Rape, sexual assault need greater attention

(Terre Haute) Tribune-Star

When the facts, figures, commentary and analysis about the devastating impact of rape in our society have been consumed, the daunting, even haunting, question is: What can we do to stop it?

As reporter Sue Loughlin skillfully related in recent stories, Malea Crosby and Christina Hale are two women who know the problem well and are seeking solutions to the complex, perplexing social problem that plagues not only the United States but the world.

This newspaper’s editorial board met these two women in early May as we sought to better understand an issue that merits significant and ongoing attention.

Crosby, a Terre Haute resident, is a rape survivor who now seeks to help others. Hale, a first-term state legislator from Indianapolis, is working to persuade the Indiana General Assembly to get serious about the issue.

Crosby, Hale and others who are standing up against rape will need all of their persuasive powers to make the kind of impact in Indiana they seek on one of our society’s most threatening, most damaging and ugliest realities.

As Loughlin relates in her reports, Indiana has compelling reasons to be concerned. A 2008 CDC survey indicated that at least one in six Hoosier girls has been raped before finishing high school. A study to take place this summer, ordered by a piece of legislation that Hale influenced, will seek to quantify a more contemporary statistic. It also will attempt to determine how many males are raped, a crime that appears even more underreported than women’s rapes.

Knowing the dimension of the problem based on fresh, current information is important if new energy is to be breathed into efforts to fight sexual assault and its complex reverberations.

Even if the information found in the study is better or worse than expected, the result can be turned into a positive and used to build momentum. At least our state can know the true dimension of the enemy and plot ways to attack it.

Crosby and Hale — while decrying the abject seriousness of the problem — also maintain an admirable degree of optimism that our state can do something. Hale, in fact, says this is an area in which Indiana can “take the lead.”

That will entail, these women told us, renewed strength in at least two simultaneous approaches:

We must do more to connect victims to legal, medical and psychological services they need. Too many females (and males) have suffered in the shadows, ashamed of what was not their fault, stunted from forming close relationships, fearful that others will know. These factors prevent too many victims from reporting their assaults and seeing their attackers punished.

We must do more to prevent these crimes, which are growing at what Crosby and Hale call a “terrifying” rate. Most sex crimes are committed by men, who were once boys. It is at this “boy” stage that adults in schools, in youth organizations, in religious groups and in homes must reach future rapists before they rape, or, alas, rape again. So many factors have loosened society’s view of sex — addictive exposure to pornography is one — that a re-education is necessary. Hale called it raising generations that are better citizens.

Although Hale is a Democrat in a Republican domain at the Indiana Statehouse, the issue is not a partisan one. She credits many Republicans — such as Rep. Jim Merritt from Indianapolis — with joining her in the quest and offering support.

We are all horrified to read about gang rapes in third-world countries of the world. We shake our heads and say how awful that is.

But rape in our communities also is an act of violence and our civic, governmental, religious, educational and media leaders need to speak up much more loudly and much more often.

We all need to say no.

Distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to ddavis@tribtown.com.