Trigger Warning: Depictions of Sexual Violence Below
That is the number of rapes committed each year in the United States. 237,868. That’s sickening, disgusting, nauseating…nope, there’s no word quite right to describe just how wrong that number is. According to Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), roughly 60% of those rapes go unreported. That means 142,721 (rounded to the nearest whole number) rapes are never reported to the police. Even if a majority of those rapes were committed by serial rapists, that is still a lot of rapists going unpunished. Even worse, 97% of rapists never spend a day in prison. I don’t even want to calculate that number because there aren’t enough Christmas carols, romantic comedies, or episodes of Gilmore Girls to make that number less appalling.
You’re probably asking what brought this on now when on most other days I’m content to write about the books that I’m reading. Well, today seems to be the day for rape to rear its ugly head in the media. Just this morning, Ray McDonald of the San Francisco 49er’s was accused of raping a young woman this past Monday. This comes less than a month after the Santa Clara District Attorney’s office dismissed charges of domestic violence that were brought against him over the summer. Those charges were dropped only because McDonald’s girlfriend and alleged victim wouldn’t cooperate with the police.
A couple of hours later, actor Stephen Collins, who played Reverend Eric Camden on the WB/CW’s long-running show 7th Heaven, admitted to having molested young girls, something he’d been under investigation for since his ex-wife released audio recordings of him confessing the same to her.
Of course, there are also the plethora of rape accusations against Bill Cosby, who allegedly raped or sexually assaulted dozens of women as far back as the 1970’s. Recently, he was accused of assaulting a 15 year old girl back in 1974, but the Los Angeles Prosecutor’s Office declined to file charges.
The worst, however, comes from the GOP, which while not completely surprising considering their reputation when it comes to rape, is still incomprehensible. A couple of years ago, Todd Akin (R-MO) remarked that when a woman is legitimately raped that she cannot get pregnant because “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” Akin has since lost his senate seat to his democratic adversary Claire McCaskill. He’s not the only Republican to make such statements–former Vice Presidential candidate, Paul Ryan co-sponsored a bill with Akin in which the same term was used. More recently, Rep. Rick Brattin drafted an anti-abortion bill in which a woman would only be allowed to have an abortion if the man who impregnated her gives his blessing. The only exception is if the woman was legitimately raped. What constitutes a legitimate rape? A police report. According to Mother Jones, Rep. Brattin argued (emphasis is mine):
Just like any rape, you have to report it, and you have to prove it…So you couldn’t just go and say, ‘Oh yeah, I was raped’ and get an abortion. It has to be a legitimate rape….I’m just saying if there was a legitimate rape, you’re going to make a police report, just as if you were robbed. That’s just common sense. [Y]ou have to take steps to show that you were raped…And I’d think you’d be able to prove that.
Mother Jones notes that nothing in the bill explains how one is to prove rape. Does this mean that there needs to be a conviction? It would seem so, but when only 3% of rapists ever see a day of prison time that doesn’t seem like a good measure.
What is so frustrating about Brattin’s comments is that he assumes that the only women who are raped are the 40% of women that make police reports because in his privileged, male world being raped is the same thing as being robbed. Of course you’re going to file a police report. It’s common sense. It definitely seems like it would be common sense, except if we’re equating rape with being robbed, then let’s go a little further with that analogy. Say, you’re walking down the street and someone sticks a gun in your side and demands your cell phone, wallet, wedding ring, etc. The common sense thing is to give the thief what he wants, so you do, and when he leaves you call 911. The cops come and take your statement, reassuring you that they’re going to do everything they can to get your property back and find the person that took them from you.
Now, say you’re walking down the street and that same gun wielding man approaches you. Instead of demanding your material goods, he pushes you down to the ground, tears at your clothes, and rapes you. He, then tells you that if you say anything, he’s going to come back and kill you. You’ve got two options: (1) You get up off of the ground, get in a cab, go home, shower, and try not to think about what just happened to you–even though this will prove impossible. (2) You call 911 and file a police report. The cops come and they take your statement. Then, they take you to a hospital where a rape kit is performed. This will feel just as invasive as what your attacker did to you. Once this is all over, you have to hope that the cops find the man who raped you and that the prosecutor’s office will file appropriate charges. At the same time, you get to hear how everyone else would have reacted in the same situation and question every decision you made. They’ll tell you that you shouldn’t have been wearing the clothes you had on–no matter what those clothes looked like–and they’ll tell you that you shouldn’t been walking around by yourself. If you’d been drinking, they’ll tell you that you shouldn’t have been drinking because then you wouldn’t have been raped at all. These things will be said by everyone you know: you’re family, friends, co-workers, and maybe even the cops that are taking your statement. With rape, it is almost always the victim’s fault because the victim was in some way asking for it.
Let me make this clear: no one is ever asking to be raped. The clothes I wear, the neighborhoods I frequent, and whether or not I have been drinking do not give anyone the right to rape me.
Am I advocating not filing charges in the wake of a rape? Not at all. I believe that if you’re raped you need to go to the police and in a perfect world, people will gather around you and help you, but this isn’t a perfect world and the above situation does happen. A lot. Way too often to even contemplate.
Rape and robbery are not the same thing. No one is ever going to question a robbery victim’s actions. There’s even an internet meme about this very situation. Apparently, Brattin has never seen it.
Something seriously needs to be done about the culture of rape in this country. We need to teach boys not to rape women because teaching women how not to be raped sends the wrong message. It tells them that being raped is their fault and that is insulting to both men and women. It tells men that they can’t and shouldn’t control their impulses when a woman is around.
More importantly, we need to teach young men that young women are people too–that they’re not objects to be desired and possessed. Only then will there be a change. Only then will women be able to walk down a street without having to fear for her safety.