When I was assigned this blog, I asked myself what I think needs to be discussed or what needs to be revived as a discussion. What this blog will discuss is nothing new, but that’s precisely why I feel I need to talk about it. The topic has become so commonplace that people don’t talk about it anymore. When people hear about another occurrence, they just say “Oh, that happened again? That’s too bad.” And that’s all people say about it. This attitude contributes to the overall problem. This blog post is about sexual assault and harassment because this is a topic that should not be a fact of life; it should not be something that women (and men) have to deal with.
If you have ever been a victim of sexual assault, rape, or sexual harassment, you are not alone. Sexual assault affects people of all ages, especially women. The New York Times reported, “current trends project that 1 in 3 American women will be sexually assaulted at some point during her life.”[i] Sexual assault begins for many when they are children. 44% of sexual assault victims are under the age of 18.[ii] In New York alone, 2500 children are commercially sexually exploited every year.[iii]
In 2012, there was an average of 232 rapes/sexual assaults reported every day.[iv] However, it is estimated that 60 percent of all sexual assaults go unreported each year.[v] In 2010, less than a quarter of all reported rape resulted in an arrest.[vi]
Sexual assault and harassment are prevalent throughout a woman’s life. One in five women will be a victim of sexual assault during her college years, often with the perpetrator facing light to no repercussions.[vii] This trend continues in the workplace. In 2011, a poll found that one in four women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace; only 41 percent of those women reported it to their employer.[viii] Websites such as Everydaysexism.com, where women can post their experiences, often as victims of sexual assault and harassment, add a relatable humanity to the bare statistics of this epidemic.
In spite of the seriousness of this sexual assault and harassment problem, I am cautiously optimistic. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, rape/sexual assault decreased 64 percent from 1995 to 2010.[ix] While this trend is encouraging, this type of crime is particularly infamous for having a large dark figure, or rather; a large unreported number of occurrences. It is possible that a greater percentage of sexual assault goes unreported now than in 1995. However, I do have hope that the dark figure is not simply getting larger, but that the occurrence of this crime is actually decreasing.
However, unlike the crime of sexual assault, societal attitudes toward sexual assault that perpetuate rape culture are more prevalent than ever. Todd Akin, a former congressman from Missouri, famously spoke about ‘legitimate’ rape, and judges still give verdicts based on prevailing rape stereotypes such as the victim being partially to blame. In one court case, the judge ruled that “an 11-year-old girl was partly to blame for a 23-year-old man sexually molesting her because the girl invited him into her bedroom and ‘it takes two to tango.’”[x] In another recent court case, which received national attention, a man convicted of raping a fourteen-year-old girl who then took her own life was sentenced to 15 years in jail, but the judge suspended the sentence to all but thirty days. During the sentencing, the judge stated that “[The victim] seemed older than her chronological age.”[xi]
Often, colleges and other large organizations only perpetuate this rape culture. As Joseph Shapiro, an economics professor at MIT, pointed out during an interview with Scott Simon of NPR, schools teach rape prevention by telling women to not drink too much and to not leave drinks unattended, thereby placing all of the responsibility on women. Shapiro points out during this interview that men need to speak up if they hear their friends talking about inappropriate behavior against women and take responsibility for helping prevent the rape and assault of women.[xii] Fortunately, there are organizations dedicated to helping men recognize their responsibility in preventing rape. For example, one such organization is Men Can Stop Rape, which runs in conjunction with Men of Strength (MOST) clubs, which advocates the message “my strength is not for hurting.”[xiii]
Unfortunately in today’s society, as the New York Times astutely observes, “We profess to being shocked at one or another of these outlandish crimes, but the shock wears off quickly in an environment in which the rape, murder, and humiliation of females is not only a staple of the news, but an important cornerstone of the nation’s entertainment.” [xiv] Every person can make a difference in the effort to end sexual assault and harassment. Should you witness someone being harassed in any way, stand up for that person. If you hear men catcalling women, which is often a form of sexual harassment, tell the men to stop; don’t just stand idly by. If someone confides in you that they have been assaulted or harassed, encourage them to report it so that the perpetrator can answer for their crime. Any action, no matter how small, makes a difference. Although the statistics indicate improvement, each one of us bears the responsibility for ensuring the continued decrease of sexual assault and harassment and rape culture. Let us be vigilant about ending our complacency toward these crimes.
[i] A.D.A.M. “Rape,” The New York Times. http://health.nytimes.com/health/guides/specialtopic/rape/overview.html?inline=nyt-classifier (accessed September 6, 2013).
[ii] RAINN, “Statistics,” rainn.org/statistics (accessed September 6, 2013).
[iii] Jessica Dye, “Teen prostitution case belongs in family court: judge,” Thomson Reuters News & Insight, December 19, 2011, http://newsandinsight.thomsonreuters.com/Legal/News/2011/12_-_December/Teen_prostitution_case_belongs_in_family_court__judge/ (accessed September 6, 2013).
[iv] The Economist, “Crime and clarity: Whether sex is rape depends partly on where it happens,” The Economist, September 1, 2012, http://www.economist.com/node/21561883 (accessed September 6, 2013).
[v] Mollman, Marianne, “With reported rapes, the DSK case is the exception,” The Los Angeles Times, June 7, 2011, http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-mollmann-rape-20110607,0,1545399.story (accessed September 6, 2013).
[vi] Human Rights Watch, “Cultivating Fear: The vulnerability of immigrant farmworkers in the US to sexual violence and sexual harassment,” Human Rights Watch, May 2012, http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/us0512ForUpload_1.pdf (accessed September 6, 2013).
[vii] Shapiro, Joseph, “NPR Investigation: Myths that make it hard to stop campus rape,” National Public Radio, March 4, 2010, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124272157 (accessed September 6, 2013).
[viii] Human Rights Watch, “Cultivating Fear: The vulnerability of immigrant farmworkers in the US to sexual violence and sexual harassment,” Human Rights Watch, May 2012, http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/us0512ForUpload_1.pdf (accessed September 6, 2013).
[x] UNIFEM, “Not a minute more: Ending violence against women,” UNIFEM, 2003, (accessed September 6, 2013).
[xi] CNN. “Prosecutors Weigh Appeal of 30-day Rape Sentence in Montana.” CNN. http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/28/justice/montana-teacher-rape-sentence/index.html?eref=googletoolbar (accessed September 6, 2013).
[xii] Shapiro, Joseph, “NPR investigation: Rape victims find little help on college campuses,” National Public Radio, February 27, 2010, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124148857 (accessed September 6, 2013).
[xiii] World Health Organization, “Preventing intimate partner and sexual violence against women,” World Health Organization, 2010, http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2010/9789241564007_eng.pdf (accessed September 6, 2013).
[xiv] Herbert, Bob. “Women at risk,” The New York Times, August 7, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/08/opinion/08herbert.html (accessed September 6, 2013).