The Case for Including Sextortion Measures in TI’s CPI

In a recent post, I called for the creation of an international index of sexual corruption. While I believe that such an index will have an effect standing alone, I also believe that such an index, once created, should be included as one of the sources used to construct composite indexes such as Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). As most GAB readers are likely aware, the CPI is does not reflect TI’s own independent assessment of corruption perception, but rather aggregates corruption perception measures from a range of other sources. These other sources, however, all measure perceptions of monetary corruption, such as bribery and embezzlement. But, as TI itself acknowledges, sexual corruption may not correlate well with other forms of corruption, meaning that an index like the CPI may give us an incomplete and misleading picture.

The exclusion of sexual corruption is not TI’s fault; there are currently no global comparative measures of perceptions of sexual corruption for TI to incorporate. Indeed, this gap is precisely why I advocate the creation of an international sexual corruption perceptions index. Of course, even if such an index is created, it would be a separate question whether the results ought to be included in the CPI. I believe it should be.

The main reason for including the yet-to-be-created sexual corruption index in the CPI is that the CPI, for all its drawbacks and limitations, has a significant effect on the politics and resource allocations associated with anticorruption efforts. Failing to include sexual corruption will perpetrate the myth that it is either not endemic, too endemic to be seen as anything other than ordinary, or that it is a separate, special “women’s issue” that does not belong in mainstream anticorruption work. Including sexual corruption could be accomplished while preserving the ability to “double click” and take a look at more focused data. And it means that for those countries that care about improving their CPI scores and rankings, improving the score on the sexual corruption index will be seen as much more important (if only for instrumental or public-relations reasons).

Furthermore, because “sextortion” is undoubtedly a form of corruption, failing to include it in the CPI simply renders the CPI a less accurate measure of the overall picture of corruption within different countries. This would be less of a problem if sexual corruption were very highly correlated with other forms of corruption, such as monetary bribery. (I suspect that there is at least some correlation, if for no other reason than the fact that a culture of impunity will allow officials to get away with all types of abuse of power.) But as TI has pointed out, the correlation may not be so strong: sexual corruption can continue to occur “in countries where overall public and private sector corruption is quite low and effectively controlled.” If we fail to measure sexual corruption, then, we may be getting a false sense of security that some countries have largely beaten back corruption; on the flip side we might be failing to appreciate countries that have taken significant steps to combat sexual corruption.

The fact that sexual corruption may not be all that strongly correlated with the other forms of corruption measured by the CPI’s existing data sources does raise a concern: Perhaps lumping the two forms of corruption together in one index could muddy the waters. (After all, the basic statistical justification for aggregating all these different data sources into one index is that they are all “noisy” measures of the same underlying phenomenon.) It’s a reasonable concern, but here we must keep in mind that the CPI is used for many different things. For some uses, integrating sexual corruption will be crucial. For others, it might not be useful and might even be counterproductive, but there is an easy fix for this. Since TI provides the breakdown on each of its underlying sources, it would not be difficult to “click through” and determine the differences between sexual corruption and monetary corruption in a given country. To make this even easier, TI could potentially compile one grand CPI encompassing both types of corruption and then include breakouts for monetary and for sexual corruption.

The compilation of a global sexual corruption index would be extremely useful whether or not it was incorporated into the TI index; however, since the anticorruption community often looks to the TI rankings (though not without criticism), it could have an especially powerful impact in making people realize that sexual corruption is both part and parcel of corruption, and that looking solely at monetary corruption does not tell the whole story. It will be hard for many people to consider sexual corruption part of the mainstream understanding of corruption until it is captured in the most important data sources that the anticorruption community uses, including the CPI.

One thought on “The Case for Including Sextortion Measures in TI’s CPI

  1. It’s great to see the further development of your “sextortion” focus, Sarah, and you make a persuasive case for including sex-based corruption in the CPI. To play the devil’s advocate, though, I wonder if advocates could draw more attention to sextortion by maintaining a separate and independent index. I worry that sextortion measures would be subsumed into the popular CPI score – i.e. that most people won’t “click through.” On the one hand, you may well be right that the policymakers making actual decisions based upon the CPI would interrogate the particulars of the results. But, on the other hand, one of your overarching goals seems to be to popularize the idea of sextortion (I wish, for example, that the word would become part of my computer’s vocabulary so I wouldn’t get autocorrected each time!!). In all seriousness, establishing the link between sex and corruption will likely require some reconceptualization of people’s traditional notions of graft, and a stand-alone sexual corruption index may better serve that purpose than the aggregate CPI. I know TI has broken out its indexes in different ways (e.g. the Global Corruption Barometer), so perhaps a sextortion index could serve both as a component of the CPI and as the basis of a standalone advocacy campaign.

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