When I moved to Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood nearly two weeks ago, I had no idea what I was getting in to. My roommate and I are paying an astronomical amount of rent to live in this ‘upscale’ neighborhood with trendy stores, well-lit streets and comparatively low crime rates. We were ill prepared to discover that there is a rapist lurking in our cozy neighborhood. In the past three weeks three women have been accosted. Two others were raped earlier in the summer. Chicago police currently do not have enough evidence to believe that the incidents are related. However, the victims’ descriptions of their attackers are eerily similar. Between 2 and 2:30 a.m. on July 23rd a young woman was thrown to the ground and nearly raped by a man she described as Hispanic, 25-30 years old with short hair. At 4:30 a.m. on July 29th a young woman was attacked as she was entering her apartment building. The attacker struck her in the back of the head, took her into her apartment and raped her. She described him as being 25-30 years old and Hispanic. The most recent attack occurred on August 3rd at 2:30 in the afternoon! On a busy street, this man offered to help a young woman with her grocery bags. When she declined, he followed her up to her apartment and attempted to assault her. She described him as being about 175 lbs., between 28 and 32 years old, and white.
In the past few years “terrorism” has become quite a buzzword. It is in the news on an almost daily basis from local ‘terror-alerts’ to terrorist activity abroad. When many of us imagine terrorism we think of September 11, 2001. We think of foreign men attacking us, we think of religious extremism, we think of war. But how often do we think about the terror that we live with every single day? I am talking about the terror that all women live with; the fear of assault and attack that shapes our daily lives and our entire experience of this world. I ask you, why is sexual assault not considered to be terrorism? Why are rapists not considered to be terrorists? And why is punishment of sexual assault so lenient?
Only in a society that eroticizes hierarchy and power can crimes like this continue to be so pervasive. One need only watch television for a few hours or flip through a Maxim magazine to see that women’s bodies are the erotic toys of men. This is the ideology that nearly every member of American society is inundated with. It is not surprising then that we have so many attacks on women’s bodies and on their bodily sovereignty. This is a culture that does not believe that women’s bodies are their own. Our bodies are tools of the patriarchy: tools for reproduction, tools for male sexual pleasure, tools to make the lives of men easier at whatever cost. Our bodies are tools but they are not our own. That is the message that we get over and over again. Is it really so surprising then that men use our bodies that way?
FOX news reported on March 15th that a forty-two year old man convicted of raping a young women, a man who plead guilty, mind you, is being released after only spending six months in prison. Why, you ask? Because he apologized. He said he was sorry, he was an alcoholic at the time and is now in AA. Could you even imagine that happening in a murder case? I can sense the chiding ‘rape is not the same as murder’ response. Women who are victims of sexual assault never get their lives back. Do you think a woman who was raped can sleep at night knowing her rapist is free, enjoying his life? According to Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), rape survivors are three times more likely to suffer from depression, six times more likely to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, thirteen times more likely to abuse alcohol, twenty-six times more likely to abuse drugs, four times more likely to contemplate suicide and many suffer from sexual dysfunctions for the rest of their lives. It hardly seems fair that all he got was six months.
The BBC reported back in June that an English man got a two-year sentence for raping a ten-year-old girl. What was the rationale behind this sentencing? The man said that she was ‘dressed provocatively.’ And we are back to victim blame. This time the victim was a child. It seems too barbaric to be true, but in phallocentric society, little girls' lives have significantly less value than adult men’s.
On March 3rd, in San Jose, California, a seventeen-year-old girl was gang raped. There were plenty of eyewitnesses and even airtight DNA evidence. The San Jose District Attorney wouldn’t even try the young men in this case. Why? Insufficient evidence.
Do you need more proof that rape is not taken seriously in much of this country?
How about this doll. Or this 'joke.' Or this fashion advertisement.
Not long ago, I discussed this case in which a young woman who was raped by her boyfriend's brother. She gave 'consent' to having sex with the man she thought was her boyfriend not to the man who tricked her. Again, the man was not prosecuted because women who say that they are raped are not taken seriously. RAINN reports that of "the 39% of attacks that are reported to police, there is only a 16.3% chance the rapist will end up in prison." Message to rape victims: do not bother reporting your assault.
Women who hear these news reports night after night, women who live in Lakeview who see signs with drawings of rapists all over their community, women who have survived rape only to have their attackers walk free live in terror every single day. This can be evidenced by the existence of rape schedules. Many women do not know what a rape schedule is, but they all have one. Ask any woman you know what she does to make herself less vulnerable to sexual assault (because we are taught that that is our responsibility. It is not a man's responsibility not to rape, in fact sating his sexual appetites is encouraged). You will get a lot of responses like these:
-carry pepper spray
-don’t walk alone at night
-carry keys in hands
-don’t wear low cut clothing
-have a cell phone buddy for walking
-cross the street when a strange man is approaching
-don’t stop, don’t answer questions, don’t make eye contact
-lock doors immediately
These are things that women do every single day without even questioning. These are things that years of living in terror has taught us to do without a second thought. These are things that restrict our movement in ways that (heterosexual) men never have to.
The Chicago Tribune and local news channels are covering this topic on an almost daily basis. Because Lakeview is Chicago’s “upscale” neighborhood, a rapist on the loose is huge news. Until this man (or men) is caught this issue is going to be on the minds of women living in this community. Because the rapist(s) has not yet been apprehended, residents, especially women, in Lakeview are still on high alert. There are flyers all over the streets, in coffee shops, grocery stores, and college campuses, there are concerned groups handing out pepper spray and instructing self-defense courses. The underlying theme of this discussion is male violence against women. These rape cases are just another example of it. Because Lakeview is a wealthy (white) neighborhood, these attacks are incredibly newsworthy. But we cannot forget that sexualized violence is an ever-present threat whether it be in Lakeview or Back of the Yards.
I suspect there will be some disagreement as to whether sexual assault is an act of terrorism. Terrorism is an act of violence committed for political or ideological gain. I would argue that keeping women in a state of constant terror serves the patriarchy by keeping women in prescribed roles. Our very lives are in danger if we challenge the status quo or if we step out of line. The “she was dressed like she wanted it” line of defense has worked in enough cases to tell women that we are deserving of sexual violence if we step out of line. This is a form of psychological terror, enforced by physical terror.
Thousands of women (approximately 50,000) live in Lakeview and all of them are on guard following these attacks. We can never forget our position as second-class citizens. We can never forget that men are more powerful in this society. Rape is a crime that proves it. There is no male equivalent. At least, men are not terrorized in the same way that women are by this gender specific crime. Nothing forces women back into their homes, into invisibility, into less revealing clothing, into earlier bedtimes, into hiding quite like the threat of sexualized violence. Rape reminds women of their place. By keeping us scared, they are keeping us weak.