ACCORDING to Police Scotland, more rapes than robberies have been reported this year.
Perhaps this is good news; a sign of progress. More reporting means more women feel they can come forward, rather than keeping silent and living with self-blame or hopelessness because they don't see any other option.
Police Scotland chief constable Sir Stephen House suggests the increase in reporting could be a knock-on effect of high-profile cases such as Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall, and the fact that victims have "now realised the police will take it seriously". More reporting means more recognition that rape is a crime, not an inevitable part of life only avoidable through extreme self-protection measures.
Some 905 rapes were reported between April and September, a 35% rise on the same period last year. So is this a success story, or an indicator of the depth of the problem; a sign that we are beginning to purge ourselves of the rape affliction, or an indication that the problem is much bigger than we had thought? And what do these figures tell us about our current attitudes towards rape?
House notes that the increase in reporting is partly due to a new police strategy of digging beneath the surface in domestic abuse cases, of asking the right questions, and finding that often there is more going on.
He also thinks only around half of rape victims report an incident. To me that seems high - one Home Office study estimated only 15% did. And any improvement in reporting rates might seem irrelevant unless we start to see the conviction rate rise - which may or may not happen in Scotland once, as is proposed, the need for corroboration is dropped.
The silence on the part of that unreporting 85% seems particularly deafening given all the noise we hear about rape in the rest of our culture: the online cyber-threats, the rape jokes in comedy clubs, the countless crime dramas that revolve around cases of sexual violence. We hear it in music (what should we make, for instance, of Robin Thicke's controversial and all too catchy Blurred Lines?). Last month, T-shirts with the slogan "I'm feeling rapey" were available on eBay, until pressure from campaigners led to their withdrawal.
More recently, there has been a slew of complaints over a Downton Abbey episode that featured a rape. For while viewers of crime dramas like The Fall or Top Of The Lake are perhaps used to a regular diet of sexual violence victims, the Downton Abbey audience is perhaps expecting something else.
Actually, the Downton scene was fairly unsensationally handled. The most that can be said is that the plotline had been thrown in to provide a bit of gratuitous drama. The actress Joanne Froggatt, who played the victim, housemaid Anna Bates, said she was proud of it, and that she thought the writer Julian Fellowes had hit "just the right note".
We don't need Downton to tell us that in the old days, women used to have to put up and shut up and that a world in which women report rape is a better place.
Some people say that things are getting better. They look at England's rising conviction rates and see a battle against rape that is gradually being won. But look around at our wider culture and it is hard to feel confidence. Yes, more women are coming forward, and famous men are being tried and convicted for historic sexual offences. However, the "rape culture" appears to be getting louder, noisier and more aggressive.
Last week, we learned that a Leeds club night was advertising its "Fresher Violation" night with a YouTube promotion that featured a young man joking about rape. Needless to say it was woefully unfunny. "How are you going to violate a fresher?" was the question. "She's going to get raped," came the answer. It was a reminder that large sections of the population seem to think the word "rape" in itself constitutes a gag.
No-one who has watched the mobile-phone camera footage filmed by boys the night of the Steubenville High School rape, in Ohio in August, 2012 - in which a 16-year-old girl was gang-raped while unconscious - will find these jokes funny.
Meanwhile, rape seems to be a popular cyber-threat. Earlier this year, I talked to a teenaged Ask.fm user who had received the message: "I want to shoot you, rape you, and chuck you in a bin."
The word "rape" has become an act of aggression in itself; a means of conveying hatred and misogyny, of throwing the worst possible kind of verbal hate bomb at a woman. But it is hard to know whether this kind of talk has any relation to real acts of physical and sexual violence.
The truth is we don't know how bad the rape problem is in Scotland, or whether "rape culture" may be exacerbating it. One recently published American study, titled Growing Up With Media, showed that nearly one in 10 young people was reporting perpetrating sexual violence - and that 4% of American teenagers had raped someone. They found that those involved in such violence had often been exposed to extreme pornographic material.
This doesn't feel like progress to me. Far from it. It feels like the attitudes towards rape victims which have been around for as long as I can remember are still here. The only difference is that now we are expected to laugh at them.
We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis. If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules, which are available here.
Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.