The Growing Terror of Rape
RAPE! Perhaps it frightens you so much, or you find it so distasteful, that you are reluctant to read about it. If so, and if you are a woman, you may be the type of person who especially needs to think about the matter. We say this because of the way rapists go about picking their victims.
“A potential rapist looks for a woman who is vulnerable to attack,” explains James Selkin, director of the Center for the Study of Violence at Denver General Hospital. Gene G. Abel, a professor of psychiatry, describes such a vulnerable person: “Most rapists are seeking a startled, stunned, passive woman who submits sexually with minimal resistance.”
Threatened by a rapist, would you be that type of woman? How would you react?
How Most Victims React
Understandably, a woman faced with the threat of rape may be terrified. In fact, two Boston College professors, after interviews with 80 rape victims, noted: “The primary reaction of almost all women to the rape was fear.” And the problem is that such fear can be paralyzing.
The illustration was given by a rape victim: “Did you ever see a rabbit stuck in the glare of your headlights when you were going down a road at night? Transfixed—like it knew it was going to get it—that’s what happened.”
Often coupled with the fear is confusion and uncertainty. For example, a 19-year-old explained: “I never physically fought him off in any way, partly because I was frightened, mostly because in my naïveté I thought a girl has to do what she’s told. . . . I was overwhelmingly confused and defenseless against the whole suddenness.”
She reacted as many others have under similar circumstances. She submitted. Few are prepared to resist—to resist for all they are worth. Elizabeth R. Dobell, writing in the magazine Seventeen, made the surprising revelation: “In only one of the 4,057 rape cases reported in New York City in 1974 was there an act of resistance. . . . Profound terror in the face of physical threats simply renders most women helpless.”
Would a rapist be able to intimidate you to submit to him? How would you resist? Do you know?
Need to Learn How to Resist
Some advisers may tell you not to resist, especially if the rapist has a weapon. It is best, they say, to let the man have his way and thus avoid further harm. But is this counsel wise?
“I think that [it] is totally wrong,” says Frank Lena, a teacher of Rape Self-Defense courses in American high schools. “I teach these girls that if you let a guy rape you out of fear, he just may kill you when he’s done so you can’t identify him later.” Other experts say the same thing, urging women to resist.
Yet the problem of how to resist is a very real one. “We’re afraid,” observed one woman, “because we have no confidence in ourselves. . . . We hope it doesn’t happen. And when it does, we don’t know what to do.”
But conditions in many places make it important for you, as a woman, to learn. You need to learn to react to a potential rapist in a way that might be totally different from what you would do under other circumstances.
A Real Threat Today?
“But really,” you may ask, “aren’t rapes relatively rare? Isn’t being raped a rather remote possibility?”
Looking at certain rape statistics, a person could assume so. In 1933 only 4,930 rape cases were reported in the United States. By 1962, although the number had increased to 16,310, not that many women seemed to be affected.
However, in the next 16 years reported rapes leaped more than fourfold, to 67,131 in 1978. And during the first nine months of last year they rose another 9 percent. Rape is the fastest growing crime in America. Yet reported rapes give little idea of the extent of the threat faced by women today.
This is because the vast majority of rapes are not reported to authorities. Many victims are embarrassed to do so. They may fear skepticism and suspicion about their claim of being raped, or just desire to preserve their privacy. Some fear what their family may say or do. Others feel it simply is not worth the bother, since only about 2 percent of all rapists are convicted and jailed.
Investigations indicate a staggering number of rapes. Generally the figure is estimated to be from three to five times the reported number. Time magazine said: “Some analysts claim as many as 500,000 people a year are attacked by rapists.” According to the book How to Protect Yourself from Crime, “There are estimates which indicate that as many as 90 per cent of all rapes are not reported.”
So more than 1,000 women a day may be the victims of rape in the United States alone! And this number does not include most of the 60,000 children who are sexually abused annually.
Yet rape is by no means an American problem. Sexual violence is also increasing in South America, Africa and Europe.
Why has rape become such a problem today? What causes men to rape?