed. However, I am willing to pay that cost because I care about addressing the problem of sexual assault. But I think trying to make an estimate based on prior information will just stir people up.

Edit: I've set up a collaboration with the yearly EA survey team!


Comment author: Kathy_Forth 15 November 2017 01:23:47AM *  2 points [-]

What I was envisioning was a whole section within the survey where multiple questions about sexual violence are asked. For whatever reason, I described this using the word "separate". That's not actually what I was trying to suggest. I agree that if the questions are separated, there will probably be some bias.

If we use a definition that is vague, a lot of people will ignore the survey results. They'll assume that a lot of what was reported is stuff they wouldn't agree is a sexual assault. Therefore, specific definitions are needed. Ideally, I would like to see a set of specific definitions that a lot of people agree are sexual assault, and that cover a broad range of types.

To make sure the questions are relevant to the goals, I think there should be questions about things like whether the sexual harassment resulted in psychological harm, suicidal behavior, or intentions to leave the workplace or movement. I'd also like to see questions about whether sexual assaults are happening at work, EA events, etc. Depending on how well anonymized the survey is, we may or may not get answers to these sorts of questions.

Without knowing the limit to the number of questions we can add, there's no point in discussing what should be asked. We would just waste time optimizing for the wrong trade off between detail and brevity. Also, it would be good to get some perspectives from people who do research in related areas. I'm going to hold off on investing time into planning until I have had a collaboration with the survey team.