FACT CHECK: Did Rick Perry Say Fossil Fuels Will Prevent Sexual Assault?

Emily Larsen | Fact Check Reporter

Various headlines in Axios, The Hill, and CBS News reported that Secretary of Energy Rick Perry said that fossil fuels can help prevent sexual assault.

Verdict: True

At a discussion with Axios and NBC on energy policy priorities, Rick Perry suggested increased electricity usage in Africa due to fossil fuels will sexual assault.

And it’s going to take fossil fuels to push power out into those villages in Africa, where a young girl told me to my face, ‘one of the reasons that electricity is so important to me is not only because I’m not going to have to try to read by the light of a fire and have those fumes literally killing people.’ 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.

Fact Check:

While Perry didn’t explicitly say that fossil fuels will directly prevent sexual assault, he insinuated that another benefit of increased electricity in Africa through fossil fuel usage is that it would deter sexual assault – a major problem in Africa’s developing areas.

A key point of the Trump administration and Perry’s Department of Energy is to increase support for fossil fuels, which he says the Obama administration discriminated against. He recently encouraged attendees at the Africa Oil Week conference to drill for oil, frack, and mine coal.

Solar power is becoming one of the cheapest sources of energy in developing countries due to global organizations like the World Bank ceasing funding for non-renewable sources of energy like coal. But many experts say that fossil fuels like coal are critical for energy stability for energy-poor people in developing countries.

Perry didn’t expand on his reasoning linking increased electricity from fossil fuel usage to deterring sexual assault, but it is likely he’s heard these suggestions from research and activist groups which advocate for better lighting in developing countries as a means to prevent crime

Sexual assault is prevalent in developing areas of Africa. In many areas, children are exploited in prostitution or sold into sex trafficking operations. Some are kidnaped off the streets. But just as in the developed world, victims of sexual assault in Africa are most likely to be assaulted by someone they know: an intimate partner, family member, neighbor, or teacher.

Crime prevention is a key factor in urban design around the world. The idea is that lighting and unobstructed walkways will deter criminals because of witnesses to intervene.

Particularly in the developing world, increased lighting is encouraged as a way to increase safety. A study on sexual assault in the developing world suggests increased lighting as a way to make dangerous areas safer, saying “well lit walkways would make a lot of difference” in preventing sexual assault before it occurs — but addressing larger factors like gender inequality and poverty is necessary to make a larger difference.

But there’s not an overall consensus that better lighting deters sexual assault, at least in the developed world. A study from researchers at the University of Virginia and William and Mary found that rape decreased by 56 percent during daylight savings time in cities across the United States, when there was an “extra” hour of light in the evening. However, another study from University College London found that darker streets in England and Wales are not necessarily less safe.

Emily Larsen

Fact Check Reporter