Once again, this post will be about sexual assault victimization. If this subject is sensitive to some readers, please do not continue reading.
I’m about to embark on another long post about sexual assault. The purpose of this post is to hopefully flesh out some of the arguments made in a previous post and I’m hoping to work towards wrapping up this dialogue. I would also like to take this opportunity to say that no one likes writing or talking about rape or sexual assault, myself included. I have found writing about this topic to be especially unpleasant at times, but I do it because I believe there are certain things that I simply need to express. I look forward to the time when I can feel comfortable enough to stop writing about sexual assault.
Ultimately, there is one claim I made earlier that I want to drive home. Discussions of rape and sexual assault need to be handled carefully. I have never been sexually assaulted, but I know women who have gone through that terrible ordeal. I am fortunate in that I do not have to relive painful experiences when I discuss sexual assault. I have the luxury of being able to put aside some of my emotional baggage about sexual assault to give skeptics the benefit of the doubt. I can extend the principle of charity to a critic’s argument as best I can and I can maintain a limited amount of patience and understanding while under scrutiny from others. This is clearly not true of everyone. I don’t know how many of the people debating sexual assaults statistics over internet have ever been raped or if they have been affected by someone who had been raped, but if those people responded to criticism with such a visceral response, I think that it’s safe to assume that that is a sensitive subject for them. Most importantly, anyone who interacts with rape and sexual assault victims needs to exercise the utmost sensitivity because victims of rape and sexual assault do not have the luxury to remain detached and calm about discussions of their rape and sexual assault. They simply can’t shut out that horrible part of their life so easily. Some victims of sexual assault never get over their trauma. The methods that their assailants used to destroy their sense of safety should not be used to determine whether victims’ pain is valid; what makes their pain valid is the amount suffering the victims experience.
When people scrutinize statistics on the rate of rape, I imagine it triggers a powerful emotional reaction in some people who argue, for instance, that 1 in 4 women will be raped at some point over the course of their life. When people discuss rape with those who have been raped or have been impacted by someone who has been raped, it can be a painful reminder to some of their ordeal. Some people relive those moments of the most painful experience of their life when others start talking about sexual assault. It can be undeniably challenging to remain calm and collected when someone feels that their testimony is being challenged. Criticizing the use or validity of rape statistics when asserted by someone who is clearly passionate about the topic is not a productive tactic in the discussion of sexual assault. For one, it serves to marginalize those who have been affected by sexual assault by implying that being emotional makes one’s point less valid. Anger is a valid response when people without power are being dismissed. These victims were traumatized. They feel violated. When one dismisses their testimony as irrational for being emotional it further invalidates them.
Whether intended or not, scrutinizing claims about the prevalence of rape in a tactless manner is an act of aggression against those who have been raped. Critical thinking requires more than just the ability to scrutinize arguments made by the other side. It also requires the ability to understand the importance of recognizing what is relevant. For example, a 2007 government report in England says “Estimates from research suggest that between 75 and 95 percent of rape victims never report to the police.” (page 34) A number of studies have explored the reasons for not reporting and a wide range has been documented:
- not naming the event as rape (and/or a crime) oneself;
- thinking that the police or others will not define the event as rape;
- fear of being disbelieved;
- fear of blame or judgement;
- distrust of the police, courts or the legal process;
- fear of family and friends knowing or of public disclosure;
- fear of further attack or intimidation;
- divided loyalty in cases involving current or ex-intimates; and language or communication issues.
It would seem to support the claim that up to one in every four women will experience rape over the course of their life also. Undoubtedly, some will question these statistics. How many of these rape crimes that are reported to the police turn out to be fraudulent? A study published in 2005 based on 2,643 sexual assault cases found 8% of reported rapes were unfounded claims (page 8). (Unfounded does not mean “false”. It simply means that after starting a police investigation about a case of sexual assault, there wasn’t enough evidence to surface that justified further investigation. Some estimate that a fraction of those unfounded cases are actually true, and that perhaps as few as 1.5% to 3% of all reported rape claims are false). If we have reason to trust that 92% of rape claims are authentic and that for every rape claim brought to the police, we can also surmise that at least 75% and perhaps as many as 95% of incidents go unreported, it’s clear that the real problem is the under-reporting of rape, not over-reporting.
Critical inquiry needs to be addressed to those with the authority in the justice who fail to prosecute known sex offenders. More criticism needs to be placed on the media for their glorification of sexual predators in television and movies. We need to question inadequate police response, investigations under-allocated proper resources like the availability of female practitioners, unnecessary delays in arranging medical examinations, insensitive questioning during interview, including judgmental attitudes from investigator, or failure to maintain contact as the case progresses or after victims prematurely withdraw from the case.
If the goal is to reduce the rate of rape, attention would be better served finding ways to get more cases of rape reported to the police, prosecuting more assailants who commit rape, and preventing men from committing rape in the first place. This will require greater sensitivity towards victims of rape and sexual assault on behalf of law enforcement officers, not scrutiny. Skepticism towards those who defend the victims of sexual assault is unwarranted and misdirected. Just as we must hold the police accountable for their actions, we need to police others who make it more difficult to have an honest conversation about rape and sexual assault, not just a conversation that devolves into a slew of emotionally-charged attacks, but not dispassionate exchange between automatons, either. An honest conversation needs to have the appropriate level of critical inquiry lobbied at the appropriate targets with righteous anger applied to make the necessary changes last.