According to a telephone survey of a nationally representative sample of 16,507 adults, nearly one in five women has been a victim of rape or attempted rape and one in 71 men reports having been raped or the target of attempted rape.
As alarming as these statistics may be, they greatly under-represent the numbers who have suffered. Men and boys tend not to report being raped and women rarely report rape by a partner or acquaintance. Sadly, ¾ of all rapes are committed by a known person who is never held accountable.
The Silence About Rape is Dangerously Loud!
The silence about rape reflects the nature of the crime and both the victim and society’s reaction and interaction in response to it.
The Impact of Rape on the Victim
Rape is a violent crime. It brutally assaults the victim’s core self and the physical, psychological, neurological, and cognitive systems that integrate functioning.
In the immediate aftermath, rape is often experienced as an annihilation of the ownership of self — a loss of the self’s ability to act, to make meaning or register what is happening, to remember. Feelings are overwhelming or numbed. Narrative is destroyed.
There Are No Words For What Is Too Horrific To Comprehend.
Rape survivor, Nancy Raine in her book, After Silence: Rape and My Journey Back, describes:
- “The instant I was free the seed of terror that had been planted in those hours burst open…”
- “Words had no referents and no beauty of their own. Memories were drained of meaning because the person who had them no longer existed.”
- “What would a hug mean to someone whose body no longer felt as if it belongs to her?”
The Assault of Shame and Blame on The Victim
So often in the aftermath of catastrophic trauma, the victim feels shame and blame. This is exacerbated for the rape victim. Having experienced sexual violation and exposure, there is enormous shame, self-doubt and misconstrued self- blame.
The thought of reporting the rape or disclosing the details of the assault is underscored with fear of reliving the nightmare, of further exposure, personal or family embarrassment, of reprisals and disbelief.
In the best of situations a rape victim finds the courage to call a friend or family member or the National Sexual Assault Hotline (1-800-656-HOPE) to get help, to find a Rape Crisis Center or emergency room within 24 hours, to receive medical care, counseling, and help with gathering forensic evidence- whether or not she/he ever chooses to pursue legal action.
Society’s Reaction To Rape
Society both acknowledges and denies rape. Rape threatens social mores and demands empathy with victims. Accordingly, rape is a crime but it is one that has been obscured by legal definition, stereotype, gender bias and media hype in a way that too often silences victims or confirms their worst fears of blame and re-victimization.
Definition of Rape
Recently the federal government expanded “the rape stereotype” — the definition of rape beyond including only assaults against women and girls committed by men under a narrow set of circumstances.
The new definition of rape includes, among other things, forcible oral or anal penetration. It includes men as victims of rape and recognizes as rape – nonconsensual sex that does not involve physical force, like the rape of people who are unable to grant consent because they are drugged, very drunk or younger than the age of statutory consent in their state.
This re-definition is a crucial step but it will take some time for the culture (including the victims) to look beyond the narrow stereotype.
Callie Rennison, a criminologist notes, “Rape is the only crime in which victims have to explain that they didn’t want to be victimized.”
Juries continue to look for an injury as evidence that sex was not consensual, although, rape experts report that there are injuries in fewer than half the attacks.
The public distances itself from its own fear of sexual violence by discrediting the victim, or blaming them for putting themselves in dangerous or vulnerable situations.
- “What was she wearing?”
- “Why would she take a cab home alone?”
- “He is part of the gay cruising culture.”
Influenced by this, most victims blame themselves and overlook the legitimacy of having been raped particularly if they have been drinking, using drugs or were raped by a partner or acquaintance.
Given that half of female rape victims have been raped by an intimate partner or an acquaintance, and more than half of male victims report that the assailant was an acquaintance- questioning the legitimacy of their assault is tragic.
- “ I never told anyone – I just stopped dating.”
- “ I never called the police – I thought they wouldn’t believe me because I had been involved with him.”
- “ I woke up in my own apartment- I was bleeding, I was disoriented – how did I let this happen?”
As discussed in The Rape Recovery Handbook, programs like “Just Yell Fire,” and websites that deal with rape, we need to fight the self-doubt and stunned silence of sexual violence.
We need to validate our capacity to survive and communicate as a society that– Nothing Justifies Rape!