English paper, April 2009
Sexual Violence Against Women in the United States
Rape and sexual violence has become a part of our everyday lives in the United States. It is not something that is pleasant to think about and so it gets swept under the rug and ignored by the mass majority of society. It seems archaic to think so, but women are still regarded as little more than property by many in our society. Women are abused at all stages in their lives. Child sexual abuse is on the rise, women on college campuses are being violated on a daily basis, and even elderly women are often victims of sexual predators. One of the first things to be done is to spread awareness about the issues; the time for ignoring the problem has long passed. There also needs to be more of a focus on prevention rather than just dealing with the offenders after the fact. One of the more long term changes is that of modifying the criminal justice system to better handle cases of rape and sexual violence. There are many steps that can and should be taken to help with the problem of sexual violence against women in the United States and it is time to put those steps into motion.
Sexual violence is defined as any sexual act that takes place against the will of one of the parties due to force, threat of force, or coercion (Renzetti 97). Abusers take many forms in America. They are fathers, husbands, sons, neighbors, and your everyday, average Joe's. Men who are married will rape or otherwise sexually abuse their wives. Men will rape or sexually abuse their girlfriends. Men will victimize a complete stranger. There are no rules or regulations for who will become an abuser or why the abuse will start. There are, however, some patterns that have been recognized. Men who are around violence as a child are prone to become abusers. This can be anywhere from seeing violence committed against his mother or father on a regular basis to being sexually or otherwise abused himself. It is important to note that there are men who are abused sexually. Such cases have recently been brought to light in the media but are still nowhere near as frequent as abuses against women. It is also important to note that women are also quite capable of victimizing a man or another woman. In general though, it is a man in the role of the abuser and a woman or child in the role of the abused.
The United States has the highest rate of rape among reporting countries. For instance, the rape rate of the United States is four times higher than the rate of rape in Germany, thirteen times higher than that of England, and twenty times higher than that of Japan (Sexual Assault Statistics). In 1997, the estimated rape rate was 34.4 per 100,000 persons (Sexual Assault Statistics). In 2007, there were a total of 248,300 victims of sexual assault which equates to someone in the United States being sexually assaulted every two minutes (RAINN). Fifteen percent of sexual assault and rape victims are under the age of twelve (RAINN). One out of every six women in the United States will experience attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (RAINN). In 1997, only sixteen percent of rapes were reported to the police (Sexual Assault Statistics). In 2007 forty percent of rapes and sexual assaults were reported to the police (RAINN). Seventy-three percent of victims knew their assailant but only six percent of rapists will ever spend any time in jail (RAINN).
What effect does rape or sexual assault have on the victim? If a woman is sexually assaulted, molested, or raped as a child, the effects can be, and usually are, long-lasting and can penetrate every part of her life depending on how she was received when she first broke her silence (Bass 5). Victims of sexual assault are three times more likely to suffer from depression, six times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, thirteen times more likely to abuse alcohol, twenty-six times more likely to abuse drugs, and four times more likely to contemplate suicide (RAINN). Many victims, as many as fifty percent, seek professional help from therapists or psychologists to recover from their experience(s). Twenty-six percent of women with bulimia nervosa had been raped at some point in their lives (NSVRC 5). Preventing Child Sexual Abuse). Aside from the psychological and emotional problems, victims in many cases suffer from physical trauma including genital and non-genital trauma as well as catching an STD from her assailant and as many as five percent of women who are raped become pregnant as a result of the rape. All-in-all, rape has the highest cost to the victim of any crime with the national victim cost totaling $127 billion annually (Sexual Assault Statistics).
Many have asked, why do women not report rape? There are many answers to this question, one of the most prevalent being the lack of support from family and friends. Because such a high percentage of rapes occur within the family or by someone close to the family, it is quite common for the victim to be doubted by those closest to her. When one does not have support from the ones closest to her, it is difficult to summon the courage and strength to break the silence and file a report. Adding to this problem is the fact that the attacker will generally tell the victim that he must remain silent, that no one will believe her, and many will even threaten the victim or her family. If all this weren't enough, the criminal justice system is not set up in such a way to make it easy on victims even if they do file a report. If she does report, the victim is forced to relive her assault in court, usually in the presence of her attacker. The victim has many hardships to overcome in order to file a report and go through all of the proceedings if she wishes to pursue jail time for her assailant.
If the victim does file a report, the chances of a conviction and jail time are slim. The following are the statistics from RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network): "If a rape is reported, there is a 50.8% chance of an arrest. If an arrest is made, there is an 80% chance of prosecution. If there is a prosecution, there is a 58% chance of conviction. If there is a felony conviction, there is a 69% chance the convict will spend time in jail. So even in the 39% of attacks that are reported to the police, there is only a 16.3% chance the rapist will end up in prison. Factoring in unreported rapes, about 6% of rapists will ever spend a day in jail. 15 of 16 walk free." It is very common for victims of sexual abuse or rape to become discouraged from filing a report because of these issues and more.
