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Focus on The Numbers

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Rita Simon Interview
edited by Lisa Yelon

For many cultural, political and psychological reasons the white female victim has captured the public's imagination. We see her screaming her head off in the paw of big, black apes, ripping the shower curtain as white psychoboys hack at her wet, unprotected body, we watch her go boing-boinging off walls after her power-crazy spouse comes staggering home, his fists tingling with impotent rage. But statistics write another movie: According to sociologist and president of the Women's Freedom Network, Rita J. Simon, who has published a study entitled Women and Violent Crime.

Women, like men, commit crimes based on their ability and opportunity to do so, and young black men are the most likely to be victimized by violent crime, while women are the least.

Mindless Shooting

VAGUEpolitix: What was the genesis of the victimization study?

Simon: In the 1970s the National Institute of Mental Health asked me to do a monograph on women and criminal activities in which I looked at crime rates and arrest rates. I found an increase for women in certain white collar crimes. During those years — the 60s and 70s — because of increased training and education, women were more likely to have opportunities to commit certain white collar crimes, like embezzlement and various kinds of fraud. You can see in the data that those were the crimes for which women were most likely to be arrested.

VAGUEpolitix: Your data support the idea that women are more like men than many assume, given equal opportunity.

Simon: Yes, people used to have the notion that women who commit crimes do so only to feed their starving babies, but women commit crimes for the same reasons men do.

VAGUEpolitix: The other side of crime is the victim. And there your data show a whole different kind of social inequality.

Simon: All of the victimization studies show that the real victims in our society are the young, indigent black men.

VAGUEpolitix: How should policy be adapted to these findings?

Simon: I'm not a policy person; I'm a statistician, but I do know that it's very important to get young black men to see that there's a relationship between success in life and education.

VAGUEpolitix: To what extent should the government be involved?

Simon: I think it should come from the private sector primarily, but if the government can come in with some good programs, that's what we need. Good ideas and good programs.

VAGUEpolitix: Your organization contends that by overemphasizing the victimization of middle-class white women, feminists as well as the media helped paint a false picture of violence in America.

Simon: Very often the leaders of the radical feminist movement did not use data accurately, and this always struck me as a social scientist. Wrong data can lead to bad policies, and a very distorted view of what's happening in our society. It's time for feminism to become a humanist movement again.

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