Under-investigated, Trivialized, Excused: US System That Treats Rape as Something Less Than a Crime

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Lithub.com reports: “Is rape a crime? It’s a startling question. Most people would answer emphatically, “Of course it is.” They might even add, “What kind of a question is that?” This question, though, is a fair one to explore given how rape is treated in our country and around the world—underinvestigated, trivialized, and excused. Is anything else enacted as an international weapon of war and referred to for a sure laugh at a comedy club? Rape in the United States is a felony, in theory, but evidence of rape is largely ignored and victims are expected to prove their veracity. This reluctance from law enforcement to use its valuable resources does not seem to extend to other felonies—the kind where evidence is tested and witnesses interviewed, the kind DAs prosecute readily, the kind where arrest and conviction are more than a remote possibility. We are left with a central contradiction here: most people, when asked, will agree that rape is one of the most horrific violations that can happen to a human being, yet somehow society appears to stand aside while crimes of rape are minimized or dismissed if they are reported at all if they are investigated at all.”

“The crime of rape sizzles like a lightning strike. It pounces, flattens, and devastates its victims. A person stands whole, and in a moment of unexpected violence, that life, that body, is gone. If the eviscerated individual somehow rises, incredulous bystanders, shout with relief, “They’re alive! They are a survivor!” not realizing the victim’s organs are incinerated, her brain runny scrambled egg.”

“And what of those internal scars? Does time allow regeneration? Can medical carefully repair the bodily damage the lightning bolt so violently imprinted? Since the injuries are largely unseen by others, how does the victim carry on? How are the scars attended to and softened rather than made hard and immovable?

To answer those questions, to really answer them and not turn away, we need to consider the role we play in dismissing the experiences of victims of sexual violence. This collusion by omission occurs, in large measure, to protect our own vulnerability. The challenge of confronting a power structure so entrenched that its full impact is unseen lies in the insidiousness of our need to look away. What we accept as a normal response to sexual violence is anything but. We must make space for each individual story, creating a larger mosaic of what has emerged as an all-too-common experience: the delegitimization of rape as a crime. Only then can we begin to change how rape is addressed in our society.”

“This is a difficult task I ask of you—to look at these violent crimes full-on and listen as I tell my story and what it implies about a collective disregard for victims of sex crimes. But I hope you will listen, and I hope you will consider engaging in a shared and urgent task: to both recognize and raise awareness about the many ways rape is treated differently from all other felonies and to demand change. Our collective efforts are needed in this essential task and the work cannot be done in isolation.”

“The term “rape culture” was introduced by second-wave feminists in the mid-1970s to describe how pervasive and normative violence against women was in the United States. Twenty years later, the problems identified by the term not solved through naming it, the editors of Transforming a Rape Culture described it as “a complex set of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. . . . [It] condones physical and emotional terrorism against women and presents . . . as the norm . . . that sexual violence is a fact of life . . . inevitable.” Today, the “me too” movement and a charged political environment continue the struggle to define rape culture, address its impact, and effect change. Rape culture is the subject of a number of books, essays, and inspiring speeches. What is it we continue to name over 50 years’ time that is so recalcitrant, its damage tolerated? Centuries ago, violent sexual crimes committed against women were considered crimes against their husbands—a harming of their property, a stain on their honor. In contexts where rape was perceived as affecting men by proxy, it was often addressed with more gravity than it is now.”

“Only 4 percent of all reported rape cases ever see the inside of a courtroom, translating into 1 percent of every 1,000 rapes committed.”

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