Criminal Law and Sentencing Committee 2 – Underreporting of Sex Crimes Against Girls

As I mentioned in part 1, the Indiana General Assembly’s Criminal Law & Sentencing Policy Study Committee received a variety of testimony at its October 31, 2013, meeting. Rep. Hale reported that, according to the Center for Disease Control, one in six girls in Indiana has been raped or sexually assaulted. Rep. Hale further indicated that the number is actually higher because crimes are under-reported. According to federal data, Indiana is the second worst state in the nation for rape and sexual assault against high school aged girls.

There were several witnesses. The first recounted an incident when she was in high school where she was making out with a guy in the front seat of a car, voluntarily got into the back seat of the car, but was ignored by the guy when she screamed “No! Please Stop!”

She says she didn’t report the rape because she thought she would be blamed because of the way it started out with an innocent make-out session in the front seat of a car.

“It kinda leads to the, you know, the self-blame, the self-doubt. Why did I put myself in that situation that’s so often confirmed by society. So I was asked to get in the back seat. And at that point I was fine with what was going to happen. At the moment that he began to have sex with me, I remember screaming, ‘No! Please stop!'” Crosby said.

Crosby says after dealing with a mother in denial about the rape and an ER doctor who didn’t seem interested, she just shut up.

Dr. Hibbard, a pediatrician at Riley’s Children’s Hospital, testified that kids often don’t know they have been assaulted or, if they do, blame themselves. They are also afraid of the intrusive nature of a subsequent investigation if they do report the incident.

In response to a question from Senator Young concerning mandatory reporting, Dr. Hibbard testified that reporting is complicated because a child who is 14 or 15 year old and who has had consensual sexual intercourse may or may not be the victim of abuse or neglect, depending on the age of the child’s partner. In addition, if a child does not perceive that the sexual contact is a crime, the child will not report it.

Anita Carpenter of the Indiana Coalition Against Sexual Assault testified that sexual assault education is the most important step for improving reporting; and that schools should provide this education. Dr. Parrish-Sprowl, a professor at IUPUI said that a study should be conducted that determines how much underreporting actually occurs. He anticipates that a study such as the one he has in mind would cost about $50,000 – $60,000.

An article (pdf) by Katie Cierniak, Julia R. Heiman, and Jonathan A. Plucker, published in January 2012, contains additional information about the data.

The CDC recently (December 2011) released U.S. data on the prevalence of sexual violence nationwide, in their National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Summary Report. This survey estimates that approximately 1 in 5 women in Indiana have been victims of rape at some point within their lifetime (Black et al., 2011). Furthermore, a 2009 survey indicates that females in 9th -12th grades in Indiana have the second highest rate in the nation of forced sexual intercourse (CDC, 2010).
. . .
In the survey, rape is defined as “any completed or attempted unwanted vaginal (for women), oral, or anal penetration through the use of physical force (such as being pinned or held down, or by the use of violence) or threats to physically harm and includes times when the victim was drunk, high, drugged, or passed out and unable to consent.

Types of rape were broken up into three categories: completed forced penetration was reported by 12.3% of women; attempted forced penetration by 5%; and alcohol and drug facilitated rape reported by 8%. For women, rapes are typically perpetrated by current or former spouses or boyfriends and typically happen when they are young: 42% prior to the age of 18 and 80% prior to the age of 25. College women appear to be especially vulnerable. Among males, rape statistics are much lower, but boys who are assaulted are likely to be assaulted at a much younger age and, males in general are less likely to report rape.

On Rep. Hale’s Facebook entry on the subject, Steph Mineart had a good suggestion:

Can we gather some evidence about who is committing these crimes? We know a lot of the statistics about the girls who are victims. They must be talking about who the perpetrators are, right? Can we get a window into that data? Having profiles and data about the perpetrators would go a long way towards getting them off the streets and into jails where they belong, or at least educating them properly about how not to be criminals. It seems to me that directly addressing them as the problem instead of dancing around the issue talking about sex education would help a lot.

The article by Cierniak, et al, says that studies have attempted to identify characteristics of perpetrators, but I did not see much information about those characteristics in the paper. About all I could discern was that the perpetrators were known to their victims. I share the desire to know more about the perpetrators because I think that would really help to make the situation less foreign to me. My frame of reference is that of an adult white male. The closest I ever got to sexual assault was a teenage acquaintance who was a little too interested in waving his penis around when he was with a group of guys. So, I have a tough time imagining the internal narrative of a guy who decides it’s o.k. to pressure a girl into sex or rape her. I doubt it’s as simple as a two dimensional villain who just wants to get off and doesn’t give a shit about who gets hurt in the process. But, maybe it is. And I wonder if it’s a wide spectrum of guys committing the rapes or is it a relatively narrow group of guys who, for some reason, get around a lot. Teaching guys that these internal narratives, whatever they are, are not acceptable would be helpful. Identifying the techniques these guys (if it’s a narrow spectrum) use to get around so they can be counteracted would be helpful.

As a father of both a boy and a girl who aren’t that far off from being teens, this sort of information horrifies me. Teaching the boy not to be a rapist is relatively straight forward. Teaching the girl how to avoid rapists is more of a mystery to me.


