What can we do to end rape? It is a good question and one that Lauren Wolfe asked recently on CNN and on Women Under Siege’s website,
…there’s a lot to try to end: global legal failings that allow rapists to commit crimes with impunity; attitudes that blame the victim, leading to suicides and honor killings; misogyny that conditions men (and women) to view women and girls as less than human, as objects to be controlled.
But there are ways we can change each of these circumstances—a man-made problem is not inevitable.
A number of thoughtful answers have been offered on Women Under Siege’s website (although I strongly disagree with Roseanne Barr’s dangerous suggestion that women arm themselves–the odds of weapons being turned on the women themselves or being used to kill someone else are unacceptable). While many of the ideas suggested can and should be done, the bottom line is that as long as we live in a patriarchal society, rape is going to continue.
Nowhere is there a better example of this than the U.S. military where despite numerous hearings, reports, commissions, etc. there is a huge problem with sexual assault and the military just recently made clear that they really do not intend to make changes in the way these crimes are reported that would make it more likely that these crimes would be prosecuted. And as I have pointed out numerous times before,
(S)exual assault has always been a de facto way of asserting military power over, and allowing a change in control over soldiers would open a significant pandora’s box of culpability for the military and for those who wield violence everywhere.
Add to that a recent AP report that sex is what gets many military commanders fired. Reprehensibly, the AP uses “sex” to describe both consensual and non-consensual acts, as if they are one and the same, which unfortunately, many men, especially those who wield power over others, seem to think is true.
At least 30 percent of military commanders fired over the past eight years lost their jobs because of sexually related offenses, including harassment, adultery, and improper relationships, according to statistics compiled by The Associated Press.
In the civilian world, it can literally take decades to get rape kits processes while perpetrators go free and the Senate has taken action to change this, but after the House’s recent refusal to re-authorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), I’m not holding my breath waiting for them to join the Senate in rectifying this huge human rights atrocity even though, as The New York Times quite rightly says, there should not be anything ideological to discuss about this, it is necessary and urgent legislation.
The point I am trying to make is this–we live in a country (and a world) where rape and sexual assault is allowed to happen by governing bodies that refuse to take action to stop it. And the reason they do so is the key stumbling block to ending rape, this year or anytime soon, namely that to do so would be to put a stop to a significant form of power-over and in a patriarchal world, that isn’t going to happen.
So if we want to end rape, we need to make some huge changes in how we do things. That the House refused to re-authorize VAWA is appalling, but even worse than that is the fact that more than 30 years after it was introduced, the Senate has yet to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and we still don’t have an Equal Rights Amendment in this country. Those two measures would go a long way in codifying women’s human rights in the U.S. and in rectifying the patriarchal structures that allow systemic human rights abuses against women. And that of course is also why they have languished.
Things like addressing the socialization of boys and educating law enforcement and the media about better ways to address sexual assault and rape is important, but for that to happen in a sustained and meaningful way requires far larger systemic changes and in the U.S. measures like CEDAW and the ERA would be a huge step in that direction because they would make women’s human rights a national policy.
It is excellent that Wolfe has raised this question because it needs to be answered and we need to let our elected officials know that it is a priority issue, not just in the U.S. but throughout the world.