So if we are not punishing rapists for their crime and cannot depend on victims to report abusers to the authorities, what can we do to prevent rape and sexual assault? The criminal justice system tends to have the perspective that a victim of rape cannot be trusted to tell the truth and the case of rape is the only one in which the word of the victim is continuously questioned (Hodgson 3). Hodgson and Kelley quote from a 1998 report, "the system's response tends to focus less on the injury and sensitive treatment of the victim, and more on evaluating the victim's credibility" (Hodgson 3). Women are blamed for their own rape if they dress provocatively, have had several sexual partners in her past, or if she does not have enough bruises to prove that she fought back (NSVRC). In truth, if a woman dresses provocatively, she is no more asking to be raped than is a woman that is covered from head to toe in thick cloth. At most, she is trying to get attention but suggesting anything beyond that is just ludicrous. A man is not questioned about his sexual past like a woman. A woman is seen in a negative light if she has been with multiple partners whereas a man is almost praised. The lack of bruises or injury on a woman is no way to judge if she has been raped. While many women do fight back physically, some are simply too afraid or have been coerced into just laying there and taking it, thinking that this is their fault and that they really did ask for it.
Women in America are not valued in the same way that men are valued. Women are still seen as possessions and as something for a man to own by some in America. This way of thinking only adds to the problem of rape and sexual violence against women. If men are raised to think that women are inferior to them, then with that comes a sense of entitlement. In essence, they think that if they want a woman, then they are entitled to have that woman. This way of thinking must be changed if we are to ever have true and lasting change. Boys must be taught from a young age that women are equal to men and that they deserve just as much respect and consideration as does a man. The word of a woman should be considered equal to the word of a man. If a woman says no, it means no and it means no the first time. Too many times a woman will be coerced into sexual activities even after having said that they do not wish for such activities to take place. Once the word no is spoken, all actions should cease no matter the timing. There is no such thing as a point of no return in these cases. Men are quite capable of stopping at any point and to suggest otherwise is to say that men lack both heart and mind, and that they, in essence, become frenzied animals that cannot be stopped and should not be held accountable for their actions.
In their book, Sexual Assault on the College Campus, Schwartz and DeKeseredy research sexual assault on college campuses in America. They found that when men band together in groups that exclude women, such as campus fraternities, can often perpetuate the idea of the inferiority of women. They often talk about women and the sexual lives of women. For example, they often talk about their sexual exploits with certain women or how to "get" sex from a woman as well as the domination of women with tales of how a woman was "put in her place" (Schwartz viii).One of the ways to counteract these male dominated groups is to begin spreading the idea of male peer-support models along with "quick-fix" solutions such as banning alcohol on college campuses (because of the direct link between alcohol and the incident of rape) and instituting an escort service on campuses (Schwartz viii).
People cannot be afraid to get involved. The bystander effect is a program to help those who may or who have in the past witnessed sexual violence. Bystanders often do not intervene in acts of sexual violence because they are afraid that they have misinterpreted the situation or fear making someone angry (Tabachnick 4). By implementing the bystander approach, we are changing social norms and discouraging victim blaming (Tabachnick 5). Using the bystander approach can mean anything from speaking up when someone makes an inappropriate sexual comment to physically stopping an assault.
Another way to help prevent rape and sexual assault is to implement policies that "reflect an expectation of civility, honor, respect, and nonviolence for all members of the community and encourage behaviors that build a sense of community" (ACHA 6). According to the authors of Shifting the Paradigm: Primary Prevention of Sexual Violence there are ten ways that young men, especially those in college, can prevent sexual violence. "One, choose what kind of man you want to be. Two, communicate with your partner in sexual situations. Three, understand that drugs and alcohol affect people's ability to consent to sexual activity. Four, Ask women how the fear of rape affects their daily lives and whether they know someone who has been raped. Five, ask men how it would feel to be seen as a potential rapist and how they would feel if a woman or girl in their life was sexually assaulted. Six, don't let images in popular culture dictate your behavior. Seven, choose language that respects women. Eight, use your voice. Nine, join a men's anti-rape group on your campus. Ten, don't ever have sex with anyone against their will."
We each have the power to change the statistics on sexual violence against women in the United States. We each have the opportunity to stand up for this cause. We can influence policy makers and people of power through writing letters to show support for bills that would help change the criminal justice system to be more accepting of women who need to report an act of sexual violence. We can teach young people in our lives that women are equal to men and are not in fact the weaker of the sexes. We can support charities and other organizations that are fighting for women's rights. Most importantly, we can break the silence. We can talk to people about these issues; let them know that sexual violence is not acceptable in our society. We can spread the word and spread knowledge about sexual violence to let others be involved. There are many things that need to be done to prevent sexual violence in America and we are the only ones that can do it.
English paper, March 2009
Vegetarianism comes in many forms these days. Some choose to eat no meat whatsoever while others will still eat fish or poultry. All vegetarians have one thing in common; they eat no red meat. This means they do not eat the meat from cows, pigs, or sheep. There are many reasons why one would choose to renounce eating meat. Many vegetarians chose their way of life because of health reasons. Some did so because of their moral standing on using animals for food. Vegetarianism also has benefits that most vegetarians do not even realize. For instance, vegetarianism also helps the global environment and leads to the saving of money and energy. Overall, vegetarianism is the responsible and healthy choice for those who do not necessarily have to depend on meat as a source of nutrition.
