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Perry, who last month traveled to Cape Town, South Africa to discuss oil and gas partnerships in Africa, today tied the sexual assault issue to the lack of electricity on the continent:
"It's going to take fossil fuels to push power out into those villages in Africa," the secretary said at a forum hosted by Axios and NBC News. "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," he continued. "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."
The pro-environment Sierra Club called Perry's sentiments "twisted" and urged the secretary to step down "before he causes any more damage."
"It was already clear that Rick Perry is unfit to lead the Department of Energy, but to suggest that fossil fuel development will decrease sexual assault is not only blatantly untrue, it is an inexcusable attempt to minimize a serious and pervasive issue," executive director Michael Brune said in a statement. "Perry's attempt to exploit this struggle to justify further dangerous fossil fuel development is unacceptable. He does not deserve to hold office another day with these twisted ideas."
"The Secretary was making the important point that while many Americans take electricity for granted there are people in other countries who are impacted by their lack of electricity," the Department of Energy tweeted Thursday night. "The Secretary just returned from Africa ... he was told how light can be a deterrent to sexual assault and can provide security in remote areas. Powerful stories like this stuck with him."
Since long before Trump took office, Perry -- who oversaw an oil and gas boom during his tenure as governor of Texas -- has advocated for continued reliance on fossil fuels like coal and natural gas. Today, he told Chuck Todd, a moderator at the forum, that "the science is still out" on whether humans are driving climate change.
The science is mixed on the relationship between light and crime as well.
One report, published in 2008 by the Justice Department's Office of Community Oriented Policing, noted that while some scientific studies "found desirable effects from improved lighting... others did not," and noted that improving lighting in one area sometimes merely motivates criminals to move to more poorly-lit locations.