Sexual Harassment Awareness Month: An Introduction

Sexual harassment:

It’s one of those ugly truths that people don’t want to talk about.  First there’s the taboo about talking about sex in general.  Then there’s the fact that no one REALLY wants to admit that, as one beautiful post on Tumblr pointed out, “America prides itself on freedom, but half the population does not feel free enough to walk around at night”.

A Few Facts about Rape and Sexual Assault

Sexual assault can come in a LOT of different forms.  It can come in the form of sexual abuse, which is more long term.  It can come in the form of rape.  It can come in the form of unwanted sexual encounters that ARE NOT rape (since rape has a specific legal definition).  It’s a fairly broad category of crime, but for some reason, we don’t seem to be particularly successful in dealing with it.

There are a number of reasons for this.  The first is my big pet peeve, victim-blaming: because authority figures don’t take victims seriously, they have a lot of trouble getting justice, or even getting the help they need.  In a truly horrifying incident that was brought to the attention of a blog called STFU Conservatives, a girl at an unnamed university went to her health center and asked for a rape kit-~-and the health center told her they didn’t believe her.

The next problem is the shame: people are unwilling to report sexual assault because they are embarrassed.  They feel violated and don’t want to have to share their stories or relive the encounters.  And because they know they may be blamed for what happened, or may genuinely think it is their fault, they fail to report the incidents.

The third problem is actually a series of reasons that my criminal law textbook (Samaha, 2008) gives for the failure of the criminal justice system in dealing with acquaintance rapes, which make up the vast majority of rape cases:

  • Victims aren’t as likely to report unarmed acquaintance rapes, or don’t recognize them as rapes
  • When victims DO report, the police are less likely to believe the victims than they are the victims of aggravated rape
  • Prosecutres are less likely to charge unarmed acquaintance rapists
  • Juries are less likely to convict unarmed acquaintance rapists
  • Unarmed acquaintance rapists are likely to escape punishment if their victims don’t follow the rules of middle-class morality (that is to say, if they are considered “sluts”)

(citation: Samaha, Joel (2008) Criminal Law, published by Wadsworth Cengage Learning, Belmont, CA)

According to the FBI (I will find the citation for this, I promise), only about 6% of rapists are currently behind bars.

That means that 94% of rapists are walking around America, completely free, living their lives, while their victims have to live with the consequences.

A few more statistics: 1 in 5 women will be the victim of an attempted or completed rape during the course of her lifetime.  About 80% of those rapes will be acquaintance rapes.  The number rises to 1 in 4 women during the college years.

A Few Things EVERYONE Should Keep in Mind:

First, date rape is rape.  It can and absolutely SHOULD be reported as rape.  Just because you have been on a date, or just because you have started to do things with someone, does NOT entitle them to anything.

Second, as I said in my very first post about rape, sexual assault is never the fault of the victim.  Only the perpetrator bears responsibility for what happened.  If you or someone you know is the victim of sexual assault, this is one of the most important things to keep in mind.

Third, there are resources out there for survivors.  RAINN, the Rape Abuse Incest National Network, has a 24/7 hotline that you can call if you need help AT ANY TIME.  The number is 1-800-656-HOPE.  They also have affiliated Rape Crisis Centers around the country.  Many colleges and universities also have resources to assist survivors of rape and sexual assault.

Fourth, rape and sexual assault are not just “women’s issues”.  8% of victims are male, but over 90% of perpetrators are also male.  Teaching women not to get raped is not an answer.  Teaching men not to rape is.


Yes means yes.  No means no.  It’s time for America to start remembering which means which.



~ by Randi Saunders on April 3, 2012.

2 Responses to “Sexual Harassment Awareness Month: An Introduction”

  1. Great post! I think the main reason we haven’t been very successful in dealing with sexual violence is ultimately that Patriarchy is set up to have men be in control- of women, of perceived weaker men, of everyone. When women are seen as objects, violence is more easily perpetrated against them. The system of Patriarchy demands men be in power, no matter what- even if that means using violence to oppress women- so ultimately sexual violence is used to control and silence. It’s the umbrella of inequality that all of the other things come under that allow rape to happen and not be adequately punished.
    If victims do report, it can take two plus years for the case to be over and it may be that nothing happens and the victim is dragged through the mud. Talk about victim-blaming.
    I like your ending: “No means no. Yes means yes. It’s time for America to start remembering which means which.” Thanks again! In solidarity
    -Liza Wolff-Francis, Matrifocal Point

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