A good year for women on film, as exemplified in new releases The Eyes of My Mother, Miss Sloane, and more
Matthew Lickona 5 p.m., Dec. 9
Deborah Copaken Kogan speaks out again, and more power to her for daring to do so. In the July/August issue of More magazine, the journalist addresses the persistent social inequities pertaining to assaulted women. In the article entitled America’s Real Favorite Pastime? Judging Women she courageously rehashes her own experiences as a female war corespondent. Ten years ago when she first disclosed that she had been assaulted both on and off the job the media crucified her.
“Some things are just not discussed,” I recall being told as a child. Seems to be a commonly held belief. Back in the late seventies when I was in high school, I attended a mandatory presentation on self defense where a tall blond man instructed the pubescent audience to yell “Fire!” should any of us find ourselves being raped in a dark alleyway. “Fire!” not “Rape!” he assured us, would be the ticket to getting anyone nearby to respond because, he reasoned, people care more about their own house burning down than another's life.
A few year later, college advisers informed a packed auditorium of freshman women that one in every four of us would be raped. Hardly an encouraging thought for new fledglings recently flown the coop eager to explore their own natural if not mostly romantic urges. At the time I suspected that the statistic didn’t include victims of incest or spousal abuse and I sure as hell know it didn’t include hetero or homo sexual male victims. The controversially proposed “forcible rape” prevision clause to the Abortion Act aside, rape defined today includes attempted and threatened acts of forcible sexual penetration by and against women and men regardless of sexual orientation.
The National Center for Victims of Crime estimates that one in every 15 Americans has been a victim of incestuous childhood rape. Still the least reported crime, it’s well worth mentioning for several reasons. Firstly, incest, a statutory crime defined as marriage or sexual intercourse between relatives as prohibited by law, is legally considered a wholly independent offense from rape in that consent or the lack thereof is irrelevant.
Secondly, statutory prohibitions are defined at the local, not federal, level. There are no uniform parameters established. That which defines acceptable degrees of consanguinity for which marriages are declared lawful and the age at which a child is no longer considered a minor vary greatly from state to state. In some states it’s the forth degree (third cousins) that establishes permissible marriages, whereas in others copulation with one's direct linage only, i.e. brothers, sisters/fathers and mothers, is banned.
Furthermore, not every state deems sexual acts with step children or step siblings of legal concern. In fact, not too long ago the State of Massachusetts ruled that incest statutes “cannot be stretched beyond their fair meaning" and so cannot include stepparents since they are not of blood relation.
The statutes exist to protect the integrity of the gene pool and not our delicate moral sensitivities. As taboo as the topic of incest is, the public didn’t hesitate to roll out cart blanche acceptance to Woody Allen for bedding Soon-Yi. There was no boycotting of his movies and his career still thrives. The points of ambiguity on which he and his supporters justified his actions include the facts that he wasn’t her biological father, didn’t officially live in her home and wasn’t legally married to her adoptive mother, his lover of twelve years and mother of his child. New York, as it turns out, is a non-common law state. Time Magazine quipped at the time that this affair wasn’t merely a “celebrity dish; this was rancid food for thought.” And so it was and still is.
Depending on the state, incest is either a felony offense with convictions resulting in sentences up to life, or it’s a misdemeanor. When penal code utilizes language such as “ordinary men of reasonable intelligence” it is little wonder that statute constitutionality is often debated. The extreme inconsistencies and incongruities pertaining to incest leaves ample wiggle room for defense attorneys as Mia Farrow found out all too publicly.
The FBI uses Census data and police reports to compile the annual Uniform Crime Report. This year’s preliminary report indicates that although crime across the board is down, rape rates have increased in some regions, particularly in older urban neighborhoods and in cities with the high levels of unemployment. With an unemployment rate of 12 percent, California is second only to Nevada in joblessness. An additional 34,000 joined the ranks in July. More than a third of those unemployed have been unsuccessfully job hunting for more than a year. Frustrating and discouraging to say the least.
Although there isn’t any hard evidence that align the two, California’s high rape cities do happen to include the hardest economically hit communities. Top on the State’s rape charts are LA (923) with 12.4 percent unemployment, Oakland (318) with 10.5 percent unemployment, and San Diego (300, an increase from the 179 reported the year previous) also with 10.5 percent unemployment. Conversely, Imperial County with its grueling 30.8 percent rate unemployment lies low on the sex crime totem pole.
