News of this year's brutal gang rape and murder of a young New Delhi woman shocked the world. Earlier this year, we also heard about the gang rape of a photojournalist in Mumbai and then another gang rape of a Swiss tourist. Travel advisories were issued and travelers were made to think that sexual assaults were limited to India. But in reality, rape is a critical problem worldwide. And in our own backyard, numbers show that it is a also a widespread problem in the Unites States.
In 2010, the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey revealed that approximately 1.3 million women are sexually assaulted every year in the United States. That means nearly 1 in 5 (18.3 percent) women every year are the survivors of sexual assault. Those numbers only tell part of the story. Many more cases go unreported.
That same study showed 19 percent of undergraduate women experienced sexual assault since entering college. Colleges and universities have resolved sexual assaults by mediation between assailants and victims and discouraged reporting, asked the victim if she "felt like a ho" the next morning, and one school fined the rapist $75 and made him write an essay!
Since when did composition classes become a fair punishment for committing crimes? This might be a ridiculous question, but what is more outlandish is how universities and colleges are handling sexual assaults. PAVE (Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment), which uses education and action to shatter the silence of sexual and domestic violence, offers a solution to ending sexual violence on college campuses.
At a recent panel discussion that I moderated, a young man asked, "How can men help in preventing sexual assault? What can we do?" Sharmili Majmudar, LCSW, executive director of Rape Victims Advocates, answered that men must understand the meaning of consent. She also suggested that men become advocates of healthy relationships and engage in peer education to end and silence rape culture.
Since 1995, Between Friends' REACH Program has provided education and prevention programming to 65,000 youth throughout the city of Chicago. Through discussion groups and classroom-based workshops, young people:
· Understand how to build and maintain healthy relationships;
· Learn about dating violence and prevention; and
· Get involved in education and prevention efforts with their peers, schools, and in the larger community.
Rape is also a growing problem in the military. The Department of Defense reported 3,374 sexual assault reports in the military in 2012, a record high and a 6 percent increase from 2011. The study uncovered some disturbing facts. Here are a couple of startling ones:
- Less than less than 10 percent of the 3,374 cases were brought to trial;
- 12,100 of the 203,000 women on active duty and 13,900 of the 1.2 million men on active duty had experienced some form of sexual assault.
Many military women and men do not report the crimes for fear of retribution or limited justice under the military's system for prosecution. The commanders who make these critical decisions often do not have legal training and fail to send the sexual assault complaints to trial. Legislation like the Military Justice Improvement Act of 2013 would place the reporting and decision making for cases of sexual assault, and other serious crimes, outside of the victim's chain of command and in the hands of a trained military prosecutor. Real accountability in the military will help give survivors the confidence they need to file reports and get the justice they deserve.
All of us can do something. What do you think needs to be done to put a stop to sexual assault in this country and our institutions?