Nicholas Kristof, a Willamette Valley native, wrote an article published in The New York Times on Jan. 12, 2013 titled “Is Delhi So Different from Steubenville?” In it he says, “Gender violence is one of the world’s most common human rights abuses. Women worldwide ages 15 through 44 are more likely to die or be maimed because of male violence than because of cancer, malaria, war, and traffic accidents combined. The World Health Organization has found that domestic and sexual violence affects 30 to 60 percent of women in most countries.” To be clear, Kristof aggregated “gender violence” in a way that does not distinguish domestic violence from sexual violence. The United States Center for Disease Control has separate databases for these two different endemics; though the two may occur in single households.
Worldwide… Cancer. Malaria. War. Traffic accidents… More than all of that combined.
The gang rape in New Delhi was sickening, and like Kristof, I found the Western world’s horror of it to be smug and self-righteous at its core, and deluded at best. Highbrow news reporters spouted details that should not be known as things that could even happen in real life, and then explained the phenomenon as “inevitable conditions of poverty and the lack of education in poorer countries.”
Poorer countries. Is that so? Was the Steubenville, Ohio gang rape a cultural anomaly? How many more Steubenvilles are there in the United States? As it turns out, you can run Google gang rape searches either by year or state. They both turn up multiple cases, and they happen more often than you’d care to know. Despite this, you need to know; and this is regardless of how desperately you don’t want to know or how sure you are it’s not relevant to you.
John Ashbrook of “On Point” held a radio show on March 18, 2013, the day after the guilty verdict was announced in Steubenville. One listener called in to say he didn’t understand why the verdict was so “harsh”—“it was nothing like what happened in New Delhi.” The message, as I heard it, was that since the 16-year-old in Ohio didn’t have her internal organs perforated by iron rods, there are varying degrees to which gang rape is unpalatable. When I read the quotes of three CNN reporters lamenting the lost football careers of the Ohio rapists, I couldn’t help but wonder how many Americans held the same view.
In 25 years, the number of sexually assaulted women in the United States has decreased by only two percent. According to the Centers for Disease Control, rape against women in the 1990s was one in three women. As of 2012 it was one in five, or 18 percent of all American women. This is in addition to the 5.6 percent of women who reported sexual violence, and the 13 percent who reported sexual coercion. In sum, 36.6 percent of women in the United States reported a form of sexual assault at some time in their lives as of 2012. The sexual violence alone against women in the US falls within WHO’s global average that includes non-sexual violence. So how exactly is the United States different from New Delhi? Here are some headlines dating back to 2009 that can help us answer that question:
2009: In Richmond, California a 15-year-old was gang raped by five males aged 15 to 21 at her high school. There were more than 20 non-participating witnesses. [San Francisco Examiner; 12/21/10].
2010: In Phoenix, Arizona an eight-year-old was gang raped by four boys aged 9 to 14. [Fox News; June 3, 1010].
2011: In Cleveland, Texas an 11-year-old girl was gang raped by 18 males aged 14 to 26. [Houston Chronicle; November 28, 2012].
2012: In addition to Steubenville, a 14-year-old in St. Paul, Minnesota was gang raped by nine males aged 18 to 37. [Star Tribune; March 29, 2012].
2013: In January of this year, a 15-year-old girl was gang raped in Elmont, New York by two males while her teacher was in the classroom. [New York Daily News; January 12, 2013]
There were, sadly, many more than five gang rapes in the US within the past five years, and this is to say nothing of the fact that Super Bowl Sunday is the single largest human sex trafficking event in the United Sates each year. So many women are exploited on Super Bowl Sunday we don’t even have accurate numbers to report. Also separate from the CDC data is the Department of Defense findings that in 2010 alone 19,000 sexual assaults were reported. The DOD estimates that in total, 500,000 military personnel have experienced sexual trauma while serving. (These numbers include sexual assaults against both men and women).
