Commentator William Holston faces numerous issues in his work at the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, but he says the issue of sexual assault requires immediate worldwide attention.
Some topics just make us uncomfortable to talk about. Rape is one of them. Too often this silence contributes to a sense of shame to survivors. That needs to change. One out of every six American women has been the victim of a rape or attempted rape in her lifetime. According to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted every two minutes. Chances are someone you love has survived a sexual assault.
Rape is a global problem. In December, the gang rape and murder of a woman in India resulted in thousands of Indians protesting the lack of punishment for perpetrators of rape in India. Inderpal Grewal, a professor at Yale University writes that “women in India are often unable to register their cases of rape with police and that the police seem uninterested in investigating or prosecuting most of the rapists.” Even worse is the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Vava Tampa, a native of Congo, and founder of Save the Congo, writes that in a civil war that has claimed over 5.4 million Congolese lives, 1,100 women are raped every single day. This problem is being addressed by the United Nations’ program, Stop Rape NOW.
Can it be that we really don’t understand that the unwanted sexual assault of a man or woman is always wrong? Apparently this is not as understood as we’d hope. This past election season, some elected officials used the term ‘legitimate rape’, inferring that some rapes must be acceptable.
At Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, we see the impact rape has on immigrants. We’ve seen asylum clients survive rape while jailed for their political opinions. It has taken some clients weeks to have the comfort to tell me about a rape. One male client never even told his spouse. Many of our client survivors suffer post traumatic stress disorder and depression. Our client Lisa was raped by her stepfather when she was nine years old. When he was finally caught, she had the courage to tell the police what he had done to her, even though she was terrified. He went to prison. Congress recognized the great risk to immigrants in passing the Violence Against Women Act which provides relief for immigrant victims of violent crime, such as rape. Through VAWA, Lisa now has legal immigration status through a U-Visa. VAWA also provides funding for rape crisis centers and legal relief to immigrants who cooperate with police to catch their rapists. Tragically, Congress allowed the law to expire. It needs to be renewed.
The good news is there are abundant resources for survivors of sexual assault. But what can we as individuals do about rape? First, we should speak out there is never a justification for nonconsensual sex, ever. We should say loud and clear to our friends who are survivors of rape they have nothing to be ashamed of, that there is help available for their recovery, and that perpetrators of sexual assault will be found, prosecuted and punished.
William Holston is an attorney from Dallas and executive director of the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas.