"It is Rape, so Call it Rape!" The moment I bring up the word "rape" most people cringe, but when I bring up the term "sexual assault" people seem a little less apprehensive to talk about it. Why? This is something I have thought about for the past 25 years of teaching self-defence but have never written about it in this much depth, but with the #MeToo movement having sparked further discussion the past couple years, I felt it a good time. When SAFE International™ teaches self-defense to teenagers in schools, it is not uncommon for a teacher to tell us it is okay to bring up the term "sexual assault," but please do not use the term, "rape." When asked why, most do not have an answer other than saying they find the term to be too scary, vivid, or uncomfortable. Well, guess what? RAPE is scary, vivid, and much more than uncomfortable; it destroys lives and the lives of others around those who are raped.
I think when we acknowledge "It is Rape, so call it Rape!" that we can have an intelligent straight to the heart of the matter discussion without gently stepping around the topic with excuses and justifications as to it being something other than what it is.
In Wikipedia, the History of Rape offers a look at the traditional definitions, legalities and penalties or lack of penalties that have come with the changing definitions of what rape is around the world and how it ties to religion, cultures and so much more. A curious discussion would be how much we have evolved on the topic in addressing it for what it is.
Over time the definition has changed. As recently as 2012 the United States of Justice changed its definition.
The new definition is: “The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”
The crime of “Rape” is one that brings with it more argument than perhaps any other topic. From what constitutes rape to the statistics of rape, bring up the topic, and one can be sure there will be plenty of heated discussions. The frequency of rape is at epidemic levels which is based solely on those countries that are considered to have the lowest occurrences of rape. Let us look at a few countries around the world, and one cannot challenge that it is an epidemic.
Search the countries with the highest rates of sexual assault and this site lists the Top 10 Countries with Maximum Rape Crimes.
According to a 2014 study published by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, approximately 47% of women surveyed in Finland were said to have suffered physical or sexual abuse; And 52 % of women in Denmark were said to have suffered physical or sexual abuse. Finland was one of the last countries in the EU to criminalize marital rape, making it illegal in 1994.
Zimbabwe is at ninth position with maximum rape crimes. At least one woman is raped every 90 minutes in Zimbabwe.
Australia is at the 8th position. According to news.com, 1 out of 6 Australian women has to face the torture of rape by a non-partner, compared to one in 14 women around the world.
Canada is in the 7th position. Among all violent crimes reported to police, sexual assault showed a rapid increase in reported rates in Canada. According to HuffingtonPost, there are 460,000 sexual assaults in the country every year.
New Zealand is at the 6th position. According to the Minister of Justice Publication Report; Every two hours an attack involving sexual violence is happening in New Zealand. Statistics now suggest that 1 out of 3 girls and one out of six boys are likely to be sexually abused before the age of 16.
In India, at the 5th position, a rape victim is usually between 18 years and 30 years. About one out of three victims are below 18, and one in ten rape victims is under 14. In India, a woman is raped every 20 minutes. Most of the offenders are known to the victims – 31,807 (94%) were familiar to the accused, which includes neighbours (10782), other known persons (18171), relatives (2315) and parents (539). (timesofindia).
In England and Wales at the 4th position, according to a report entitled “An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales”, released in 2013, by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Office for National Statistics (ONS) and Home Office; Approximately 85,000 victims of rape per year in England and Wales – 73,000 females and 12,000 males, equating to about 230 cases every day. The report stated that 1 in every five women had experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16.
The USA is in the third position. According to George Mason University, Worldwide Sexual Assault Statistics, 1 in 3 American women will be sexually abused during their lifetime. About 19.3% of women and 2% of men have been raped at least once in their lives. Additionally, an estimated 43.9% of women and 23.4% of men experienced other forms of sexual violence during their lifetimes. Many victims of sexual abuse were victimized at a young age, about 79% were first raped before age 25, and 40% before age 18. (usatoday).
According to RAIIN, Every 107 seconds, someone in the United States is sexually assaulted. There is an average of 293,000 victims (age 12 or older) of sexual assault each year. 68% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police. 98% of rapists will never spend a day in jail.
Sweden comes in at the 2nd position. Sweden now has the second highest number of rapes in the world, after South Africa, which at 53.2 per 100,000. Statistics now suggest that 1 out of every 4 Swedish women comes out to be the victim of rape. When one looks at the number of rapes, however, the increase is even worse. In 1975, there were only 421 rapes reported to the police – in 2014; it was 6,620. That is an increase of 1,472%.
According to https://www.wonderslist.com/top-10-countries-with-maximum-rape-crimes/ in the 1st position is South Africa with an estimated 500,000 rape cases every year, the country has one of the highest rates of Rape Crimes in the world. It is estimated that more than 40% of South African women will be raped in their lifetime. The Medical Research Council has estimated that only 1 in 9 rapes are reported. Thus, the actual numbers of rapes are much higher than numbers recorded by the police.
