Women have worked tirelessly since the 1970s to make the reporting of sexual assault crimes more accessible and effective. However, sexual assault still remains one of the most underreported crimes in America. In 2011, the American Association of University Women found that out of the 40 percent of women interviewed for their study who admitted to being sexually assaulted, only nine percent reached out to authorities.
A study released in the April issue of Gender & Society confirms that the statistics conveyed in 2011 have not changed. The study revealed that, while the degree of sexual assault from participant to participant varied, perception of the normalcy of sexual assault has remained constant. Because sexual assault is commonplace, these women thought their experiences were unworthy of formal report. This is alarming.
The idea that something as severe as sexual assault could be deemed a societal norm among young adults is frightening, especially considering that 44 percent of sexual assault victims are under the age of 18 years old. The Gender & Society study focused solely on teenage victims, which means that for roughly 44 percent of sexual assault victims, the act that was inflicted upon them was so commonplace that reporting it to an adult or the authorities seemed ridiculous.
Even scarier are the reasons adolescents perceive sexual assault as normal. According to the same study, many young women still hold fast to the traditional gender arrangement in which men are dominant and more powerful than women. This archaic arrangement contributes to a deficient cultural mentality. Girls believe that because sexual assault is a man asserting the power he naturally possesses, it is normal. In addition, many girls in the study also said they believed men were unable to control their sexual desires, and that instances of sexual assault were “boys being boys” situations. For them, reporting abuse is making a big deal out of nothing.
Young women need to understand that not only are they equal to men, but both genders are able to control and suppress sexual desires. Therefore, sexual assault should not be excused because testosterone is high. Doing so trivializes the seriousness of sexual assault.
Focusing on the reversal of the current normalization of sexual assault is imperative because the issue remains a national one. Each year, there are over 200,000 sexual assault victims. Put another way, one person is sexually assaulted every two minutes. Currently, 4.2 million people have experienced some form of sexual assault. Because of its normalization, only 60 percent of victims will report their assault, meaning most assailants will never face the legal consequences their actions warrant. However dismissive society has become of sexual assault, crimes of sexual violence can no longer go unpunished.
Lena Rawley is a staff columnist. Email her at [email protected]