President Obama commendably convened a task force to address the rampant rape and sexual assault incidents that are "an affront to our basic decency and humanity. And it's about all of us -- the safety of those we love most: our moms, our wives, our daughters and our sons."
Herewith from my 20 years in advocacy for women and children are my suggestions for the council:
1. Acknowledge That Rape is Rape
One would think this would be obvious -- but one would be wrong.
A minority of people with a grasp on power believes that only a "legitimate" rape results in pregnancy. We know why some conservatives say this -- they want to deny birth control, morning after pills/emergency contraception and abortion options to women, so minimizing the effects of rape means minimizing those women's health options. We heard this from Todd Akin, Paul Ryan and Mike Huckabee, who defended Akin then and attacks Democrats now for (falsely) believing that women are "victims of their gender" who need to get contraception from "Uncle Sugar" to control our "libidos."
Just yesterday, when visiting Politics Radio to oppose Mike Huckabee's inane "libido" comments and stand up for the 8 in 10 Americans who support abortion rights in the case of rape or incest, I was immediately twitter trolled by a man accusing me of perpetuating the "rape pregnancy myth."
Oh my. It would be easy to write off Todd Akin, Paul Ryan, Mike Huckabee and the twitter troll if only Ryan wasn't writing a budget to cut off women's health, Huckabee weren't a front-runner for the 2016 Presidential nomination and the "rape pregnancy myth" so pernicious in public discourse.
Thus President Obama's task force must firmly state the science: rape is (still) rape and does in fact cause pregnancy. This means emergency contraception, counseling and rape kits as the universal norm, not the exception, for all rape cases.
2. Understand Why Victims Do Not Come Forward
The legal term is victim (you might alternatively see "complaining witness" on a police report or during jury proceedings when the rapist is the defendant until/unless found guilty). I use both terms "victims" and "survivors" because people often identify as both or as one or the other depending on their own personal path to recovery, and some have told me quite directly that they prefer one term and not the other.
Too often people ignore the other science behind miss-named "sexual violence" -- that sex crimes are actually violent crimes -- crimes of power not sex. But once you fall into the nomenclature, it's easy to then shame the victims or project consent onto unwilling victims. Ask a woman why she won't report a rape and she'll talk victim-blaming, slut shaming and misogyny. Ask a man why he won't report a rape by another man or by a woman and he'll talk about confronting homophobia. Ask a trans* man or woman about failure to report a rape and she or he will talk about confronting intense trans-phobia. Ask a man or woman of color and he or she will talk about the racial discrimination inherent on our criminal justice system, or about the lack of linguistic or cultural resources needed for reporting. Each of these victims will in different ways have to defend their sex life, sexuality or sexual orientation just to report being victimized. With that burden to carry, many simply refuse to come forward.
The Center for Disease Control, in partnership with the Department of Justice, performed the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey and interviewed 6,507 adults (9,086 women and 7,421 men). Some of their findings:
Sexual Violence by Any Perpetrator
Nearly 1 in 5 women (18.3 percent) and 1 in 71 men (1.4 percent) in the United States have been raped at some time in their lives, including completed forced penetration, attempted forced penetration, or alcohol/drug facilitated completed penetration.
More than half (51.1 percent) of female victims of rape reported being raped by an intimate partner and 40.8 percent by an acquaintance; for male victims
Approximately 1 in 21 men (4.8 percent) reported that they were made to penetrate someone else during their lifetime; most men who were made to penetrate someone else reported that the perpetrator was either an intimate partner (44.8 percent) or an acquaintance (44.7 percent).
Violence Experienced by Race/ Ethnicity
Approximately 1 in 5 Black (22.0 percent) and White (18.8 percent) non-Hispanic women, and 1 in 7 Hispanic women (14.6 percent) in the United States have experienced rape at some point in their lives. More than one-quarter of women (26.9 percent) who identified as American Indian or as Alaska Native and 1 in 3 women (33.5 percent) who identified as multiracial non-Hispanic reported rape victimization in their lifetime.
One out of 59 White non- Hispanic men (1.7 percent) has experienced rape at some point in his life. Nearly one-third of multiracial non-Hispanic men (31.6 percent) and over one-quarter of Hispanic men (26.2 percent) reported sexual violence other than rape in their lifetimes.
Approximately 1 in 3 multiracial non-Hispanic women (30.6 percent) and 1 in 4 American Indian or Alaska Native women (22.7 percent) reported being stalked during their lifetimes. One in 5 Black non-Hispanic women (19.6 percent), 1 in 6 White non-Hispanic women (16.0 percent), and 1 in 7 Hispanic women (15.2 percent) experienced stalking in their lifetimes.
