Advocacy group Human Rights Watch is expected to release a report that shows police in Washington, D.C. routinely fail to investigate cases of sexual assault and often dismiss victims who try to report it. According to The Raw Story, this kind of treatment of victims is not limited to the nation’s capital, but instead is a widespread problem all over the country that can traumatize victims even further.
According to a list of rape myths vs. facts posted on the University of Minnesota-Duluth’s website, negative and unsupportive behavior from people victims believe should be there for them makes recovering from the experience take a longer makes it more difficult overall. While the page mostly makes note of family and close friends, those who should be supportive includes the officials that the attack is reported to.
In other words, despite all the grandstanding about the seriousness of rape, it’s still badly trivialized. The Raw Story article says that the New Orleans police department is under federal review for putting at least half of its rape cases on the backburner because they’re considered “non-criminal cases.” Perhaps six to eight percent of rape cases are false, according to experts in the matter and FBI statistics.
Either way, it’s not enough to justify treating rape victims dismissively.
Human Rights Watch began looking into the issue when it came out that Metropolitan investigators were ignoring as much as 37 percent of cases reported to them. That kind of dismissal contributes to this trivialization, because it reinforces the idea that rape is unimportant and that the victims’ suffering is ultimately their own fault. It’s also reinforced by conservatives who state, openly, publicly, and for the record, what rape is and what it isn’t, and what it does and what it doesn’t do to its victims.
Conservatives tried to create and then reinforce a narrow and offensive definition of “forcible rape” during the 2012 election cycle, up to and including judges deciding that if a woman doesn’t fight back, it’s not rape, and that an unmarried woman can’t be raped.
There were also the widely publicized comments by Republican politicians, dubbed “The Rape Crew,” by various groups around the country, including Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comments and Richard Mourdock’s assertion that a child conceived through rape is a gift from God.
The issue here is that, despite all the arguments to the contrary, there is a rape culture in the U.S. that is alive and well. Libby Anne of Patheos writes that people object to the term “rape culture” because “everyone knows rape is wrong.” However, she argues that the term actually means that we put the burden of preventing rape on potential victims, rather than on attackers. Or, put another way, we will tell a woman how to dress, how to behave, what to do and what not to do in order to minimize her chances of getting raped. Marshall University’s Women’s Center agrees, and has a list of ways we perpetuate the rape culture that exists here, including objectifying women, inflating the statistics of false reports, refusing to take accusations seriously (as the Metropolitan Police Department is doing), and teaching people how not to get raped, rather than teaching people not to rape.
It does not mean that we actively say, “Rape is perfectly okay.”
It’s extremely important to understand the real meaning of this term when it comes to changing the mentalities that lead to trivializing rape victims. The Human Rights Watch’s report, due out next week, will likely highlight just how alive rape culture still is in the U.S.