    • says

      I agree – and the shaming of the girl is probably perpetrated by friends and family members of her rapist, and egged on by the community who doesn’t know better. I mention down-thread about the “social license to operate” that serial rapists rely on to carry out their criminal acts, and this is a vivid example.

  1. Stuart says

    Exhoosier, I had to check that story for location twice. At first I thought it was a story from Afghanistan. I guess you can’t always predict who the fundamentalists are.

  2. says

    “Teaching the girl how to avoid rapists is more of a mystery to me.” No shit, dude. Me too. Scares the hell out of me. Anna goes to school in an affluent suburb surrounded by kids who are used to getting their way with *all sorts* of things. Her mother worries about her traveling abroad with strangers but I worry about her walking the halls of a school where boys sodomize each other on the bus as part of a sports team hazing ritual, and girls have eating disorders to stay skinny and attract said boys. Ugh.

    Sex ed is AWFUL here. Never mind empowering girls and making boys empathetic, they’re not even getting the basics. STIs were covered in only a few paragraphs in her health textbook and the rest of the relevant info was brushed aside with “it’s better to wait until marriage.” I was appalled.

    Good luck with Harper. A former coworker once said to me that having a son means worrying about one penis but having a daughter means worrying about all penises–ain’t that the truth?

  3. Stuart says

    So Indiana is the 2nd worst state in the nation for rape and sexual assault in high schools? You can bet the reason is much more than a decent sex ed class, passing a few laws or knowing the exact number of kids who were rapists or who was raped. This is a culture we’re talking about, and you guys should be scared, because being scared can lead to constructive events. The culture doesn’t want to hear about it, which is part of the problem, so this subject should have been a front page ongoing story with well-covered hearings in all the papers, not just a discussion topic on a blog 1 1/2 months after the hearing. That should have been followed with angry letters to the editor and editorials wondering why such a wonderful and heavenly state as Indiana should be in the middle of such a disaster. Of course, that might mean the governor and legislature have to set an agenda where sexual assault of kids is more important than a constitutional amendment to ban gays from marrying.

    • says

      There were at least a few articles both at the time of the hearing and a year earlier when one of the reports came out. I’m trying to get my head around the cultural part.

      Granted it’s been a number of years, but I grew up as a boy in Indiana, and I certainly never received anything like a message that it was o.k. to rape or that I was entitled to sex or anything of the sort. I’m a data point of one, so the fact that I didn’t pick up the signal doesn’t necessarily mean anything; but I consider myself a fairly perceptive guy, so I wonder what it is that I missed.

      It would help to know more about the people committing the rapes. Are 20% of the guys committing rapes against 20% of the girls. Or are 5% or 1% of the guys really getting around? Is there anything about these guys that is unique or special in some fashion in a way that’s correlated with their commission of rape?

  4. says

    There are some studies on a national level about who the predators are, and it isn’t necessarily what one would expect; it’s not just guys who want to get off and don’t care who they hurt… there is a pattern to their behavior, and most of the time they’ve done it more than once.

    Yes Means Yes blog has an excellent post examining the modus operandi of serial rapists (based on data gathered in those studies) called “Meet the Predators”

    Part of the reason I was making the point about focusing more studies on Indiana predators specifically was because so much of the language of what I was reading surrounding the anomaly of Indiana’s stats was dancing around using the words “crime” and “criminals.” Hale particularly, but the news reports generally, were focused on the girls and on “education” about consent, whereas I want to identify and incarcerate the criminals, not just teach. Sure, we need to talk about consent, but the reality, based on the predator studies that have been done, is that these guys know damned well they’re doing something wrong, and they even know it’s a criminal act. They specifically target girls and women in particular ways to take advantage of the “social license to operate” that our culture gives them. ( The fact that they operate to leverage that social license indicates that they know what they’re doing isn’t right.

    The other part of the reason is because Indiana is so high compared to the rest of the country – 17.3% of high school age girls report having been forced into unwanted sexual intercourse, as opposed to 10.5% for the rest of the population. That statistical anomaly is very much worth investigating; why is our state #2 on this list, and especially in comparison to our surrounding states? What the hell is going on here in Indiana that we have this strangely outsized problem?

    And it’s an interesting coincidence that Hale is tackling this problem – this is part of the subject of the fiction novel I’m writing, set here in Indianapolis, so her involvement has surfaced a lot of useful data for me that goes beyond the documentary and a handful of online sources that was using as a resource. I really hope that she can help make a difference. At the very least, this conversation needs to keep happening until we can find ways to make substantive change.

    • says

      I posted the link to the Feministe piece by Thomas within a couple of minutes of you posting the link to his “Yes Means Yes” blog. Great minds! (Thanks for the more authoritative link.)

  5. says

    And I’m reminded of that conversation we had, Doug, about drinking and keeping college students safe. This was some of the frame of reference I was using making my list, because alcohol and drugs, including non-consensual drugged drink spiking, are common tools that serial predators leverage to make use of the social license to operate. If they can incapacitate their target victims, blame them for drinking, suggest that the rape was consensual but the victim doesn’t remember, or that both parties were drunk they can obscure questions of consent and get away with their crime, leaving women little to use use to prosecute. And our society is likely to blame the woman for drinking and not believe her story.

