This last part about what each of us can do to increase our safety and reduce violence is so important and is often overlooked.
A recent review of five sources of data on sexual violence in Minnesota revealed mixed news. While hospital treatment and criminal arrests have increased in recent years, reports to law enforcement of sex offenses have remained stable, and two self-report surveys indicated a decrease in victimization.
The data are included in the new report, Violence Data Brief: Sexual Violence, 2002-2007, from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). It is available at www.health.state.mn.us/injury/pub/ViolenceDataBrief_2002-2007.pdf.
"Sexual violence is a major public health issue, resulting in significant and rising costs to our health care system," said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dr. Sanne Magnan. "While MDH is helping to coordinate statewide prevention efforts, everyone can contribute to the solution. Creating policies at work and school, engaging in discussions with family and friends, and making sexual violence prevention a priority in all communities are a few of the strategies that will help reduce the problem."
It isn't enough for each of us to declare ourselves against rape. Even the worst rape apologists do this right before they explain why all but the most blatantly horrendous sexual assaults shouldn't be considered crimes.
We must be clear about our demand for the ethic treatment of people and we must understand that instructing children and adults to abstain until marriage communicates nothing about ethical sexual interactions. This vague command leaves children and adults vulnerable to those who use respect, trust and shock as weapons. It can also help exploiters rationalize their violence if they target those they view as no longer innocent or of low sexual morals.
We must abandon the phrase, "She's no innocent victim," when talking about prosecuting sex crimes -- even statutory sex crimes. The reason we must do so is this phrase contributes to individuals being repeat victims of sex crimes. The first sex criminal who targets a small child is rightfully seen as a danger, but the sex criminals who ride that first offender's coattails are often wrongfully seen as no threat to anyone's safety. If a child reacts to systematic sexual abuse by abusing alcohol our collective attitudes can help protect that child or it can leave that child defenseless and scorned.
This abstinence demand also leaves people vulnerable to having their trauma intensified if they become victims of a sex crime. When abstinence-only educators use the dirty toothbrush analogy they are reducing victims of sex crimes to dirty toothbrushes.
Without a comprehensive understanding of sexual ethics abstaining until marriage only delays sexual violence until it can be directed at a spouse. This in no way strengthens marriage.
Most rapists would never and will never brake, grab and rape a random stranger because this behavior is rarely or never defended or excused. We must each work to get to this same place with non-stranger rape. While we cannot make other people personally stop excusing or minimizing sexual violence we can work to change policies so that excusing and minimizing sexual violence becomes harder to do successfully.
The data provided by MN DOH can help make the excuses and minimization harder to get away with. For example, almost all victims of sexual violence who are seen at hospitals are treated and released. Only around 2% require hospital treatment beyond the ER. This means that if people use the lack of hospitalization as a reason to suspect a report of rape is false they are basing their conclusions on bad data and are likely helping rapists get away with their crimes.
If people cling to their denial about non-hospitalized rape victims despite data such as this then that communicates something important about that person's ethical set point. Since these people are often vocal in their denial then it is important for those of us who don't practice denial to highlight our ethical standards.
We can also highlight how dangerous it is to continuously look the other way until a sex criminal inflicts undeniable physical injury such as causing victims traumatic brain injury or death.