Read it and weep — this statement from a young woman attacked by a Stanford freshman. Having been convicted of sexually assaulting her while she was unconscious, he has now been tapped with a ruler on the wrist.
Just over 25 years ago, we published a series in The Des Moines Register called “It Couldn’t Happen to Me: One Woman’s Story.” I felt we were taking one strong step to move rape out of the darkness in which it flourished. Whatever society’s pretensions against it, we seemed unlikely to act against it until we could really see it.
I knew that this seeing — and even more, the acting — would require many acts of courage like that of Nancy Ziegenmeyer (the remarkable truth-telling rape survivor in our story). And I knew that the actions would require a disorienting shift within our society — confronting the gap between what we say we condone, and what is in fact rampantly present.
But today I wept, reading this woman’s statement, to see just how far we are from closing that gap.
Why is progress on this painfully clear human-rights challenge so slow? What is the difference, say, between progressing here, versus progressing on gay marriage? Not that justice for gays didn’t take eons; it did, and continues to. But, on the issue of gay marriage, from the moment when people began speaking out, began really grappling with it and openly arguing about it — from that moment, the change came with remarkable speed.
We are nowhere near that on rape — not really speaking out loudly enough to be heard, not really grappling, still not really arguing about it. Those societal “Tsk’s” when yet another athletic program is revealed not to have taken sexual assault seriously? That’s not grappling. That’s closer, by far, to sighing that “boys will be boys.”
This administration has tried to deal seriously with sexual assault on campus. Countless brave women have spoken out in the years since Ziegenmeyer refused to remain in the shadows prescribed for those who have been raped. Yet here we are, far indeed from the grappling, from the serious arguments about the need for change. Far from confronting the everyday reality, far from holding people accountable, far from forcing those opposing change to make their arguments about why this deep injustice should continue.
The only thing I can think to say is that this will change when women’s voices are heard against rape, the way gay voices were heard for marriage. So I guess that puts me back where I was, a quarter of a century ago, believing, as I wrote then, in a column that triggered the Register series:
“I urge women who have suffered this awful crime and attendant injustice to speak out, as some are beginning to do, and identify themselves.
“Rape is an American shame. Our society needs to see that and attend to it, not hide it or hush it up. As long as rape is deemed unspeakable – and is therefore not fully and honestly spoken of – the public outrage will be muted as well.”
“On Rape and the Power of Speaking Out:” I am adding today to my site a page to bring together pieces I have written and other resources on the issue.