On Wednesday, the White House Council on Women and Girls released a report, “ RAPE AND SEXUAL ASSAULT: A RENEWED CALL TO ACTION.” Wading through the sobering reality exposed by this report, one thing is crystal clear – sexual violence is widespread and deeply embedded in American culture. An overview of the statistics:
- Women and girls are the vast majority of victims: nearly 1 in 5 women – or nearly 22 million – have been raped in their lifetimes.
- Men and boys, however, are also at risk: 1 in 71 men – or almost 1.6 million – have been raped during their lives.
- Women of all races are targeted, but some are more vulnerable than others: 33.5% of multiracial women have been raped, as have 27% of American Indian and Alaska Native women, compared to 15% of Hispanic, 22% of Black, and 19% of White women.
- Most victims know their assailants.
- The vast majority (nearly 98%) of perpetrators are male.
- Young people are especially at risk: nearly half of female survivors were raped before they were 18, and over one-quarter of male survivors were raped before they were 10 years old.
- College students are particularly vulnerable: 1 in 5 women has been sexually assaulted while in college.
- Repeat victimization is common: over a third of women who were raped as minors were also raped as adults.
As a college professor, the statistic that terrifies me the most is not merely that 1 in 5 college women will be sexually assaulted before they graduate but that:
Most college victims are assaulted by someone they know – and parties are often the site of these crimes. Notably, campus assailants are often serial offenders: one study found that of the men who admitted to committing rape or attempted rape, some 63% said they committed an average of six rapes each.
Most campus assaults go unreported and when you look at the “repeat offender” reality, it should make quite clear that changing campus culture about reporting, punishing, and well….everything surrounding sexual assault is an URGENT priority.
The vast majority of perpetrators are known to their victims. As part of college life, this is particularly true and dangerously hidden given the image of rape as involving a stranger jumping out of the bushes.
In his opening remarks, President Obama issued a call to all of us – to refuse to accept sexual violence.
This is not an abstract problem that goes on in other families or other communities. Even now, it’s not always talked about enough. It can still go on in the shadows. But it affects every one of us. It’s about all of us — our moms, our wives, our sisters, our daughters, our sons. Sexual assault is an affront to our basic decency and humanity. And for survivors, the awful pain can take years, even decades to heal. Sometimes it lasts a lifetime. And wherever it occurs — whether it’s in our neighborhoods or on our college campuses, our military bases or our tribal lands — it has to matter to all of us.
Because when a young girl or a young boy starts to question their self-worth after being assaulted, and maybe starts withdrawing, we’re all deprived of their full potential. When a young woman drops out of school after being attacked, that’s not just a loss for her, that’s a loss for our country. We’ve all got a stake in that young woman’s success.
When a mother struggles to hold down a job after a traumatic assault, or is assaulted in order to keep a job, that matters to all of us because strong families are a foundation of a strong country. And if that woman doesn’t feel like she has recourse when she’s subject to abuse, and we’re not there supporting her, shame on us. When a member of our military is assaulted by the very people he or she trusted and serves with, or when they leave the military, voluntarily or involuntarily, because they were raped, that’s a profound injustice that no one who volunteers to defend America should ever have to endure.
So sexual violence is more than just a crime against individuals. It threatens our families, it threatens our communities; ultimately, it threatens the entire country. It tears apart the fabric of our communities. And that’s why we’re here today — because we have the power to do something about it as a government, as a nation. We have the capacity to stop sexual assault, support those who have survived it, and bring perpetrators to justice.
We also cannot tackle the cultural acceptance of sexual violence against women and girls without attention to domestic violence. Raising awareness on violence against women – there have been two fairly high profile PSA videos in recent months. One by Keira Knightly and one capturing “A Year in the Life” of a domestic violence victim. Both videos are worth watching.
Students at Montana State University have initiated a “Not in our house” campaign responding to sexual assault on campus. As the students at MSU, Vice President Biden, and President Obama all highlight, we all face a very important choice on the question of sexual assault. There is no neutrality. Silence is siding with rapists. Denial is siding with a culture that protects and hides rapists. I hope that the President’s new initiative and recent successes by organizers holding colleges accountable for Title IX violations will mark a change in our culture of violence.
This article is also featured on Catholic Moral Theology.