Rape culture can be described as a set of societal values that accept and normalize rape and sexual assault. Many argue that the culture of the United States is permeated by these dangerous values, and it’s easy to see why: women are often depicted as sexual objects, men as powerful and uncontrollable and rape/violence as normal and sexy. But still, we live in America. It’s not as if it’s typical for women to just be raped in the streets. Right?
In order to observe rape culture in its natural state, it’s most effective to observe it in an environment with minimal consequence to crime. This helps us to determine what influence cultural/social atmosphere has on people aside from simple avoidance of punishment. This makes homeless women (a group with few legal resources and little protection) the perfect group for studying rape culture at work.
The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape found that 92% of homeless women have experienced severe physical and or/sexual violence in their lifetime. Additional findings state that at least 13% of them had been raped in the last year. (Wenzel et. al, 2004) This trend also applies to homeless minors, who are at 2-3 times greater risk or rape. (Robertson and Toro, 1998)
Most homeless women who have been raped also suffer from mental illness (often caused by current/past abuse): nearly half of these women have attempted suicide as a result. (Browne, 1997). Given the intense correlation between abuse and the homelessness and mental illness it causes, it is perhaps most disturbing to note that for women who have been abused badly enough to suffer any kind of mental illness (such as depression), the odds of a homeless abuse survivor being raped again are virtually ONE HUNDRED PERCENT. (Farley, 1998).
The very fact that homeless women are raped so frequently illustrates not only to the frightening prevalence of rape culture at large, but structural support of rape, since this crime happens largely because of a lack of concern/resources from law enforcement and public health agencies.
We have declared, as a nation, that we stand for opportunity for all. Inscribed on the Statue of Liberty are the following words: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free; the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
The statue of Liberty stands as a beacon of hope. She is a woman, standing tall for the liberty and equality that the US is meant to represent. True liberty will be achieved, however, only when the homeless women she claims to protect can stand as tall as she does.
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