The Department of Justice has recently started using more accurate methodology in estimating crime rates, and what do you know: Gender-based violence is significantly more common than we all thought.
Sexual assault and domestic violence rates are notoriously under-reported, to police and to researchers. Gathering statistics on too-often “private” crimes is a daunting task, and the previous method — using an automated computer system — contributed to severe under-reporting. The new statistics, which were gathered by real people instead of a computerized voice, show a 42 percent increase in reported domestic violence and a 25 percent increase in rape and sexual assault.
The DOJ press release is here. One thing I find particularly interesting about this report is the gender breakdown. In my essay in Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape, I talk a little bit about the culture of fear that women are raised in.* We’re raised with the omnipresent threat of rape in public places — taught to hold our keys as we walk to our cars, to not talk to strangers, to not walk outside alone late at night, etc etc. But in reality, men are much more likely to be victimized in public and by strangers:
Of offenders victimizing males in 2007, three percent were described as intimates and 50 percent as strangers. In contrast, 23 percent of offenders victimizing females were described as intimates and 28 percent as strangers. An estimated 20 percent of all violent crime incidents were committed by an armed offender, with a firearm being involved in seven percent of all violent crime incidents.
Here’s the full report (pdf). Of all the women who reported experiencing a violent crime in 2007, 69 percent of them suffered that crime at the hands of someone they knew (not just intimates). For men, it’s 46 percent — and the vast majority of those are from a friend or acquaintance.
So men are more likely to be victims of nearly every crime except rape and sexual assault. Men are more likely to be victimized by a stranger. Women are more likely to be victimized by someone they know, and in private.
And yet it’s women who are still routinely warned to not go to certain places, or told not to walk home alone, or advised to carry mace, even though men have more to fear generally when it comes to crime. Men certainly have more to fear when it comes from crime at the hand of strangers. For women, it’s the home — their own or others’ — that’s a danger zone.
Part of the point I make in my Yes Means Yes essay is that the pervasive threat of rape is a tool of social control over the female population, and that there are certain groups in society who have a vested interest in maintaining that control. The shaming of rape survivors, and the defining of acquaintance rape as “grey” or somehow not as serious as “real” stranger rape, is part of that effort — because if we actually talk about our experiences with sexual assault, a much more complex picture than the stranger-in-the-bushes scenario develops, and it’s a lot harder to use rape as a threat to keep women in line.
These statistics further point to the conclusion that we need comprehensive rape- and violence-prevention efforts that take women’s actual experiences into account, and that don’t put the onus on women to preven their own victimization. We need to work on men, and on giving women options to escape dangerous and abusive relationships. A lot of men commit sexual assault because they feel a sense of entitlement to women’s bodies — an entitlement so deep that they can force a woman to have sex with them and somehow not define it as “rape.” That speaks to much larger socio-cultural issues that must be addressed if we actually want to combat gendered violence.
*And I wish I had this report when I wrote the essay. Damn.
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