If done correctly, the vegetarian lifestyle is one of the healthiest lifestyles known to man. Those following a vegetarian way of life, and have done so for most of adulthood, generally have fewer health issues than those who eat meat on a regular basis. Studies of longevity consistently show that the oldest people usually eat very little, if any, meat. Vegetarian diets contain far less cholesterol and saturated fats than do "normal," meat eating diets. Further, the protein one receives from vegetables is a far healthier for human bodies than protein received from an animal. Animal proteins have been found to increase the likelihood of developing certain diseases such as diabetes and several forms of cancer. And finally, by steering clear of meat, vegetarians greatly reduce the number of potentially harmful chemicals ingested. Because most meat is now raised on factory farms (an issue to be discussed later), the number of chemicals that humans are exposed to has increased dramatically. While it is true that some plant farms use chemicals in the growing of crops, this can be avoided by eating organically or naturally.
Another popular reason for becoming a vegetarian is to protest the use of animals for food. This is a multi-faceted issue. Some cite this as a reason because of factory farming and the suffering that animals in such conditions suffer, others because of the belief that animals have an independent moral worth and should not be used by humans for any purpose.
First we will explore the issues behind factory farming. Over ninety percent of all animals used for human consumption (including dairy products, eggs, and meat) in the US are raised on factory farms. Animals raised in factory farms suffer miserably their entire lives. Animals are given chemical injections to make them grow faster. Chickens, for instance, are injected with chemicals that cause their breasts to grow at nearly four times the normal rate. The rest of their bodies cannot keep up with the rate of growth and so the animals sometimes cannot walk or even stand. Their beaks are shaved down to pencil points to prevent injury due to the extreme overcrowding in cages and living areas. When it comes time for the animals to be killed, the chickens are literally thrown into transportation cages oftentimes resulting in broken bones. After being tossed around by factory workers, the chickens are then shocked via electrolysis to numb them before having their throats slit. Some of the chickens are not numbed by the electric shock and thus feel every ounce of pain from having their throat slit open (Kentucky Fried Cruelty). To most of us, this is not acceptable, and for some, it is cause enough to change our lifestyles, to not support such practices by completely removing products of factory farming from our everyday lives, thus, vegetarianism.
Similarly, there are those that choose vegetarianism as a way to respect the moral worth of animals. It seems rather hypocritical of humanity to say that only some animals have moral worth and yet it is done every day. Most cringe in horror at the thought of someone eating a cat or a dog but find it perfectly acceptable to eat a double bacon cheeseburger at the local fast food restaurant. There really is no good argument to support this viewpoint. If one animal has enough moral worth to not be eaten, then all animals should be treated with the same respect. Vegetarians simply treat all animals with equal amounts of consideration and respect by refusing to use them for food when there are plenty of other options available.
One of the biggest debates lately has been that of the global environment. Though it may not seem like it at first, one of the ways to help the environment is to become a vegetarian. Contrary to popular belief, animal farming is the number one cause of deforestation in the world and it always has been. Why does this matter? Deforestation is the second greatest cause of atmospheric carbon dioxide, releasing about a quarter of total carbon dioxide emissions each year. Deforestation also causes soil erosion and consequent flooding. Also, the water for animal farming, which is more than human usage, is quickly depleting our limited underground water sources. And while it may be amusing, methane from the flatulence of farm animals is one of the leading environmental pollutants, and methane is more than twenty times as effective as carbon dioxide for trapping heat in the atmosphere. Furthermore, animal farming results in the deposit of far more excrement than can be absorbed onto farmland, resulting in pollution of lakes and rivers and destruction of valuable farmland.
Finally, plant farming is vastly cheaper and much more efficient than animal farming. It produces ten to twenty times the amount of protein per acre, five to ten times the calories per acre, and as much as fifty times the proportion of food calorie output to fossil fuel calorie input (GoVeg). Animals consume many times the amount of food that they yield. Replacing animal food production with plant food production in first world countries alone would yield enough surpluses to feed the entire world's population on a healthy diet with room to spare.
Not everyone can be a vegetarian. There are some that do not have access to a variety of nutritional supplements and must depend on meat for sustenance. There are many, though, that can. Most of us live in an area where there are plenty of choices for our nutrition and for those people, vegetarianism is the healthiest and most responsible option. There are literally zero dietary needs that cannot be met through a vegetarian diet. As more and more people convert to vegetarianism, there will be an increase in products for vegetarian consumption and with that, more and more people will have the ability to live the vegetarian lifestyle.
Whatever the reason for converting, every vegetarian is making an impact on the world. We are helping the environment and saving animals from a lifetime of suffering. We are becoming healthier while saving money and energy in the production of our food. We are making the most responsible choice possible. Every person counts and every person can help make a difference. Vegetarianism is just another way for us to evolve as human beings, to make the choice to move past the days of killing for sustenance and into a healthier way of life.