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In Search of a Safer Place for Women

Growing up in a developing country with 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 to our social and cultural patterns which objectifies women and considers them as inferior.

Last June, soon after coming to the United States, I joined a non-profit Organization, Rape Trauma Services, for a 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 of the status of women in western societies.

At 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 safety of women in a society.

During the training I was shocked to know, how primitive and ill-defined is the criminal justice system in the Unites States , when it comes to sexual violence against women. Some incidence of how survivors were treated by the law enforcement or the by the justice system, left all of us on training totally numb in disbelieve.

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 the 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 is so similar that 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 in the crisis line, calls from women and young girls raped, assaulted, molested by friends and family members make me wonder, what are the contributing factors of 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 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

INDIVIDUAL

  • Alcohol and drug use
  • Delinquency
  • Empathic deficits
  • General aggressiveness and acceptance of violence
  • Early sexual initiation
  • Coercive sexual fantasies
  • Preference for impersonal sex and sexual-risk taking
  • Exposure to sexually explicit media
  • Hostility towards women
  • Adherence to traditional gender role norms
  • Hyper-masculinity
  • Suicidal behavior
  • Prior sexual victimization or perpetration

RELATIONSHIP

  • Family environment characterized by physical violence and conflict
  • Childhood history of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
  • Emotionally unsupportive family environment
  • Poor parent-child relationships, particularly with fathers
  • Association with sexually aggressive, hypermasculine, and delinquent peers
  • Involvement in a violent or abusive intimate relationship

COMMUNITY

  • Poverty
  • Lack of employment opportunities
  • Lack of institutional support from police and judicial system
  • General tolerance of sexual violence within the community
  • Weak community sanctions against sexual violence perpetrators

SOCIETAL

  • Societal norms that support sexual violence
  • Societal norms that support male superiority and sexual entitlement
  • Societal norms that maintain women’s inferiority and sexual submissiveness
  • Weak laws and policies related to sexual violence and gender equity
  • High levels of crime and other forms of violence

I was quite amused to figure out that the above list from the CDC covers almost all sorts of social and personal problems of the humankind! 

It didn’t make any sense to me as the issues outlined under Relationship, Community and Individual factors could be experienced by women as well. But why these issues don’t cause women to sexually assault and 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 same as which 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 strong connection with all women and girls in the world before

A Clinical Researcher by profession, I am originally from India; now live in California with my family. I am an advocate of gender equality and women empowerment. I am also a Certified Reiki Healer and a Certified Sexual Assault Counselor and Advocate. I write about women's rights, equality and gender based issues to create awareness and to include every body in my fight against gender discrimination.

21 Comments

  • Johnny Quid

    These are staggering numbers. We need to continue to push awareness for this. I read these statistics and I’m speechless. I’m a strong supporter and advocate of Women’s Rights and even I was stunned by this. Thank you for reminding us that our work is FAR from done.

    • Swagata Sen

      Thank you so much for expressing your support for gender equality! Please continue to advocate for this cause and try to raise awareness , if possible. A little effort from each of us can make this a movement!

  • ashleeunscripted

    It is awful how we as women still have to prove our worth, while also trying to stay safe and secure in our own countries. Assault against anyone is wrong and it’s true that no matter who you are, no matter your money or your security, as a woman you have to take the extra mile to protect yourself and those around you. It’s high time we all stopped acting as if it was not a HUGE deal, because honestly it is and women reporting a crime is such a traumatic ordeal.

    • Swagata Sen

      I could not agree more with you! It is a huge deal when little girls are not safe at home! As per as sexual and domestic violence is concerned, the status of many developed countries are really horrible. We still have miles to go when men would stop considering women and girls as objects to fulfill their desires!

  • erica3639

    I may be posting an unpopular opinion here, especially from a woman. I definitely agree the criminal justice system needs desperate help. Especially when sexual predators are pretty much guaranteed to reoffend. Yet the sentences for these crimes alway seem extremely light, in comparison to many others.

