2012 may very well be considered the year of the woman. A plethora of issues regarding women or the female body came to the forefront in the past few months, from insurers paying for the birth control pill, mandated transvaginal ultrasounds in Virginia, to the miniscule number of female legislators, yet one topic still hasn’t been addressed, rape. Despite the opportune chance to address this increasingly serious issue, neither political party, nor politician has or is likely to seize the moment. Instead a new, more radical strategy should be implemented to force the issue to the forefront and create lasting change.
In 1966, husband and wife researchers Piven and Cloward proposed a somewhat radical policy to change the welfare system, through encouraging all eligible participants to apply. Only about 30% of those eligible for welfare benefits apply, yet the policies are still underfunded and the governments overextended. If all eligible participants enrolled, the state and federal governments would be strained to the point of collapse and the true extent of the problem would be inescapable, making change unavoidable.
The statistics for rape are difficult to determine given the personal nature of the crime, but anywhere from 50-75 percent of all rapes go unreported. The RAINN institute says that just over half don’t report, whereas a 2007 report on rape from the British Government states that 75-95 percent is unreported and Rogers Williams University claims only one percent report. Regardless of who’s right, it’s clear that most rape cases are never disclosed.
Under this obvious problem is an opportunity, if the Piven and Cloward model is utilized. If every rape case were reported to the police and revealed by the victim to their families, change would be unstoppable. There simply cannot be so many people aware and angry about the prevalence of rape within their community without action.
Consider the Trayvon Martin case, while not an instance of rape, it is illustrative of what media attention can accomplish. His death occurred on Feb. 7 2012 and it wasn’t until one month later that there were any Google searches. By the time it went national on March 18 searches started to climb and one week later searches numbers exploded.
With the increased attention, demonstrated by the surging number of Google searches, the criminal justice system changed course from not arresting the alleged shooter Zimmermann to making an arrest. Zimmermann and Martin are not the point however; instead, it’s how the police and courts are just as political as any other organization. Regular people voicing their concern combined with the national media markets reporting on the about the case prompted action, and regardless of whether it was the proper action, it was action.
In fairness to the police and courts, there’s plenty of incentive for them not to act. For one, they cannot prosecute crimes that go unreported, leaving the 50-95 percent of the unreported cases off their radar. Furthermore, just as with the Martin case, there is countless other crimes that also require police attention and without an impetus for action, which the martin case eventually had, the status quo suggests that the cases will slip through the cracks.
A recent instance in Montana suggests that demonstrations of the true severity of the rape crisis do prompting action. After a federal investigation began examining the high instances of rape at the University of Montana Missoula, the university and city have pledged their support of the Justice Department’s efforts. The federal investigation was itself instigated after a December investigation into an alleged gang-rape, demonstrating the power of attention.
There’s another reason why knowing the full extent of the rape crisis will change hearts and minds: putting a face on the victims. Given how rarely people choose to talk about rape, either as a personal experience, or in general, rape seems like a distant crime that only affects the promiscuous. What better way to understand the true scope of rape than discovering that our neighbors, teachers or even friends and family were victims?
The logic is similar to how gay marriage became gradually more accepted. Fifteen short years ago gay marriage was opposed by 70% of the country and that opposition didn’t start falling significantly until 2004, when Massachusetts legalized gay marriage. The sudden attention to the issue, along with gay people coming out of the closet to their families made gay marriage less foreign. People suddenly knew real gay people and the issue was about genuine human beings, not stereotypes on TV, which in eight years changed opinions to the point where a plurality of Americans favors gay marriage.
This strategy is not without risks however, with harsh pushback being likely. Piven and Cloward’s article was vilified by Glenn Beck 45 years later; prompting death threats to Piven (Cloward died in 2001) and the aforementioned Montana investigation was lambasted by a local district attorney. Furthermore, there will be quite a bit of resistance from the media.
Media outlets and “experts” will question the victim’s motives, attack them as too ugly to rape, puppets of the “feminazis” and liars. This happened with Sandra Fluke over birth control, Solicitor General Elana Kagan was frequently declared ugly once she was nominated as a Supreme Court Justice and it will only be worse here, especially if there are false reports.
According to the University of Minnesota Duluth, false rape reports comprise about 8 percent of total reports, meaning that some inaccurate ones will inevitably slip in with the genuine reports. There’s also the risk that some supporters of the cause draft false reports to bolster the statistics, thinking they’re helping, when in reality, any false report will make opponents attack more voraciously. Yet a few false reports would mean nothing, because the estimated 683,000 rapes per year still happened.
Finally, while writing this article, parts sounded as though blame was being assigned to everyone, but especially the victims who haven’t reported their rape. This was not the intention and I understand that there are clear disincentives to report a rape, the least of which being the limited follow-ups on reports that are filed. Still, when preparing this article, a few things seemed irrefutably clear.
With 50-95 percent of all rapes going unreported, the status quo is unacceptable. Victims aren’t filing reports possibly because the criminal justice system, for a variety of reasons, is failing them. The efforts currently underway have not remedied these problems and if progress has been made, it’s neither apparent nor enough.
Most importantly, the victims of the crimes are their own best advocates. That’s why this strategy focuses on them, rather than organizers, academics or law enforcement, who the public has heard talk about rape countless times in the past. The public hasn't heard their neighbors, cousins, mailmen, teachers and mothers declare that they’ve been raped... Establishing how pervasive and immediate the epidemic truly is will motivate change in a way previous attempts have not.