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Sexual Assault Awarness Month Interview Series

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Today is the first day of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, founded in 2001 to "promote a degree of national unity in voice and action regarding SAAM activities, to encourage interaction and feedback from across the nation, and to build momentum based on previous years' activities."

Ten years later, the statistics are still shocking:


Over 700,000 women are sexually assaulted every year.

Every 3 minutes, someone is sexually assaulted.

One in four women will be a victim of sexual assault in her lifetime.

Five percent of reported rape victims are men. But these men face their own unique roadblocks when seeking justice. 

One only has to read the news to realize that college campuses are struggling with how to address sexual violence by and against their students:

One in eight college women will be raped during their time at school.

Of those, 84% of college women know their assailant.

In a survey of male college students, only 16% who admitted to committing acts that are legally defined as rape described the acts as rape.

In that same survey, 35% admitted that they would commit rape if they believed they could get away with it.

Last year, Saint Mary's College freshman Lizzy Seeberg took her own life after accusing a Notre Dame football player of sexual assault. Questions have been raised about how the University handled the case.

Last fall, Yale made headlines when members of a fraternity took to campus en masse to chant, "No means yes! Yes means anal!"

Universities and colleges operate under unique rules, guidelines and laws that define whether they can release the names of accused rapists and other actions that may provide protection or pathways to justice for students on campus. Schools often decide to handle cases internally, a convoluted process that often does not prioritize justice for the victim. 

And when it comes to reporting, prosecuting and punishing assailants, the numbers are pretty grim:

A full 60% of rapes will never be reported.

In Illinois, the arrest rate for rapes is a dismal 11%, half the national average of 22%.

Of the 50% of reported rapes that result in a prosecution, only 58% will be convicted; of those, there is only a 69% chance that the rapist will be sentenced to jail time.

In total, only 6% of rapists will ever spend a day in jail for their crimes.

Why is this?
 

Significant barriers still exist in bringing assailants through the justice system with a fair outcome.

The U.S. Congress estimates that as many as 180,000 rape kits, a time-intensive and invasive examination taken after a victim reports a rape, remain untested in police labs across the country.

Human Rights Watch found that in Illinois, 80% of rape kits will never be processed, and that there is a backlog of 4,000 untested kits waiting in our system.

Rape victims still suffer victim blaming, questioning, shaming and a double burden of proof unparalleled by the victims of any other violent crime. Despite rape shield laws, victims are frequently pressured to change or recant their stories by police, public prosecutors, defense attorneys and other authorities entrusted to protect them. If ever in their life they wore a short skirt, consented to certain physical acts with the assailant or had sexual partners outside of marriage, those behaviors are used to discredit their rape allegations. Media coverage often mirrors these methods that question the victim first and the accused rapist(s) second. 

Although acquaintance rape (often called "date rape") accounts for over 80% of incidents, a myth still exists that it's only rape if the rapist was a stranger who leapt out of the dark and used excessive force against the victim. In fact, House Republicans recently tried to change the language used to define rape to "forcible rape."

Sometimes, victims are not even allowed to use the word "rape" at their trials.

Fear of false accusations makes many suspicious of rape victims; in truth, false accusations account for only about 2% of all reported rapes. This number is the same as that for all other violent crimes.   

Ok. So what of all of this?

Sexual assault is part of a larger rape culture that pervades our society. Education -- of both women and men -- is an important way to erode at the status quo. And as dismal as the numbers are, there are men and women doing amazing work every day to make a significant change in the lives of women and men.

Throughout the month of April, I'll be featuring Q&A's with activists, survivors, organizations and other change-makers who are making a difference. First up is Denise Rotheimer, founder of Mothers on a Mission to Stop Violence, who will be profiled on Tuesday, April 5.

Have someone you think should be featured? Email at cgaddo@tcwmag.com.

As always, you can find me on Twitter at @CassandraGaddo    

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3 Comments

emk22 said:

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These statistics alone should convince people to take action, but our culture has so largely ignored such a huge issue that affects so many people. Rapists are walking free all around us, and survivors are everywhere! As a country, we need to spread awareness and address this issue to end it before it becomes socially “accepted.” >> http://bit.ly/geGrNZ

Ray2447 said:

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When will little children get their month? Deaths of little children, killed by their mothers, is egregious. Yet the taxpayer funded, domestic violence industry disingenuously tries to make us believe that women are the main victims. According to the U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services and DOJ statistics, more kids are killed by neglect and abuse in a year (1,760 in 2007), than all the female intimate partner homicides in a year. Mothers are the single largest group of kid killers, according to HHS, and they have a rate twice that of fathers. Nowhere near the money is spent to protect kids from kid killing mothers as is spent by the domestic violence industry to protect women. The taxpayer funded d.v. industry is a bastion of misandrist vilification, falsely accusing men of being the overwhelming cause of d.v., and empowering violent women to commit further domestic violence. The corruption of the taxpayer funded, domestic violence industry is characterized in "Los Misandry" at Youtube.

Cassandra Gaddo said:

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This interview series is focused on sexual assault, not domestic violence.

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