Women’s Center Update: Sexual assault victims suffer from stereotypes
Rape and sexual assault are not issues commonly discussed at the dinner table or at friendly get-togethers. The mere mention of these words often leaves people feeling uncomfortable. In the media, rape is portrayed as a brutal, violent crime leaving the victim struggling for life. The perpetrator is a crazed stranger in the dark and often wields a gun, knife or other weapon.
The media have done such a good job of stereotyping rape that many people believe it could never happen to them. People believe that as long as they stay out of dark alleys and parking garages they will be safe. What many people are not aware of is that two out of three rapes are committed by someone the victim knows – meaning friends, boyfriends/girlfriends, co-workers and acquaintances.
In America someone is sexually assaulted every two and a half minutes. One in six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape, and 10 percent of sexual assault victims are men. In 2003-2004 there were 204,370 victims of rape, attempted rape or sexual assault within the U.S. About 44 percent of rape victims are under age 18, and 80 percent are under age 30. Many of these crimes go unreported due to the shame, violation of body and privacy, embarrassment or fear a victim may feel.
Unfortunately, rape is one of the only crimes where the finger is often pointed at the victim. If a person is car-jacked, robbed, or murdered, society does not blame the victim for wearing an expensive suit or driving a nice car. When a person is a victim of rape or sexual assault, many are quick to ask questions about her clothes, whether she was drinking, or make assumptions of what kind of impression she may have made on others.
Another myth promoted by gender stereotypes that encourages the acceptance of this crime is the idea that the victims “cry rape” to get back at someone, or they lie because they regret their “decision.” In fact, only 2 percent of rape accusations are false, which is the same rate for any other crime. This is partly because reporting rape is a grueling, embarrassing, and uncomfortable thing to do; the vast majority of people would not put themselves through this traumatizing process to “get back” at another.
When a person is the victim of rape or sexual assault, it is never his/her fault, even if others may not be able to agree with the victim’s choices or behaviors. While there are things that one can do to help prevent sexual assault, no one asks – whether through their clothes, language, or body language – to be raped. Rape is a crime of power and control. Whether the crime is premeditated or a last-minute attempt for the perpetrator to obtain control, the choice to be violent is made by the individual committing the crime.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of rape or sexual assault, the South Lake Tahoe Women’s Center has a 24-hour hotline available at (530) 544-4444, or stop by the office to speak with an advocate at 2941 Lake Tahoe Blvd., across from South Tahoe Middle School.
The South Lake Tahoe Women’s Center business office was financed through a low-cost loan from the Rural Community Assistance Corporation.
– Lisa Michele Utzig is an outreach coordinator at the South Lake Tahoe Women’s Center.
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