More troubling is how we as a culture are trying to explain our lack of culpability in this endemic human rights violation. The 16-year-old in Ohio was drunk. The eight-year-old was lured in by the innocent promise of chewing gum, but she was a minority from a poor community. The 15-year-old in New York had a low IQ , the 11-year-old in Arizona was from a poor family, and the 15-year-old in California ran into the wrong crowd at a school dance. There are so many, many ways for us to convince ourselves that these victims will always be someone else’s daughter. Unfortunately, there is no way this can be true when you consider that of rape victims specifically, 37.4 percent are 18 to 24 years old. Unless you are certain your daughter will never walk to a dorm alone at night, will never drink alcohol at a party, and will never spend time among males without supervision, it’s entirely possible these statistics could one day include your family. Girls aged 11 to 17 account for 29 percent of rapes, and 12.3 percent reportedly are girls aged 10 and younger.
The categorization of rape victims by ethnicity, intelligence, or socioeconomic conditions only perpetuates tolerance. Time after time we obsess about the circumstances of a rape: whether it’s about what the girl was wearing, where her parents were, or if she was intoxicated. I have yet to hear much conversation about teaching boys from an early age that they are expected to control themselves, and that they will always be accountable for their actions. In the case of most of these gang rapes, both boys and girls are equally responsible for their inaction. Every one of the rape cases cited here included non-participating witnesses, and the fact that these youths used their cell phones to text pictures and share the degradation of human life via social media instead of calling 911 is utterly beyond me. It is a conversation we should all be having, and we should all be sickened by the fact that we need to have it. Any five-year-old witness would have had the presence of mind to call for help. We tolerate sexual violence against women in the news, movies, books, and magazines on a daily basis, but we bicker about birth control and whether sex education should be taught in schools. Movies like Requiem for aDream and Kalifornia go mainstream, while the threesome in Y Tu Mama Tambien was considered so appalling it couldn’t even be rated. How is it that we can be so opposed to consensual sex, yet so tolerant of rape?
It would also be tempting to assume Corvallis is exempt from being a part of the rape culture, but unfortunately this is not the case. According to the Center Against Rape and Domestic Violence, 10 percent of their victim calls from July 2011 to June 2012 were about sexual assaults (over 660 in total). The number of teen reporting has also been steadily on the rise, but sexual assault in general is still believed to be the number one under-reported crime. The reasons vary, but they often include shame, self-blame, and even a victim’s misunderstanding about what constitutes sexual assault. For example, some victims think they should have fought off the perpetrator, or the victim knows the perpetrator so believes it can’t really be rape or assault. CARDV has also seen a disturbing increase in what are suspected to be Visine poisoning date rape cases.
In the case of Oregon State, there were 15 reports of “Forcible Sex Offences” in 2011, but 12 of the 15 were later considered to not be within the OSU reportable area, so there is no data telling the community what became of those reports. [The 2012 OSU Clery Act Report.] It’s also hard to know how many cases never get reported to OSU officials at all because drugs or alcohol may have been involved. When a victim is unclear of the assault details and does go forward with contacting authorities, the crime report sometimes gets dropped altogether because of insufficient evidence.
From a county perspective the data is unclear because sexual assault victims may report to the hospital or CARDV, but chose not to involve the police. For this reason the actual number of sexual assaults in Corvallis is not even clear to local officials. Good Samaritan Hospital, CARDV, OSU, and the District Attorney’s office all potentially have different data relating to sexual assault in Corvallis, and this is only reported cases of women 15 and older. The ABC house handles the cases for children younger than 15 years old. Even without an exact number of sexual assault cases to report, the fact that a city of 50,000 people has so many resources is both a comfort and a concern.
It took the Newtown murders to galvanize us as a nation to finally face the NRA. Will New Delhi and Steubenville motivate us to face ourselves?
While this article focuses on sexual violence against women, it does not mean to imply that men are not victims as well. Sexual violence against men is also an issue that we need to face, and to do the topic justice would be to focus on it specifically in a separate article.
The Centers for Disease Control reported in 2012 that 17.5 percent of men were survivors of sexual assault or rape. Boys 10 and younger and military personnel are the most vulnerable populations for sexual assault against males. 27.8 percent of male rape victims are raped before the age of 10. [cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention]