The Fem Spot

Untested rape kits in America

Posted in News, Politics by femspotter on December 20, 2009

December 20, 2009

** To support the nonpartisan Justice for Survivors of Sexual Assault Act of 2009, visit http://www.hrw.kintera.org/rape-kits. **

According to a recent 5-month CBS News investigation exclusive, at least 20,000 rape kits have gone untested in the United States. To put this figure in context, the investigation revealed some startling facts and figures about rape in the U.S. at large:

  • nearly 90,000 women reported they were raped in the U.S. during 2008; an additional 75,000 rapes are estimated to have gone unreported
  • the arrest rate for the same period was only 25%, less than the 79% for murder and 51% for accusations of aggravated assault
  • according to RAINN (The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), only 6% of rapists will ever spend a day in jail
  • when an alleged victim contacts law enforcement claiming to have been raped, she or he generally receives a test (a rape kit) that will help prove that the rape did in fact occur and, with DNA evidence gathered from both the test and the suspect, that the suspect did commit said rape; but the investigation revealed that at least 20,000 of those tests administered in America have gone untested, making it impossible for the legal system to potentially punish at least 20,000 rapists
  • many states have revealed that they have unanalyzed rape kits collecting dust on shelves: CBS provides a state by state breakdown
  • in addition, officials from at least 12 major cities (Anchorage, Baltimore, Birmingham, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Oakland, Phoenix and San Diego) said they have no idea how many of rape kits in storage are untested
  • according to law enforcement officials, rape kits don’t get fully tested because of cost (up to $1,500 each) or because victims sometimes recant their accusations
  • New York City purports to test every single rape kit it executes – over 1,300 in 2008 – and its arrest rate is 70%

This information may provide answers to some of the big questions about our human inability to eradicate rape that feminists tackle on a daily basis. Clearly, in a judicial system with a goal of discouraging rape crimes by harshly punishing rapists, that goal cannot be realized when so few rapists are punished. But the information forces us to ask additional questions. Why are roughly 75,000 women silent about rape? Why isn’t it policy, at the state or federal level, to complete the rape investigation promptly? Why has insufficient money been allocated to these investigations, making $1,500 per rape accusation unfeasible for local law enforcement? Why do some rape victims claim that they have been raped only to revoke the accusation later?

I wish I had answers to these questions, but I only have speculation. I suspect that many women don’t value themselves enough to feel they deserve American “justice.” I suspect that many of them are afraid to cry out for help and, in doing so, help protect others from violent offenders. I only know that I want them to feel empowered enough to do so.

Much of the mystique around rape exists because our society still disagrees amongst itself on the nature of rape: is it sex or is it violence? The legal definition of “forcible sexual relations” does not coincide with many philosophical definitions that account for sex that occurs when one party is unconscious or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Does date rape or rape in circumstances where alcohol is present mean that a rapist is a corrupt individual who will always pose a threat to other people? Can rapists be rehabilitated? Is rape as damaging a crime as other forms of assault or even murder? I just don’t know. Does anybody?

If rape is a byproduct of misogyny, then the sooner we eradicate gender expectations from our culture (i.e. women are supposed to be meek and sexually accommodating and men are supposed to take what they want, by force when necessary) the better for all potential rape victims. If you have to hate someone in order to rape them, then let’s work to eliminate the source of hatred: misunderstandings of who we are and how we think we each should behave. But this theoretical notion may not be possible to implement at all, and certainly not right away: it will happen generationally if it can.

I am sure of several things:

  1. while New York City’s arrest rate is not good enough at 70%, it is better than the national average by far, proving that follow through on these rape kits will help to put more rapists behind bars
  2. the 51% arrest rate for aggravated assault, which is more than double that of rape, proves that rape is not taken as seriously by law enforcement at large as are other forms of violence
  3. a victim doesn’t get to decide when a crime against her/him is punishable or not; ergo recanted accusations should still be followed by fully executed rape tests in order to prevent a possible rapist from performing future violent acts on others
  4. 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes, but there are SOME things that people can do to protect themselves SOMETIMES (RAINN)

