The title of this article probably looks wrong to you. It certainly does look wrong to me. There’s just something about the combination of those two nouns up there that probably makes you, like me, feel a little confused and disturbed. But unfortunately, putting those two nouns together is not factually inaccurate – sexual assault is a prevalent and growing problem in the state of Utah. According to the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, 1 in 3 Utah women will experience some kind of sexual assault in her lifetime, and 1 in 8 will be raped. In fact, rape is the only violent crime for which Utah’s statistics are higher than the national average. It is difficult to conceive of the reason that rape might be so prevalent in our own community. For me, it’s also difficult to acknowledge that as a college student, a woman, and a resident of Utah, I am at a high risk of being a victim of this kind of violence. But learning about rape in Utah leads to acknowledging sexual violence as a national and global phenomenon.
The fact is, world leaders and legislatures have long ignored, undervalued, or refused to recognize the prevalence of rape. They have also failed to clearly define rape as a violent crime, one that deserves to be reported, prosecuted, and stopped – in our state, in our country, and in our world. Thinking locally about how sexual assault affects our own community is a good starting point for getting political. The first step? Get familiar with the title of this article.
Why do we rarely hear about or discuss rape as a problem in our community? The first reason might be that there is a lack of rapes that are actually documented by officials. Sex crimes are vastly unreported: only somewhere between 5 and 12 percent of rapes are reported to officials, despite crime surveys that suggest many, many more are occurring. Furthermore, almost no rapes are prosecuted, let alone go to trial. Why might so few victims of rape feel capable of reporting or prosecuting their crime? Part of the problem comes from long-standing societal stigmas that might make a victim think they somehow are at fault for what happened to them; that they were ‘asking for it’. Some might feel what happened to them does not qualify as rape, since they may have known or been friends with their rapist. In fact, a majority of rapes – 91.4% of those reported in 2007 in Utah – are committed by someone that the victim knows. The incidence of ‘blitz rape’ (remember the old myth about an armed lunatic jumping out of the bushes?) is extremely low. These kinds of general misconceptions contribute to a lack of understanding and discussion about the problem of sexual assault, a discussion that can and should start here in the Political Review.
So why discuss rape as a political issue? First, because it’s a problem in our community—it’s a problem that may affect our friends and family. But rape, across borders, generations, and cultures, is a crime that reflects a dangerous reality: many cultures and legal systems tolerate, under-acknowledge, or even accept violence against women; they may see it as an issue of lesser importance. Evidence of this might be the fact that rape was not codified as a crime of war under international law until 1996, after years of reported systematic war rape, in Japan, Korea, Yugoslavia, Guatemala, Uganda, and many other countries. The subject of rape as a crime of war is too overwhelming and complex to discuss here, but consider this: 2010 UN reports from the Democratic Republic of Congo suggest that there are up to 200,000 victims of war rape living in the DR Congo today, often victims of multiple gang rapes or sexual torture by armed forces – and these crimes continue to take place on a massive and systematic scale. Although this is a distinct and urgent problem, one defined by the civil conflicts of these specific countries, this is further evidence of a general lack of urgency placed on violence against women the world over.
So how do we begin addressing rape here in Utah? Political and governmental solutions here might be to budget more money to programs that work to support victims and bring perpetrators to justice. Utah’s Center for Women and Children in Crisis, for example, offers rape crisis services to recent victims, group therapy, domestic violence outreach services, and educational classes on assault, all free of charge. A more basic solution is awareness—both of the human rights crisis abroad as sexual assault becomes a part of armed conflict, and of how rape might affect our very own community.
Eliza is a Junior studying Political Science.