This is a slightly revised version of an essay I published on DailyKos.
The results of the CDC’s National Intimate Partner & Sexual Violence Survey for 2010. The figures are stunning:
- 35.6% of women have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner
- 24.3% of women have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner
- 18.3% of American women have been raped in their lifetime.
- 51.1% of those rapes are by an intimate partner
- 40.8% are by an acquaintance
- 79.6% of rapes took place before women were 25
- 42.2% of rapes took place before women were 18
- 16.2% of women have been victimized by stalkers
- 66.2% of stalkings were carried out by former partners
- Across all types of violence, the majority of both female and male victims reported experiencing violence from one perpetrator.
- Across all types of violence, the majority of female victims reported that their perpetrators were male.
- Male rape victims and male victims of non-contact unwanted sexual experiences reported predominantly male perpetrators. Nearly half of stalking victimizations against males were also perpetrated by males. Perpetrators of other forms of violence against males were mostly female.
- 1.4% of American men have been raped in their lifetime. Most of them were raped by other men. 44% of men who were stalked were targeted by other men.
- 4.8% of American men reported being forced to penetrate someone else.
There’s a war being waged against American women, and we’re taking casualties every single day. And now the Republicans want to force us to carry rapist’s babies to term.
And here’s another scary set of statistics for you: 71% of women report being raped by a single perpetrator in their lifetime. 16.4% reported two perpetrators and 12.4% reported three or more perpetrators in their lifetimes.
35.2% of the women who were raped before age 18 were also raped as adults. Only 14.2% of the women who were raped after age 18 were raped as adults.
Women who are raped, physically abused, or stalked have significantly higher adverse health outcomes than women who aren’t raped, physically abused, or stalked. (Not a real shocker.) They have almost double the rates of headaches, chronic pain, poor physical health and poor mental health as their peers. 33% of them have difficulty sleeping, as compared to 18.4% of their peers. 29.7% have limitations on their activity, as opposed to 17.9% of their peers.
As I read through the report, I noticed my distinct lack of shock, and just the smallest modicum of grim satisfaction. “Tell me something I didn’t already know,” I thought. These are hard numbers, and they make a pretty good case that we’re not anywhere close to a post-feminist age.
I’m sick of hearing guys (even progressive guys) pretending that women have made enormous progress on the liberation front, and that somehow we’re distracting them from their real and important engagement in progressive politics with our petty complaints about not being quite equal enough. I’m sick of snide references to feminism as identity politics. Damn right it’s identity politics, and I’m not going to apologize for it as long as eighteen of “us” are being raped for every one of “you.” If progressive men don’t get this, it’s because they don’t want to get it. We live in a sexist system that supports rape, and a racist system that ensures that minority women are the most vulnerable targets of rapists. Identity matters, and if you all want us folks with “identities” to focus on the class war, you’ve damned well got to focus on us and the war where we’re taking 35% casualties.
It’s a fascinating, if sickening report. It held up well until the chapter where the authors felt compelled to address “Prevention.”
The promotion of respectful, nonviolent relationships is not just the responsibility of individuals and partners, but also of the communities and society in which they live. It is important to continue addressing the beliefs, attitudes and messages that are deeply embedded in our social structures and that create a social climate that condones sexual violence, stalking, and intimate partner violence. One way is through norms change. Societal and community norms, policies, and structures create environments that can support or undermine respectful, nonviolent relationships. Such beliefs and social norms are reinforced by media messages that portray sexual violence, stalking, or intimate partner violence as normative and acceptable, that reinforce negative stereotypes about masculinity, or that objectify and degrade women.
“Norms change,” my ass. Do you see the U.S. promoting respectful, nonviolent relationships any time soon? The authors of the report aren’t sure what to do about it, but they know for sure that unless we start to enforce “existing policies and laws,” no progress can be made at all. Uh, huh. And who is going to do the enforcing? The foxes who guard the henhouse? But they do make one suggestion that progressive men, especially, should take to heart:
Another strategy involves engaging bystanders to change social norms and intervene before violence occurs. In many situations, there are a variety of opportunities and numerous people who can choose to step forward and demonstrate that violence will not be tolerated within the community. For instance, bystanders may speak out against beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that support or condone sexual violence, stalking, and intimate partner violence − such as media portrayals that glamorize violence − and change the perceptions of these social norms in their peer groups, schools, and communities.
Do you hear that, progressive guys? If you’re not out there changing social norms, you’re not on the side of progress. Because here’s a thing that the report doesn’t address at all: Who is doing all that raping? “Men,” sure. But which men? Not you, of course, gentle reader. You’re probably a sensitive guy who understands that no means no and would never raise a hand to a woman in your life. But somebody is out there raping women, and chances are you’ve met him. You might work with him. You might party with him. You might even laugh at his jokes.
Here’s a thought exercise. Sit down and think about all the women you know and love, or know and respect. Write down their names. Are there ten? Then circle the two you know or suspect have been raped. Take the next step and think about who might have raped them; it’s a 90% chance that it was someone they knew, so, if you know them well, there’s a good chance it’s someone you know too. Take an inventory in your head. Who do you know who is a potential rapist? It’s a sobering thought, isn’t it?
Sometimes, when I’m talking to progressive men about feminist issues, they get this wounded look. “But I’m not a rapist,” they say. (And of course they’re not.) “It just feels like you don’t give men the benefit of the doubt — we have to prove we’re not bad.” Damn right we’re suspicious — wouldn’t you be if you were playing with our odds? And if you really gave a damn about violence against women, you’d be eyeing all the guys around you, too.
I’ve spent most of my adult life working as an antiracist trying to educate other white folks about the reality of American racism. I have a kind of (unearned) power as a white woman to make other white folks listen — not all the time, and surely not as effectively as I’d like, but I can speak where nonwhite people might not be heard, and surely wouldn’t be as safe. So I can see, quite clearly, what it is that progressive men need to be doing for women: get out there and use your (unearned) male privilege to stop folks from raping us, beating us, and stalking us. (Oh, and you can also use it to prevent guys from raping and abusing each other.) Because if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. Yeah, that’s a cliche. But it’s still true.