toward a better rape graphic, pt. 2

So yesterday I said that I hoped a certain not-that-great graphic about rape would inspire better ones. But what would that look like?

Eric gives an example of a better infographic here, discussing the Tuskegee Institute’s map of lynchings from 1900 to 1931:

I mention it because the Tuskegee Institute did exactly what I think Enliven failed to do: they took a shocking, ugly crime, and they came up with a simple, stark visual representation that effectively communicates something to the viewer. And they did that in part by being precise:

In 1959, Tuskegee defined its parameters for pronouncing a murder a “lynching”: “There must be legal evidence that a person was killed. That person must have met death illegally. A group of three or more persons must have participated in the killing. The group must have acted under the pretext of service to justice, race or tradition.”

Myself, I’d like to suggest yet another approach to visualizing rape. As we discussed yesterday, the major flaw in Enliven’s graphic is that it fails to state its terms with precision. (What is “faced trial”? Why is the overall number given as “rapists” rather than “rapes”? And how are we defining “rape” to begin with?) Moreover, as has been noted all over the place, it’s very, very hard to get accurate statistics on how many rapes go unreported, and it’s also quite hard to get good data on false accusations.

One way that Enliven (or some other enterprising person or group with graphic design skills) could greatly improve the rape graphic, then, would be to create an interactive graphic that allows the user to toggle different parameters to see what changes. How do the data differ when you aggregate and disaggregate rape and sexual assault, or if you disaggregate different kinds of rape? How do they differ according to different scholars’ estimates of unreported rapes, or false accusations? It might also be interesting (though a lot more work) to let users choose among various state definitions of rape and sexual assault, or to let them mix and match legal and other outcomes of rape charges not covered by the overly simplistic “jailed” and “faced trial” and, again, see how the graphic changes.

Interactive tools are often used to show change over time, like job losses since the recession, or to let users grapple with value choices, like balancing the federal budget. But interactive graphics could also provide a lot of perspective by allowing users to visually compare estimates of unknown or poorly understood statistics, or to examine the practical effects of different legal definitions. Where there is ambiguity in the data, in other words, designers should embrace it and make it part of the story.

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