In Silence, Rape Persists

by Allie Wilkinson on June 28, 2009

I’ve been meaning to write this for about two weeks now, and one thing or another kept me from sitting down and putting pen to paper (so to speak).  Because it is almost the end of June, here it goes…

In late May, Nicholas Kristof wrote an article about the mass persistence of rapes in West Africa.  The article inspired my fellow bloggers Sheril Kirshenbaum and Dr. Isis to launch an initiative in early June called Silence is the Enemy. At its launch, Sheril wrote:

silence_is_the_enemy.jpg“Today begins a very important initiative called Silence Is The Enemy to help a generation of young women half a world away. Why?  Because they are our sisters and children–the victims of sexual abuse who don’t have the means to ask for help.  We have power in our words and influence. Along with our audience, we’re able to speak for them.  I’m asking all of you–bloggers, writers, teachers, and concerned citizens–to use whatever platform you have to call for an end to the rape and abuse of women and girls in Liberia and around the world.

In regions where fighting has formally ended, rape continues to be used as a weapon. As Nicholas Kristof recently wrote from West Africa, ‘it has been easier to get men to relinquish their guns than their sense of sexual entitlement.’ The war has shattered norms, training some men to think that ‘when they want sex, they need simply to overpower a girl.’ An International Rescue Committee survey suggests 12 percent of girls aged 17 and under acknowledged having been sexually abused in some way over the previous 18 months.  Further, of the 275 new sexual violence cases treated Jan-April by Doctors Without Borders, 28 percent involve children aged 4 or younger, and 33 percent involve children aged 5 through 12. That’s 61% age 12 or under.  We read about their plight and see the figures, but it’s so easy to feel helpless to act in isolation. But these are not statistics, they are girls.  Together we can do more.  Mass rape persists because of inertia so let’s create momentum.”

The Intersection, On Becoming A Laboratory And Domestic Goddess, AetiologyBioephemera, Neurotopia, The Questionable Authority, DrugMonkey, Adventure In Ethics And Science, and Sciencewomen will be donating all revenue this month to Doctors Without Borders.  Now obviously I am a bit late in sharing this, but click away.  Besides, awareness is more important.  And as horrible and tragic as the rapes in West Africa are, I’d rather raise awareness about rape in general; sexual assault is one of the most under reported crimes, with 60% of sexual assaults not reported to the police (RAINN.org).

In his article Kristof wrote, “The evidence is overwhelming that the best way to deal with rape — whether in Darfur or Liberia, or even in the United States — is to demystify it, dismantle the taboos, and address it directly. That is happening.“  That is what Silence is the Enemy is all about.

Rape persists through silence.  It persists because it is “taboo” to talk about–there is a stigma attached to it, and because it is an ugly reality.  The statistics say that 1 in 6 women have been the victim of sexual assault.  Well I disagree.  Because most women don’t report crimes of sexual violence, those numbers are inaccurate.  They are FAR too low.

How do I know this?  Throughout the years, I had high school and college friends share with me their experiences of being sexually assaulted and raped.  In fact, I came to realize that I knew over 10 wonderful women who had been the victims of sexual assault, and those were just the people that opened up to me.  Their stories ranged from coercion to forcible rape, and only one of these women was raped by a stranger.  She has a child as a product of being raped, and she is probably the strongest person I have ever met in my life.  And none of these women filed police reports.  Now tell me, how can those 1 in 6 statistics be right?

convictions.jpg

Six percent of rapists ever spend a day in jail.  SIX PERCENT?!?  We need to break the silence.  In one of my journalism classes, we discussed how infrequently women attach their names to their stories of being raped, which only lends itself to rape being discredited.  But these women won’t come forward until the stigma is gone.  Only by talking about it, by letting go of the taboo, can we break the stigma involved with coming forward.  Only when people start talking, can we even begin to tackle this problem.  So stop the silence.  Silence is the enemy.

Note:  Ocean Eyes Photography will be donating 50% of its proceeds from its three “photos of the month” to the Joyful Heart Foundation, an organization that provides support to survivors of sexual assault.

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