By Laura Goode
New America Media
A rape occurs every two minutes in America.
On Saturday, Oct. 24, a 15-year-old young woman in Richmond, Calif. survived a brutal gang rape that occurred as she was leaving the homecoming dance at her high school. Reports allege that more than 20 people - genders unspecified - watched, took photos and even participated in the rape. After being assaulted for more than two hours, the survivor was found abandoned, barely conscious and seminude near a picnic table on her high school campus.
There is no question that the bystanders who watched their peer suffer the most unspeakable violation a woman can survive betrayed their classmate, failed to protect her from harm. But the question that still looms is how we, as a local community and national society, failed to provide them with the assurance that had they reported the crime, justice would be served. Rape is widely perceived as the most underreported crime in America.
Hard facts must be contributed to this discussion, numbers that underscore the fact that most people in our country, regardless of age, gender or ethnicity, either can't overcome the cultural shame associated with outing oneself as a rape survivor, don't believe that reporting rape is an effective way to combat it, or both. This is undoubtedly at least partially because our legislators and law enforcers have failed to make stopping rape a priority, as these numbers demonstrate. The fact remains that sexual violence pervades American culture, and there are plenty of numbers to prove it:
"¢ In a blog I wrote recently arguing that rape is a hate crime, I noted that an estimated 600 or more women are raped every day in the United States. While about 3 percent of American men have experienced rape, about 90 percent of rape victims are female.
"¢ According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), as of 2005, 60 percent of rape crimes go unreported, and it stands to reason that this number crosses generational lines - in other words, that regardless of age, most rape survivors do not report their crime. This number has fallen: in 1992, 84 percent of rapes went unreported.
"¢ Why do so many rapes go unreported? One possible cause is that even when survivors do file reports, nothing happens. RAINN analyzed the available data on rape, including how many rapes are reported, how many reported rapes are prosecuted, and how much jail time is attached to felony convictions, to conclude that only 6 percent of all rapists, whether or not their crimes are reported, will ever serve a day in jail.
"¢ What happened in Richmond represents a widespread scourge upon young women, particularly. Safe Campuses Now substantiates that 44 percent of rape survivors are under 18, and women under 24 are the likeliest of any demographic to be raped. Ninety-three percent of juvenile rape survivors knew their attacker. Fifty-eight percent of those attackers are acquaintances of their victim.
"¢ Vulnerability to rape seems to perforate more along class lines than racial ones: about half of all rape survivors are in the poorest third of America's economic distribution, though an estimated 80 percent are white.
"¢ And while education may reduce the risk of many crimes, college women remain at high risk for sexual assault. According to the Justice Department, between 20 and 25 percent of women in college will endure an actual or attempted rape during their time there, and less than 5 percent of these rapes will be reported.
"¢ Because of the high percentage of unreported rapes, as well as data fluctuation from year to year, all of these statistics are slippery. However, current data indicates that a total 17.6 percent of all women, or roughly one in six, will survive an attempted or completed rape during their lifetime.
This data is overwhelming. I could contextualize these facts with comments from "experts" - activists, policymakers, police officers - but as I write this, my colleagues are rounding up youths' perspectives on the crime that occurred in Richmond, and these young peoples' reactions, I think, are more relevant than any news report, any smattering of soundbytes to be coaxed out of spokespeople. What we, as a culture, desperately need to investigate further is how young women and men perceive and experience rape. How do they react to the fact that it happens every day? How does it affect their lives?
And most importantly, why, in their perceptions, did none of the purported two dozen witnesses to the crime that happened that weekend in Richmond say or do anything to end the suffering of the young woman who survived it? It happened on their watch; this fact is undisputed. But more shameful, as all these facts about rape in America indicate, is that they clearly learned their indifference from us.
Copyright 2009 New America Media
Editor's note: The statistics in this article have been culled from the National Organization for Women, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, Feminist.com, and Safe Campuses Now.