By Anne Seymour and Dean Kilpatrick, Ph.D.
It simply boggles our minds and breaks our hearts that rape has been far too casually leveraged within the realm of politics in our country.
For the millions of women, men and children in America who are victims of rape and sexual assault, the psychic wounds of victimization seldom heal. Every time rape is dismissively discussed by people who have no clue about this crime and its tragic effects, the potential for survivors’ wounds to reopen is huge.
NEW RULES: If politicians insist on merging rape with politics, they must first commit to visit a rape crisis center. They must spend a day on the hotline, listening to survivors who are simply terrified, whose lives have been irrevocably altered, who fear reporting these horrific crimes because they also fear theywon’t be believed and will be blamed, who are shocked at the thought of being exposed to life-threatening diseases and getting pregnant. Then they must spend time with victim advocates who, despite severe budget cutbacks that have decimated their programs, help rape victims try to make sense of a senseless, violent crime over which they had no control, and try to help them cope with the devastating psychological, physical, financial, spiritual and social impact of sexual assault. They must then make an actual effort to distinguish that along with their right to freely comment on rape goes the responsibility to recognize that their comments will emotionally shatter many of the millions of women, men and children who have been victimized by a crime that too many politicians simply don’t understand.
Don’t parse the definition of “rape.” When you insist that only some rapes are “forcible,” you infer that other rapes are what? Voluntary? That’s just uninformed and insensitive. Face it: rape is rape, regardless of however else you may want to characterize it.
Don’t compare rape to bad weather or making lemonade out of lemons, or any other comment that only demonstrates your ignorance about the violent crime of rape. That’s just stupid, and it makes you look stupid.
Don’t proclaim that anyone’s God has any “intent” related to rape or its distressing consequences. That may be your opinion, but please know, convincingly and clearly, that your words risk further hurting victims whose spirituality doesn’t include a Higher Being who sanctions rape or its catastrophic and personal impact on them.
Don’t say your words were “taken out of context” or “misunderstood.” It’s not your words that were twisted, but your attitude. We get you. We understand you. What we don’t get or understand is your ignorance, and your lack of initiative to learn about rape.
And if you insist on merging rape with politics, we offer one important exception.
Why not do it in a way the actually helps and doesn’t harm rape and sexual assault survivors?
Why not pass S. 1925, the real Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act when Congress comes back after the election? VAWA, after all, received overwhelming bi-partisan support for its initial passage in 1994, and for its reauthorizations in 2000 and 2005. 2012 marks the first year that VAWA failed to receive bipartisan support from the Senate Judiciary Committee, not to mention the U.S. Congress as a whole. This is a national shame.
We and countless other crime victim advocates would welcome the “positive politicizing of rape” with the immediate passage of VAWA. Just as we’d welcome individual and collective efforts across our nation that attempt to come to real terms with a real violent crime that has real, painful consequences for its victims.
For additional information about efforts to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act in the U.S. Congress, visit http://4vawa.org/ .
Anne Seymour has been a national crime victim advocate for 30 years.
Dr. Dean Kilpatrick is a Distinguished University Professor at the Medical University of South Carolina, and Director of the National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center.