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.

United States

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).

Acquaintance Rape

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).

Drug-Facilitated Rape

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.

Social Attitudes

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 ( White,1991).

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; Malamuth,1981).

South Africa

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 (Logan, 2000).

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, 2000).

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 others.


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