The Specter of Rape, at Home and Abroad

Last week, our blogger Maggie Arden wrote a great post on the prevention of sexual assault on college campuses. Maggie noted that sexual assaults happen on college campuses more often than we think—even in “safe” areas. She suggested that universities should have more formal prevention programs, taught to both men and women. Sometimes sexual assault seems more prominent on college campuses because assaults can become more high profile there. Schools may make more of an effort than communities to communicate crimes that have taken place. In other instances, this is not the case. Maggie also referenced the pending investigation at Yale for looking the other way at cases of sexual harassment. However, we should not fool ourselves into thinking this only happens on college campuses. Even a quick search will reveal thousands of relevant news articles just from the past twenty-four hours. Of course, many of these incidents never make it to the news. According to RAINN (the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network), each year, there are about 213,000 rapes and sexual assaults in the United States. Around 90,000 of these each year are defined as rapes. These are not isolated incidents. As Maggie suggests, we need to raise awareness of this high incidence and work harder to actually prevent this violence. Looking abroad shows that it can get much worse. A horrifying report was released today about rape in the Congo. The Congo has been called the worst place on Earth for women. The new report estimates that 29 out of 1,000 women in the Congo have been raped. That’s 58 times higher than the U.S. rate of 0.5 women in 1,000. One interviewee in the Washington Post summarized the issue well: “The message is important and clear: Rape in (Congo) has metastasized amid a climate of impunity, and has emerged as one of the great human crises of our time,” said Michael VanRooyen, the director of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. Unfortunately, this problem is not limited to the Congo and the United States. Although these are two of the worst offenders, countries from South Africa to Australia also have high rape statistics. This is a world-wide problem: we all live in a rape culture where victims are blamed and are told to shut up while rapists walk away scot-free. In this context, saying we need to take sexual violence more seriously is an understatement.