The statistics in the White House’s recently released report on rape and sexual assault are unsettling, but not unfamiliar: If a woman goes to college, she has a one in five chance of being sexually assaulted while she’s there. Only 12 percent of those women ever report their assaults to law enforcement.
Just a few hours after the report came out last week, President Obama issued a memorandum, creating a task force to deal specifically with issues surrounding sexual assault on college campuses. In 90 days, this task force will make recommendations for how institutions can best prevent and respond to sexual assault, and punish offenders. They are charged with creating an environment where victims feel supported—where punishment is fair but also proportionate to the severity of the crime.
This isn’t going to be easy. Responding to sexual assault—particularly on a college campus—is murky business.
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The rape and murder of a young woman in Delhi last year, and the subsequent death sentence handed out to the four perpetrators, has prompted a great deal of soul-searching in India. Women’s rights have – finally – come to the forefront in a country where the concept remains curiously alien to many of its inhabitants.
In Europe, the incident has also prompted all manner of debate over the role of culture in sexual violence. While Europeans have made small but significant progress in strengthening women’s rights, other parts of the world appear to be lagging behind. To the Delhi case we might add genital mutilation, the punishment of rape victims, and female driving restrictions in Saudi Arabia. Women might have it tough in western society, but women in the developing world seemingly have it much tougher.
Last week’s verdict in India also coincided with the release of a major UN study on sexual violence against women in Asia and the Pacific. The fact the survey does not include India in its sample has nevertheless failed to dissuade commentators from drawing a parallel between its findings and the Delhi case. The shocking headline figure that “25% of the men surveyed admit to raping a partner or a stranger in their lifetime” appears to offer unequivocal confirmation that all Asian women are the victims of a deep-rooted, cultural problem.
When the figures of the UN study are broken down, however, a different picture emerges. For a start, the survey only covers a small, but diverse number of Asian countries: Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Papua New Guinea.
Of these, the only territories in which responses to the “rape questions” were 25 percent or higher were Papua New Guinea and part of the western Indonesian half of the island of New Guinea (Papua). In both cases the number of “yes” responses from men were staggering: 43.8 percent for Papua, and an incredible 59.1 percent in Papua New Guinea.
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The sexual-assault epidemic plaguing the Armed Forces is rooted in a hypermasculine ethos that fosters predation.
The new movie tries to laugh away a jarring topic with a shrug and gag akin to a fart joke.
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The swift action is an attempt to answer critics who say that official response to rape in India has historically been slow, tepid, and ineffective. Some 95,000 rape cases are currently pending in Indian courts, according to the BBC, and in the capital, where sexual assaults are at a record high, only 1 of the 635 rape cases filed last year has resulted in a conviction to date.
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Last week, in New Delhi, India, news stories of a horrific gang rape spread quickly, igniting widespread outrage. A 23 year old woman was attacked by six men on a moving bus and brutalized for 45 minutes, in the most recent and alarming of several high-profile incidents. Protesters have taken to the streets to demonstrate against the growing incidence of rape, and its slow and ineffective prosecution. Riot police have responded, dispersing crowds with forceful tactics including water cannons, batons, and tear gas. India’s government has now ordered a special inquiry into the incident to identify any negligence or errors on the part of police.
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We cannot reduce the ignorance of people like Mourdock and Akin to sound bites or place it in the category of election-season inanity. Their statements are the toxic runoff of our culture’s failure to prevent and address sexual violence in all its forms. The statistics stun: The high estimate of the number of women raped each year in the United States is 1.3 million, 54 percent of rapes are unreported, and a woman’s chance of being raped is one in five. The president’s elementary stance is nice but won’t fix anything on its own; what must change is the culture itself.
Given its well-documented and inexcusable problems with sexism, hip-hop might not seem a wise place to look to start making that change. But that fact actually makes the medium more ripe for reformers. Moreover, as one of the dominant, storytelling-driven art forms consumed and made by young people, rap provides a way for survivors and allies to testify, argue, and change hearts and minds. And as a song released this past week by the promising young rapper Angel Haze proves, rap’s potential as a weapon against rape culture isn’t merely academic.
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To argue that the female body has the means to ‘shut that whole thing down,’ or that the torture of women is somehow divinely sanctioned takes more than just an accident of biology. It takes the ability to speak about things of which you are ignorant as though you are informed. It takes unacknowledged blindness.
It takes an appetite for cruelty."
Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, an Indiana Republican, turned a few heads and dropped a few jaws on Tuesday night when he said that pregnancies resulting from rape were “something that God intended to happen.” It happened during a debate between Mourdock and his opponent, Democratic Congressman Joe Donnelly and did not go unnoticed. Another thing that did not go unnoticed was the ad featuring Mitt Romney endorsing Mourdock that dropped earlier this week. It was the first such endorsement Romney’s made for a Republican candidate, and it may or may not still be valid.
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Rep. Todd Akin appeared to be on his own in the controversy over his abortion and rape comments, but fellow Congressman Steve King has also put his foot in it after saying he’s never heard of a woman getting pregnant because of statutory rape or incest. Like Akin, Iowa’s King supported a House bill in 2011 that would have banned federal funding for abortion and would not have included an exemption for just those sorts of cases.
In an interview on Monday, he suggested such an exemption wouldn’t be necessary because he’s never heard of such a thing happening. ”Well I just haven’t heard of that being a circumstance that’s been brought to me in any personal way,” King told KMEG-TV Monday, “and I’d be open to discussion about that subject matter.”
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