Miranda Devine, Rape and Lighting

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Some time ago Miranda Devine wrote this article. While this is a "blog", a similar piece also appeared in the Daily Telegraph. I cheered on Pip Ross' response, posting it to Facebook with the comment "Yes, Devine has a record for saying loopey stuff". DC replied with the comment "Is Miranda Devine actually a real person? I thought it was just some twisted pseudonym for that loathsome toad Piers Akerman. I am still baffled by the concept of a right-wing female shock-jock." BR then made the following comment on Facebook :

Might I suggest that you take the trouble to read what Miranda actually wrote, and not the misrepresentations of some left wing blogger who obviously has it in for her. She never claimed that led bulbs cause rape. She merely observed that a particular rape had occurred in an area of inadequate lighting (a claim which the council would appear to have accepted since it has now installed additional lighting) and queried whether led bulbs would provide adequate light. Sadly, the temptation to accept these sorts of misrepresentations at face value is what happens when one labours under the Left's overweening desire to believe that those who disagree with it are either intellectually deficient, morally deficient or a combination of both.

Things became convoluted. I had read Devine's article, and had made a general endorsement of Ross' article; whatever the problems of the respective articles, Ross' article made more sense. I wasn't trying to say that "Devine claimed LEDs caused rape" (LEDs being light emitting diodes), but rather that whatever else you might say about Devine's article, her overall case was quite ridiculous. It became too hard to reply in brief; I decided to write my own detailed reply. While I'm mostly supportive of Ross' article, and very critical of Devine's article, apart from things which are just plain wrong, both writers identify some things and ignore others, effectively "talking past each other". And, while Ross' article is substantially correct, BR does have a valid nit-pick. I find it to be nit-pick, though I'm sure BR and others would see it as a single flaw which renders the whole Ross argument worthless. That's not something I believe, but it is a common tactic in contemporary political debate.

But having said that, whatever others might say about Devine, and whatever BR might think about that, I think Devine is wrong and don't believe in spending extra time criticising her motives or morality. Perhaps some in the left do portray their opponents in the way BR proposes; by the same token, the right paint straw men ( is Moore really "environmental" in the way Devine describes her?), and have their own problems - a pattern I've touched on on my other article on this site - also considering "Perfectionism" - Clangers in current political debate.

Sure, Devine's article is full of slanted and emotive words, but Ross, taking a similar tack, doesn't help. While I can't help the odd wry comment, I'm aiming for an article which is only 10% as provocative as that of both Devine and Ross.

I should point out that I'm involved in a Sydney lighting advocacy group.

Yes, we're talking about rape

Tragic things happen, which are taken up by commentators and picked over. These are bad, tragic things that affect individuals, and now their suffering seems to become a media or political foot-ball. It is not something I'm entirely happy about, but the discussion is there, and distortions are there which I think are worth responding to.

We're talking about the rape of a Belgian tourist. I cannot imagine the trauma that she must have experienced. That is something I acknowledge. I hope my analysis will nevertheless be seen as being made with genuine intent.

Slanted words

Devine uses words like :

  • jihad against carbon pollution
  • secret enviro-meddling
  • luddites of the green movement want to send us back to the dark ages

Which are emotive and slanted, an attempt to discredit by association. In fact, the goal of "green" lighting is not to reduce lighting, but to reduce the associated emissions. You can make better use of light - much light is emitted into the sky and is wasted. If light is directed downwards, you get more light for the same electricity - and if you can reduce the need for electricity by making the source of light more efficient, that's worthwhile too.

How can using our energy more efficiently to generate effective lighting be a bad thing?

Has Devine has actually read any lighting standards? They tell you how much illumination you need in a given area, and how to make it as even as possible. I'd imagine the standard under review would also be trying to identify the possible carbon reduction. Devine's understanding of lighting issues is clearly superficial. Current advanced luminaires "spread out" light so that more of it reaches distant areas where it would otherwise be dimmer; by varying the LED density you could probably achieve a similar effect. She talks about "Orwellian" improvements ( another slanted word ), and tells us we should "expect those lights to be dimmer in future" as a result of the standard. Really?

