Let’s talk about rape

Rape is not a topic most of us want to talk about, but since others are talking about it, we need to talk about it.

We started out the year with Congressional Republicans wanting to redefine rape as needing to have force involved aka “forcible rape.” Feminists won the “forcible rape” battle, but some of us, myself included, soon learned that, at least according to the FBI, men can’t be forcibly raped.

All hell broke loose last week when the New York Times reported on the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl by focusing their story on how being arrested for rape would impact the lives of the 18 – yes 18 – men and boys allegedly involved. Blogs, Facebook walls and Twitter were a fire with outrage over the NYTimes blaming the girl for her assault. The NYTimes did respond to this criticism, but not to the extend that many, including myself, would had preferred. For one, balance isn’t want the story required, rather it needed to tell the story of an 11-year girl who was raped.

Rape happens more often than we think and obviously more often than should happen. I say this, but giving you a good estimate of how many rapes are even reported is a difficult job. I did a web search for “rape statistics Chicago” and “sexual assault statistics Chicago” and came up kinda empty. I did find that Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s website states that in 2002 almost 2,000 sexual assaults were reported in ChicagoRecent news reports state that Chicago just witnessed a 4.4% increase in criminal sexual assaults this year. We’re in March.

Which is why I am pleased as punch to read that the Chicago Justice Project is launching a Sexual Assault Task Force:

[Chicago Justice Project] is assisting in the creation of a task force that will examine the data capturing, maintain, and releasing practices of the Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC) – the Chicago Police Department (CPD) – and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office (SAO), and make recommendations for improvement to their practices regarding each agency’s response to felony sex crime allegations. The Task Force’s goal is to improve the amount and quality of the data that is captured and subsequently released to the public regarding these crimes. Community safety will be benefit from an open line of communication about the amount and types of felony sex crimes occurring in their community and how the system responds to those crimes.

Rape is one of the few topics that even the most logical people try to talk their way out of believing. “If she wasn’t  dressed like a slut…If she wasn’t out at 3 AM….If she didn’t do this or that.” All things we tell ourselves hoping and believing that WE wouldn’t put ourselves into “that situation.” The reality is that 80% of rape victims know their offenders [pdf]. But to better understand what is really going on and to craft better policy to prevent and deal with sexual assaults, we need better data. I’m looking forward to watching how the task force tackles the issue of rape/sexual assault in Chicago. Considering who is on the task force, I’m certain it’s going to be worth watching.


Veronica I. Arreola is a professional feminist, a mom and a writer. She blogs about the intersection of feminism and motherhood at VivalaFeminista.com. Veronica lives on the north side of Chicago with her husband, their spunky daughter and doxie named Piper. You can connect with Veronica at Facebook or Twitter.

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