Secretary of Energy Rick Perry suggested Thursday that electricity created specifically by fossil fuels is needed to prevent sexual assaults in Africa.
During an Axios/NBC event in Washington, Perry said that a young girl in Africa ― he did not specify which country ― told him electricity would not only free her from having to rely on firelight to read, but would also reduce the risk of sexual assault.
“When the lights are on, when you have light that shines, the righteousness, if you will, on those types of acts,” the former governor of Texas told the crowd. “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.”
It’s true that electricity to power streetlights in dark villages would likely prevent some instances of sexual violence against women and girls in Africa.
“Without the security and protection afforded by light, women and girls may not feel comfortable going out at night, even to latrines or washing areas,” a 2012 report from the United Nations Refugee Agency reads. “Darkness provides cover for crime and vandalism, and puts women and girls at risk of rape and sexual harassment.”
But fossil fuel isn’t the only way to make this happen ― and it’s not particularly environmentally responsible. Carbon emissions from fossil fuel use have caused the planet to warm at a significantly greater rate since the early 1900s.
Many developing regions have begun investing more resources in renewable energy, such as wind or solar power, rather than coal. Researchers have cited Africa in particular as having “huge untapped resources” for renewable energy.
Still, the Trump administration, several members of which have deep ties to the oil and gas industry, has made fossil fuel development a priority, despite all indications that clean energy is better for both the environment and the economy.
“It’s going to take fossil fuels to push power out into those villages in Africa,” Perry said at the event Thursday.
A representative for the Energy Department attempted to clarify Perry’s comments in a statement to HuffPost.
“The Secretary just returned from Africa, where people made the point to him directly over and over about the impact that power has on their citizens,” the statement reads. “One person told him about how light can be a deterrent to sexual assault and security in remote areas.”
But many Twitter users were uncomfortable with Perry using one girl’s story of sexual assault to peddle an antiquated and irresponsible form of energy development.