by: Zoey Miller, Intern at KBEP
Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. Every 8 minutes, that victim is a child. Meanwhile, only 13 out of every 1000 instances of rape get referred to a prosecutor. Furthermore, only 6 out of every 1,000 perpetrators will receive a felony conviction.
Clearly, these numbers don’t add up. Why is sexual assault so prevalent, but punishment for the crime so rare?
The reason is that America has a problem with the way that it handles sexual assault crimes.
Theoretically, in order to report sexual assault, one can do one of the three options: (1) Call 911, (2) Contact the local police department, or (3) Report the crime to a medical professional (if you are being treated for injuries resulting from sexual assault). You can also choose to have a sexual assault forensic exam.
However, this process is not always quite so simple and is often times influenced by larger social structures which cause victims to be fearful that people will not believe them if they choose to raise their voice. Reasons that a woman may hesitate to speak out include:
- The perpetrator got scared away or stopped before “finishing” the assault. Victims, therefore, worry about whether or not they were “technically raped,” and if this is able to be reported. The answer is YES. Attempted rape is a serious crime and can be reported.
- The victim knows the perpetrator who hurt them. In fact, in the majority of sexual assault cases (about 2/3), the victim knows the perpetrator. It can be unnerving to be violated by someone you know, and thus the social repercussions of reporting someone you know act as a deterrent for reporting.
- The victim has been intimate with the perpetrator in the past or is currently in a relationship with the perpetrator. It is important to know that SEXUAL ASSAULT CAN HAPPEN WITHIN A RELATIONSHIP. Giving someone consent in the past does NOT give them consent on any action in the future. If you did not consent, they acted against the law – and you should report it.
- The victim doesn’t have any physical injuries, and is thus worried that there “won’t be enough proof.” This should not serve as a deterrent for reporting instances of sexual assault. There are many options available to you. The most notable is the option to have a sexual assault forensic exam done to check for DNA evidence that may not be visible on the surface.
All of these reasons reveal the vulnerable nature of sexual assault victims in our society. They all, in a way, point to the American justice system’s glorification of the phrase “innocent until proven guilty.” In this system, victims are forced to procure evidence that without a doubt, incriminates the perpetrator. While evidence is obviously necessary, this attitude often creates a hostile environment for victims to report their cases. The issue of needing “solid proof” often works as a deterrent for victims to report their cases, and thus the epidemic of sexual assault still permeates our society today. For too long society has blamed rape victims for confusing the issue of consent – by drinking too much or dressing too provocatively, for example – but it is not they who are confused, it is society itself and our criminal justice system, and we must challenge that. In order to improve this issue of sexual assault, we as a society must work to create an environment where victims feel safe enough to raise their voices and share their stories, without fear of not being believed or “not having enough proof.” Only then will we be able to see real change in the issue of confronting sexual violence.