Why Rape is Under-Reported: Reason #1
I’m occasionally asked why rape is under-reported. Not asked very often, because most of us know without ever having to be explicitly told. Most of us recognize that rape victims, far more so than victims of any other crime, are made to bear a disproportionately large responsibility for their victimization.
A recent article illustrates this: http://www.cnn.com/2010/CRIME/12/28/bahamas.baseball.rape/index.html?iref=obinsite. Actually, it’s not the article, it’s the comments. A college baseball player is accused of rape. The article is pretty bare-bones. But the comments on the article tend toward the vitriolic side, against women who report rape. See, there’s a vocal segment who feel that rape is an entitlement. Not that they’d actually phrase it that way, because rape is a crime. But what counts as rape?
Or how about this article (http://detnews.com/article/20101110/METRO/11100371/Alleged-rape-victim–14–taunted–kills-self), where a high school freshman accused a popular senior of raping her. After the allegations because public and her identity revealed, other students in her school were polarized and she was subjected to verbal attacks. Apparently the possibility that the rest of the alleged perpetrator’s life could be ruined (by his own actions no less) evoked more sympathy than anger at the possibility that he was a rapist. She killed herself. The county prosecutor initially decided to drop the sexual assault case because the one witness was gone, but since then another victim has come forward (http://www.myfoxdetroit.com/dpp/news/local/joe-tarnopolski-facing-new-allegations-20101111-wpms).
Or this article in the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/29/world/europe/29iht-letter29.html?_r=3&ref=julianpassange&pagewanted=all), where the author asked some of her friends (women in their 30s) if they thought the charges against WikiLeaks principal Julian Assange were rape. The responses were resoundingly no. One woman said that these charges “cheapen rape.” Really? How?
FYI, at least in Washington state, and probably most if not all states in the USA, having sex with someone without consent IS legally rape. That includes the victim having too much alcohol or drugs in their system to give consent. How about when they’re sleeping — where’s the consent there?
Or look at the reactions of many prominent personalities when Al Gore was implicated in sexual assault. Now I like polar bears and the polar ice caps as much as the next environmentalist, but to give their most celebrated proponent an a priori pass just because of who he is, well that’s too much.
Almost half of all women and girls who are raped either tell only one other person or nobody at all.
Most rapists are someone the victim knows, often someone the victim (and their friends) like. And, judging by the way we treat victims, it can’t be rape if that person is well-liked, right?
It’s not only the general populance that has issues with sexual assault victims. This recent article took a comprehensive look at how reported sexual assaults were handled by law enforcement, and found that the actual rate of false report of rape is much lower than that assumed by many people, particularly by law enforcement. This article notes that
[O]ne of the most important challenges for successfully investigating and prosecuting cases of non-stranger sexual assault is the idea that many—or even most—reports are false. As long as this belief is accepted by law enforcement professionals, prosecutors, jurors, and others, our efforts to improve the criminal justice response to sexual assault will have only limited impact. Only those cases that look like our societal stereotype of “real rape” will be successfully investigated and prosecuted.
I teach an annual weekend workshop for rape victims. Each year I ask of those who did report their rapes, by a show of hands, how many have had positive experiences with law enforcement during the reporting process. A few raise their hands. And then I ask how many have had negative experiences. And all of those who said they reported their rapes report negative experiences with police or prosecutors. The predominant issue is that the victims felt that they were being accused by law enforcement personnel of being to blame.
The #1 reason why rape is under-reported, not a big surprise, is the prevailing cultural undercurrent of blaming the victim.