    What I don’t agree with is the idea that from a criminal justice standpoint, women feel they should automatically be believed when they claim rape. Here’s the problem. One, women do lie and in many instances use that as manipulation over men. Two, in a court, the crime still has to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt for a conviction. I completely understand when a women is telling the truth how traumatizing it is to go through a court trial and talk about it. I don’t know if I would report it or not if I was in that situation. The biggest issue is many times a crime cannot be proven effectively beyond a reasonable doubt in a court. I really wish that could be because it would not only weed out the false claims, but be more effective in court and the survivors would get the justice they deserve.

    • Swagata Sen

      I totally get what you mean. The current statistics in US is – around 5% sexual assaults are false reports. Whereas a huge number of perpetrators are not convicted for silly reasons!

  • Scott J DeNicola

    WOW, I had no idea of these numbers. They are very high. After reading this article I’m happy my daughter decided to stay home for college and go local. There has been a high prevalence of reporting the crimes many years after they have occurred as of late. I’m not sure why that is but perhaps it’s due to the criminal justice system.

  • Nominal Nomad

    like you grew up in a developed country with significant gender gap and gender discrimination,but nothing compared to all these abuses you mention! thanks for remind us, that not every where woman are safe!

  • Lindsay Rae

    These stats make me very sad to see. It does not surprise me however that there is such a high percentage of women who do not report sexual abuse because it can be such a humiliating and devestating thing to have to live with. There are those who will tell you it was your own fault for acting a certain way or dressing a certain way. Or those who say it could not be rape if you were in a relationship with the man. It is such a difficult and harrowing place to be in, and then having to speak out about it is terrifying.

    But after many years and having grown up a lot, I’ve realized that the most important thing to do, is exactly what you are doing here with this blog. Bringing awareness to these issues and erraticating the stigmas that are attached to sexual abuse. Being able to speak freely about these issues without having to feel shame is the key, I believe, to get more women to speak out in accordance to their own well being.

    Thank you for continuing to be such a loud voice for women’s rights and health.

    • Swagata Sen

      I agree with you ‘victim blaming’ is a very common strategy against women to prevent them from reporting abuses and assaults. I wonder how they blame young girls or even women who are raped in spite of covering themselves from head to toe!! Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. Really appreciate!

  • Subhashish Roy

    Your post is so revealing. I too carry the same thought that you had before you went over to US. Keep up the good work going Swagata. Admire you for what you pursue as a passion.

  • Clyde

    It is so saddening to really know these facts, and still wondering why women should experience this. It’s also a surprise to me knowing these stats are in USA, I really thought that women are more protected there than in other countries. Thank you for this useful post.

  • Luna S

    Those numbers are staggering, horrifying and so sad. It is heart breaking to know how often this still continues to happen even with the amount of people trying to raise awareness. I sadly don’t think it will ever stop completely but I hope that one day these numbers drastically drop.

  • ufuomajesegineyahoocouk

    I went over your blog and i love it! It resonates with me and you are doing a great job! Please keep it up. We need all the voices we can get to preach the message of equality and a better world generally!

    http://www.kingingqueen.com

  • Nina

    What a sad reality that despite of the advancement in almost all forms of human existence, the way things are handled with prevalent issue like this is still primitive. 🙁 I learned a lot from your post.

  • tcleland88

    The numbers are astronomical. It’s so sad that so many women don’t report sexual assault. I can understand why and empathize with the victims, but unless more perpetrators are arrested, prosecuted, and convicted, nothing will change.

  • Megan Kerry

    “In eight out of 10 cases of rape, the victim knew the perpetrator.” do you think this is why it goes so under reported? I had no idea that this usually happens by people the victim knows!! How horrible.

  • honeybunnytwee

    Having the statistics listed in this really puts things into perspective. I want to live in a world where my little sister, my mom, my grandma, and every other woman can feel safe, maybe it’s wishful thinking for now, but eventually with more awareness and action things will get better

  • Angie

    Unfortunately, women are at risk throughout the world. Historically we always have been at risk. And due to the long history, and its influence on societal standards these figures are not likely to change anytime soon.

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