At the moment two Vanderbilt University football players were being convicted of rape and aggravated sexual assault, a summit about sexual assault was in progress just three miles away. The meeting consisted of about 80 administrators from both public and private colleges across the United States.
A number of about 450 people attended the two-day summit, and although it was pure coincidence that the verdict was handed down while they were in session, it had an impact on the attendees. One administrator said that it reinforced the seriousness of the matter being discussed.
A depressingly large number of sexual assault incidents are not reported. Of those that are, a noticeable increase in numbers have been registered. In 2001, 2,200 cases of sexual assault were reported; in 2011, more than 3,300 reports were filed.
A universal agreement was made between the administrators. For decades the blame was placed on the victim; ‘was she drinking; how was she dressed; was she flirting with the man? They declared that it was time to end this archaic practice and focus on the perpetrator.
In the Vanderbilt case, the court finally got it right. The young woman involved was violated while she remained unconscious. Her boyfriend organized the assault where three of his teammates did unspeakable things to her body. The entire incident was filmed and broadcast over the internet. The young woman only discovered what had happened to her when she saw the film herself. Two of the four involved were found guilty of rape charges. The other two will face the court soon. Their only defense was that they had been binge drinking; it was dismissed.
For decades domestic violence and sexual assault have been virtually ignored. The significance of this fact is that women have been treated differently than men by our legal system.
Only recently has domestic violence become an important issue. Families often hid the reality from those outside of the home. Victims believed it would stop. They forced themselves to believe that their attacker was truly repentant, and that things would get better. Some died holding onto their beliefs.
The Ray Rice incident brought focus to the problem. The NFL had an opportunity to change the way it covered up domestic violence in the past, and take the lead to force change in America. To use a pun; they dropped the ball.
Sexual assault has previously been addressed in similar fashion. Embarrassment and even guilt forbade the victim from filing a report with the authorities. On campus, filing charges was even less common. Young women frequently accepted part of the blame because they had been drinking and acting in a flirtatious manner.
The abuse of women and men result in long lasting problems. Depression, extreme anxiety, and other conditions related to emotional damage are common. Those who receive abuse are more likely to be abusers themselves. Many of the nation’s homeless women and children are the direct result of domestic violence.
If you know or even suspect that a man or women is or was a victim of sexual assault or domestic violence, encourage them to report it to the authorities. The time is long past that our nation addresses the facts; sexual assault and domestic violence are on the rise and suppressing the truth creates additional victims.
Severe punishment such as in the Vanderbilt case is the only deterrent for these crimes. The seriousness of attacks on weaker individuals is a blight on America.
By James Turnage