It should be fairly noted then that some of the highest rape rates are held by municipalities with unemployment rates below the national average (currently 9.1 percent). Almost every major city in Texas (Austin just missed the mark) for instance had between 300 and 800 rapes reported, and NYC reported a whopping 1,036! Obviously, population and a gamut of other contributing factors affect these numbers. Regrettably, one of the primary factors continues to be the taboo nature which sex offenses are still socially perceived and the legal system itself.
According to a series of Bureau of Justice reports, it’s estimated that only 40 percent of all attacks are reported and although one in every five women under the age of 25 is raped, only five percent of those are reported. Given the judicial system’s track record, I can certainly understand why that number remains low; only six percent of accused rapists do jail time. Let me repeat that ratio, six percent. Meaning, 94 percent walk.
Just shy of ten years ago, I was sexually assaulted at work. Before reporting it, I Googled some stats since I hadn’t ever faced anything like it before. I discovered that one in seven female employees report such incidents. Most select to quit for fear of losing their jobs if they pressed charges, if they "made a scene". This trend in part, the studies suggested, contributes to women not being promoted at the same rate as men since they don’t hold jobs as long as their male counterparts. Appalled by this information, I decided I owed it to my children to file.
I made a mistake though. I only reported it to my supervisors and not to the police. The male coworker didn't deny what he had done when confronted by management and was promptly fired. I was subsequently marginalized, which --if you haven’t experienced anything like it-- I can assure you is a most excruciatingly slow professional and personal annihilation imaginable. The assault charge was soon followed by several sexual discrimination charges all of which I hadn’t the financial resources to do much with.
The entire ordeal became a cancer in my life, fouling everything for years—relationships, friendships, family life, and certainly without question all future job prospects. Even though there is no statute of limitations on reporting assaults to the authorities, why would I even bother to reopen that bloody worm infested can of vile? It was the worst of nightmares and I am glad to be well beyond the thick of it.
I’ve had a few bouts with abuse over the years. Many women have endured similar things as I have and my experiences pale in comparison to what others have suffered; I recovered when others lie six feet under.
No pity; no praise. I know I'm not going to hell in a hand basket any more than I'm going to heaven on the back of a B 52. But, I do feel compelled to do my part in reminding folks that the unthinkable happens all around us every day, and we all too often look the other way. I can personally attest that what the tall blond man said back in high school was dead on. People do tend to not want to hear about it, not want to see it, not want to acknowledge its existence. They don’t want to be involved or held accountable in any way. We as a society in the new millennia still wear our prehistoric blinders and on a daily basis throw those so soiled to the wolves. Even the most loved and trusted stand with the mob to throw stones at those who’ve been defiled.
In fact, they are sometimes the perpetrators. The National Crime Victimization Survey issued by the Bureau of Justice includes unreported crimes. The Survey indicates that one third of all women murdered in the U.S. are victims of intimate assault.
It is a rare person who has the strength and fortitude of character to stand against a mob, to support and protect others whether strangers or intimate relations because we as a race punish whistle blowers just as we’ve beheaded prophets. You wouldn’t expect that type of archaic behavior here in the United States, a country founded by those seeking freedom and justice. But, it's here none-the-less.
Sadly, it takes brave souls like Copaken Kogan willing to repeatedly stand up to media fire to put it all right back where it belongs, at the forefront and not buried in closets or in piles stowed secretly beneath carpets. Gladly, she no longer stands alone. Others, like psychologist Dr. Sarah Crome, another brazen line-crossing, taboo breaker are risking reputations and careers to expose some of society’s dirtiest laundry.
Dr. Crome has gone on public record to state that for every male that files a rape charge, ten other male victims don't. We all know women get raped, violated and assaulted—they’re women, after all, the “weaker sex”. But men? Pshaw! No way! Yet, it's estimated that men comprise 10 percent of rape victims.
It’s that thinking exactly that has lent power to male on male rape as a successful weapon of warfare. The thought of being raped is a terrifying image to even the most grizzled of men. The array of emotions male victims experience, however, isn’t any different than those that the 600 American women that are raped every day must survive. As with so many things though, it’ll take more and more of those unreporting male victims to come out of hiding before things change. When the male rape numbers increase, the legal system as well as society at large will sit at attention and knuckle to the grind stone some solutions that might more effectively address this age old violence.
I, for one, will not be holding my breath to see any of these changes in my lifetime. Because regardless of how highly intelligent and superior we think we are as a race, I find our evolution in certain aspects to be painfully retarded.