Growing up in a developing country with a significant gender gap and gender discrimination, I had always looked up to women in western countries as more empowered, liberated, and safe; hardly affected by gender discrimination.
Since childhood, news of young girls and women assaulted or molested in my own country, used to make me feel exasperated. All my life, I blamed these incidences on our social and cultural patterns which objectify women and consider them inferior.
Last June, soon after coming to the United States, I joined a non-profit Organization, Rape Trauma Services, for training to help and support the survivors of sexual assaults. This training and the subsequent experience of working as a sexual assault advocate and counselor changed my whole perspective on the status of women in western societies.
In the beginning, it was difficult for me to come to terms with the fact that women and girls are equally (if not more) unsafe here in the United States, as in India. Gradually, I started realizing that education, wealth, economic freedom, and social and cultural liberty can not ensure the safety of women in society.
During the training, I was shocked to learn how primitive and ill-defined is the criminal justice system in the United States when it comes to sexual violence against women. Some incidence of how survivors were treated by law enforcement or the by the justice system, left all of us in training totally numb in disbelief.
How survivors are treated by the criminal justice system is not only important to prevail the justice of the victims of any crimes, but also sends a very strong signal to society as a whole.
With so less number of perpetrators actually convicted, and a huge number of cases never prosecuted for several reasons, reflect a huge gap in the system. Such leniency towards perpetrators of sexual crimes, I did not expect would exist in a country, I always thought is much more modern and advanced than my own. Whereas the trauma, humiliation, and ordeal a survivor has to go through during the trial are so similar to what existed in any other less developed countries.
My research and training revealed some harrowing statistics about sexual violence against women in the United States –
91% of victims of rape and sexual assault are female.
In eight out of 10 cases of rape, the victim knew the perpetrator.
34% of people who sexually abuse a child are family members of the child.
It is estimated that 325,000 children per year are currently at risk of becoming victims of commercial child sexual exploitation.
Only 12% of child sexual abuse is ever reported to the authorities.
27% of college women have experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact.
More than 90% of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault.
Rape is the most under-reported crime; 63% of sexual assaults are not reported to police.
Over the last few months, working at the crisis line as well as during advocacy at the law enforcement and forensic interviews, left me with one feeling- we women somehow have the same status in all patriarchal societies, everywhere in this world. Women and girls are not safe in any country.
Some days or nights on the crisis line calls from women and young girls raped, assaulted, and molested by friends and family members make me wonder, what are the contributing factors of a such global epidemic of sexual violence against women!
Recently, I found this list of common risk factors published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) :Sexual Violence: Risk and Protective Factors on the internet. According to the CDC “A combination of individual, relational, community, and societal factors contribute to the risk of becoming a perpetrator of Sexual Violence.”
This is how the common risk factors of sexual violence are classified –
A List of Contributing Factors for sexual violence
I was quite amused to figure out that the above list from the CDC covers almost all sorts of social and personal issues of humankind!
It didn’t make any sense to me! The issues outlined under Relationship, Community, and Individual Factors could be experienced by women as well. But why these problems don’t cause women to sexually assault or violate men? Why 90% of rape victims in the world are women?
The issues outlined under Societal factors rather made some sense to me!
And then I was awestruck to realize, aren’t these causes exactly the same as what I believed all my life as the causes for women being raped and assaulted in my own country?
Violence against women truly transcends national and cultural boundaries. It does not matter how educated, wealthy, liberated women are. I never felt such a strong connection with all women and girls in the world before.
Also read: Silencing of Women Around the Globe