The Daily Tar Heel

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Monday December 5th

Statistics show full scope of the sexual assault epidemic

One of the reasons I am so vehemently pro-choice is that I feel that bodily sovereignty is one of the most significant issues facing women today.

The idea that each woman owns her own body, on her own terms, at all times, is paramount in our struggle for equality and carries over into many other areas. It is fundamental that a woman control every aspect of her sexuality, primarily whether or not she will enter into any kind of sexual engagement.

Whether you wish to overlook it or not, there is a war against women being fought in this country every day. Except it's not being carried out on battlefields. It's being waged on street corners, parking garages and, even more routinely, in your own bedroom.

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network's calculation based on the U.S. Department of Justice's National Crime Victimization Survey, someone was sexually assaulted in this country every two minutes in 2002.

This is an epidemic that extends to all socio-economic levels and transcends racial and cultural lines. And although the incidence of male rape is a certain and tragic reality, in 2002, seven out of eight rape victims were women.

The more sinister truth about these statistics is that they are probably a gross underestimate. Sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes - only about one out of every three assaults is reported.

Despite these discrepancies, the message is clear: Sexual assault is a prevalent threat. Whether or not the media overlook the issue, and whether or not attackers are arrested, incarcerated or even reported, this problem continues to thrive and feeds off the stigma and fear associated with it.

According to a 1998 survey by the National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in six American women has been the victim of a completed or attempted rape during her lifetime.

And chances are that victims aren't being carried off into the night by some stranger. According to the 2000 NCVS, 62 percent of rape victims know their assailant - 43 percent are raped by a friend or acquaintance, and 17 percent by a spouse or significant other.

It gets worse. 1997 U.S. Bureau of Justice statistics show that approximately four out of 10 assaults take place in the victim's home, and two out of 10 occur in the home of someone they know.

Essentially, these numbers indicate that women are being attacked on a regular basis by people they know and in their own homes. If that doesn't constitute war, I'm not sure what does.

And the picture gets particularly scary for college women. A 2001 Bureau of Justice study found that about 3 percent of the college women responding had experienced a completed or attempted rape. The U.S. Census estimates that there are about four million women enrolled in higher education. You do the math.

Assaults on college women echo the national statistics with regard to location as well. According to the same study, almost 60 percent of completed rapes that happened on campuses took place in the victim's residence, 31 percent occurred at someone else's residence and 10 percent took place in fraternity houses.

As much as I hate to rattle off statistics, I feel that they are necessary here. They are a powerful reminder of the incidence and the prevalence of sexual assault in this country.

No matter where you fall in the political spectrum, you can recognize that this problem is critical. What you might not realize is that it is a pressing reality for far too many women.

The reason the feminist movement takes on this crisis so fervently is because sexual assault is a crime that, in the majority of cases, targets women specifically. Women are vulnerable to this explicit brand of crime simply because they are women.

How many men out there think twice about walking somewhere alone at night? How many carry pepper spray or have taken a self-defense class? How many can imagine the horror and the shame associated with a forced sexual encounter?

Most psychologists would tell you that rape is not about sex, but about power. And it's time for women to take that power back. It is inherent in bodily sovereignty and awareness. It is a problem that crosses all lines and must be addressed from all angles, as well.

Look out for each other, and trust your instincts. We must be proactive in order to be preventative. Know your surroundings, know your acquaintances and know your limits.

Contact Emily Batchelder


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