The New York Times recently had two front page articles about rape and sexual assault being treated in a lackluster manner. The July 13, 2014 article detailed why a freshman college student ended up wishing she'd kept silent about being sexually assaulted by football players because of the way the college and fellow students treated her. The August 3, 2014 article detailed that rape kits with forensic evidence of suspected rape and sexual assault cases sit around untested, often for years, in dusty storerooms, whilst victims wait for justice and attackers are free to attack again and again. These two articles are part of a growing awareness that American college campuses are shockingly unsafe for female students and that the reporting and prosecution systems within colleges and police departments are failing women.
I wondered while I read these articles if the response from colleges and police departments would be just as lackluster if the victim's gender was reversed. Would colleges react in the same disbelieving, rejecting, and silencing manner if male students were the main victims of sexual assaults? Would police departments stockpile rape kits if men were the main victims? Would these male victims be disbelieved and criticized for speaking up in the same way female victims are today? Would it be open season on questioning men's sexual history and the way men dress, just like a female victim's sexual history and dress code is often questioned? And would colleges and society-as-a-whole still suffer from a lack of appetite to make perpetrators of this crime accountable for the abuse they inflict and the human rights they violate if men were the main victims of this crime? Would the best and the brightest of our male college students end up regretting that they said anything because reporting the crime left them feeling like their word and their rights don't matter all that much?
I am currently reading Naomi Wolf's latest book Vagina and as I read about the little-known fact that women's vaginas and brains are emotionally and physiologically connected, a light bulb of understanding switched on in my mind. As I read that a loved and well treated vagina feeds women's brains with chemicals that give her "confidence, courage, connection, and joy," and a traumatized vagina does the opposite, I wondered if there is a hidden misogynistic agenda behind the lackluster attitude to rape and sexual abuse in America.
We hear many horrific stories about how girls and women are being raped in India, Sierra Leone, and in other countries because raping and brutalizing women is seen as an effective tool of war, or it is tolerated behavior, or it is an accepted cultural practice and the way families avenge their honor. It isn't hard to recognize that misogyny lies beneath each of these horrific stories. Each case tells a story about how their society doesn't love or value its females, and that it wants to suppress and control women and girls. And reading Wolf's book, there is a sick twisted logic to this.
But what does it say about American society that 1 in 5 women experience sexual assault during their lifetime, as I heard a news presenter say recently? What does it say about how America loves and values its women and girls? What does it say about America trying to control and suppress its females? And how do the shocking rape and sexual assault statistics and the lackluster approach to this crime affect America's human rights record?
Does the lackluster attitude to bringing perpetrators of sexual assault reveal America's hidden or not-so-hidden misogyny? Is this lackluster approach part of today's backlash against women becoming powerful, in charge, and equal? Wolf's book would certainly suggest that. There are too many incidents and too many stories of inadequate responses for it not to mean something. And if a high tolerance for women and girls being raped and sexually assaulted points to a misogynistic cultural attitude in other countries, surely this applies to America too! This may be an uncomfortable truth to uncover, but it is one that must be told if America has any hope of being a safe place for half its population.
Reference: "Vagina" by Naomi Wolf, HarperCollins, 2012