Approximately 1 in 17 Black non-Hispanic men (6.0 percent), and 1 in 20 White non-Hispanic men (5.1 percent) and Hispanic men (5.1 percent) in the United States experienced stalking in their lifetime.
Approximately 4 out of every 10 women of non-Hispanic Black or American Indian or Alaska Native race/ethnicity (43.7 percent and 46.0 percent, respectively), and 1 in 2 multiracial non-Hispanic women (53.8 percent) have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Nearly half (45.3 percent) of American Indian or Alaska Native men and almost 4 out of every 10 Black and multiracial men (38.6 percent and 39.3 percent, respectively) experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime.
3. Perform More Rape Kits and Close the Rape Kit Backlog
In my work as a prosecutor and advocate, I know that the easiest way to resolve a case is to use DNC evidence to implicate or exonerate a defendant. A rape kit with the forensic evidence linking a suspect to a crime is often the clearest path to justice, with evidence far stronger than unreliable eyewitness testimony or uncorroborated hearsay. Sadly -- unconscionably -- there are hundreds of thousands of rape kits that linger gathering dust on the shelves of crime labs. Many more rape tests should be administered, and all of them should be tested within 30 days of creation to expedite sexual violence cases.
4. Consider Alternative or Parallel Paths for Victims and Survivors of Campus Assault
Campus reporting is uneven and fraught with peril. Although the Jeanne Clery Act -- officially the "Student Right-to-Know and Campus Security Act" and Title IX are, respectively, designed to mandate reporting and prevent sexual discrimination, they are not working to prevent and prosecute sexual violence.
Schools don't want the bad publicity inherent in being a campus where kids get raped, and many students on both sides of rape charges prefer a civil proceeding to a criminal one.
Why would victims and survivors want an alternative path for non-criminal punishment? So pernicious is rape culture that many victims and survivors simply do not want to involve the police. In California, young women assaulted on college campuses are actively working with the state legislature on a bill that only provides police reporting with victim or survivor's consent.
I am sympathetic to the argument that having a school hearing in 90 days with a preponderance of the evidence standard to expel an attacker is far easier for a victim than a protracted months' long criminal trial with a higher standard of proof and higher stakes of all involved. I see this as a practical effort to attempt discipline not prosecution, and it certainly spares victims and survivors the time and expense of criminal proceedings. However, my concern is that this merely allows a campus rapist to perpetrate at another campus or setting with no legal indication of his (or her) dangerous behavior.
Alleged perpetrators take issue with this approach as well. Indeed some are suing schools under Title IX, claiming that their equal protection rights are violated under school hearings. While this defense argument ignores the distinction between a Title IX hearing for expulsion and a criminal hearing for conviction, it does highlight the inherent conflict between victims and survivors who want to take a non-prosecution path, and defendants who might prefer that path with its higher burdens of proof since being expelled from college for even a civil proceeding finding of sexual violence is a career-ender.
In the end, I come down on the side of providing both paths to prosecution, and don't see the Title IX violations in a civil disciplinary hearing. Mandatory reporting -- opening a police rape case file -- is perhaps less relevant in California where the Nicole Brown laws allow prior uncharged acts to enter into later trials should the perpetrator re-offend, but more necessary for future victims in other states without such evidentiary procedures.
Health care for the physical and mental effects of sexual violence for victims and survivors services can go a long way toward the healing process -- and the stamina it takes to go through legal proceedings.
5. Teach Children Not To Rape
Colleges are acting in loco parentis -- Latin for "in place of the parent" and should treat all kids on campus as if they were their own. Looking at the shocking number of campus rapes at fraternities, sororities, sports teams and clubs -- all of whom have faculty advisors, coaches or other formal adult supervision -- it is clear that we have failed to teach children -- especially boys -- not to rape.
For the ultimate word on this, I'll quote columnist Zerlina Maxwell, who bravely discussed this on FOX (and was attacked with rape threats but persevered to write up this column and continue fighting rape culture):
1. Teach young men about legal consent 2. Teach young men to see women's humanity, instead of seeing them as sexual objects there for male pleasure 3. Teach young men how to express healthy masculinity 4. Teach young men to believe women who come forward and not to blame the victim and 5. Teach young men about bystander intervention.
6. Support Victims and Survivors
While welcoming people into the discussion, provide a trigger warning so that this discussion does not imperil their healing. Let's begin, then with the contact information for RAINN -- the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network website and hotline 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) Keep it on hand.
A national effort to support victims and survivors wherein we acknowledge that rape is rape, fight the stigma and discrimination inherent in our laws, close the rape kit backlog, offer alternate or parallel paths to justice and teach children not to rape will go a long way toward answering our call to fight sexual violence on campus and in our communities.
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