Rather than engaging with lighting or rape, the goal seems to be criticism of Clover Moore. BR did claim Ross "obviously has it in for [Devine]." Do you think Devine has it in for anyone? Just maybe, possibly? In the past I've made my criticisms over Moore and the El Alamein Fountain & park at Kings Cross. I'm willing to endorse fair criticism - but not axe-grinding.

Devine's argument

BR claims that most do not actually read Devine, and misrepresent her. Let's work through the article carefully. Devine noted a Belgian tourist was raped in a "dark alley" in Potts Point. "The lighting was was like something out of the backblocks of St Ives: completely inadequate as a deterrent to crime". Assessing there is a solitary lampost, and the lighting, she then notes that "It was clearly an ideal spot for a predator". Devine gives Sydney Council credit for installing new lights since the rape ( which she now calls an "assault" ), and for plans to install more. But : "the big worry is that LED lights will make Sydney's dim lighting fade even more, thanks to Lord Mayor Clover Moore's jihad against "carbon pollution"" Devine then claims LED lights have drawbacks, saying they have been perceived poorly overseas, and talking about this being a "campaign for orwellian improvement", claiming reviews to Australian Standards are beholden to this agenda.

So, let me paraphrase Devine :

A recent rape was at least partly caused by poor lighting. Moore's campaign for improved CO2 lighting efficiency will likely mean reduced city lighting overall, with the use of LED lights being a part of this approach. This is consistent with the approach being "enviro-meddling", "Orwellian" in its improvements and also with Standards Australia being a complicit and willing part of an overall anti-technology agenda.


Paraphrased from Devine's article.

Did Devine claim that LEDs caused rape? Well she did seem to claim LEDs would be part of something that would. Here's my paraphrase :

Diminished lighting is a sigificant factor causing rape. LEDs represent poor lighting in addition to being energy efficient, which motivates their use regardless of other problems. This means that rather than lighting in areas being where there was previously no light dominating, we can expect lighting over the whole of the Sydney LGA to be diminished as part of this "Green Agenda", so increasing the number of rapes.


Paraphrased from Devine's article.

This is in spite of the fact that here LEDs illuminate somewhere previously dark. While I don't think lighting stops rapes ( see later ), it seems the claim is that it was not LED lights vs. other types so much as the complete absence of lighting that was a factor. While this seems to sit behind Devine's assertions, it is not spelt out. You seem to then have the links : no light - less light - less light from LEDs and the claimed "environmental agenda" - more rapes.

Now, one potentially valid criticism of City of Sydney Council (COS) is that this area did not have lighting, and now does meaning that COS should have provided it all along. However, COS can only do so much - it cannot do everything. There will always be something that it didn't do, which people can point a finger at. The fact you cannot do everything means that as a natural consequence somewhere, something will be missed. Criticising the COS on this basis would be unfair. However, if council were more efficient overall it would have more resources and would be able to do more; maybe its priorities could be different. This criticism would be a matter for more detailed assessment. We don't see the necessary measured analysis that would support this idea in Devine's article.

Contrary to BR, Devine did much more than just "question whether LEDs would be effective". There were some quite dramatic claims using provocative and slanted language claiming "luddites" are doing "secret enviro-meddling". From all this, the only natural conclusion from Devine's article is that a lack of light causes rape and LEDs could mean a lack of light, if only because LED lights would be an excuse to reduce illumination ( given a swag of other assumptions ) .

If Devine didn't say it in so many words, it is a direct consequence of what she did say. Ross' article is a reasonable criticism - of what naturally follows. To say "Devine did not claim LEDs cause rape", BR's one valid nit-pick, is to split hairs. At best, LED lights form part of a "package" which Devine claimed would increase rape - and that's still worth criticising. Just because you're criticising a part does not mean the whole escapes the same criticism, just because what you were focusing on originally was a part. Did Devine say this would happen? Or that it could happen, where you're only "raising a concern"? That's only so much equivocation. Either you're making a claim or you are not - and the claim doesn't look good. And there's some pretty forceful language if all you're doing is "raising a concern".

Lighting and maintenance

Devine claims LED lights fade so slowly you don't notice. Shock horror, fluorescent tubes decline in brightness too. Point is, maintenance needs to be taken seriously, regardless of the particular technology - Devine is making a furphy.

Yes, there are tree canopies. You get around them with more lights if you need to. They're an issue - whatever lighting you're using. Then, Devine talks about LEDs not having the same "broad coverage" as conventional lights. What does that mean?

