I was fortunate to have both sons and daughters. Like most parents, watching my children mature into young adulthood has brought me insurmountable joy and pride. Also like any 21st century mother, I consistently reassured my girls that they could achieve whatever they set their minds to. Gender played no role in their ultimate success or happiness. I told them “like a girl” should not come with a negative connotation.
My girls have matured into women who do not find their value or confidence in a man. I would like to think that my parenting played a role in that mindset. I would also like to think that I raised my daughters the same way I raised my sons. But I did not. Sadly, I could not. For every positive affirmation I gave my girls, I relented with a concern for their safety.
Even in 2020, we cannot raise our daughters the same as our sons, because violence against women is a very real and very tragic part of our society. As women, we are taught, and we teach other women and girls, to be careful – watch your drink if you're in a public place; don't go to the parking lot alone, have a man escort you; park your car in a well-lit area; carry mace or another tool to protect yourself; always be aware of your surroundings; don't drink too much or someone might take advantage of you.
These little tidbits are words that all women have been told at some point in their life. They are the justification for horrifying scenarios that play over in our minds as women every time we go to our car at night.
However, the data indicates that we should be sharing different warnings. The sort that don't include strange monsters lurking in the shadows.
According to an analysis of the 2011 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS), nearly 1 in 3 women (31.5%) experiences physical violence by an intimate partner at some point in her lifetime.
The same data showed that 19.3% of women are raped at some time in their lives, and 43.9% experience sexual violence other than rape. Nearly half of the time, the perpetrator is someone the victim knows: almost half of the female rape victims surveyed (46.7%) said they had at least one perpetrator who was an acquaintance, and a similar proportion (45.4%) said they had least one perpetrator who was an intimate partner.
In a report released in 2016 by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, a much higher rate of offenders known to the victim was reported, showing that from 2005 to 2010, 78% of victims knew their attacker. While we are warning our daughters of “stranger danger,” statistically the real danger is much closer to home.
In 2013, the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MCASA) reported that if a survivor has a personal relationship with the offender, they are much less likely to report the assault. The MCASA's list of reasons the assaults go unreported include the following: fearing there wasn't enough evidence; belief that the police would not do anything to help; fear of reprisal; and not wanting family or others to know.
Pronouncements by elected officials normalizing sexual assault makes these hardships more difficult to acknowledge and report. Although, the “#MeToo” movement has brought more attention and awareness to the issue of sexual violence against women, we have yet to see any reports acknowledging that the movement has impacted the incidence of violence against women.
We must continue the conversation and empower our daughters with the knowledge that sexual assault comes in many forms, even from familiar relationships. Our girls must know that they have the right to say “no” and that they have the support of those around them to come forward and expose sexual violence.
Fort Wayne attorney Rachel Guin is a partner with Fletcher Van Gilder LLP.