Rape is a part of society. Rape is and always will be a social problem. Sexual assault is defined as a sexual act performed without consent, the violation of one person by another. Rather than an act of sexual gratification, rape is an angry and violent expression of the rapist’s desire to dominate someone else (Ledray, 1986, pg. 1-2). Rape not only affects the victim, it also affects family, friends and associates. It was not long ago that rape was not recognized as a real problem. Today, however, society is conscious of this fact: that an individual has the right to choose when to consent to sexual acts. Rape victims can turn the outrage of assault into an opportunity for recovery, change and growth. While statistics show that the majority of rape victims are women, men also experience this trauma. The issue of sexual assault has many different myths and beliefs circulating around it. We as a society need to understand sexual assault and the trauma it causes to victims so we can begin prevention of this crime.
Every two minutes, someone in the United States is sexually assaulted. Each year there are about 213,000 victims of sexual assault, sixty percent of which are not reported to law enforcement. Fifteen of sixteen rapists will never spend a day in jail (RAINN, 2011). Statistics show that fewer than forty percent of sexual assault victims report to law enforcement. Going to make a police report can be challenging because eighty to eighty-five percent of reported rape cases are perpetrated by someone the victim knows (Mtryrapecrisis.org, 2011).
Once a rape or sexual assault is reported, law enforcement may ask of the victim to undergo a medical forensic exam to collect further evidence. The exam can be invasive and re-traumatizing for victims, but it is the victim’s choice to participate in the exam. Now, some rape victims are unwilling to report the crime to the police and that is their right to do so. In California, as of July 1, 2011, rape victims who do not want to make a report can still undergo the same medical forensic exam to collect evidence and have it saved in case they do decide to report at a later time (Mtryrapecrisis.org, 2011). This allows rape victims the ability to have power over their life choices in a time when they may feel powerless. It also allows the victim to not report at that time, but not suffer from regret later on if they do decide to go to law enforcement.
Victims of sexual assault suffer a profound emotional injury. They may feel powerless by physical force, threats or fear after being subjected to sexual acts, including vaginal or anal penetration, oral copulation or penetration with a foreign object. Sometimes, the victim is left completely and utterly alone to deal with this trauma.
Rape is an intrusion to the most intimate and private parts of the body, as well as an assault of one’s self. Whether or not the victim suffers any physical trauma, the psychological impact is severe and long-lasting. Victims who outwardly appear to have recovered from rape often feel an overwhelming sense of powerlessness and vulnerability that can unexpectedly be re-experienced. Basic beliefs about the environment, people and even the self are shattered. These losses are devastating. Many survivors also say that the incident alters their lives.
The rapist takes away something that the victims can never recover. One perspective to take into consideration is the underlying meaning that the assault has for the victim. The threats and profound losses the victim suffers changes their lives dramatically. Another perspective is the anguish it causes the victim. Fear is a major emotion that lasts from the rape. When a person is raped, they must deal with a multitude of fears, such as: fear of death, of seeing the rapist again, of similar environments. The victim may also feel an overwhelming sense of depression, anxiety, suicide, guilt, anger and a deep loss of self-esteem. Point of view may even change. An individual may view a situation as dangerous that they would have deemed safe before the rape. The fears that follow are dependent on the sort of situation in which the attack happened. A victim does not want to put themselves at risk again for an attack.
Women who have been raped can experience depression. About one third to one-half of women will experience moderate to severe depression (Ledray, 1986, pg. 90). Symptoms include loss of appetite, low self-esteem and many more. The severity of these symptoms may vary from day to day. Anxiety is another predominant response to rape. Individuals may have difficulty relaxing or have a feeling of doom. Some women may become extremely dependent and afraid of being alone. Anger usually follows a period of overwhelming depression and anxiety. Anger be immobilizing, but when properly focused, it can be a more functional and less self-destructive response than depression (Ledray, 1986, pg. 97).
Guilt results when the blame is placed with the victim instead of where it should be, with the perpetrator. While it can always be said that an individual may have done something to make them more vulnerable to rape, it does not make the act of rape their fault. The perpetrator chose to commit a crime. All the blame rests there. A common myth regarding rape or sexual assault says that a woman is likely to be raped because she either was somewhere she should not be and/or dressed in a manner that “asked for it”. This myth allows the common person to believe that if a woman is walking alone down an ill-lit street at night and is raped, that the fault is on her. It is forgotten that every person has the right to walk down the street regardless of the time of day or their gender. This myth also furthers the belief that if a woman is wearing a short skirt or low cut top that she is “asking to be raped”. Instead of focusing on the victim’s choice of dress, our attention should be on the fact that someone thought it was ok to rape. Society needs to be re-educated to point fingers at the guilty perpetrator, not the victim.
