Soaring Rates of Rape and Violence Against Women
The National Crime Victimization Survey has found decreases in most types of crime over the past two years, but huge increases in rape and battering of women. There is some question about whether this reported increase is a result of changed methodology, but that would mean previous rates were severely understated, as is probably true in any event. This story is from Human Rights Watch
US: Soaring Rates of Rape and Violence Against Women
(New York, December 18, 2008) – A new government report showing huge increases in the incidences of domestic violence, rape, and sexual assault over a two-year period in the United States deserves immediate attention from lawmakers and the incoming administration, Human Rights Watch said today. The statistics show a 42-percent increase in reported domestic violence and a 25-percent increase in the reported incidence of rape and sexual assault.
The National Crime Victimization Survey, based on projections from a national sample survey, says that at least 248,300 individuals were raped or sexually assaulted in 2007, up from 190,600 in 2005, the last year the survey was conducted. The study surveyed 73,600 individuals in 41,500 households. Among all violent crimes, domestic violence, rape, and sexual assault showed the largest increases. Except for simple assault, which increased by 3 percent, the incidence of every other crime surveyed decreased.
“The numbers in this survey show an alarmingly high rate of sexual violence in this country,” said Sarah Tofte, researcher for the US Program at Human Rights Watch. “This should serve as a wake-up call that more must be done to address the problem in the US.”
The projected number of violent crimes committed by intimate partners against women increased from 389,100 in 2005 to 554,260 in the 2007 report. By comparison, the number of violent crimes against men by intimate partners went down.
“Domestic violence is often a hidden crime, and these numbers are a stark reminder of how serious and widespread this problem is,” said Tofte. “The Obama-Biden administration should make prevention and protection against all forms of domestic and sexual violence a top priority.”
The National Crime Victimization Survey is conducted every two years, with data gathered in phone calls made to a sample of households across the United States. Due to criticism from experts in the subject, the survey’s methodology was adjusted in 2007 to capture more accurately the incidence of gender-based violence. The authors say in the report that the higher numbers may reflect the new, more accurate methodology rather than an actual increase. Two major shifts were to describe types of sexual assault to those being interviewed, and to replace “computer-assisted telephone interviews conducted from two telephone centers” nationwide with interviews “by field representatives either by telephone or in person.”
“The new numbers indicate that previously, the government significantly underestimated the number of individuals affected by domestic and sexual violence in this country,” said Tofte. “Authorities should urgently adjust public policies, law enforcement, and provision of support services accordingly.”
Human Rights Watch is currently investigating and monitoring the criminal justice response to sexual violence. The organization’s recent work includes investigating the backlog in untested DNA evidence collected in rape cases in the US. In Los Angeles City and County alone, there is a combined total of at least 13,000 untested sets of evidence, known as rape kits, sitting in storage.
There is one good reason right there why rape is underreported. There is rarely any semblance of justice for rape survivors, and despite some improvements in law enforcement, many women still have the perception that it is just not worth it to report rape. The system does not make a high priority of prosecuting male violence against women. Many men think they can get away with raping or battering a woman, and too often that is true. Battered women are at huge risk regardless of whether they report the man or not, since batterers often retaliate against any sign of rebellion.
High as these numbers are, they presumably represent only the tip of the iceberg. That is one lesson politicians and law enforcement never seem to learn. They look at the overall numbers, see crime is down, and congratulate themselves on a job well done. Male violence against women is not decreasing. If anything, it is increasing and becoming more socially acceptable, partly due to the mainstreaming of violent pornography. A culture that glorifies violence and demeans women as sex objects is bound to reinforce the notion in men that women should be properly subservient, owned and controlled by men, thus fair game for rape and battering. As long as women are seen as objects for male gratification, men who believe that will have no compunctions about abusing women, teaching women a lesson, keeping women in line. That this is illegal cannot stand up against the cultural conditioning. Male chivalry is probably more effective than the law in restraining male violence against women, but that chivalry is shallow and easily broken down.
It is fine to urge the incoming Administration to make male violence against women a priority, but women have been urging politicians and police to do that all along, with little to show for it. Men have rationalized the problem away as a matter of a few bad apples, and statistics showing it is more than a few are unlikely to change their minds. Men notoriously think they treat women more fairly than how women see it. It is clear as day who benefits from this skewed perception. This report should be a wake-up call, but there have been many such wake-up calls about the epidemic of men terrorizing women, and rarely is there any response from authorities beyond lip service, or a new toothless law. It has been all too easy for men to pretend the problem is confined to a few bad apples.