April is sexual assault awareness month
This story is part one of a two-part story on sexual assault awareness and resources.
At Heart to Heart Eagle River Crisis Pregnancy Center, which offers free pregnancy tests and pro-life oriented counseling, it’s not uncommon for executive director Alycia Thomas to be the first person a young woman tells that she might pregnant. Sometimes, Thomas ends up being the first person a teen opens up to, to confide that she’s been raped.
“Usually it’s a minimum of a few days after the fact, but a month, even two months, it’ll be a while before they talk about it,” Thomas said. “They don’t want to talk about it, they don’t want that thought to be in their head, that this happened to me.”
The denial becomes difficult to maintain once a pregnancy occurs or a woman thinks she might have become pregnant, Thomas said, and compels her to deal with it on some level.
Thomas said that, in her experience, fear of retaliation also plays a role in some victims’ hesitancy to report.
“That’s been the thought, as I’ve talked to some of these girls, is they’re afraid it’s going to come back on them,” Thomas said. “They’re going to get in trouble for reporting it, they’re going to be looked at as, ‘Oh, you’re lying.’”
Rape is most often defined by sexual violence researchers as penetration without another person’s consent, including circumstances in which the person is incapable of giving consent. Other forms of sexual assault include unwanted sexual contact, such as groping, or a man being forced to penetrate another person. Alaska Statute does not use the word rape, but refers instead to sexual assault in the first, second, third or fourth degree.
The Anchorage Police Department received 17 reports of sexual assault for the Eagle River, Chugiak and Peters Creek area in 2012, and 17 in 2013, said APD communications director Jennifer Castro. In both years, 10 of the 17 cases involved sexual abuse of a minor.
But the true number of sexual assaults in the last year is likely higher than 300, based on estimates from the Alaska Victimization Survey combined with the local area’s population.
The survey, which measures rates of domestic violence and sexual assault through a standardized questionnaire administered to adult women participants, is an ongoing research program of the University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center. The results show 1.4 percent of Anchorage women surveyed say they were sexually assaulted within the last year, with more than double that, or 3 percent, of women in the Mat-Su Valley reporting the same.
But lead researcher Andre Rosay said three years of doing the surveys for multiple urban and rural Alaska communities show the rates are about the same everywhere.
“There are minor differences, but they’re due to random fluctuations, within the margin of error,” he said.
The survey has not been specifically administered to the Eagle River, Chugiak and Peters Creek area, with its population of about 30,000 people. But even taking the lowest estimate found in any community surveyed so far – 1 percent of Juneau women surveyed reported being raped in the last year – it would put the projected number of women sexually assaulted in the local area within a year at 300 women. That is nearly 18 times the number reported to police in 2012 and 2013.
Statewide, 37.1 percent of women report having been raped in their lifetime.
The survey does not measure what percentage of men or children have been raped in the past year or in their lifetime.
The Sexual Experiences Survey was first developed in the 1970s, in part to measure the percentage of men who attempt and commit rape. It’s administered as a confidential survey of sexual experiences, and includes questions about behaviors that meet the legal definition of rape.
Over the years, between 4 and 9 percent of men in research samples report committing rape in their lifetime.
According to one study that did follow-up research on those men who admitted to rape on the survey, the average number of offenses per perpetrator was 5.8 (“Repeat Rape and Multiple Offending Among Undetected Rapists,” Violence and Victims, 2002).
Rosay said that as far as he is aware, there has never been a survey that measures prevalence of rape perpetration in Alaska.
People who rape can be men, women, or juveniles.
In what some see as a double standard, rape is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and many state statutes as consisting of penetration, while the act of being forced to penetrate another person is often defined as other sexual violence or assault, along with acts such as sexual coercion or unwanted sexual contact.
According to the CDC, 18.3 percent of women and 1.4 percent of men nation-wide report being raped in their lifetime, while 5.6 percent of women and 5.3 percent of men report experiencing other sexual violence in their lifetime.
According to the most recent CDC High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data, 11.8 percent of high school girls and 4.5 percent of high school boys reported being forced to have sex in their lifetime.
Research into sexual assault shows that perpetrators are more likely to have experienced family violence or sexual assault in childhood; to lack empathy; endorse attitudes of sexual entitlement; view women as sexual objects; and endorse rape myths; but having all of those characteristics doesn’t mean that a person has committed rape or ever will.
Research also shows that sexual arousal in response to depictions of sexual violence is a characteristic of rapists, but the picture is more complicated. In a series of studies that measured men’s arousal to depictions of rape versus depictions of consensual sex, sex offender researcher Howard Barbaree of the University of Ontario found that convicted rapists found the violent material arousing, whereas the non-offending sample of men experienced the very opposite. Their arousal was dampened after viewing violent sexual material. But under certain conditions manipulated in a laboratory setting – the participant becoming angry with a woman, or being drunk – normal men became more likely to experience arousal from watching rape scenarios.
More recently, rape prevention and reduction efforts have been focused on changing rape-supporting beliefs in men and educating men about healthy relationships that emphasize empathy and responsibility. Rape-supporting beliefs include beliefs that victims are responsible for getting raped; that sexual assault of someone who has had multiple partners or someone who is one’s dating partner doesn’t count as rape; and that it’s acceptable to use alcohol or coercion to press someone into sexual compliance or render them incapable of consenting. Research has shown that men who commit rape are more likely to score high on rape-supportive belief assessment scales, and that rape-supportive beliefs are more common among victims who do not report when they’ve been raped to police.
One national group, Men Can Stop Rape, does public education awareness and outreach, and members start Men of Strength youth and college campus clubs.
The Standing Together Against Rape 24-hour hotline is (907) 276-7273 or (800) 478-8999. For more information including on how to receive services, volunteer or donate, go to www.staralaska.com. To register for the Walk a Mile In Her Shoes fundraiser held Saturday, April 26 from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at University Center, go to the website or contact Megan Young at [email protected]. To contact the Heart to Heart Crisis Eagle River Crisis Pregnancy Center for services or to volunteer or donate, call (907) 694-1747.
For more information about Men Can Stop Rape, go to www.MenCanStopRape.org.