I do not subscribe to the notion that women are victims and men are rapists by default – that is to say that I think we can take steps to try and protect ourselves from rapists, and not all men are potential rapists. In the case of the CBS investigation’s rape victim Valerie Neumann, then 21, her alleged rape occurred after she and a “friend of a friend” spent hours drinking, she had thrown up and subsequently she had passed out. Why was she drinking to excess with a man she had just met? Had she stayed sober and stayed at the public place (a bowling alley) where she met this man, she might have removed herself from such a dangerous situation. Of course, that does not preclude an assailant from following her home or secluding her in a dark, private corner of the parking lot. No. The world is a dangerous place SOMETIMES. A rape is NEVER the fault of the victim, but Neumann could have taken better care. College age women are 4 times as likely to be sexually assaulted than others because of the drinking and the lack of security they endure. And 43% of rapes take place between 6 p.m. and midnight with an additional 24% before 6 a.m. (RAINN) Don’t walk home alone at night. Don’t go anywhere with a man you just met. Don’t drink from open containers. Don’t drink alcohol at all. (Is this fair? No.)

Neumann deserves “justice” for the crime that was committed against her. According to her preliminary examination, there was enough evidence to suggest forced penetration, and semen was found in her underwear. The suspect provided a DNA sample, but Neumann’s rape kit was never fully tested. The explanation: prosecutors did not think that they could win a case against the suspect.

It is my belief that rape has little or nothing to do with sex – sex is rape’s milieu – and almost everything to do with hatred and violence. In Neumann’s case, a date rape, alcohol played a significant role in her sexual experience. Whether the law considers it “rape” or not is irrelevant. It’s still wrong and painful for the victim. While a courtroom drama may not have ensued, a fully executed test confirming the suspect as the perpetrator would have at least resulted in an arrest: and an arrest would have sent a message that this type of violence will not be tolerated…at least to the lone perpetrator and maybe to some of his friends.

I pose a call to action with regard to getting the rape arrest rate to nationally meet and hopefully exceed that of New York City’s and one that would increase the sexual education of teenagers and young adults in high school and college. I ask the Federal Government to force state governments to force local law enforcement officials to fully examine ALL rape kits. Additionally, I ask that the Federal Government mandate that all high school seniors take and pass a responsible sex education class before graduating. The class would entail an understanding of sexuality, its consequences, both for violent sexuality and consensual sexuality, and a signed pledge from students (male and female) to be responsible sexual participants. While conservatives will note that this may cause a slight increase in tax rates nationwide, we cannot continue to be negligent and naive about sexuality and violence. (To you cheapskates, my response: Go back to kindergarten and learn how to share!) We need to teach boys how to control their bodies and respect human beings. We need to teach girls and boys how to protect themselves and make responsible choices. And most of all, we need to teach ourselves that one rape is too many; certainly, 20,000 or more unpunished is grotesque and inhumane.

If you agree, or if you are at least concerned, contact Attorney General Eric Holder, a public servant, at:

U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue,
NW Washington, DC 20530-0001
phone: 202-353-1555
email: askdoj@usdoj.gov

Be sure to include a copy of the CBS news report with your letters and emails.

Think you can’t or aren’t making a difference by writing? Meet Florence Holway:

In 1991, Mrs. Holway, then 75, was brutally raped in her rural New Hampshire home by a 25-year-old intruder. There was nothing she did to deserve this attack. There was nothing she should have done to prevent it. But that didn’t stop her from working to correct it. Her indignation and 12 years of hard work inspired the state of New Hampshire to change its rape laws. While Holway’s rapist served a mere 12 years in prison for his crime, future rapists will serve 15 to 20 years for first offenses, 20-40 for second offenses and life in prison without parole for third offenses. HBO made a documentary about this struggle and accomplishment called Rape in a Small Town.

Anyone can and should make a difference. We have to start somewhere. So pick up your pens!

Advertisements

For all Americans who think it doesn’t happen here…

Posted in News, Sexuality by femspotter on October 27, 2009

October 27, 2009

Police: Gang rape outside school dance lasted over two hours

Get angry about this! It still does happen in the United States. Here’s a rundown of the facts:

  • 15-year-old girl gang raped for two and a half hours outside a school dance in San Francisco, CA (10-24-09)
  • victim raped by at least four suspects committing multiple sex acts
  • victim was found unconscious and “brutally assaulted” under a bench
  • victim had to be flown to an area hospital where she was listed in critical condition before stabilizing on Monday
  • as many as 15 people, all males, stood around watching the assault, but did not call police or help the victim

Do you find yourself asking the question, “Why did they do it?” There is no “why” great enough to justify this level of violence and hatred. There is no excuse!

