Rick Perry Steps into Light & Crime Debate

Speaking at an energy policy discussion Thursday, Energy Secretary Rick Perry suggested that better lighting in the developing world — powered by fossil fuels — could deter sexual assault.

Perry was speaking about the lack of electricity in Africa, where he said people were dying from inhaling toxins produced by open fires used to heat and light homes. “But also from the standpoint of sexual assault,” he added. “When the lights are on, when you have light that shines, the righteousness, if you will, on those types of acts.”

Call it “more lights, less crime” — the notion that well-lit spaces deter criminal behavior at night. Although it's an assumption that many of us take for granted, evidence is mounting that nighttime brightness may do little to stop crime, and in some cases may make it worse.

Nighttime lighting is a key indicator of economic development, and there's no question that many sub-Saharan African countries lag behind the rest of the world in this regard. While the twinkling cities of Europe, North American and much of Asia light up those continents at night, much of Africa remains conspicuously dark in this composite satellite view from NASA — even though many of those areas are as densely populated as more developed regions.

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