A number of news stories have covered a new study out today from The Thomson Reuters Foundation: did you know the United States is one of the ten most dangerous countries in the world to be a woman??
— CBS News (@CBSNews) June 26, 2018
— Newsweek (@Newsweek) June 26, 2018
Wow! The @TR_Foundation has put out its list of the 10 most dangerous countries for women in the world. The U.S. is the 10th most dangerous country in the world, the only western-developed country joining the ranks of Somalia, Afghanistan & India https://t.co/zvk1xkXWsr
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— Ayman Mohyeldin (@AymanM) June 26, 2018
Truly, this survey is an indictment. But not of the United States, of the "experts" who responded to it.
The actual methodology is something of a joke. Rather than comparing statistics on sexual violence, contrasting government policy, or anything that would give us concrete, objective measurement to judge one country against another, Thomson Reuters Foundation polled 548 women's rights experts across the globe and asked them their opinion on the most dangerous countries.
The experts weren't completely crazy. The United States didn't make the top ten lists when asked about women's access to healthcare, discrimination, human trafficking, or dangerous cultural or religious practices. But the reason it ranked in the aggregate top ten was because the women's right experts inexplicably ranked the United States as the third worst country in the world for Sexual Violence and the sixth worst for Non-Sexual Violence.
Per the geniuses they consulted, the United States is tied with Syria when it comes to sexual violence against woman, and trails only India and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The United States is apparently worse at combating sexual violence than the Republic of the Congo, South Africa, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mexico, Nigeria, Egypt, and Somalia.
There are two things going on here. The first is that the provided definition of "sexual violence" is broad. "In your view, what is the most dangerous country in the world for women in terms of sexual violence?" the question asks. "This includes rape as a weapon of war, domestic rape, rape by a stranger, the lack of access to justice in rape cases, sexual harassment and coercion into sex as a form of corruption."
While all the behaviors listed are vile, it seems sort of self-evident that some are worse than others. Being sexually harassed by a colleague can be dehumanizing and traumatizing, but it's nowhere near the ballpark of wartime rape. The justice system failing American rape victims is all too common and disappointing, but that's not nearly as bad as countries that require two women to contradict a male witness.
But the second factor here is glaring bias from respondents. "The survey was taken after the #MeToo campaign against sexual harassment went viral in October last year…" the Thomson Reuters Foundation notes. "Hundreds of women have since publicly accused powerful men in business, government and entertainment of sexual misconduct and thousands have joined the #MeToo social media movement to share stories of sexual harassment or abuse."
In other words, the foundation asked hundreds of feminists what the worst country for rape and sexual abuse was, and a huge chunk of the Westerners were incapable of looking beyond their bubble. Of course the United States is one of the worst countries for rape. Don't you watch TV? Haven't you searched the Twitter trending tab? It's all anyone's talking about at the rallies.
The logic here is astonishing. Do these "experts" (which per the study included "academics," "social commentators," and "journalists") really not realize that the #MeToo movement was sparked in the United States precisely because we live in a country with a strong presumption towards justice and autonomy for women? The #MeToo movement is a recognition that we have failed to live up to our vision, but dozens of countries lack that vision in the first place. It takes either kneejerk anti-Americanism or blind cultural relativism to believe that our "rape culture" in any way approaches the culture of countries where forced marriage and spousal rape aren't even illegal.
For what it's worth, a CNN write-up of rape and harassment statistics following the #MeToo movement (which is really more of an international movement anyway, I'm not sure why the "experts" only indict the United States and not Sweden, France, etc.) concluded that "compared with other regions of the world, harassment levels are less in North America, and rape is less common." Likewise, the World Health Organization found in 2013 that incidents of sexual violence in high-income North America (read: the U.S. and Canada) is slightly lower than high-income Western Europe.
Of course violence against women is endemic across the globe; even that WHO study found that a fourth of North American and European women will be victimized. But it benefits no one to misleadingly inflate the problem and elevate the shortcomings of liberal democracies to the level of the worst countries in the world. The fact of the matter is that the United States remains one of the safest countries in the world to be a woman, and of that we should be proud.