Why America Needs a National Rape Monument for its Countless Victims

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Why America Needs a National Rape Monument for its Countless Victims

The country has been shocked by the Stanford rape case, but there is one rape every 107 seconds. All those victims and survivors need to be honored too

(Photo: Fono Plane/flickr/cc)

The nameless survivor of former Stanford student Brock Taylor’s hideous sexual assault won an extraordinary victory with her letter to him, now read by millions of people. It’s as though she erected a statue that said: this is who you are – a vile and despicable person. This is what you did—a violent and repulsive series of acts. And this is who I am—someone who is more than what you did and who you failed to destroy.

"We need a national rape monument or a Tomb to the Unknown Domestic Violence Victim."

We need a national rape monument or a Tomb to the Unknown Domestic Violence Victim. Something should make people notice that we’re in an epidemic and say enough is enough. Something should say that we should take the extraordinary measures we would if the carnage was not of women.

But what would a monument to the victims look like? It could be one of those gigantic electronic signboards, ticking off numbers. There are so many numbers, huge numbers, horrifying numbers. Because it can’t be a memorial: memorials are for things in the past. If it were a monument like Maya Lin’s Vietnam memorial, stonemasons would be chiseling new names on it around the clock. Would we plan for it to expand, acknowledging that in the current order of things the corpses will keep piling up?

There are dozens of rapes an hour, hundreds or thousands of gender violence crimes a day. Just think about last week alone. There was a lot of attention paid to the murder of a professor at UCLA, but not so much to Mainak Sarkar’s other victim, his estranged wife, 31-year-old medical student Ashey Hasti. And there was this ruckus about the light sentence from a sympathetic judge for Taylor in the Stanford sexual assault case.

That’s just a week of high-profile violence in California. Most of it hardly makes the news. In Hillsboro, Ohio—only about an hour from where Turner grew up in Dayton—Timothy Harewood is believed to have killed his one-year-old daughter and tried to kill the child’s mother, his ex-girlfriend, then killed himself after failing.

Also last week in Houston, 15-year-old Karen Perez was found stuffed under a sink, dead and her boyfriend was charged with the murder he recorded on his cell phone, because he’d gotten the idea that murdering women was kind of awesome.

And Ashley Solano, 29, was beaten to death in a laundry room in Adelphi, Washington; her former boyfriend was charged with the murder. That’s still only a tiny portion of the violence of last week (or this week, and next week there will be more).

Close to three women a day are murdered by men they are or were intimately involved with, an epidemic that leaves us with more than 1,000 corpses a year. Most of them are stories we will never read about, names we will never know. And there’s one rape every 107 seconds, about 293,066 a year, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (using Department of Justice statistics). Most go unreported, because reporting it lodges the survivor in a system that often seems to shame and punish victims more than perpetrators. Also several women are beaten by partners and former partners every minute in the United States.

The Center for Disease Control reported in 2003: “An estimated 5.3 million IPV [intimate partner violence] victimizations occur among US women ages 18 and older each year. This violence results in nearly 2 million injuries, more than 550,000 of which require medical attention. In addition, IPV victims also lose a total of nearly 8 million days of paid work—the equivalent of more than 32,000 full-time jobs—and nearly 5.6 million days of household productivity as a result of the violence.”

Intimate partner violence constitutes 21% of the violent crime in this country, and the tough-on-crime politicians never got tough on it. Which should remind us that not only do many women die of this violence, but millions in this country and most others—maybe if you could quantify it globally it’d be billions—live in terror of this intimate violence. This is the real terrorism in the United States and elsewhere, the force that actually instills fear and limits freedom for many of us.

The death toll doesn’t address how many millions of women live in terror of attack at home, at work, in a laundry room, on a campus. Nor does it address what it means to live in a society where one out of five women has been raped and a lot of the rest of us—young, old, trans, cis, urban, suburban, on the reservation, black, white, brown—live in fear of rape and amidst constant reminders of it. We need to make the scope, impact and cost, financial and psychological, visible. That would be one important step toward making it intolerable, a step toward ending it, or at least radically reducing it.

There has been a marked decline in the past few decades, and feminism has achieved much in shifting how many men as well as women think about the problem. These reforms are good. But we need a revolution. Maybe only that is an adequate monument to the vast suffering the numbers show.

The Stanford student built her own monument, and it looks like a cage for Brock Taylor’s reputation. Most victims and survivors won’t get anything like it—unless we agree to build one together.

Rebecca Solnit

Rebecca Solnit

Rebecca Solnit is an activist, TomDispatch.com regular, and author of many books, including the just published, Men Explain Things to Me (Dispatch Books, Haymarket Books). Her first essay for TomDispatch.com turned into the book Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, since translated into eight languages. Other previous books include: The Faraway Nearby, A Paradise Built in Hell, Wanderlust: A History of Walking, The Battle of The Story of the Battle in Seattle (with her brother David), and Storming The Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics. She is a contributing editor to Harper's Magazine.

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