You Asked: What Can We Do to Stop Rape?

A reader asks what we can do to stop rape. This question is very important to me having spent nearly 20 years treating child and adolescent victims of sexual assault and abuse.  It's also timely because April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. And awareness is the first step in preventing rape.

Let's start with some basic facts and then look at prevention. Sexual assault is any type of sexual activity (including rape) in which the victim is forced, threatened, doesn't consent, or is not capable of giving consent. Regardless of the victim's statements or actions, it is sexual assault if she or he is too young, drunk, drugged, or mentally impaired to legally consent to sex.

According to the most comprehensive, representative survey in the United States--the National Violence Against Women Survey:
  • 1 of every 6 women (17.6%) and 1 of every 33 men (3%) have been raped at some time in their lives.
  • The majority of the victims were younger than 18 years old when they were raped (females - 54%; males - 71%).
  • Most disturbingly, many victims were less than 12 years old when they were raped (girls - 21.6%; boys - 48%).
  • Girls under the age of 12 were most likely to be victimized by relatives. The girls ages 12 to 17 were more likely to be victimized by intimates and acquaintances. Women were more likely to be raped by intimates.
  • Boys and men are more likely to be raped by acquaintances at all ages.
There are three basic approaches to preventing rape. The most common places the burden on potential victims to protect themselves. Some of the safety precautions are the same as for other violent crimes: Keep doors and windows locked (at home and in the car); don't open the door or go somewhere with strangers; and don't walk alone in isolated places (daytime or night). Although these actions can help prevent stranger rapes, most sexual assaults (80%) are committed by someone the victim knows--a boyfriend or girlfriend, relative, friend or acquaintance.

The following tips from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network's "Preventing Acquaintance Rape-A Safety Guide for Teens" apply also to young adults:
  • Expect respect and keep away from people who don’t show you respect.
  • Be clear about your limits: let the other person know what you want and don’t want to do. You have the right to change your mind, to say “no,” or to agree to some sexual activities and not to others.
  • Don’t allow a person to touch you if it makes you uncomfortable. If your limits are reached or you sense danger, speak your mind and act immediately. Make a scene if necessary.
  • Avoid excessive drinking or drugs. They reduce your ability to think and communicate clearly. Being drunk or high does not give anyone permission to assault you.
  • Pour your own beverage and keep it in sight. Date rape drugs can be put into drinks and are often undetectable.
  • Don’t hang out in places that keep you isolated from others. Although you may feel you can take care of yourself, it is always wise to be careful.
  • Trust your instincts. If you feel that a person is not trustworthy or a situation is unsafe, leave.
  • Have a back-up plan. For example, if you’re going out to a party in a different neighborhood, make sure someone you trust knows where you’re going. Have a person you can call to come and get you if you need to leave without your original ride.
A second prevention approach is to reach teen boys and young men before they commit rape. Men Can Stop Rape is one organization dedicated to this effort. Their program, Men of Strength (MOST) Club, is considered the premier primary prevention program for male youth in the country. It provides high school age and college age young men with a structured and supportive space to learn about healthy masculinity and redefine male strength.

The third approach is through law enforcement. Unfortunately, only 39% of rapes and sexual assaults are ever reported to the police. Partly due to the difficulty of investigating and prosecuting these crimes, only 16% of reports result in a perpetrator serving time in prison. Factoring in unreported rapes, only 6% of rapists end up in prison. The rest are free to repeat their crimes. One way to increase convictions is for more police and prosecutors to receive specialized training in sex crimes. Media attention and community pressure can help push local authorities into pursuing this training if they have not already done so.

So what can you do? Continue to educate yourself. Help raise awareness. Teach potential victims ways to protect themselves. Educate potential perpetrators through men's antiviolence programs. If you are a parent, talk to your children and teens about safety and healthy dating relationships. Encourage victims to report rape, and support them through the difficult process of investigation and prosecution. Donate time and money to your local rape crisis/sexual assault center--most are under-funded and under-staffed. (To find a center in your area, see RAINN's listing of state coalitions against sexual assault.) If you are a college student, get involved by supporting (or starting) a campus program to help victims and raise awareness among students.

To start raising awareness, watch the following video from RAINN and then e-mail it to everyone you know that could benefit. You can also link to it or embed it on your blog or website.