President Obama’s administration has been plagued from the outset by Republicans’ persistent effort to chip away at women’s human rights. Two recent examples: In 2012, Republicans stalled the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act for the first time since it was signed in 1994. In 2013, 70 measures to restrict access to abortion were enacted across the country, second only to 2011 for most restrictions enacted in one year. To say it’s been an uphill battle to combat Republicans’ anti-woman lobbying is an understatement.
But Obama’s administration has been persistent, too, particularly in the battle to end sexual violence. Earlier this week, the White House Council on Women and Girls, along with the Vice President’s office, released a report detailing the far-reaching impact of rape in the U.S. The report is powerful in its simplicity: It contains a catalog of the number of rapes committed against particular groups, examines the mental-health consequences of the crime and details the ways in which law enforcement is failing victims.
The report’s numbers are stark:
- More than 33 percent of multiracial women have been raped (compared to nearly 20 percent of the total population of women).
- Nearly half of women survivors are raped before age 18.
- More than a third of women raped as minors are raped again later in life.
- More than 25 percent of men raped are victimized before the age of 10.
- The overall economic cost of rape—factoring in victim services, decreased quality of life, loss of productivity and law enforcement resources—is between $87,000 and $240,776 per rape.
- Among college-aged rapists, 63 percent admitted to committing an average of six rapes each.
These figures are bleak, but President’s Obama’s administration has shown a commitment to reducing violence against women that’s unlike past presidencies. George W. Bush, for example, signed the Prison Rape Elimination Act into law in 2003— a laudable effort to protect the incarcerated from victimization—but simultaneously waged a War on Women, disbanding both the President’s Interagency Council on Women and the White House Office of Women’s Initiatives and Outreach and generally eroding women’s rights.
So an acknowledgement by the current presidency—along with a commitment to testing backlogged rape-evidence kits, increased funding for law-enforcement training programs and the establishment of a White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault—is significant.
Information is power, and a report like this is a powerful tool in the battle to shut down the “women lie about rape” and “she deserved it” narratives that plague media reports and our justice system.
Stephanie Hallett is a writer and editor in Los Angeles. She can be found on Twitter @stephhallett.