Thank you for being someone who cares enough to learn more about the crime of acquaintance rape and to become part of the solution. Maybe you are a survivor. Maybe you know a survivor. Maybe you know someone who didn’t survive or was simply never the same. Or maybe you are among those who can just imagine what it might be like to not be listened to about the most fundamental aspects of your being. Whatever the source of your compassion; I am honored that you are here. Your voice is needed.
This petition is straightforward and simple and you can quickly sign just on the basis of the few words above - no more information necessary. If you would like more background, please read on. Please share any comments and resources you have to offer. You are invited to personally email everyone you know with the link and ask them to sign, and to post the link to organizations you have contact with.
When I have an impressive amount of signatures, I will join forces with existing organizations and present your signatures and comments to representative who can listen and who can help write laws that will work. I will update you before that happens.
Because the problem of rape, in particular acquaintance rape in all its forms, is mind-bogglingly widespread and the effects are beyond devastating to both survivor and society, there is a clear mandate for many types of legislative reform. The goal of this reform would be to bring more offenders to trial, consequence, and rehabilitation, and to inhibit future crimes so as to begin to create equal safety and freedom for all our citizens.
Here is one example of how legislation could be improved: Legally define sexual contact in which any one person is intoxicated by any substance to a point where consent/judgement is reasonably questionable as rape; hold all perpetrators, known and unknown to the victim, legally accountable. This would make it counter productive for the accused to site the victim's alleged intoxication as reason they should not be listened to or respected. It also serves as powerful deterrent toward initiating unwanted sexual contact with someone who is under the obvious influence of drugs or alcohol.
Right now, if you are raped by someone you happen to know when you are intoxicated or merely accused of being intoxicated, misguided people, including authorities such as the police, will blame YOU. Yet, if someone you know rapes you, the excuse of their own intoxication is successfully used to avoid public blame, investigation, and prosecution. This individual, or group of individuals, might even openly brag on social media without fear of consequence, such as recently contributed to the murders (or, perhaps, assisted suicides with malicious intent) of Rehtaeh Parsons and Audrie Pott, two beloved and exceptionally promising teens. As an expression of appropriate grief and outrage, please sign this petition and ask all your friends to sign. This is one way we can use our collective power to make things better.
Clearly, both attitudes, the “victim” is at fault for being intoxicated and the perpetrator is innocent for being intoxicated, feed the disturbingly high incidence of acquaintance rape. Acquaintance rape is now a national epidemic, with conservative estimates from reliable sources establishing that at least 20% of females have experienced rape, 90% of whom know their assailant. Less than 2% of alleged rapists will stand trial, and far fewer will receive consequences in the form of incarceration or rehabilitation. These statistics become even more grim for the military, where overt ranking of power combines with a definition of rape even more narrow than what we, as a nation, have established for civilians. This illustrates the intuitive relationship between how rape is defined, the rate at which it is prosecuted, and the rate of occurrence. (Sources include the U.S. Department of Justice report by Rana Sampson and The National Intimate Partner and Sexual VIolence Survey, 2010.) Though males experience this crime with much less frequency, given societal attitudes, they are even less likely to seek support or pursue justice. We can only expect the scope of the problem of acquaintance rape, in and out of the military, and for both genders, to grow worse until we change direction as a culture.
We are in no position to point a finger of blame at other cultures or nations for policy and practice which systematizes violence against women, and to impose intervention featuring a military that has not dealt with internal violence, with statistics such as the above publicly available from many sources and commonly accepted as accurate. This is not behavior which makes anyone more safe and is a complete misuse of resources which might.
