Sexual Assault Awareness Month is every April. It immediately follows Women’s History Month, which makes sense as the two concerns are so inextricably linked, especially in the modern history of our country. Only a fool would deny that racism remains a factor in American life, but it’s far outweighed by misogyny, a cancer on the country’s collective soul, and a driving force behind some of the grossest atrocities in all of history, continuing into the present day. Sexual violence is the leading form of domestic terrorism.
It goes back at least as far as the Witch Hunts that began before Christ and spread like fire, literally, across the world in His name. Vatican officials later wrote the Malleus Maleficarum specifying ways of torturing women to obtain confessions, and enforcing social pressures to keep them docile. Some estimates number 100,000 women killed under official sanction in at least 26 different countries, including the US. Things are comparatively stable nowadays. But that’s small consolation for the thousands living in fear and dealing with post-traumatic stress right now.
The FDLE’s Uniform Crime Report for 2009 notes 289 arrests each for forcible and non-forcible sex offenses in Duval County—collectively, a 7% drop from 2008. Statewide, there were 336 arrests for forcible sodomy, 899 for forcible fondling, 1,642 for forcible rape, and 3,300 non-forcible sex offenses. That’s 6,177 sex crimes in Florida, in one year—down 4% from 2008. That number doesn’t include the 5,296 arrests for prostitution, a matter separate but related, given the brutal histories hookers tend to have. Also, it’s hard to determine what percentage of assaults and murders targeted women specifically. Predators of all types prey on those considered weak.
By contrast, there were 146,056 drug arrests in Florida in 2009, reflecting the twisted priorities of our bloated, corrupt government. The large-scale misappropriation of funds associated with our failed Drug War has had disastrous consequences for the entire country, on all levels, but the women and children underserved by law-enforcement have suffered most. Only 6% of rapists will ever spend a day in jail; a larger percentage of rape victims will likely do time for drugs, DUI, prostitution or other crimes induced by prior abuse.
Conventional wisdom holds that 1 in every 4 women will be victims of sexual violence in their lives, but a growing body of anecdotal evidence suggests that figure is way short. Given that the majority (60%, according to RAINN) are not reported, only women themselves know how pervasive it really is. Many victims are silenced by real or imagined pressures, while some in the younger generation have come to view rape as something like a rite of passage—not unlike the beatings associated with gang initiations. The spike in violent crimes by women only reinforces that parallel. (See Bishop, Amy.)
Northeast Florida organized a number of relevant events throughout the month, and some of the best was saved for last. Theater Jacksonville hosts a production of “The Vagina Monologues” (already a fixture locally) on Tuesday the 27th as a benefit for The Women’s Center of Jacksonville, which also sponsors a screening of “The Line” at Five Points Theatre on Thursday the 29th. Nancy Schwartzman’s 24-minute directorial debut documents her experiences as a rape victim, peaking as she confronts her attacker, armed with a hidden camera. Schwartzman has developed an excellent website, elaborating on these issues with an able cast of young contributors. The film will be followed by a panel discussion of local experts.
This region has a credible bunch of local advocacy groups, networked with national organizations, public servants and private citizens. It is a rare truly nonpartisan, multiracial, gender-neutral movement; education is key, as is direct physical intervention, when necessary (and it often is). Unfortunately, law-enforcement and the legal system are lagging behind the times in bringing rapists, molesters and wife-beaters to justice, for a number of reasons neither easy nor popular to describe; the collapsing global economy has seriously affected funding for relevant organizations (public and private), adding to long-standing institutional biases against victims of sexual abuse.
For example, Autrelle Holland, a true diamond among the hard men, has helped lead a surge of women stepping up their personal defenses in many and sundry forms. An aikido black-belt possessing vast knowledge of multiple styles, he’s been schooling chicks of the urban core for several months, to effects felt quick. Florida’s capacity for hand-to-hand combat of almost every known type is mostly a weapon for good; the Gracie family’s deal training police forces (including JSO) has surely saved lives. Their passion is a rare bright spot in a state that has earned its reputation as arguably the most dangerous place in America for women and children.
There is a silent genocide being waged against the women of this country that has already killed thousands, while traumatizing millions in just the past decade—epidemics of rape, molestation and murder, accompanied by relentless social conditioning as nasty and pernicious as the worst abuses of Jim Crow or Willie Lynch. And America has been suspiciously mellow in its response. With women buying guns in the millions and getting hip to the bitter realities at hand, that is almost certain to change, one way or another.
firstname.lastname@example.org; April 19, 2010