In the wake of the tragedy on Sept. 11, much of the focus has been not only upon combating terrorism, but fighting the fear that it creates. Fear is a powerful and pervasive force, changing the way we think, the way we live.
However, the recent attacks do not mark the start of a fearful life for many Americans. For many of us, living in a perpetual state of fear began long before we ever heard of Osama bin Laden or witnessed the obliteration of the World Trade Center.
The fear we live with is the fear of sexual violence. And in the minds of many, this fear is not unfounded.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, a woman is raped every two minutes. In 2000, 89,734 forcible rapes were reported nationwide (FBI Uniform Crime Reports). Furthermore, here at UW-Madison, 58 students reported being sexually assaulted during the year 2000. While these statistics seem awful in themselves, they do not even fully represent the number of rapes that actually occur in the United States and on campus. After all, sexual assault is historically one of the most underreported crimes in the country.
Unlike the surviving victims of the World Trade Center or Pentagon attacks, many of these survivors cannot share their pain with others. They must live in silence, unable to speak about the trauma they endured. Whether they choose to remain quiet out of shame or embarrassment, they are no less victims than those killed and injured on Sept. 11. They simply had the misfortune of being a survivor of a type of crime that is surrounded by stigma and misconception.
Whereas the terrorists can be ferreted out of their caves and hiding places by the force of the U.S. military, the perpetrators of sexual assault cannot be stopped or eliminated so easily. The offenders live among us as our friends and our relatives, and they cannot be identified unless the survivors tell their stories. Thus, laws prove futile if citizens do not fully use them and the justice system does not support them.
Unlike our country’s proposed war against terrorism, this war against fear cannot be fought with bombs or guns; it must be fought in more indirect ways: through education and empowerment.
Our university abounds with resources for sexual assault information and services for survivors. Just last week the Dean of Students office sent out a mass e-mail to students informing them of Campus Safety, a website with statistics and other resource information pertaining to sexual assault.
Other university efforts to combat rape include the SAFEwalk and SAFEride services, as well as Chimera, a self-defense program sponsored by the Rape Crisis Center.
Student-founded organizations such as PAVE (Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment) and MOSA (Men Opposing Sexual Assault). These groups also contribute to the education and empowerment of the student body in fighting this insidious crime through student forums designed to promote dialogue about the issue.
While education plays a pivotal role in improving awareness of sexual assault, it represents only part of the solution. We must change our attitudes toward sexual assault in order to stop it from happening.
We have come a long way since rape was considered a crime against a man’s property rather than a crime against a person, but we still have a long way to go to erase the stigma associated with sexual assault, particularly sexual assault against men. Rape is not about sex; it is about power.
One encouraging movement toward change appears in a bill recently proposed by Rep. Terese Berceau, D-Madison, making alcohol an intoxicant under state sexual-assault law, reversing the 1996 amendment that previously excluded it.
According to sexual-assault law, having intercourse with someone so intoxicated they are unable to make a rational decision is considered rape. Because a majority of sexual assaults on campus involve the use of alcohol, it is imperative for it to be recognized as an intoxicant.
In addition, this bill would encourage students to speak up about sexual assault by calling for the exemption from prosecution for underage drinking of underage victims and underage witnesses of sexual assault and rape.
To think of rape as a woman’s issue would be equivalent to calling the World Trade Center bombings a crime against a select group of people in New York City rather than against our country. Rape is a human issue; its survivors are our sisters, our mothers and our friends.