“A drop of ink (one single drop of ink) may make a million think.”
― George Gordon Byron
The quote above is the reason why I write. Those words were expressed by George Gordon Byron, a British poet who died in 1824. When discussing the crime of rape, Byron’s quote is just a relevant today as it was 188 years ago.
In September 2011, The New York Times reported that Carol Tracy, Executive Director of the Women’s Law Project, had been invited to speak before a gathering of sex crime investigators and federal officials. The conference had been organized by the Police Executive Research Forum in Washington, D.C. Ms. Tracy delivered a message fraught with meaning: “Citizens have the right to know about the prevalence of crime and, in particular, violent crime in their communities. Crime experts know that data drives practices, resources, policies and programs.” Underlying Ms. Tracy’s statement was the awareness that the FBI’s definition of rape had not changed in 80 years.
Prior to the conference, the 2010 Uniform Crime Report, commonly referred to as the UCR, had been released by the FBI and the then standard definition of rape was still in place – “carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.” For years, critics had protested that the definition was not encompassing enough. One of the areas where it was lacking -- the definition did not account for assaults where the victim was drugged or drunk. Equally as important, the definition excluded males who had been assaulted.
As a result, statistics were skewed. The 2010 UCR reported a five percent drop in sexual assaults from 2009 – an inaccurate and misleading figure with a potentially dangerous outcome. Anytime a drop in crime statistics is reported, legislators take it as a signal to reduce services and resources devoted to assisting rape victims. Additionally, reduced crime statistics result in less money being allocated on local and state levels toward the capture and prosecution of rapists.
Under intense public pressure, in January of this year, the Obama administration finally agreed to a revision to the definition of rape as used by the FBI. That revision will now allow for coverage of assaults formerly omitted and will provide greater leverage for those proposing anti-crime initiatives. The downside is that the change will take several years to be fully implemented. As a lay person, I can never understand why directives that benefit society have any time constraints. We needed this change years ago – not years from now.
In announcing the policy change, Valerie Jarrett, Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, stated that the new definition of rape will “lead to more accurate reporting and a far more complete understanding of this crime.” She’s wrong. It won’t. A whole lot more than updated verbiage is going to be needed before women and men are convinced to report sexual assaults.
Consider that the most brutal aspects of violent crime are almost always reported on in the press and a description of the weapon is included. If a knife is used, we read about the length of the blade. If battering is the cause of injuries, we learn that a baseball bat or an iron pipe was the weapon of choice. A shooting report includes the type of gun and caliber of bullets. Why then does the mere thought of the male anatomy in the context of sexual assault send the media diving for cover? When discussing rape, a penis is a weapon – nothing more.
Five years ago, my daughter was sexually assaulted. Her survival is a miracle. Since that day, I’ve become a very vocal advocate supporting women and men who have known the terror and pain of rape. My writing focuses extensively on the need to treat rape as a crime no different from any other crime. It’s violent. It’s devastating and life changing, but the one thing it isn’t… it isn’t about sex.
Until we better educate society – until we remove the stigma of shame that is associated with rape – women and men who are brutalized by this crime will remain shivering in the shadows. Cultural norms dictate that rape victims’ identities be hidden from the public. As the mother of a rape survivor, I continually ask, “Why?” They didn’t do anything wrong. They have no reason to feel ashamed. Why is it that victims of robberies, muggings and attempted murders bask in media attention, but sexual assault victims are hidden away?
The women and men who survive a sexual assault should be lauded in the press. Those who are determined to bring their attackers to justice are heroes. Do you know how much courage it takes for a victim to face her/his assailant in court? More than most people will ever require in an entire lifetime.
These brave survivors are on the front line, fighting within the structure of the law and sending a powerful message to predators that they will not quiver in fear. Society should be obligated to applaud their efforts. We should award them medals. We should… we must sing their praises from the rooftops and do it in voices loud enough that rapists know we are coming for them.
Until we make “victim” a word to fear in the heart of every deviant, we will never reduce the incident of sexual assault.
A drop of ink... One single drop of ink can make that happen. For me, Byron’s words have become a philosophy for life.
I don’t care if no one knows my name. Forget me. I’m not important. Don’t forget what I have written here today. If one article prevents one person from knowing the pain of rape, a drop of ink can become a tidal wave. All it takes is for one person to tell another person and so on and so on. Then, and only then, will the efforts of Carol Tracy and like minded women have permanent positive results.
The next time you meet a survivor who is willing to talk publicly about his/her experience, don’t lower your head in pity and whisper “I’m so sorry.” Look him or her in the eyes and say, “Thank you for having the courage to speak out.” Say, “You are my hero” and mean it!
Be the ink... not the blotter!