Monday, April 9, 2012

Sexual Assault Awareness: The Interaction of Women & the Criminal Justice System

It's been a long time, right? I know. I haven't had a good opportunity to really get into a blog for a month now. Sad really. But, I've continued to add to the VAWG Dialogue Facebook page and that's going well. If you haven't already, definitely consider "liking" the page so that you, too, can stay up on the news related to recent events and ending VAWG. It is a quick and easy way to stay involved.

In the meantime, let's jump right in for today's entry. I just finished showing the movie Monster in my class. We've been applying various criminological theories to current events and Monster is an excellent example of feminist theory, but is also full of other theories. We've now transitioned into talking about the criminal justice system. How do these relate? The story of Aileen Wuornos, the first publicly recognized female serial killer, is featured in Monster. I won't spill the beans in case you haven't seen it, but the criminal justice system and Aileen interact a number of times. Keep your eyes open.

The criminal justice system was historically built for men. However, we have seen a drastic increase in the number of women being held in jail and prison facilities, not to mention juvenile detention facilities as well.  And, April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, so I thought it fitting that we look at how the criminal justice system has treated women in regard to victimization.  First, we know that it was not until recently that laws were actually put in place to prohibit a victim's prior history from being entered into evidence. Yep. Sad, right? Somehow sex without consent, rape, was seen as more justified if the woman was more sexually active when she consented.

Other new laws include those not requiring witnesses to corroborate the rape and those creating specific procedures for collecting evidence from victims.  I ask, "how many people are actually present when an individual is raped?" Who sits there and watches someone get raped and then goes and tells the police? Who tells the police and then doesn't have fear that they, too, might get hurt for being a "rat"?  Yet, in some countries, witnesses are still required. If enough witnesses do not come forward, the victim may be punished under consideration of "false reporting." The US is thankfully not one of these countries, but we must remove this requirement from all countries.

And, let's acknowledge that statistics show that most sexual assaults, rapes specifically, are at the hands of someone we know.  That's right. It's not that person dressed in black with a mask over their faces jumping out of the bushes. Indeed, acquaintance rape is the most common form. The aspect that makes this so disappointing is that some within the criminal justice system suggest these cases are too hard to solve. Cases between two individuals who know one another are too difficult to prove. Consequently, efforts are reduced. In 2010, the arrest rate for rape was only 24 percent. Okay. Okay. Not so bad you may be thinking. But, this percentage was the exact same in 1970. Huh? Really? With such improved technology, training, and knowledge, why are we not increasing our treatment and arrests of rapists?

Finally, let's not forget about rape kits. Performing a rape kit is extremely beneficial when considering conviction rates. The aspect that fails, however, is the analysis of these kits. Have you seen the news articles about untested rape kits? Here is a second article. Between 180,000-400,000 forgotten kits have gone untested.  As you can see, further improvement is still needed.

1 comment:

  1. I am a woman in my fifties and have been sexually assaulted a dozen times in my life. I was able to either flee, battle, talk or scream my way out of being raped. I have had a strong survival instinct.
    One day, after a man came into my loft to attack me, and who I chased out the window with an iron candle stick while cursing him like a crazy woman, I called the police to come take my statement. They did and when I asked them how I could protect myself more, they said that, basically, I shouldn't consider myself free to walk the city after dark and that it was my fault if I had left my window open on that hot summer night... I felt that I was the criminal for making it possible for someone to climb the fire escape to my window and come into my home.