Do not scare your daughters with this news; tell them to get angry! Collective anger is the best medicine for abuse. And tell your sons to get angry too. Tell them that this unsympathetic power-mongering WILL NOT BE TOLERATED!

A little about violence against women: Watchmen and beyond

Posted in Film and Television, Pop Culture, Sexuality by femspotter on March 20, 2009

March 20, 2009

Two of the top-grossing movies (#2 and #3) at the United States box office this past weekend (3/14-15) contain brutal (man on woman) rape scenes. It wouldn’t be such an issue if one of the two films didn’t trivialize rape to the point where ignorant viewers confuse sexuality and violence.

In Watchmen (#2) – which I’ll admit I walked out of after an hour because I was miserable and I’d been tricked into seeing it by some marketing geniuses who had fashioned a movie trailer that recalled the glory and action bliss of director Zack Snyder’s previous hit 300 – a scantily-clad female hero is nearly raped by another “hero” (and it is implied that she later fails in her attempt to fend off the same culprit with the same intent). He says all of the cliche lines: ‘No’ as in Y.E.S.? You wouldn’t put those clothes on if you didn’t want some action! (I’m reproducing those quotes from memory. They may not be entirely accurate…I’m not going to watch the film again to confirm them, even in the spirit of good journalism. No!)

I subsequently had a revealing conversation with a tween on The Internet Movie Database Watchmen message board. He told me that he was disappointed with the relatively “small” amount of violence in the film. He said that 300 was much more exciting because of its heightened levels of bloody action and because the rape in that movie happened on screen. He condemned the current graphic novel adaptation for failing to present the sexuality that the source material calls for (I’m paraphrasing – he was neither eloquent about his views, nor did he spell all of his words correctly!)

I responded that he needed to reconsider: “Are you clamoring in favor of a ‘real’ rape scene?” I asked. “Why would you want to see that?”

“I don’t want to see a rape,” he argued, adding that he just wanted to see “sex of any kind” in the scene where the Comedian beats up Silk Spectre and attempts to penetrate her with his penis before their interaction is interrupted.

I pointed out that “sex of any kind” in such a scene would constitute a rape. Rape isn’t really sexual. It’s really just violent.

Radio silence.

The critical reception of the film is mixed. There isn’t a mainstream feminist film critic writing as an authority on this issue, but I’ll turn to two mainstream critics who did address this man on woman rape/violence occurrence, however briefly.

You want to see the attempted rape of a superwoman, her bright latex costume cast aside and her head banged against the baize of a pool table? The assault is there in Moore’s book, one panel of which homes in on the blood that leaps from her punched mouth, but the pool table is Snyder’s own embroidery…Amid these pompous grabs at horror, neither author nor director has much grasp of what genuine, unhyped suffering might be like, or what pity should attend it; they are too busy fussing over the fate of the human race — a sure sign of metaphysical vulgarity — to be bothered with lesser plights. In the end, with a gaping pit where New York used to be, most of the surviving Watchmen agree that the loss of the Eastern Seaboard was a small price to pay for global peace. Incoherent, overblown, and grimy with misogyny, “Watchmen” marks the final demolition of the comic strip, and it leaves you wondering: where did the comedy go?

– Anthony Lane, The New Yorker

The theory I espouse from Lane’s review is that the creators’ blatant disregard for human (including female) suffering explains the overall desensitized reaction to the film. Rape is painful for the victim; it should be painful for the viewer too, especially when the viewer should identify with the victim. Claudia Puig of USA Today didn’t mention the rape (attempted or otherwise) in her review, so perhaps it didn’t bother her. Apparently, it didn’t bother Sara Vilkomerson at The New York Observer either (not to mention the fact that she used the word “gender” incorrectly in her review – arrrgh!). And Lisa Kennedy of The Denver Post liked the film.

Michael Phillips of The Chicago Tribune pitted the attempted rape in Watchmen against the onscreen rape in The Last House on the Left (#3) in his review of the latter film:

“The Last House on the Left” hinges on humiliation and vengeance, which makes it like most other modern horror titles. Its focus on sexual assault, however, puts it in a different, more primal league. The way director Iliadis shapes the key misery-inducing sequence, there’s no hype or slickness or attempt to make the rape palatable or visually “dynamic.” For that you have to go see  “Watchmen.”

