It’s a global crime of victimization and power that is as old as man himself, the definition of a vile act. We’re overwhelmingly thankful that the United States’ moral and legal responses to rape are widely differently from that of countries such as India, where rape is rampant and prosecution is rare.
Yet, as one local victim’s advocate has told The Star, “for every rape reported to the police there are nine that aren’t.”
On Sunday, an article by Star reporter Madasyn Czebiniak asked the quintessential question about rape — Why do so many go unreported? — and found a pertinent Alabama angle: Government data show that women in this state report rape twice as often as in the rest of the country. (More than 1,200 rapes were reported in 2012; 39 were reported in Calhoun County, according to the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center.)
Czebiniak’s findings showed that the age-old reasons why rapes often go unreported live on. Experts say cultural barriers such as peer pressure and shame continue to affect victims’ decisions to report rapes to authorities. The prevalence of rapes officials say go unreported makes it difficult for police and victims’ advocates to know how often rape actually occurs in America.
Nevertheless, consider this stunning statistic: 321,000 Alabama women are estimated to have been raped sometime in their lives, according to a 2010 survey.
The two distinct sides of rape — the attacker and the victim — make the crime complex for law enforcement. According to data from the Alabama Coalition against Sexual Violence, 47 percent of rape victims in the state were white females in 2011, and 22 percent were black females; 25 percent of rape victims were between the ages of 13 and 16; 79 percent of rapes took place in residences; and only 40 percent of the cases were cleared by arrest. Determining why rapes occur, and how they can be prevented, is merely one aspect.
That’s the legal, data-driven aspect of the crime. Stark and appalling.
What Czebiniak’s story showed was that in Alabama, our efforts to dissolve the stigma many rape victims fear have failed. Rape, anywhere, at any time, is a crime that should be prosecuted. Cultural and societal barriers that keep crimes unreported thwart the legal system and hinder victims’ advocates’ abilities to help those in need.
Victims of sexual assaults should feel no shame or fault. We should empower them to speak up, reach out and report. Getting out that message is vitally important.