Protecting Sexual Assault Victims
Every two minutes, a sexual assault occurs in the U.S., yet only 6% of rapists spend time in jail. The statistics are astounding, and the divide between the victim’s experience and the perpetrator’s courtroom justice may seem overwhelming. With the recent attention of victims’ rights groups and sexual assault survivors like Elizabeth Smart, law enforcement agencies are beginning to understand not only the effects of sexual violence upon a victim, their loved ones, and the community at large, but also how to educate the public, prevent the abuse, collect evidence and convict any criminals found guilty of sexual assault.
Sexual assault crimes have several definitions including stranger or acquaintance rape, childhood sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, gender-based hate crimes and sexual harassment. Each crime has various mental, physical and emotional components to it, and each crime is damaging to the victim in countless ways. Legal definitions of sexual assault and the type of crimes defined by sexual assault vary depending on the location of the crime. Depending on the community in which these crimes are committed, there are also varying levels of punishment for each crime. Recently, Amazon.com pulled a book from its virtual shelves due to its content that promotes pedophilia, and also contains information about which states or areas have harsher penalties for those who are caught by law enforcement officers and convicted of child-related sex crimes.
Issues with the definitions of sex crimes based on the jurisdiction of the crimes, the lack of proper response to the crime and/or victim and the victim’s fear of the courtroom all add into the inability to convict criminals charged with sexual assault. There are several organizations, such as RAINN, that advocate on behalf of victims, helping to provide programs to the victim of a sexual assault as well as educate law enforcement agencies and their corresponding communities as to the damage that sexual crimes can cause. Victims like Elizabeth Smart, who, at age 14, was kidnapped and raped over a period several months, are also beginning to speak out against their perpetrators. These victims and their advocates are also speaking against the tendency for people and law enforcement to ignore sex crimes and their impact on the population. These advocates are giving a voice to others who may feel intimidated by the legal system, helping to create awareness and change in communities nationwide.
Sexual assault crimes are prevalent in the U.S. and unfortunately, they also can open up the door to judgments and assumptions by the very communities that wish to avoid the crimes. The nature of sexual assault is never about sex, but about power, control and dominance. By advocating for victims and educating the public through school and law enforcement programs, as well as having a sympathetic and responsive team of law enforcement professionals to help victims through the aftermath of their ordeal, sexual assault crimes could lessen in number, as well as their impact on the mental well-being of victims and their loved ones.