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Rosen writes: "The truth is, women are not safe. Every 6.2 minutes, there is a reported rape. One in five women is likely to be sexually assaulted in her lifetime."

Enough is enough: A student prays for Jyoti. (photo: Reuters)
Enough is enough: A student prays for Jyoti. (photo: Reuters)

Rape: The Universal Crime

By Ruth Rosen, Reader Supported News

24 February 13


he feminist writer Susan Griffin called rape "The All American Crime" in Ramparts Magazine in 1971. She was the first feminist to explain that men rape children, elderly and disabled women, not just girls dressed in mini-skirts. In other words, she challenged the belief that that rape was a sexual act, fueled by men's irrepressible sexual drive. Instead, she argued that rape was an assault against a woman, fueled by the desire to control and harm her, not a sexual act at all.

While I became a professor of history at the University of California a few years later, an elderly woman was raped by a man who stalked the campus looking for prey. He finally found a woman in her 90s and raped her in Davis's Central Park. (I can't find the newspaper story, but I remember the terror he caused among the town's women.) In 2012, a 43-year-old man raped a 73-year-old woman in New York City's Central Park and even boasted about how many elderly women he had raped. So, no, rape is not a sexual act.

Griffin was right. Even more, we now know that rape is the universal crime. Men don't need seductive young bodies scantily dressed to incite them to use their overwhelming power over a vulnerable woman. Even though rape has been declared illegal in war as a means of demoralizing an enemy, the Balkan wars revealed the creation of "rape camps" on all sides.

And has anything changed? Well yes, there was a huge outpouring of protest against the rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman in India in December 2012. But after that atrocity, countless rapes followed in Timbuktu, Mali, just weeks later. In every ethnic strife, opponents rape women as part of the spoils of their victory. It's in the newspaper every day with sickening regularity.

Closer to home, I recently received a message from the Berkeley police, notifying me that the number of rapes in Berkeley, California, has doubled during the last year. The twenty rapes that occurred in 2011 jumped to 39 in 2012. Many of these crimes took place near campus, where I live, and some, as you would expect, involved alcohol and drugs, according to the local news station, KGO. Very likely, some of these involved date rape, a term not used until the women's movement coined it.

Then I read a story in the New York Times that women are now among the loudest voices against gun control. They are crowding the shooting ranges, learning how to shoot and protect themselves. Why? Because of fear of rape, fear of gender violence of all kinds, and probably fear of criminals as well as immigrants in the border states.

The truth is, women are not safe. Every 6.2 minutes, there is a reported rape. One in five women is likely to be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. Nor is a woman safe in the military. As the New York Times recently reported, "The rate of sexual assaults on American women serving in the military remains intolerably high. While an estimated 17 percent of women in the general population become victims at some point in their lives, a 2006 study of female veterans financed by the Department of Veterans Affairs estimated that between 23 percent and 33 percent of uniformed women had been assaulted." A new documentary film about sexual assault in the military, "The Invisible War," is up for an Oscar. Let us hope it has some impact on our culture.

Rape, as feminists have always argued, keeps women off the streets and relegates them to the private sphere of the home. It is a form of social control that makes every woman afraid of moving about in the public sphere. Rape makes every woman somewhat afraid of the night. That is why women activists created "Take Back the Night" protests in the late 1970s: they wanted to reclaim public space.

Is this the kind of world we want to live in? When will rape become as unacceptable and as illegal as slavery is in civilized societies? Not in my lifetime.

Ruth Rosen, a former columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Times, is Professor Emerita of History at the University of California Davis and a Scholar in Residence at the University of California Berkeley. Her most recent book is The World Split Open: How the Modern Women's Movement Changed America.

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