A victim may feel many emotions after the incident. However, these emotions may be a product of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and can persist for an extended period of time after the trauma. This is a normal reaction in normal people who have been through a terrifying situation that they could not control. Symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, insomnia, difficulty concentrating, loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, and/or inability to have loving or caring feelings. An individual diagnosed with PTSD may have all or only some of these symptoms.
Recovery begins when the victim takes back control of their life. It begins with acceptance that the rape happened. That fact cannot be changed. Once that is accepted, an individual can begin to put their life back to “normal”. Normal will be defined by the individual’s new goals and aspirations and should not be limited by the past or by the expectations of others. Sometimes, the help of a therapist or rape crisis counselor is crucial to the recovery process. Working with a professional can help thwart the formation of bad coping strategies. For example, using substances or alcohol to cope with the assault may allow an escape from the pain, but it is easy to become dependent on alcohol or drugs. Instead, having a support person (professional or not) to talk to about the incident and any emotions stemming from the assault can be a huge step towards recovery and the transformation from victim to survivor. Starting on the recovery process does not mean that there will always be progress or that the incident will be completely forgotten. Recovery involves ups and downs. The assault occurred and it will always be a part of the survivor. Recovery means that the survivor refuses to let the assault define her/his life.
The problem of rape or sexual assault is a real problem, but society today still hasn’t defined it as so. Rape is part of a larger issue of gender based violence, so the issue begins with the socialization of children. Children are taught to adhere to clear-cut gender roles. Boys are dominant leaders who play with action figures, guns and other weapons. Their toys are superheroes which use violence to save the day. Girls are submissive and their toys revolve around duties that are expected of women. For example, girls have baby dolls, kitchens and princess toys. Girls are told fairy tale stories with men who sweep them off their feet. By making children adhere to gender roles, things remain at status quo. Women will continue to believe that they are expected to be submissive to men. It is fact that rape is mainly perpetrated by men. However, as covered above, society usually places the blame of rape on the victim, usually a woman. Since we do live in a patriarchal society, perhaps it should not be so surprising that perpetrators do not take the blame for this crime.
There are still many people that don’t believe that rape is real. We need to make is easier for women to come out and admit they were raped without being judged. There are so many silent survivors that need something to reach out to because without help, the effects are life-lasting and very harsh. Victims of rape are found in all classes of society and span all ages. We need to continue to find ways to help them through the horrible feelings and self-torture. Most countries have laws against sexual assault and rape. The problem is in the level of protection guaranteed by the law. Efforts to reform rape legislation have been going on for decades and have been centered on determining exactly what constitutes rape.
Rape is a crime against the community, not just the individual. The community has both the opportunity and responsibility to plan an active role in change. Through political, legal and neighborhood organizations, rape can be prevented from happening to another person. Individuals in position of power and influence can demand a change to benefit women in general. It can begin with targeting businesses that sell or endorse video games that depict rape as a positive or as part of the game. While children are still growing and learning, exposing them to the idea that rape is ok in a video game is likely to make them think that rape is acceptable in the real world as well. Children cannot see the difference between a video game and reality sometimes and if that view is not rectified, then we have only added to the problem of sexual assault. Neighborhood organizations can also play an effective role in lowering the incidents of rape by establishing neighborhood watch programs. However, the most effective place to prevent rape begins in the home. Parents should begin educating their children regarding safety and prevention as early as possible. If children are taught that they have private areas that no one has a right to touch without their consent, a new generation is educated regarding the fact that sexual assault is not ok. It sounds too simple, but it is a beginning.
Some communities have held meetings in churches and schools to ensure that everyone is aware of common prevention tools. Safety awareness programs should be targeted at teenagers and women. Instead of trying to stop rape by restricting women’s activities and thus further victimizing them, women must become actively involved with the problem of rape and in deciding appropriate solutions. Each of us must be a party to the resolution of this problem. Rape is an affront to the civilized standards of all members of humanity (Ledray, 1986, pg. 257).
The issue of sexual assault has many different myths and beliefs circulating around it. In order to eradicate this problem, it is imperative that we understand these myths and work together to expose the truth. Before rape can stop, a sociocultural change must occur. Laws don’t stop rape. Laws are only as good as the people who enforce them. Women must let go of the false security that dependence provides and affirm their own worth. We must establish a new adversarial system pitting women against men. Both men and women must work together to stop rape. Women must assume their place as equals to men and be strong, independent, self-reliant and in control of their lives and bodies. If all the organizations that deal with rape and its victims/survivors can come together and fight this social problem, then we can make a difference in our society that we live in today.
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