I’ve spent a lifetime working with victims of rape and sexual violence, and I am not surprised by the staggering comments uttered by Rep. Todd Akins. His ignorant beliefs, his backward dismissal of a criminal act, his illogical explanation of basic biology – none of this surprises me, because I know such views exist at all levels of society.
The painful truth is that sexual violence is pervasive. One in four women and one in six men will experience sexual assault over their lifetime. It happens to women and men, boys and girls from all walks of life and in every community. It is endemic, as are the misbeliefs, ignorance and harmful attitudes that surround it.
What must come of Akin’s pronouncements is a call for leadership. We need a re-examination of our cultural, political and societal views about rape and the autonomy of a woman’s body. The cultural climate within many institutions reflects a deep failure of leadership at many levels to acknowledge the severity of the trauma and to adequately respond to the crimes of sexual abuse and rape. We saw this recently with the sexual abuse cases at Penn State, we’ve seen it in the cover-ups in the Catholic Church, and we see it in the epidemic of sexual assault in our U.S. Armed Forces.
Religious institutions, schools, universities, law enforcement and the U.S. military have all been the focus of media and popular inquiry in their cover up of reported rapes and abuse and their negligence to respond to the needs of men, women and children who have experienced sexual abuse. We are all members of families, groups, and organizations and we are all responsible for holding these institutions and each other accountable. We must seek the courage to step up as individuals and be leaders who advocate for institutional and societal change and support survivors in healing and seeking justice.
Each April, during Sexual Assault Awareness Month, my organization, Peace Over Violence
, sponsors Denim Day in LA & USA
. Started in Los Angeles in 1999, this campaign is now nationwide, including a Denim Day New York City. This sexual violence prevention and education campaign came about after an Italian court case that sparked international outrage when judges did not convict a rapist because the victim wore jeans. The judges ruled that because the victim was wearing tight jeans, she must have helped her attacker remove them, thus implying consent.
This would not be the first time that people in positions of power refused to adequately respond to the crime of rape.
As we plan for Denim Day in LA & USA 2013 on April 24th, it is clear that the same pernicious myths, misconceptions and victim-blaming attitudes that motivated the first Denim Day persist.
On Denim Day, people around the globe wear their jeans to symbolize that there is never an excuse, and never an invitation to rape. Wearing jeans with a purpose is a reminder that rape is real, a real trauma, and a real crime – whether the victim is a child, a young man, a deaf woman, a teen on her first date, a spouse, or a soldier – all rape is rape. And for women, the fear of pregnancy from rape is ever present. No one asks or deserves to be sexually violated or impregnated against their will.
Education about rape and sexual violence must not be confined to one day. We must continue to educate about the impact of rape. We must continue to challenge and work to dispel the persistent archaic myths and lies now recanted by Rep. Akin. We should expect better and we can do better. There is no excuse.