Sara Paxton in "The Last House on the Left"

Sara Paxton in "The Last House on the Left"

Both films contain rape content (The Last House on the Left is about vengeance resulting from the act), but Watchmen presents this violence without a caveat. Instead, the film justifies the rape by (I’m told) making the Comedian repentant and by (I’m told, although it’s also obvious) structuring the story so that Silk Spectre’s heir apparent is conceived during the Comedian’s successful, albeit violent, conquest. The movie should have shown the rape and not just its unsuccessful precursor. And it should have condemned the violence. Instead, it delights in violence of all kinds. A pedophile therein doesn’t just kill a little girl…he leaves her bones to be chewed on by dogs. Isn’t the first half of that thought horrific enough on its own? Why must it be compounded?

It really scares me that my tween forum buddy craves more violence than Watchmen offers up; but it scares me more that he was allowed to see the movie in the first place, when – clearly! – nobody is helping him understand the dark material he witnessed. I keep promising myself that when I’m a parent, I won’t restrict my kids’ viewership on the basis of sexuality or language in film, but will censor violence if need be – if my children are as sensitive to it as I am. I probably should go and see The Last House on the Left so that I can make a fair comparison. I’ve read about all of the gory parts on KidsinMind.com and I once stomached the original 1972 mess. I’d like to have an intelligent discussion about violence against women with somebody in person or online; but, I realize that the target audience for both of these films is not me. And it’s not teenagers with feminist parents either. Perhaps that’s why there’s a lack of sensitivity and understanding out there when it comes to this topic: nobody is talking about it.

Violence against women in our American culture has reached a celebrated status: we love to know all about and judge the Rihanna affair. A CNN.com article about violence against an elderly woman in Saudi Arabia – sanctioned by the government, no less – reached “Latest News” status last week, but then was downgraded in less than an hour in favor of stories like “Boat made of plastic bottles to sail to Australia” and, in “Popular News,” “Oprah comments on Rihanna.” The Rihanna scandal is a circus. Violence against women is real.

The message this flip flopping sends to me is that we (the general CNN-viewing public) are only interested in violence against pretty, young women.

There seems to be some confusion out there that rape and violence are one and the same thing. I’m sure that Watchmen tween isn’t alone in his confusion about rape and sexuality. And I really can’t blame young viewers when cinema marketers are targeting movies at them that they can’t possibly understand. Their age group has been weaned on similar movies like Sin City, wherein all women are either prostitutes or exotic dancers except in the case of a lone female police officer (also played by Carla Gugino, the Watchmen rapee); but she’s still naked just like all of the other women and, in a particularly sadistic form of castration (read: weakening), her hands are cut off by a serial killer. She is therefore rendered powerless. (Is it just me or does Gugino need a new agent?)

When I left the theater in the middle of the movie – which skillfully manifests a bold and seamless apocalyptic aesthetic, I’ll admit – I read the Lane review on my husband’s iPhone, lamented that I hadn’t read it before I plunked down my 10 bucks, and subsequently went to visit the “real” characters of The Wrestler (loved it!). Unfortunately, that made me think about how many abusive males were nominated for Academy Awards in 2009: Mickey Rourke, Sean Penn, and – most recently – Josh Brolin have each been accused of assault.

I guess it’s okay, though. Brolin, like the Comedian, has been forgiven. (That’s sarcasm.)

Malin Akerman in "Watchmen"

Malin Akerman in "Watchmen"

When Watchmen let out, I wandered back down the corridor to find my husband but instead found a group of teens who “absolutely loved” the film. A pretty and – of course – terribly slender young woman stretched her arm behind her back to fondle the tips of her long blond hair. “Do you guys think that I could be Silk Spectre (2) next Halloween?” she asked her friends.

Great! Not only does she want to dress in next to nothing and masquerade as the anti-heroine, but she’s also responding to a lackluster performance by the world’s second blandest film actress, Malin Akerman (Kelly Preston gets my vote for number one). I wanted to drag her down the hall and force her to witness the depth in Marisa Tomei’s fine performance.

Also on the news radar last weekend was the brawl that broke out in the audition line for the upcoming new season of America’s Next Top Model. I wonder if Halloween’s Silk Spectre was the culprit of that “violence against women.”

Ladies, we really are our own worst enemies. We don’t need any help from Alan Moore or Zack Snyder if we’re beating each other up over who gets to be America’s Next Top “Insect.”

%d bloggers like this: