This article explores Pinker’s analysis of sexual violence in modern history. It argues that his analysis is flawed because of a selective choice of data, a minimization of certain harms, the application of an evolutionary psychology approach, the failure to interrogate new forms of aggression, and a refusal to acknowledge the political underpinnings of his research. By failing to acknowledge and then control for his own ideological bias, Pinker has missed an opportunity to convincingly explain the changing nature of violence in our societies.
Joanna Bourke is Professor of History at Birkbeck, University of London, and Fellow of the British Academy. She is the prize-winning author of thirteen books, among them Rape: A History from the 1860s to the Present, What It Means to Be Human: Reflections from 1791 to the Present, and The Story of Pain: From Prayer to Painkillers. She is the Principal Investigator in a Wellcome Trust–funded project entitled “Sexual Violence, Medicine, and Psychiatry.”