Rape is a Social Disease
"If the leading newspapers were to announce tomorrow a new disease, that
over the past year, had afflicted from 3 to 4 million citizens, few would
fail to appreciate the seriousness of the illness" (Donelson, 1999). Rape is
a social disease. The United States alone estimates that 1 in 4 women will be
sexually assaulted. A woman in South Africa is five times more likely to be
raped than if she were in America. One conservative estimate states that
there a million rapes a year there, with only half that number reported to
authorities (Jane, 2000). The number of its victims defies statistics; many
remain unreported due to fear, intimidation, and shame. This pathos
manifests as aggression and violence against its victims.
In 1971 Susan Griffin deemed rape the "All American crime." The National
Victims Center in 1992 stated that rape was one of the most frequently committed
violent crimes and that the United States had the highest rate of sexual
assault of any other industrialized country in the world. Rape is not about
sex it is an act of terrorism (Donelson,1999).
Rape is one of the most underreported crimes in the nation. It is
estimated that 84% if forcible rapes are not reported, of those reported
there is a lower conviction rate than of other crimes such as robbery. Rape
is often not reported due to fear and shame. Victims are often afraid that
they will be blamed, that the accusation will not be taken seriously, or that
the rape will stigmatize her ( DeSantis, 2000).
In the U.S. in 1999 seven out of ten sexual assault victims knew their
offender (Rennison,1999). Acquaintance rape is the most common type of rape
in the United States. The perpetrator may be a family member, a neighbor,
date, or friend (Missouri Department of Health, 2001). Being raped by
someone known to the victim is especially damaging. It is a betrayal,
causing the victim to lose trust in herself and others (DeSantis, 2000).
A dangerous new form of sexual violence has increased in the last ten
years. Drugs such as Rohypnol and gamma-hydroxybutyrate have become a new
weapon for rapists. These drugs are usually administered clandestinely to
women who soon become immobilized victims. Those who have been drugged may
begin to feel disoriented or sick. Many report waking up hours later unaware
of what has occurred or where they are. This has proven to be troubling when
women have attempted to report such crimes. Even though the Drug-Induced
Rape Prevention and Punishment Act of 1996 provides severe penalties for
distributing or possessing date rape drugs, offenders are going free. One
victim was told by authorities that since her assailant had his memories, and
she did not, the case would be dismissed.
A survey of 6,159 college students enrolled at 32 institutions in the
U.S. found: That 54% of the women surveyed had been the victims of some form
of sexual abuse; more than one in four college-aged women had been the victim
of rape or attempted rape; 57% of the assaults occurred on dates; 73% of the
assailants and 55% of the victims had used alcohol or other drugs prior to
the assault; 25% of the men surveyed admitted some degree of sexually
aggressive behavior; 42% of the victims told no one (Koss,1998).
A survey of high school students revealed that 56% of the girls and 76%
of the boys believed forced sex was acceptable under some circumstances.
Another survey of 11-to-14 year-olds found that 51% of the boys and 41% of
the girls said forced sex was acceptable if the boy, "spent a lot of money"
on the girl; 31% of the boys and 32% of the girls said it was acceptable for
a man to rape a woman with past sexual experience; 87% of boys and 79% of
girls said sexual assault was acceptable if the man and the woman were
married; 65% of the boys and 47% of the girls said it was acceptable for a
boy to rape a girl if they had been dating for more than six months (
Male college students that were surveyed admitted that in certain
situations 35% of them would commit rape if they could get away with it. One
in twelve said that they had committed acts that met the legal definition of
rape, of these 84% did not recognize their actions as rape ( Koss, 1988;
Women's groups conservatively estimate that there are a million rapes a
year in South Africa. It is believed that one in two South African women
will be raped in her lifetime. South African police estimate that if only
2.8 percent of the rapes were reported to them, they would probably have the
highest level of rape (Russell 2001). The problem is so prevalent that
insurance companies now sell rape policies. The benefits include HIV tests,
the morning after pill, medications for sexually transmitted diseases,
anti-retroviral drugs, self-defense courses, and home security upgrades
One of the most alarming aspects of rape in South Africa is the myth that
having sex with a virgin can cure HIV. This myth has led to the rape of many
women and young girls in this area. Rape has reached epidemic status in
cities like Cape Town, which is now frequently referred to as "rape town"
(Logan, 2000). In Johannesburg there has been a significant breakdown in the
justice system. Women and girls who report sexual crimes are often left
unprotected and frightened for their lives. One woman was shot to death
after testifying against the gang that raped her. Another girl of fourteen
attempted to kill herself rather that go on living next to her assailant who
was released on bond. The young girl is now being treated for a sexually
transmitted disease that resulted from the rape. She is still frightened
that he will kill her (Smith, 2001).
Many girls have unfortunately learned that sexual violence is an
inescapable part of attending school. Human rights Watch (2001) recently
released a report stating that thousands of girls in schools across South
Africa encounter sexual violence and harassment. The report states that
girls are often victimized in empty classrooms, bathrooms, and dormitories.