It seems like Devine is making shit up, rather than having actually listened to someone who understands lighting engineering.

Lighting and crime

Dr Barry Clark of the Astronomical Society of Victoria, tells me of a rape in Melbourne :

The woman was followed as she walked along a 100-m long secluded path on a clear moonless night. Most of the path is surrounded by vegetation and very dark but the middle was lit by an 80-W MV 'flower pot' streetlight. She was grabbed from behind about 1 m past the peak illumination on the ground and raped about 2 m further on, still in the brightly illuminated area. Perhaps it hasn't occurred to anyone that rapists, like flashers, like to see their victims during the act. Lighting also gives a false sense of security to potential victims and assists assailants in choosing their victims. My research in 2003 indicated that lighting assists criminals slightly more than it deters them.

Some studies point to a reduction in crime in some situations through reduced lighting. That's more industrial estates and buildings at night which are not thoroughfares. It may not always be relevant, but but it does undermine the supposed connection between more light and less crime. Further, too much lighting can generate glare and shadows which people can hide in - subdued light means you can both see around and see into the shadows too.

Claiming "lighting is a deterrent to crime" is simplistic and does not wash, but that's what Devine is relying on.

The situational approach, proximate and ultimate causes

Crimes usually have multiple causes. There's both a personal and a situational element. You have the "situational" approach to crime. If you make cars more difficult to break into, you reduce both car theft and total crime. That's because most criminals are inflexible and opportunistic, and do not look elsewhere if they're obstructed. Obviously, "professional criminals" are more flexible, but have a smaller impact. This means that we can sometimes reduce crime without changing "community attitudes" - something that can be morally frustrating but is nevertheless an advance.

Of course, viewed more broadly, "community attitudes" can be seen as the "ultimate cause" of crime, with the situational approach looking only at "proximate" causes. However, without devaluing the goal of changing community attitudes, it may be possible to reduce crime by attacking situational aspects.

When we had a new years event with problems, I understand Moore blamed the backpackers. But it was a pair of causes. You had to have both backpackers with attitude and inadequate control of the event. Different sides tried to shift responsibility, focusing on just one cause or the other.

Car theft is less sensational, as are backpackers misbehaving at a public event. But it is equally valid to apply the "situational" view to rape. You need both the "situation" and the "rapist". Normally, "situation" focuses on the local environment where the crime is committed. While Devine makes an incorrect jump when it comes to linking more light to less crime, and focuses on just the local environment and lighting in particular, ignoring everything else, you don't need to dismiss the situational approach - just the way Devine abuses it in her particular article.

Ross talks about other influences, avoiding the street environment, noting the personal element, but also looking to ultimate, or underlying causes :

a culture which condones a heartbreakingly cavalier attitude to women's bodily integrity, a justice system which throws obstacles in the face of prosecution of perpetrators of sexual violence, or even this specific rapist himself.

Yes, I'm making a comparison to car theft. Ms. Ross, I know that's something you said you didn't want people to do. I think the situational approach can be useful, and worth illustrating. I see it is an important part of the picture - I'll stand by it, and live with the consequences. I ask you just one thing - if you can be bothered to take the time to disagree with me, please try to disagree with what I've written, rather than what you imagine me to be thinking.      Please?

Point is, you can see something happen if several things are present. You have community attitudes AND situation AND individual rapist. If one of them is absent, you don't have the rape. But you can focus on one element without acknowledging that the absence of another would also mean there was no rape. Devine emphasises the situation, and ignores the personal - and further, ignores ultimate causes. Yes, it is a strange emphasis - as Ross notes. But, equally, Ross makes her own emphasis. They each seem to ignore the larger picture - apart from accusations about green agendas, they are talking past each other.

I'd rather see fewer rapes, regardless of exactly what the causes are how this reduction has come about. And much as I've taken a long time to get here, my conclusion is that :

Lighting is at best a small part of rape, and no reason to criticise Moore for environmental initiatives, and no reason to ( in ignorance ) criticise the details of lighting and any possible changes as Australian Standards are reviewed. Devine may have equivocated by "expressing concerns", in an attempt at convenient deniability - but in any case, her position leads directly to the idea that some combination of LED lights and a green environmental policy will reduce lighting which will then cause rape, which is quite ridiculous.