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Harsher Laws Don't Mean Fewer Sex Crimes

The states with the most severe punishments for rape also have the highest rates of the crime. A BuzzFeed original analysis.

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After the conviction of the Steubenville rapists and the suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons after her alleged rape, it's natural to look for a way to keep crimes like these from happening to anyone else. But disturbingly, making the punishments harsher does not seem to be the answer.

We looked at the punishments that each state doles out in response to forcible rape. The FBI defines forcible rape as vaginal penetration of a female victim without her consent and by use of force. The Bureau tracks forcible rapes of female victims annually in their Uniform Crime Report.

BuzzFeed compared 2011's state-by-state statistics per 100,000 people with the punishments that each state imposes for the crime. The findings were alarming. The places with stricter punishments had the most rapes. This may be a product of laws catching up to the frequency of the crime in the states where it's most prevalent. But the laws apparently haven't yet done their job.

So are longer sentences.

20 states and DC are committed to giving a life sentence for forcible rape. 14 more give out more than 20 years, and 11 others give less than that. There are only 5 without any minimum sentence.

As are stricter residency requirements when rapists are released.

Residency requirements in many states prohibit released rapists from living near schools, parks, churches, and many other places where children may be found. There are 6 states that require more than a football field of separation, and 10 that require less. 35 states don't have any restrictions at all.

Data analyst at BuzzFeed.

Contact Jake Levy at

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