Excerpt on the State of Things

The following is an excerpt from an article that I was writing, but which I think I may just nix as it doesn’t quite methodologically fit with the rest of the piece.  I figured that it would be better to share it than let it sit on my computer forever.

The State of Things

As I write these words, the situation regarding rape in North America is grim. 

The past thirty years has seen an increase in the number of surveys and studies of the incidence of rape and sexual violence in all sectors of society and they have tended to reinforce similar conclusions.  

Rape is woefully under-reported.  In the Ottawa area, for instance, estimates are that eight women will be raped on any given day, yet only one will report it (OCTEVAW I, OCTEVAW II); StatsCan estimates that only 8% of sexual assaults are ever reported.  It has been suggested that the primary reasons for victim’s reluctance to approach authorities is lack of action on the part of authorities.  This has become particularly problematic in the past twenty years when, in Canada, despite stronger evidentiary gathering methods, tougher laws against stalkers and spousal abuse, and an increased awareness of the problems of rape, charges laid against accused rapists have actually gone down rather than up (Avalon).[1]  

At the same time (1993-2010) as accusations have become less likely to become charges, the rates of sexual assaults being reported to police has gone down across Canada (StatsCan 2008/2009 , StatsCan 2009/2010).  Canada has a relatively progressive criminal regime regarding rape and sexual assault where there is no such crime as “rape” per se, but three different levels of sexual assault based on the severity of the attack.  This was intended to get away from the “res in re” definition of rape that we inherited from the early modern period and increase the likelihood that victims would step forward and report their assaults.  Sadly, it seems not to have happened.  Though false reporting does happen, it happens at a rate equal to that of false reporting for other crimes, approximately 2-4% (SASC).  Finally, women often don’t report incidents of sexual assault because they do not define their victimization as rape.

Between one in four and one in three Canadian women will be sexually assaulted over the course of their lifetime and that rate increases drastically when looking at the populations of university campuses.  

A number of American studies since the 1970s have repeatedly shown that schools and college campuses are hostile environments for women.  A recent national survey in the United States found 83% of girls reporting sexual harassment in their schools (Stein 12).  In a groundbreaking study by Mary Koss looking at sexual assault on university campuses in the San Francisco Bay area, Koss found that 44% of students had been sexually assaulted or had been victim of attempted sexual assault (Bourke17-8); later studies suggested that the actual rate was around 54% (Ottens 4). 

Surveys of male college students in the United States have proven particularly illuminating.  In one study, one in four college age males admitted to at least one attempt of sexual intercourse by force (Kanin 428-33).  Another early study found that 12% of college aged males admitted that they would commit sexual assault if there was no change of being reported and punished, which percentage has been suggested to be, if anything, too low and that the actual number is somewhere around one in three college aged males (Koss and Oros 455-7; NYU Student Health Center; Fisher, Cullen, Turner). 

These statistics tell a story that, as a scholar and a teacher, came home to me when I was teaching Titus Andronicus for the first time to a group of undergraduates at the University of Guelph.  I took my cue from Davida Bloom’s article “Moving Beyond Naturalism: Using a Discussion of Miss Julie to Educate Students about Date Rape” wherein she argues for the use of statistics in the classroom like the ones that I have just rehearsed as a means to get students not only invested in the topic but self-aware.  

After I had gone through the list of depressing statistics, I pointed out, without really thinking at the time of the implications of my statement, “Statistically speaking, someone in this room has been raped.  Statistically speaking, someone in this room has committed rape.”  Half of the class who I had led through a discussion of Titus Andronicus’ presentation of the repeated mutilation and violation of Lavinia were either victimized and traumatized by sexual assault (in the past or the foreseeable future), or were the perpetrators of sexual violence (or would do so if responsibility for such an assault were removed).  This realization of the epidemic nature of sexual assault – even in my own classroom– has shifted my thinking.


[1]“In 2006, 32 percent of reported sexual assaults in Nova Scotia resulted in the laying of a charge against the accused, down from 56 percent in 1993” (Avalon).  Nova Scotia is currently the province with the lowest rates of charging men accused of rape and has the highest acquittal rate of any province in Canada.
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