Rape & Sexual Abuse
In May 2014, the White House released an all-celebrity-male narrated Public Service Announcement (PSA) entitled “1 is 2 Many” about sexual assault on college campuses. Having watched the PSA, I have quite a few problems with its script, including its emphasis on, “If she doesn’t consent, or if she can’t consent,” and the male narrators, including VP Joe Biden, saying things like, “If I saw it happening, I was taught to do something about it,” or “If I saw it happening, I would speak up.”
There are also comments about not blaming the victim. Here is the White House’s PSA on sexual assault and rape, 1 is 2 Many, followed by several reasons why it is completely ineffective and will have no impact whatsoever on sexual assaults and rapes — on women, young girls, and men — anywhere in this country.
The accompanying statement on the White House’s page for the 1 is 2 Many PSA directly contradicts or avoids mention of several of the things implied in its own PSA.
Despite the significant progress made in reducing violence against women, there is still a long way to go. Young women still face the highest rates of dating violence and sexual assault. In the last year, one in 10 teens have reported being physically hurt on purpose by a boyfriend or girlfriend. One in five young women have been sexually assaulted while they’re in college. While men compromise a smaller number of survivors, male survivors are no less important.
• There are serious problems with the semantics in this White House “statement,” including the “fact” that “men comprise a smaller number of survivors” — which may mean that fewer men die from the assaults and rapes or that fewer men report said rapes — and the “male survivors are no less important.” No and less are both negative words, so stating that male victims are no less important is, in fact, implying that they are not as important or that they are less important. The statement should have read male victims of sexual assault and rape are just as important as females, or, at the very least, that male victims of sexual assault and rape are equally important.
• The PSA itself never mentions males being assaulted. Both heterosexual and homosexual males can be, and often are, assaulted and raped on college campuses, sometimes because of their sexual orientation, sometimes because the campus has a “Males Can Not be Raped or Sexually Assaulted” mentality, as was true in the case of both Universities where I spent the majority of my career as a Professor (for details, see When is Rape NOT Rape?).
Again, I quote from the White House website:
In response to these alarming statistics, Vice President Biden is focusing his longstanding commitment to reducing violence against women specifically on teens, students, and young women ages 16-24. The Vice President pushed for the inclusion of vulnerable groups in the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, and he remains committed to supporting all survivors.
• Neither the first nor the second paragraph — and no place in the actual PSA — are any statistics of sexual assault and rape provided. “Despite the significant progress made in reducing violence against women,” we are told, without any numbers or percentages to indicate that any progress whatsoever is being made. Furthermore, neither the statement nor the PSA distinguishes between “violence against women” and reported assaults and rapes, when RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network) evidence shows that only an average of 40% of rapes that occurred were reported during the last five years, and of those, only 3% were prosecuted successfully. Furthermore, even when they are reported, they are not always prosecuted or even counted in the statistics, as my own personal experience and my tenure as a Professor indicates. Additionally, the “alarming statistics,” which we have just been told have been significantly reduced, in the first paragraph, and which are causing VP Joe Biden to act, are not stated.
• What about girls and boys under the age of sixteen or over the age of twenty-four? Are they less important or valuable than those between the ages stated? I was first raped at the age of three, by my own father, who raped me for two years. Then I was raped consistently from the age of five to eighteen by my stepfather, as were all my siblings, all younger than I, and some of whom included my stepfather’s own biological children. My mother raped me, with implements, when I was 11 years old, right after I began menstruating, damaging me so severely that I was unable to have children. Yet this 1 is 2 Many never mentions children who are sexually abused. Why are children of all ages and both genders not included in this “Violence Against Women Act”? Why is this not a campaign against RAPE, period, rather than a campaign against violence against women aged 16-24?
The White House statement accompanying its PSA continues:
Vice President Biden also joined President Obama when he created the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, co-chaired by the Office of the Vice President and the Council of Women and Girls. The Task Force is releasing a new initiative, Not Alone, which provides resources to students, advocates, and universities. By targeting the importance of changing attitudes that lead to violence and educating the public on the realities of abuse, the Vice President is leading the way in an effort to stop this violence before it begins.
• We are not told how Students are to be Protected from sexual assault and rape, only that a “Task Force” has been created (which means absolutely nothing since Task Forces traditionally offer only recommendations, and are not endowed with any legislative powers to create or enforce laws). Therefore, this Task Force, whether led by VP Biden for his remaining 2 years in office or not, will have no power to prevent sexual assaults or rapes anywhere.
• There are also several problems with this White House-promoted all-male-narrated PSA, the first of which is the fact that it is narrated by older, celebrity males who, no doubt, would never even consider committing sexual assault, and not by college-aged males or other men who might be the ones assaulting and raping other college students. It is also not narrated by victims — of any age or gender — of sexual assault and rape, whether or not said victims reported those assaults and rapes to authorities.
• Despite the White House’s page for the release of this PSA, which relates statistics regarding the sexual assaults for girls younger than college age — “1 in 9 teen girls will be forced to have sex” — this fact is never mentioned in the PSA. This is a terribly glaring omission. I was “safe” from sexual assault and rape when I attended college, whereas I had been continuously raped for fifteen years in my own home by my father, stepfather, and even my mother (with instruments). Rape, no doubt, occurs as often, if not more often, but gets reported less, when it is part of incest, is committed by a family member, or takes place in the home by someone known to the victim. The RAINN statistics are chilling.
• Why the change in language, from “sexual assault” and “rape” to “forced to have sex”? The White House, among others, may think that semantics are not important in this instance (which I seriously doubt), but semantics are always vitally important since semantics influences people’s emotions, then their perception of the situation, often without their being consciously aware of such influences. “Forcing someone to have sex” is not as violent as “sexual assault” which is not as violent as “rape.” Why the change in wording? To make rape more palatable? Rape should never be acceptable, and the semantics should not be changed to make it more comfortable for people to talk about or to prevent. Whoever wrote this page for the White House’s 1 is 2 Many PSA knew exactly what he was doing when he specifically and intentionally chose these words to describe rape. Just as the Universities where I taught chose to exclude “Date Rape” and even “Acquaintance Rape” from their statistics when they became legally obligated to report “rape statistics” to the state, the White House is using semantics to soften, if not actually eliminate, the extreme violence of rape in its stated campaign against it.
• The WH’s PSA male-narrators consistently state that “if they saw it happening,” they would “do something about it” or “say something,” or that they “wouldn’t blame her; [they] would help her.” What about someone’s — anyone’s — doing something to prevent the sexual assaults and rapes in the first place? The PSA directly contradicts the White House’s statement that “the Vice President is leading the way in an effort to stop this violence before it begins,” by stating that if these male narrators “saw something happening.” Seeing something happening and then saying or doing something is not action, it is reaction. In any and all cases, acting while or after seeing an assault or rape taking place is not prevention.
My final problem with the White House’s page and its PSA is its title 1 is 2 Many. Because One is not TWO many: One is TOO many. Writing such an important statement as if it were cutesy, harmless text trivializes the entire atrociously violent crime of rape.
Shame on the White House, shame on its widely touted but completely misleading and ineffective PSA, shame on Biden and Obama for their ineffective contributions to preventing rape against every victim, no matter the age or gender.
I Survived a Serial Killer: My Own Mother
(guest post on RachelintheOC)