Growing up in a home headed by a criminal lawyer, I was always keenly aware of the problem of sexual assault. I had no choice in the matter; my mother isn’t one to mince words, and she had seen the realities of rape in her legal work and in her own life, seen what happens to the men and women whose lives are colored by sexual violence. She wanted to do everything in her power to spare her own daughter the same fate, all the while cautioning me that there were only so many precautions I could take, emphasizing that rape is a crime committed against you, not a crime that you bring upon yourself. Odds were that rape was a crime I would have to deal with somehow, in some way, at some time in my life; as a prosecutor my mother knew those odds better than most. Consequently, so do I.
In honor of National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, for the last week of April PolicyMic will be hosting a week-long discussion on sexual assault prevention and awareness, featuring pieces by high-profile politicians and star guest contributors, as well as established Pundits. We hope these pieces and the discussion around them will contribute to changing the tragic reality of sexual violence.
On Wednesday, we're kicking off the week with four phenomenal pieces: Actor, comedian, director, author and activist Aisha Tyler tells PolicyMic’s Liz Plank about her experiences with sexual violence online. Sociologist and best-selling author of Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men Michael Kimmel explains why male-female friendships can help end rape. PolicyMic Pundit and Harvard student activist Kate Sim writes about the illusion of "safe spaces" after the Boston Marathon bombing. Arizona State professor Cassia Spohn, a lead researcher on a 2004 study regarding the prosecution of sexual assault cases, examines how the criminal justice system responds to cases of sexual assault.
Though some may speculate that given the number of recent high-profile rape cases in the media, including Steubenville, Ohio, we may finally be able to end rape illiteracy — and, one can only hope, rape itself — sexual assault is a problem that requires our full attention to understand, combat, and solve.
In his statement commemorating National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month 2013, President Obama said, "In the last 20 years, our Nation has made meaningful progress toward addressing sexual assault. Where victims were once left without recourse, laws have opened a path to safety and justice; where a culture of fear once kept violence hidden, survivors are more empowered to speak out and get help. But even today, too many women, men, and children suffer alone or in silence, burdened by shame or unsure anyone will listen. This month, we recommit to changing that tragic reality by stopping sexual assault before it starts and ensuring victims get the support they need."
In the U.S. alone, a national survey released in 2011 found that approximately 1 in 5 women (18.3%) reported being raped in their lifetime, as did 1 in 71 men (1.4%). Similarly, more than 1 in 3 women (35.6%) and more than 1 in 4 men (28.5%) report having experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
When one looks at sexual assault as a global problem — which, as anyone following the recent events in India or Syria (to name but two countries), knows full well it is — the total numbers are even higher. The full extent of sexual violence is unknown, as many countries cannot begin to accurately measure the crime, but it is a crime that must be ended. Unfortunately, putting a stop to what the World Health Organization labels the "serious public health and human rights problem" of sexual violence will take a great deal of work, offline and online.
Long before I wrote my first article for PolicyMic, I knew that people who write about sexual assault often face social consequences not entirely unlike those faced by people who speak up about their own personal experiences. Many who address the topic of sexual assault face intense backlash, even rape or death threats, a phenomenon Pundit Bridget Todd describes here and which I have unfortunately seen play out before on PolicyMic.
To be absolutely clear, comments attacking or threatening PolicyMic writers will not be tolerated. I will be closely moderating this week’s content, and take appropriate actions against any comments which the editorial staff deems inappropriate. As a community, we would do well to remember that statistically speaking, it’s likely that many folks writing, reading, and commenting at PolicyMic have some kind of experience with sexual assault, or know someone who does. Think before you comment, and keep PolicyMic’s civil discussion model in mind.
While we cannot address every aspect of sexual assault over the next seven days, my hope is that the discussions we begin here on PolicyMic can contribute to larger efforts to put an end to sexual violence domestically and across the world. At the very least, I hope the writing we put forth will help the PolicyMic community become "rape literate," educating and informing our writers and readers about the current realities of sexual violence, and working towards innovative solutions to ending it.
We look forward to an amazing week of content and healthy discussion on PolicyMic.