Frequently these girls do not return to school for fear of their teachers and
male peers. Teachers have been accused of requiring sexual acts for good
grades and male students of using rape as a tool of dominance against the
girls. One boy stated, "It's a mode of control over girls, over their
bodies, dress, lives, movement, social activities" (Sylvester, 2001).
The capital city of Tehran has experienced an increase in rape and
murder. In October of 2000 it was estimated that a woman was being raped and
murdered every six days. Most of the reported victims were between the ages
of 25-35 years old, with one girl as young as 15. The victim's faces were
burned and their bodies were mutilated to conceal their identity (Saba, 2000).
Statistics from 2000 showed that on average a woman is raped every hour
in India. Women's groups attest that the strict and conservative attitudes
about sex and family privacy contribute to ineffectiveness of India's rape
laws. Victims are often reluctant to report rape. In an open court victims
must prove that the rapist sexually penetrated them in order to get a
conviction. This can be especially damaging. After proving that she has been
raped, a victim is often ostracized from her family and community (Lak,
Rape is a Crime
If you are raped do not bathe, douche, shower, or change clothes. This is
important to preserve any evidence of the rape. Go to a friend or to a place
where you know someone can support you. Report the rape to the authorities.
Seek counseling; this can help you deal with the issues you might face after
the attack (Missouri Department of Health 2001).
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted report it. Rape is
not difficult to prove, despite well- circulated myths. However, it is the
most under-reported serious crime in the United States (DeSantis, 2000).
The prevention of rape should not be about limiting the freedom of women.
Commonly when people are asked what can be done to prevent rape the answer
reflects a change in female behavior. Answers include, "Never go out alone
at night." "Don't be a tease." "Stay alert." The fact is that rape will not
stop until male behavior is addressed. Restricting the freedom of girls and
women has never, nor will it ever stop rape. There are numerous constructive
forms of prevention for males and females that include education, action, and
equality. Girls and boys must be taught that they are equal at home and at
school. Male dominated institutions must be integrated. When the balance of
power between men and women becomes equal, rapists will not be tolerated.
Protest degrading and discriminatory treatment of women and girls around the
globe (DeSantis, 2000). Learn what you can do and share that knowledge with
- DeSantis, Marie. (2000). Talk About Rape, The Quiz. [On-line].
- Donelson, Frances E. (1999). Women's Experiences. Mayfield Publishing
Company. Mountain View, CA.
- Human Rights Watch. (2001). South Africa Rights: Girls Endure Sexual
Violence in School. Interpress Service.
- Koss, M.P. (1988). Hidden rape: sexual aggression and victimization in a
national sample of students in higher education. In: Burgess A.W., ed Rape
and Sexual Assault. New York, NY: Garland Publishing
- Koss M.P., Dinero, T.E., Seibel, C.A. (1988). Stranger and acquaintance rape:
Are there differences in the victim's experience? Psychology of Women
- Lak, Daniel. (2000). Call for Tougher Indian Rape Laws. BBC News Online.
- Logan, Jane. (May, 2000). What is Happening to the Women in This Country is
Genocide. Jane Magazine.
- Malamuth N.M. Rape proclivity among males. J Soc Issues. 1981;37:138-157.
- Rennison, C. (2000). Criminal Victimization 1999. U.S. Department of
Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Washington, D.C.
- Russell, Diana E H . (2001). AIDS as Mass Femicide: Focus on South Africa.
Off Our Backs v 31 n 1
- Saba, Sadeq. (2000). Rape and Murder on Rise in Tehran. BBC News Online.
- Smith, Charlene. (May, 2001). No Justice for Rape Survivors. Mail &
Guardian (Johannesburg). [Online article].
- Sylvester, Elliott. (May, 2001). Schools a Haven for Sexual Predators, Says
Watchdog. [Online article]. http://allafrica.com/stories/200103270094.html.
- White, Jacqueline W. and John A. Humphrey. (1991). "Young People's Attitudes
Toward Acquaintance Rape." Acquaintance Rape: The Hidden crime." John Wiley
Get Help or Learn More at
- The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN). 1-800-656-HOPE or
http://www.rainn.org operates free national hotline for survivors of sexual
assault 24 hours a day.
- Communities Against Violence Network (CAVNET) at http://www.cavnet2.org
addressing rape, sexual assault, incest, domestic violence, stalking, youth
violence, and violence against people with disabilities.
- Sexual Assault Information Page
http://www.cs.utk.edu/~bartley/saInfoPage.html. An A-Z page of links.
Statistics, search, and frequently asked questions about sexual assault.
- Take the rape quiz at http://www.justicewomen.com
- Amnesty International http://www.amnestyusa.org/home.html
- Rape: Let's Stop It. http://www.zipworld.com.au/~korman/rape/index.html A
site with links to fact sheets, more links, and organizations.
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