An invisible epidemic

Last week we received a press release about rape and sexual assault statistics, but statistics are too impersonal and sterile to adequately reflect reality. A study in 2011 found that nearly one out of every five women in the United States has been the victim of rape or attempted rape. Do you know five or more women? If so, you probably know someone who has been raped. Are you related to five or more women? If so, you probably have a family member who has been raped.

There is a very good chance you don’t know it, though. Rape is one of the most under-reported crimes, largely because of the stigma attached to it and its victims, and the society’s tendency to find some way to blame the victim.

“She shouldn’t have been out so late alone.”

“She shouldn’t have gotten drunk.”

“She shouldn’t have worn such provocative clothing.”

All of those are excuses. They excuse the actions of rapists because victims should have expected to be raped. Getting drunk isn’t a terrible crime. Wearing revealing clothing isn’t a terrible crime. Rape is a terrible crime, but people make excuses for it all the time.

As dark as the realization that all of us almost certainly have friends and relatives who have been raped is, realizing that means we all probably know rapists is even more upsetting. Men — and honestly, the large majority of rapes are committed by men — aren’t unthinking animals that can’t control themselves. The sight of some skin doesn’t make us forget the difference between right and wrong.

So what is to be done? Nothing can change it overnight. It will take a long-term change in culture to make people understand “no means no” isn’t just a platitude. Not only does no mean no, anything short of a clear yes means no when it comes to sex. Walking down the street alone at night doesn’t mean yes. Getting drunk or passing out doesn’t mean yes. A short skirt doesn’t mean yes. These aren’t difficult concepts.

We also have to stop blaming and stigmatizing victims. If we can stop making victims feel ashamed, rape reporting would understandably go up, which would allow society to better show that we are serious about not tolerating rape.

In the short term, we can help by supporting organizations that provide assistance and advocacy for rape victims, such as the Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Center, which can be reached at (620) 241-6615 or (620) 663-2522.

Clarification

Part of my editorial from last week may have been unclear about Social Security and other government pensions. Many, but not all, government jurisdictions pay into both Social Security and another public pension. However, in other jurisdictions, a public pension may entirely replace Social Security.

— ADAM STEWART

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