By Erika Klein
Rape. It's something most of us are uncomfortable discussing and an ugly part of our world. I could use a less obtrusive term. like "sexual assault" or "sexual violence," but I wont. It's a powerful word that we need to keep discussing because it's an issue that faces millions of people worldwide. It is not indicative of any one country or culture, moreover it has a different face depending on where you happen to be on the planet. April is sexual assault awareness month, and though we hear of various disconcerting statistics in the media, it can often be too easy to shut our eyes to what is plaguing and permeating our communities. When the nightmarish and brutal accounts of victims come to light, it is far easier to downplay the issues—perhaps it is more palatable to society when our collective response is repression and denial.
That is why an entire month is dedicated to creating awareness of the issue, in the hopes that we can educate more people and motivate them to be vigilant over their communities and foster safety and respect. Awareness about rape and sexual assault is about changing societal attitudes and teaching the importance of gender equality. It's about creating a shift in ideology and empowering those who are oppressed. It's as basic and simple as being safe as a female, whereever you live.
The statistics aren't pretty. Every two minutes someone in the United States is sexually assaulted. One in 6 women and 1 and 33 men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. College women are four times more likely to be raped and assaulted; 60 percent of these incidents will not be reported to police. Reporting has only increased by 1/3 since 1993. Seventy-three percent of victims know their attackers, and only 6 percent of rapists will ever spend a day in jail. Breaking down these numbers even further—1 of every 6 american women have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her life time. That's 17.7 million women! 2.78 million men are also the victims of sexual assault, although these numbers are often assumed to be higher due to gender social stigmatization and under-reporting. Fifteen percent of those who are sexually assaulted are children under the age of 12. These numbers start to look very bleak until we realize that the situation is an epidemic, especially when viewed on a global scale.
Rape is a large part of many armed conflicts around the world and utilized as a tactical part of war. Violence against women and sexual terrorism continues to flourish because of diverse cultural backgrounds and traditions. Being born a female in some countries often means a life of hardship and extreme sexual trauma. There are still cultural and societal barriers that force victims to endure oppression, silence and shame. Even with a criminal justice system in modernized countries, the old boys club is still very much at play. Many victims do not report abuse for reasons of fear, retaliation, shame, having one's sexual and health history put on trial, and ultimately being re-victimized for what is already against the law. A woman's social status in many places contributes to the continuation of sexual assault. It's really about having no power over our own bodies or lives.
Instead of being viewed as a horrific act of power and violence, the world continues to see rape as a sexual act with mitigating factors. Rape is such a large part of so many different cultures and manifests in many ways. A girl's honor and monetary worth is still tied to sex. Women and girls are still looked upon as property, a sexual object to be taken advantage of by others. Rape is a part of arranged marriages and is often used to force a marriage. (I doubt any of us in the West could fathom having to marry and bare children via the rapist.) The common thread in every geo-cultural context seems to be acceptance. The societal norm is resignation and acceptance mostly because women are not afforded basic human rights or gender equality.
Violence against women goes beyond beatings. It includes forced marriage, dowry-related violence, marital rape, sexual harassment, intimidation at work and in educational institutions, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, forced sterilization, trafficking and forced prostitution. In a country like Pakistan, when a woman is raped and reports it, she can be jailed for adultery while her rapist roams free. In many countries in Africa, a young man merely has to force himself on a girl to become her husband. It's considered acceptable behaviour when, of course, we know that it is traumatic, extremely harmful and even deadly for the woman.
April is sexual assault awareness month, and it is my hope that by sharing this with you, the acceptance level for rape and sexual abuse and violence will decrease—if only in the slightest. Spreading the word and reaching out to create awareness is one step toward a solution. No means no, in every country, in every society. Rape is not about sex, it's about power. It destroys families, communities, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers. We must continue this important dialogue in all of its many global contexts until sexual assault is eradicated and is deemed socially unacceptable in every culture. I firmly believe that women's and children's security lies in the fight for the rights of all. Rape has become a global problem with many faces. We cannot afford to be silent anymore.
National Institute of Justice & Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Prevalence, Incidence and Consequences of Violence Against Women Survey. 1998.
U.S. Department of Justice. 2003 National Crime Victimization Survey. 2003.
U.S. Department of Justice. 2004 National Crime Victimization Survey. 2004.
1998 Commonwealth Fund Survey of the Health of Adolescent Girls. 1998.
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children and Families. 1995 Child Maltreatment Survey. 1995.
U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. 2000 Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement. 2000.
World Health Organization. 2002.
U.S. Department of Justice. 2005 National Crime Victimization Survey. 2005.
Learn more: www.rainn.org