Changing The Culture of Rape

04/15/2015 06:22 pm ET | Updated Jun 15, 2015

It's been around for centuries. Men have used rape as a tool in war and a way to keep women in their place throughout the ages. It is the practice of sexual and physical domination.

The Oxford Dictionary defines rape as: "The crime, typically committed by a man, of forcing another person to have sexual intercourse with the offender against their will."

I believe it is a hate crime primarily perpetuated against womankind and in some cases boys and men. Any act of violence against another human being to cause bodily harm is a hate crime to me.

So while we have made progress in race relations in this country, it seems little if anything has been done to change the culture of rape.

There is an alarming rate of unreported rapes and sexual assaults that continues in the military, on college campuses, in nightclubs, on our streets, and in homes across our nation.

There has been an outcry against child molesters (Jerry Sandusky of Penn State) and pedophiles as there should be. Children are innocent victims. But when it comes to young and adult women too often the attacked female is blamed. She is accused of enticing her attacker by what she wears or her demeanor.

I would bet that most Americans have friends and family that have been sexually assaulted. I know I do. The closest I came to having that happen to me was at a pool party where a young male thug I did not know pinned me up against the pool wall. I was in my 20s and I suppose my protests and being in public is what saved me, but I felt angry, abused, and helpless and got just a glimpse of the humiliation and fear that victims of rape go through.

When I was a graduate student a close friend of mine was attacked on the second floor of a hall where we were to have a concert later. She had found a room in which to study. It was the weekend so the building was practically empty. Her attacker had a knife and she was saved when someone happened to walk by the room and the perpetrator took off. When I drove her to the police station later to report the attempted rape I was angry when the police chief asked her why she didn't scream for help. I told him that it was a ridiculous question as he had a knife pointed at her neck. As it was, she did the right thing by calmly trying to talk him out of it.

I thought if the police are not on the victim's side, who will be? The truth is there is not enough public outrage on this issue. Police in many cities throughout the country have backlogs of rape kits that go back years.

Because of the shame involved many women don't report rapes and those that do have a hard time getting convictions. Could it be that rapists know they will probably get away with it and that is why the rape rate is so high?

As for our brave women warriors, I was sickened by the 1991 Tailhook scandal in Las Vegas, Nevada where 83 Navy female soldiers were sexually assaulted by their male counterparts. Not much has changed since then. In 2012, an estimated 26,000 cases of unwanted sexual contact and rape occurred in the armed forces (a 37 percent increase from 2011.) Life in the military is hard enough without women having to worry about being raped by their fellow recruits or superior officers. Congressional women and men allies are fighting back. Senator Kristen Gillibrand (NY-D) has sponsored the Military Justice Improvement Act (which of course has stalled in congress) and the Obama administration has been active in the fight to protect women soldiers. But it is an old boys club and will not change while the men are in charge. Hopefully, the advancement of women to senior positions in the Pentagon and armed services will prove to bring needed reforms in reporting and prosecuting guilty abusers. (And a woman Commander in Chief couldn't hurt.)

Similar measures are needed at colleges where the emphasis is on recruitment and university administrations can't be trusted to police their own campuses. With a new twist, some co-eds have successfully brought rape lawsuits against certain institutions of higher education by claiming under Title IX they should be protected by the university.

But what is disturbing to me is that sexual assault and misconduct occurs from the people you would least expect it: famous comedians, respected musicians and teachers and professors, priests, mentors, even fathers, brothers, and uncles.

It is so infuriating when a person of influence and an authority figure takes advantage of adolescents, teens, and young adults who look up to them. It is a betrayal of trust. The physical and psychological pain of a sexual assault can create a form of PTSD that can last a lifetime.

I believe we women need to ban together to combat this issue. We have to change the culture of rape where we don't blame and shame the victims (and they have to stand strong to not blame themselves. There is strength in numbers.) We need to welcome supportive men who are fathers, brothers, and friends as our allies.

I believe that just as having an African-American president has shed new light on the issue of lingering racism, electing a woman president will bring sexual assault out of the shadows.

We need to confront this problem and there need to be consequences for these heinous acts. It is quite ironic to me how so many Americans are quick to point out how horrible women are treated in the Middle East yet fail to see what is happening in their own back yards.

Yes, we have it much better off here as women than many other countries but we can't turn a blind eye to our own shortcomings. Rape has no place in our 21st century America. For as long as this scourge is not addressed, women will not have true freedom or equality.


Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-656-HOPE for the National Sexual Assault Hotline.