The Reality of Rape
IN THE time it takes you to read to the end of this page, a woman will be raped somewhere in the United States. She will be alone and will be terrorized by an act of violence and degradation by someone she probably knows. She may be beaten. She may resist. She will undoubtedly fear for her life.
Rape is the fastest growing violent crime in the United States, which already has one of the highest rates of rape in the world. According to police reports, 16 rapes are attempted, and 10 women are raped every hour. Add to that the fact that unreported rapes may be ten times higher!
The United States does not stand alone with these grim statistics. In France the number of victims who reported being raped rose 62 percent between 1985 and 1990. By 1990, Canada saw reports of sexual assaults double to 27,000 in just six years. Germany reported one sexual assault on women every seven minutes.
Rape hurts innocent men as well.a Men “suffer from living in a society where half the population has reason to be resentful, suspicious, and scared,” said psychologist Elizabeth Powell. They may also be victimized by having to live in fear for their wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends, or they have to cope with feelings of guilt and pain when someone they love becomes a rape victim.
Why the Increase?
Rape flourishes in societies that tolerate violence and sexual manipulation. In a number of countries, men and women are bombarded from childhood with destructive messages and misinformation about sex, through the media, the family, and their peers. They learn the poisonous concepts that sex and violence are linked and that women exist to provide sexual satisfaction to men, regardless of women’s wishes.
Note the attitude of Jay, a 23-year-old file clerk. “Society says that you have to have a lot of sex with a lot of different women to be a real man,” he said. “Well, what happens if you don’t? Then what are you?” Because of that pressure, if a woman made him angry or frustrated, he might rape her.
Such violent and aggressive attitudes toward women are common in rape-prone cultures, believes researcher Linda Ledray. “To a great extent the rapist is only acting out the broader social script,” she said. Movies and television contribute to that destructive social script. Rape is a common theme in pornography, but pornography is not the only culprit. Studies have shown that violent films with no sexual content result in more aggressive attitudes toward women than films that have explicit sex but no violence. Television is implicated as well when it “portrays some of the most manipulative sex to be found anywhere,” Powell said. The message from the media? “When angry, hurt somebody.”
That message is translated into day-to-day relationships, with tragic results. In an increasingly permissive world, men often feel that women owe them sex, especially if the man spends money on the woman or she initially seemed receptive to his advances.
“When it comes to sexual relations, saying ‘no’ is often meaningless when the words are spoken by a female,” said journalist Robin Warshaw. And all too often, rape is the result.
“The Second Rape”
Kathi was 15 years old when she was raped by three members of her high school hockey team. When her family pressed charges, she was ostracized and harassed by friends, neighbors, and strangers. “Boys will be boys,” the family was told. At school Kathi was called obscene names, and threatening messages were left on her locker. Her rapists were punished with probation and community service and went on to become athletic heroes for the school. Kathi was punished with months of harassment. Eventually she took her life.
Kathi’s case is a tragic example of how rape victims are often assaulted first physically by the rapist, then emotionally by others. Many women find that attitudes and misconceptions about rape result in the victim’s being blamed for the crime. Friends, family, police, doctors, judges, and juries—those who should be helping the victim—may share those misconceptions and hurt the victim nearly as deeply as did the rapist. The problem of blame is so severe that some have termed it “the second rape.”
Rape myths create a false sense of security. In other words, if you can find some fault in the victim’s behavior—she dressed in tight clothing or she went out alone at night or she really wanted to have sexual relations—you or your loved ones will be safe if that conduct is avoided; therefore you will never be raped. The alternative, that rape is a senseless act of violence that can happen to anybody, regardless of how she is dressed, is too terrifying to accept.
One woman, raped by someone she thought of as “nice, respectable,” pleads: “The worst possible thing you can do is believe it won’t happen to you.”
Rape Myths and Realities
The following are some of the long-held misconceptions about rape that serve to blame the victim and to perpetuate attitudes that encourage the perpetrators:
Myth: Rape happens only when a woman is attacked by a stranger.
Fact: The majority of women who are raped are assaulted by someone they know and had trusted. One study found that 84 percent of victims knew their attackers and that 57 percent of the rapes happened on dates. One out of 7 married women will be raped by her own husband.b Rapes are violent and emotionally traumatic whether the attacker is a stranger, a spouse, or a date.
Myth: It’s rape only if a woman afterward shows evidence of resistance, such as bruises.
Fact: Whether they physically resisted or not, few women show visible evidence, such as bruises or cuts.
Myth: A rape victim bears part of the blame unless she actively resists.
Fact: Rape by definition takes place when force or the threat of force is used to gain sexual penetration, of any kind whatsoever, against a person’s will. It is the rapist’s use of force against an unwilling victim that makes him a rapist. Thus, a rape victim is not guilty of fornication. Like an incest victim, she may be forced to submit to an act she doesn’t want because of the perceived power held over her by another person. When a woman is forced to submit to a rapist out of terror or disorientation, it does not mean that she consents to the act. Consent is based on choice without threat and is active, not passive.
Myth: Rape is an act of passion.
Fact: Rape is an act of violence. Men rape, not solely for sex, but to feel power over another person.c
Myth: A woman can tease or lead a man on to the point that he can no longer control his sexual urges.
Fact: Men who rape do not have a stronger sex drive than other men have. Rather, one third of all rapists were unable to complete the sex act. In most cases rapes are planned acts, not spontaneous urges. Both stranger and acquaintance rapists usually set up their victims—the stranger by stalking the victim until she is alone, the acquaintance by arranging a situation where she is isolated.
Myth: Women lie about rape to get revenge on a man or because they feel guilty about having sex.
Fact: False reports of rape occur at the same rate as for any other violent crime: 2 percent. On the other hand, researchers agree that rape is grossly underreported.
Myth: A woman can “ask” to be raped by wearing provocative clothing, drinking alcohol, letting a man pay her way, or going to his home.
Fact: Using bad judgment, being naive or ignorant, does not mean that a woman deserves to be raped. Rapists bear sole responsibility for the rape.
a About 1 out of 10 rape victims is male.
b Marital rape occurs when a husband overpowers his wife and forces himself on her sexually. Some husbands may believe that the “authority” the apostle Paul says a man has over his wife’s body is absolute. However, Paul also stated that “husbands ought to be loving their wives as their own bodies.” The apostle Peter states that husbands should assign wives “honor as to a weaker vessel, the feminine one.” That leaves no room for violence or forced sex.—1 Corinthians 7:3-5; Ephesians 5:25, 28, 29; 1 Peter 3:7; Colossians 3:5, 6; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7.
c “The crime is not about the act of ‘sex’ but rather the sexual act is the tool that the perpetrator uses to commit a violent crime.”—Wanda Keyes-Robinson, division chief, Sexual Offense Unit, Baltimore City, Maryland.
[Blurb on page 3]
In the United States, 1 out of every 4 women may be a victim of rape or attempted rape
[Blurb on page 4]
Rape flourishes in societies that tolerate violence and sexual manipulation