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Rick Perry actually tried to argue that fossil fuels can help fight sexual assault

This is not the Onion.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Rick Perry, y’all.

The energy secretary on Thursday actually said this during a discussion about energy policy and Africa: “But also from the standpoint of sexual assault. When the lights are on, when you have light that shines the righteousness, if you will, on those types of acts. So from the standpoint of how you really affect people’s lives, fossil fuels is going to play a role in that. I happen to think it’s going to play a positive role.”

The implication is that fossil fuels power lights, and those lights can then help prevent or at least expose sexual assault. This manages to be both offensive and wrong.

For one, this claim attempts to use a serious topic — sexual assault — to score some political points for one of Perry’s long-held beliefs about the fossil fuel industry. It just feels gross, as Emily Atkin of the New Republic pointed out on Twitter. How about if instead of talking about the wonders of fossil fuels, we talk about how men just need to stop treating other people like objects?

Looking at the substance, the implication that you need fossil fuels to turn on lights is also false. There are also alternative energy sources — nuclear, solar, power, hydro, and so on — that work. As Atkin pointed out in her Twitter thread, there are even “huge untapped resources for renewable energy” in Africa.

Even the underlying assumption of Perry’s comments is questionable. As Christopher Ingraham pointed out over at the Washington Post, the evidence on whether lighting stops and deters crime is mixed. Here are some of the studies:

  • A 2007 systematic review of the research, covering 13 studies, found that US studies had mixed results, although UK studies reported much more positive outcomes.
  • A 2015 study in England and Wales concluded, “There is no evidence that reduced street lighting is associated with increases in road traffic collisions or crime.”
  • A 1997 report to Congress found, “Lighting has received considerable attention. Yet, evaluation designs are weak and the results are mixed. We can have very little confidence that improved lighting prevents crime, particularly since we do not know if offenders use lighting to their advantage.”

This is such a contentious topic in the empirical research that CityLab’s 2014 article on it, by Mike Riggs, was titled “Street Lights and Crime: A Seemingly Endless Debate.”

When it comes to Perry, though, it means that his statements range from ridiculous and wrong to questionable.