What jumps out most is that it is often quoted that approximately 60 to 70% of rapes are not reported for several reasons I will explore. According to RAINN out of every 1000 rapes, 994 of the accused will walk free not spending a single day in prison. So that means, only about 6% will spend any time behind bars.
And according to the Washington Post, “Less than 1% of rapes lead to felony convictions. At least 89% of victims face emotional and physical consequences.”
So why do so few report cases of rape? Here are some of the most common reasons.
Shame – shame is at the top of the list why so few reports being sexually harassed, assaulted or raped. The feeling of having been used, dehumanized, and feeling helpless brings about the natural feeling of shame. The dictionary defines “shame” as “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behaviour.” Moreover, one automatically questions themselves as to what part they may have played in the behaviour with it being common for the perpetrator to make one feel like they are the guilty party. Sadly, one often questions their own behaviour before that of the aggressor. One commonly hears things like, “It must be my fault,” “I guess I must have given the wrong signal,” “I was friendly so he must have thought I was flirting with him,” and so on. Society today has a way of making victims of rape first look at their own actions and place for blame rather than the other person’s actions.
With shame we feel inadequate, unworthy, or less of a person to the point where it seems easier to hide and not tell anyone or question the other person’s actions. Many victims of rape feel an isolated feeling like they are the only ones who might understand what they are going through when in fact it is so much more common than people want to believe or accept. I have expressed to many survivors that in any town, city or community there are countless women, and yes men who are experiencing similar feelings of shame. It may seem more natural to keep one’s self-isolated and feelings to themselves, but with that, often comes years and years of self-abuse that one might never get over. Just based on feeling shame it is easy to understand why so many survivors of rape may not come forward for years or even decades. Also, when and if they do come forward many try to bring that feeling of shame back tenfold when they bring out their story.
Blame – with sexual assault and rape comes the blaming. From the side of the rapist, their friends and family, and the media will commonly hear things like,
“She dressed like a slut, what did she expect?”
“She was asking for it by the way she flirted with me.”
“What did she expect when she drank that much?”
“I did not hear her really say no.”
“She should have known better than to hang out with older kids.”
“He had such a bright future, and she is going to destroy it.”
“But he has a scholarship; this could wreck his life.”
Just look at the case of Brock Turner who was convicted of 3 counts of felony sexual assault with a ridiculous sentence of just six months for intent to rape an unconscious woman. His father called on the judge to grant his son probation, saying that he had already paid “a steep price…for 20 minutes of action”.
He was also quoted saying, “He will never be his happy go lucky self with that easy-going personality and welcoming smile,” he wrote of his son. “His every waking minute is consumed with worry, anxiety, fear, and depression. You can see this in his face, the way he walks, his weakened voice, his lack of appetite.” So, while the father is attempting to take the accountability off his son, he also fails to see that his son’s 20 mins of action as he puts it will cause a lifetime of anguish for the victim.
Often the victim will first blame themselves to the point where they feel it may be their fault. They might tell themselves things like, “I did say no, but maybe I was not clear enough”, or “I did not fight back physically so maybe he got mixed signals”, “Physically it felt good even though I was telling him no”, or “I physically fought against it, but I did not say NO”. These are just a few of the many reasons one might blame themselves to the point where they convince themselves not to confront the aggressor or reach out to the legal system.
Fear – fear may come in many forms including fear of not being believed which can be particularly destructive when it is a family member who is the one guilty of sexually assaulting you. Other family members may refuse to believe you. Then there is the fear of public humiliation which may take place in person, online or through the media. This fear often cripples people from coming forward. There is also the fear of repercussions from your rapist which may be verbal or physical. With that fear of not believed sometimes comes the status of the rapist in society and how people do not or cannot believe someone of their stature would be capable of such a horrific act, so people automatically blame the victim accusing them of wanting money or some form of fame. Any rape survivor I have worked with does not want fame, they want some justice, but when they see the backlash and humiliation others have faced by coming forward, there is little wonder why they choose not to. Perhaps most sad is that years after society has forgotten their story whether it is a highly public story or one in the local community, the victim never forgets and has live day by day, hour by hour with the mental and physical burden if they never get the professional help they most often need.
I am a violence prevention/self-defence instructor so cannot speak to the professional help one needs but do know that may be the only chance one may have to come to some dealing with the trauma of RAPE!
In conclusion, it is Rape, so Call it Rape and let us aim for an open, honest discussion on what it is, how it presents itself, how to prevent it, and how to deal with the aftermath from all positions.
Managing Director, SAFE International