“Rape” is not a word many people like to hear. There are many who probably consider the word to be as vulgar as the act itself. Pundits, lawmakers and citizens alike have voiced strong outrage toward the perpetrators of a gang rape in India that led to the victim’s death, but are we in a place to voice such opinions?
When a crime this heinous occurs halfway across the world, we are swift to act. Women and men are quick to note how awful the situation is. However, when such a thing happens in our own backyard, it seems the stakes are much different. Outrage turns to excuses, and excuses turn to shifting blame. It is unpleasant to note, but the legal handling of rape in the U.S. is only marginally better than the treatment of the same crime in many other places in the world.
During election season, women watched triumphantly as politicians, like Todd Akin, lost their seats due to horrific comments that pertained to rape and abortion. Their loss was a small victory in the realm of reproductive rights and sexual abuse, but we cannot deny that these comments were made.
It is obvious how uneducated and perhaps uncaring many people are in regards to sexual assault. In Steubenville, Ohio, a reported gang rape occurred, involving members of the local, “star” football team. It has been mentioned that the trial may have never come to light if it was not for the intervention of renowned “hacktivist” group Anonymous. Although it has not been entirely proven, it appears that the crime was covered up because of the perpetrators’ statuses within the community. Even worse, perhaps, was the overwhelming response from community members, defending the accused and noting that the victim was “asking for it.”
The “she asked for it” excuse is extremely popular in a country that claims to be progressive in regards to women’s rights. Perhaps, yes, a woman’s dress is short, but it is beyond repulsive that popular culture has linked clothing choices to rape. We look down on sexual assaults that occur in countries like India, yet when similar crimes occur here, they are made to be defensible.
If a woman was drunk, that apparently makes her willing. It is a sad-but-true reality that nearly 80 percent of women don’t report a rape, and we should be asking why. Perhaps it is because we refuse to believe those who do come forward or because we have made laws cherishing the children that have resulted from these encounters while still ignoring the victim.
Surely we live in a safer place than India. Is that not true? But for women, it may still be far from the truth. Until the legal system takes rape more seriously as a crime, those same lawmakers have no place to berate another country for its lax treatment of such a serious subject.
Jeri Cosgrove is a third-year English student with a concentration in creative writing.