According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 3 women are survivors of sexual violence or intimate partner violence. Only 40% of rapes are ever reported to the police. Out of every 1000 instances of rape, only 13 cases get referred to a prosecutor, and only 7 cases will lead to a felony conviction.
Why is the number of assaults so high, while the number of convictions remains so low? Research shows that societal myths surrounding sexual violence have systemic and institutional support and perpetuate a culture that blames the victim and excuses the perpetrator:
Masculinity involves anger, power and dominance: On college campuses and sports teams around the country, males are given the message that being masculine involves sexual conquest and disregards the notion of the importance of consent or even consciousness on the part of their victim.
Sexual objectification of women’s bodies: Objectifying women’s bodies through unwanted comments or touch, pornography and other forms of media desensitizes men towards the value and worth of women as equal human beings who deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.
Systemic bias against the victim: The vulnerability and shame a rape victim already inherently experiences following an assault is only intensified by the process of reporting the crime and pressing charges. For example, when rape victims seek help, they must often answer invasive and offensive questions to defend the circumstances of the rape. Police may ask: “What were you wearing?” “Were you drinking?” “Did you flirt?” “Did you say ‘no’ loud enough?” “Did you fight back?” “Did you scream?” Furthermore, in hundreds of thousands of instances, victims’ rape kits have never been analyzed. This isn’t one victim, one rapist, one police officer – it’s not an individual problem. This is embedded in our very systems of social order. The rapist is innocent until proven guilty. The victim, on the other hand, seems to be considered guilty until proven innocent.
Preventing rape means changing an entire culture. Some ways we can get started:
Encourage boys and men to express emotions and unravel the myth of hyper-masculinity
Push back against sexual objectification of women
Rape prevention courses: Research shows that men who take a rape prevention class in college are positively affected for years following. Effective courses teach empathy as well as how to intervene in dangerous situations, support a rape survivor, and also confront others who tell jokes about rape.
Engage bystanders: There are often times when people see something bad happening, and don’t know how to stop it. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center provides helpful research and information about how to reverse this trend.
Change public perception of what’s acceptable: Several successful anti-rape campaigns all around the globe are working to dismantle rape culture. The message should not have to be: “Don’t get raped,” which places the onus on the potential victim. The message should be: “Don’t rape,” which places the responsibility squarely where it belongs: on the would-be assailant.
Vice President Biden recently stated: “Changing the laws is only the beginning. We have to change the national culture, a culture that condones and often promotes violence against women.” No matter the final outcome, reporting increases the likelihood that the perpetrator will face consequences. Together, we can change a culture that seems to allow and excuse sexual violence by justifying the perpetrator’s actions and blaming the victim.