Carol Anne Costa: Sexual Assault Can Happen to Anyone

Thursday, January 23, 2014


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When we begin to unpack the facts about sexual assault in 2014, did you know?

  • Women and girls are the vast majority of victims: nearly 1 in 5 women – or nearly 22 million – have been raped in their lifetimes.
  • Men and boys, however, are also at risk: 1 in 71 men – or almost 1.6 million – have been raped during their lives.
  • Women of all races are targeted, but some are more vulnerable than others: 33.5% of multiracial women have been raped, as have 27% of American Indian and Alaska Native women, compared to 15% of Hispanic, 22% of Black, and 19% of White women.
  • Most victims know their assailants.
  • The vast majority (nearly 98%) of perpetrators are male.
  • Young people are especially at risk: nearly half of female survivors were raped before they were 18, and over one-quarter of male survivors were raped before they were 10 years old.
  • College students are particularly vulnerable: 1 in 5 women has been sexually assaulted while in college.
  • Repeat victimization is common: over a third of women who were raped as minors were also raped as adults.

This according to a newly released report entitled “ Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action, prepared by the White House Council on Women and Girls and the Office of the Vice President. These statistics are staggering, frightening and this report should become an important source of information, but more, a cry for Americans to mobilize. I can tell you personally as a retired Superior Court Clerk that cases of sexual assault were some of the most difficult trials to sit through. The pain, embarrassment and shear terror that lived on the faces of the victims who testified and the agony of family members present in the gallery was palpable. But as a community, state and nation what is a path forward to slash the incidents of assault and how can we better protect and heal the victims.

Who is at Most Risk

The report lays out the most vulnerable populations: teens and young adults, people with disabilities, the incarcerated, the LGBT community, the homeless, undocumented immigrants and particularly college campus communities. As my niece and so many other young people in my life are preparing to make their way to college next year, it sends shivers down my spine. The report research indicates that 1 in 5 women has been sexually assaulted while in college. It states further that the dynamics of college life appear to fuel the problem, as many survivors are victims of what’s called “incapacitated assault”: they are sexually abused while drunk, under the influence of drugs, passed out, or otherwise incapacitated. Perpetrators often prey on incapacitated women, and sometimes surreptitiously provide their victims with drugs or alcohol. From my perspective, we all have a big stake in this troubling problem. The conversations must begin with a responsible adult talking honestly with our college age kids, providing, not only admonitions but support and education. This process should begin way before they are decorating the dorms. That is why funding our school’s resource programs and arming our teachers and guidance counselors is such a valuable cog in the machinery.

As a nation we have faced problems and through education and proactive measures and change has come on issues like smoking and lead paint. More recently the scourge of bullying is being exposed and we are moving collectively to empower our children to fight back and take a stand. We now require a head on collision with rape. In April of 2012 President Obama said, “It is up to all of us to ensure victims of sexual violence are not left to face these trials alone. Too often, survivors suffer in silence, fearing retribution, lack of support, or that the criminal justice system will fail to bring the perpetrator to justice. We must do more to raise awareness about the realities of sexual assault; confront and change insensitive attitudes wherever they persist; enhance training and education in the criminal justice system; and expand access to critical health, legal, and protection services for survivors.” I totally agree Mr. President.

The Numbers Don’t Lie

According to the report, the economic costs of a rape include medical and victim services, loss of productivity, decreased quality of life, and law enforcement resources. Each entity surveyed used a slightly different methodology, but all found the costs to be significant: ranging from $87,000 to $240,776 per rape. It makes economic sense to attack this problem with gusto. Take into account some of the other stats revealed and remember every stat is a person and each bears an economic cost but more than that each carries a huge emotional toll:

  • A study found that in the mid-1990s, women with severe disabilities were

four times more likely to be sexually assaulted than women with no disability. A more

recent study made similar findings, reporting that individuals with a disability were three

times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than individuals without a disability.

  • People who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT)

are also uniquely vulnerable. One study found that 13.2% of bisexual men and 11.6% of

gay men were raped in adulthood, compared to 1.6% of heterosexual men.

  • One study found that 13% of homeless women had been raped in the previous

year, and half of these women were raped at least twice.

We can only fix this with a plan of action. The White House and Vice President Biden launched the 1is2many initiative in 2012. This is another resource available to educate, motivate and help us all to craft a path forward.

As the news is filled with the politics of traffic jams and traffic tickets, let us not lose sight of this new research. Let us use this report as a call to action and I will keep my eyes trained on Smith Street with the hope that a visionary Legislator or Executive in conjunction with many of our motivated victims' rights advocates will provide more tools in this fight.

Carol Costa is a public relations and community outreach specialist; she has experience in both the public and private sectors. She is the Chairwoman of the Scituate Democratic Town Committee and has extensive community affairs and public relations experience. She previously served in the Rhode Island Judiciary for nearly 17 years. Carol also enjoyed a successful development stint at the Diocese of Providence as Associate Director for Catholic Education and is currently a public housing manager. Her work has been published in several local outlets including GoLocal, Valley Breeze, The Rhode Island Catholic, and Currents Magazine.


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