Sometimes my mind works in strange ways. On holidays like today, I often wonder what other people are doing, if families are coming together in joy or reaffirming why they have avoided each other for so long. And then I start to think about those family members who are suffering in secrecy, who probably view holidays as a cruel reminder of the normal life they have been denied. Domestic abuse victims are sometimes completely shielded from view, but much more often, they have to put on a show of happiness to conceal their situation, or face the consequences after everybody leaves. We kid ourselves that these situations are rare, but it's likely happening only a few doors down in our neighborhood. And maybe even right in front of us. The CDC just published a new report this year, and the numbers are staggering:
In the U.S., about 1 in 3 women and nearly 1 in 6 men experienced some form of contact sexual violence during their lifetime.
Nearly 23 million women and 1.7 million men have been the victims of completed or attempted rape at some point in their life.
In the U.S., more than 27% of women and 11% of men have experienced contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime and experienced an intimate partner violence-related impact.
Of all female victims of completed rape 41% reported that it first occurred prior to age 18.
Of all female victims of completed rape 30% reported that their first such victimization occurred between the ages of 11 and 17.
Among reportable states, estimates ranged from 26% to 58% (44 states) for having experienced their first completed rape victimization prior to turning 18.
Among reportable states, estimates ranged from 21% to 45% (27 states) for first completed rape victimization occurring between the ages of 11 and 17.
The full report (large pdf) goes much deeper into detail, but here are a few takeaways:
In contact sexual violence, rape, and coercion, about 83% of the perpetrators are known by the victim. Either a family member or acquaintance. Calling this a "betrayal of trust" doesn't even shine a dim candlelight on the horror these women and girls have been exposed to, and have to live with every day. Now I want you to think about those victims sitting down at a table, facing 8-12 people who are smiling, laughing, and making comments about how good the food is that the victim is forcing into her mouth to seem normal. I know, it's not something you'd prefer to think about while you're trying to relax and recharge. Hell, *I* don't want to think about it, but my crazy brain won't let me filter it out.
Another takeaway: Non-contact unwanted sexual experiences, which are described as:
those unwanted experiences that do not involve any touching or penetration, including someone exposing their sexual body parts, flashing, or masturbating in front of the victim, someone making a victim show his or her body parts, someone making a victim look at or participate in sexual photos or movies, or someone harassing the victim in a public place in a way that made the victim feel unsafe.
is the only category where "strangers" lead the pack, ahead of intimate or former intimate partners and acquaintances. Over 38 million Americans (mostly female) have been the victims of this. Now, it might seem obvious that strangers would lead this category of abuse, but you need to drill a little deeper for implications and conclusions.
In a word, this behavior is "fishing." Trying to lure women into a more intimate situation. The fact that strangers do it more than acquaintances tells you (or me, anyway) that non-strangers are aware they have other methods, other "powers," that can be used to violate these women. They don't have to lure them, the victim is already caught. Caught in a web spun by the very social norms most of us view as somehow benevolent. And that is the true betrayal, that something this horrible can continue in a society that considers itself "enlightened." There's a hell of a lot more darkness here than we will admit.