    • says

      I recall that. Thanks for reminding me of the conversation.

      The social license to operate concept coupled with a picture that rapists are, by and large, predators operating with some level of malice or certain knowledge that their actions are wrong paints a scenario that a guy like me can at least begin to grapple with.

      My brain, I think, is narrative driven (most probably are, I suspect). Where I’m given no narrative about the perpetrator and cautioned against developing a narrative about the victim (because the narrative so often tends to carry an element of blame), I’m left with nothing much to process mentally. “Don’t rape.” O.k., but I thought we all already knew that.

      Seems like we’re in a better place if there is more to the story where we can continue on to something like “rapists know it’s wrong to rape, but they do it anyway because of x, y, and z.” Then we can at least look to neutralize x, y, and z in some fashion.

      • says

        I agree about needing narrative. I think that’s why – absent a more clear picture of who rapists really are – society tends to default back to that image of a stranger lurking in the bushes and jumping out at women. It’s black and white; it allows for a clear motive on the part of the rapist and a more blameless image on the part of the victim, and that makes it a comforting narrative; as long as we don’t go out after dark and avoid strangers, we’ll be safe. Unfortunately that mistaken ideal about who predators really are leaves women vulnerable to trusting people they should be wary of, and it contributes to the social license to operate that we allow predators to use.

        • says

          It also leaves non-predatory guys in the dark as to how to clean up the neighborhood. It does such men no good to have predatory men poisoning the relationship between the genders.

          • says

            I can’t remember if it was in that blog post I linked to or another, but Yes Means Yes had an interesting thought process on how observant men and women can interrupt a predator’s script for grooming women as potential targets, based on observing how predators operate to isolate and incapacitate women, or mess with their heads about consent and boundaries and their own agency to control their bodies. I’d have to hunt around for that post, because I don’t think I bookmarked it, and I have a design deliverable this afternoon. But it’s worth finding and reading, especially if you are wanting your kids to have all the tools in their arsenal to understand and prevent this from happening to themselves or people they care about.

            Another thing to note is the ages involved – between the DCD and that CEEP report, it becomes apparent that while high school aged girls are doing the reporting, often the ages where they were assaulted in Indiana were 12-17 years, which can include middle school. Less likely that alcohol is involved there, although not impossible.

            • says

              I wonder if there is an age differential often at play with the younger girls. Seems like there is a tendency to date older guys. Predatory guys might be inclined to use that differential as a tool to push boundaries.

              • says

                At least from my anecdotal observation, it can also be guys on the periphery of a girl or young woman’s social circle. A person in my family was raped at 6 by a teenage neighbor of ours, and we didn’t find out until she was in high school, because he threatened to kill our family dog if she told.

                A middle-school friend of mine was raped by her older sister’s senior-in-high-school boyfriend. No one believed her because they accused her of having a crush on him and following him around, jealous of her older sister. It was almost 15 years of estrangement from her sister and eventually family before they actually believed she had been telling the truth.

                Two young women in my high school were seduced/raped by different athletic coaches in different years and it was hushed up by the school and the men were let go, but both went on to jobs in other Indiana school systems.

                A friend of mine in college was raped by her roommate’s boyfriend. She had been out drinking and wasn’t safe to drive home, so he volunteered to take her, and then raped her after escorting her to her dorm room. She reported it, but the college didn’t investigate and the roommate didn’t believe her boyfriend was capable of such a thing. He later raped another girl who’s family made a big public stink about it, and it came out that he had done it repeatedly when my friend and two other girls came forward. All four women testified, but he got three months in jail and was back on campus the next semester. They didn’t even kick him out of college.

                Those are all cases where it wasn’t a direct romantic partner but an acquaintance who uses a power imbalance as leverage.

                I think that of all of the women I’ve talked to, I’m one of the few who was actually raped by a stranger, but even then, he had been stalking me for awhile, so he knew who I was, although I didn’t know him.

  6. Stuart says

    As you may know, rape isn’t just a sexual crime. It is a violent crime. The society at large has not figured out how to deal with the big issues of sex and aggression, and the culture sends mixed messages to children and adults which only confuse the issue. But it gets complicated fast. Just consider India, which is probably one of the most up tight and repressed societies, yet one where sexual assault is a huge problem. Here, in Indiana, it’s interesting to see a number of pressures in play, where we see rampant repression and refusal to talk and express outrage, poor sex education with nonsense about abstinence short-circuiting full discussion and social stigma in a community placed on a girl who was raped. Without a full and open discussion among knowledgeable people, you only get parts of the elephant. There are some really unhelpful themes running through all of this, where people don’t express outrage at the rapists, blame the victim and refuse to air this as a monstrous social problem.

    Now I have not read the hearing report, but if they really wanted to understand this problem, they needed to call in some sociologists and forensic psychologists who talk about this sort of thing every day. I don’t think a pediatrician is in a position to address this huge social problem that it is.

Leave a Reply