There are predictable, consistent, and chronic health consequences of acquaintance rape which are personally devastating to the survivor and her/his family and which require significant, and too often inaccessible, resources to manage. These include, and are not limited to, a well documented list including: Post traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, unwanted pregnancy, venereal disease, drug and alcohol abuse and addiction, and a myriad of other serious physical ailments, along with increased risk and incidence of suicide (if “self destruction” is an appropriate term given the obvious involvement of others) with the immeasurable losses to loved ones and society which inevitably result. It most often takes many years and innumerable resources for quality of life to resume to levels experienced prior to the experience of rape. Many survivors do not have access to adequate resources, including health insurance and peer and other support systems necessary for complete recovery.
It is important to understand that the health consequences of acquaintance rape are every bit as challenging to overcome as the health consequences of the equally serious, yet much less prevalent, stranger rape. In many cases, learning to trust friends and loved ones again, which is necessary for recovery, can be even more challenging for survivors of acquaintance rape.
Despite the higher incidence and devastating health consequences of acquaintance rape, stranger rape remains more openly feared in our culture. This results in lack of appropriate response to the nature of the more common problem; less public discourse about acquaintance rape and fewer resources devoted to preventing this particular crime. Survivors of acquaintance rape are even less likely to receive peer, family, and public support, and police and judicial response than survivors of stranger rape. Prosecutors are far more likely to bring to trial those accused of stranger rape, particularly if the accused is a member of a marginalized group due to ethnicity, race, or income. This may reflect the human tendency to want to see the “enemy” as somehow different from ourselves, or, perhaps, more easily identified or contained. The fact remains that most rapes are committed by acquaintances or family members of all description who are very often under the influence of intoxicating substances which we, as a society, allow to be exonerating. These individuals need not trouble themselves with the weapon or mask we ascribe to the slightly more culpable “stranger.” Society has already granted the acquaintance and family member power and impunity by refusal to grant equal voice to the survivor. In every way that matters, however, one who rapes a friend or a family member is a stranger to that person. We needs courtrooms to see it that way.
This is why, as one of the first steps toward improvement, we need to turn the tables and insist that the presence of drugs and alcohol in the body of either the victim or the accused is another reason to bring a rape case to trial rather than reason to consistently avoid this public exploration of justice that we universally consider one of the basic tenets of our democracy. If one chooses to initiate sex with someone who is drunk or high, or if one is themselves drunk or high when initiating sex, one can, and often will, be found guilty of rape. The shame of such an action is placed on the shoulders of the perpetrator and not on the shoulders of the survivor, a documented shift in attitude which would alone inhibit many crimes.
What about people who want to have sex when they are intoxicated? Couples can continue to determine for themselves whether they can appropriately express their sexuality when under the influence of any chemical. This would presuppose a high level of communication, trust, and maturity for both partners; something clearly different than what occurs in cases of acquaintance rape. It is a dangerous misconception that there are significant numbers of people who falsely claim they have been raped and that, therefore, policy should focus on protecting innocent victims of spurious accusation. People who engage in sexual behaviors they choose typically go on with their lives happily. By affirming that all people have the same right to say yes to the sexual experiences they choose without prejudice or shaming, we can further reduce any motivation to make false accusation that might currently influence a minutiae of accusers. This petition does not seek to reduce access to the justice system for any person. Systems, such as the status quo, which do seek to limit access to the justice system for large numbers of people, ought to be considered suspect.
Legislating change is only one of many necessary steps, but it is perhaps the most concrete, the most simple, and, coupled with education and judicial response, the most likely to have far reaching positive results. Sincere change in the United States might even support sincere change beyond our borders. There is, with certainty, every reason to make it our highest priority to explore options, and no reason not to sign “YES” and pass on the link.
In the United States, and many other nations, it is commonly accepted that one cannot legally operate a motor vehicle while under the influece of any chemical due to risk to self and others. Likewise, due to risk to self and others, one should not be able to either give consent for sex or decide that consent has been given under the influence of any chemical.
Thank you for your time and concern. Please find more ways to talk about this issue and share information and ideas. There are many legislative changes necessary and much to be done outside the law enforcement, legislative, and judiciary systems. We can all be part of the solution.
Margaret Ruth Fleming