Words alone can’t change minds
At the time the 2010 Uniform Crime Report (FBI) was released, the old definition was still in place – “carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.” For years, critics have protested that the definition does not take into account sexual assault cases involving anal or oral penetration or penetration with a foreign object. Neither does the definition account for assaults where the victim was drugged or drunk. Equally as important, the definition excludes males who have been assaulted.
As a result, statistics are skewed. The 2010 UCR reported a five percent drop in sexual assaults from 2009 – an inaccurate and misleading figure. Anytime a drop in crime statistics is reported,
legislators take it as a signal to reduce services and resources devoted to assisting rape victims. Additionally, reduced crime statistics result in less money being allocated on local and state
levels toward the capture and prosecution of rapists.
On Friday, January 6, 2012, the Obama administration announced a revision to the definition of rape used by the FBI. That revision will now allow for coverage of assaults formerly omitted and will provide greater leverage for those proposing anti-crime initiatives. The downside is that the change will take several years to be fully implemented. As a lay person and someone who is definitely on the part of law enforcement, I can never understand why directives that benefit society have any time constraints. We needed this change years ago –not years from now.
In announcing the policy change, Valerie Jarrett, Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, stated that the new definition of rape “will lead to more accurate reporting and a far
more complete understanding of this crime.” In my heart, I know that it is going to take a whole lot more than updated verbiage to convince women (and men) to report sexual assaults.
Until we educate society that rape is not about sex – until we remove the stigma of shame that is associated with rape – women and men who are brutalized by this crime will remain shivering in
the shadows. Cultural norms dictate that rape victims’ identities be hidden from the public. As a domestic abuse victim and as the mother of a rape survivor, I continually ask, “Why?” We didn’t
do anything wrong. We’re not ashamed. Why is it that victims of robberies, muggings and attempted murders are basking in the spotlight of media attention, but sexual assault survivors are hidden in the shadows? Why is it that unless an attacker is a celebrity, no one cares about the victims?
The most brutal aspects of violent crime are reported on in the press. If someone is bludgeoned to death, a description of the weapon is included. If a knife is used, we read about the length of the blade. If a battering tool of some type is the cause of injuries, we learn that it was a baseball bat or an iron pipe. A shooting report includes the type of gun and caliber of bullets. Why is choice of a penis verboten. It’s a weapon – nothing more.
The women and men who survive a sexual assault should be lauded in the press. Those who are determined to bring their attackers to justice are heroes. Do you know how much courage it takes for a victim to face her/his rapist in court? More than most people will ever require in an entire lifetime. These brave survivors are on the front line, fighting in the courts and sending a powerful message to assailants that they will not quiver in fear. Society should be obligated to applaud their efforts. We should award them medals. We should… we must sing their praises from the rooftops and do it in voices loud enough that rapists know we are coming for them.
Until we make “victim” a word to fear in the heart of every rapist, we will never reduce the incidence of sexual assault. I implore all those who have suffered the pain and terror of rape to stand tall and proud. Step out into the spotlight and demand to be seen. Demand to be heard.
Our motto should always be “Once Victimized – Now Victorious.”