Why We Shouldn't Only Pay Attention To Rape When It Involves Celebrities

by John Haltiwanger

Rape is disgusting, no matter who the perpetrator is. Yet, it's evident that we really only care about it when it involves a celebrity. Simply put, rape should always be a big deal, but it's only a palatable issue when it relates to a familiar face.

At the moment, Bill Cosby is that face.

This is hardly the first time this has happened. Numerous celebrities have been accused of rape or sexual assault: Woody Allen, Kobe Bryant, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Jackson, Roman Polanski and Mike Tyson, among others.

It seems that whenever a celebrity is accused of rape, we make it a tabloid issue rather than focusing on the actual crime itself. We debate over whether or not we believe they did it, instead of focusing on how rape is an everyday occurrence in our country and around the world.

Indeed, it appears people are more concerned with the sensationalized crimes of celebrities than they are with the fact that these heinous acts still occur in our society.

This is not to say that we should not take the allegations against Bill Cosby, and others like him, seriously. Yet, when we focus overwhelmingly on rape when it relates to celebs, it diminishes the frequent instances of sexual assault that occur out of the limelight.

Rape is not a headline to be exploited; it's one of the most abhorrent and disgusting crimes that a person can commit.

We should strive to foster a society in which both women and men are free from fear, violence and discrimination. Without communicating openly about the enormity of the problem, this will never happen.

Here are six reasons we shouldn't just pay attention to rape when it involves celebrities:

Nearly one in five women will be raped in their lifetime.

The statistics surrounding violence, sexual assault and abuse against women both within the United States and around the world are staggering.

According to the Center for Disease Control, nearly one in five American women reported experiencing rape at some point in their lifetime.

In other words, around 23 million American women have been raped.

Rape and sexual assault are underreported and poorly counted.

The number of rapes that actually occur is likely much higher than we believe.

Much of this likely has to do with that fact that approximately two-thirds of rapes occur by someone known to the victim. Consequently, victims might be hesitant to speak out on what's happened to them.

Sadly, the National Research Council estimates that 80 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to law enforcement.

Victim blaming is real, and it shows that we don't understand rape.

Victims of rape are often ridiculed and blamed for the abhorrent crimes committed against them. This is also a large part of the reason that rape is underreported.

Tragically, it's evident that many victims of sexual violence feel guilty and ashamed about what's happened to them.

Much of this has to do with the way that society treats and reacts to rape and sexual assault. We obviously aren't approaching this issue appropriately or empathetically.

Too often we find that the victims, rather than the perpetrators, are blamed. This is wrong, plain and simple.

We saw this just the other day with CNN's Don Lemon when he interviewed Joan Tarshis, one of the women who has accused Bill Cosby of raping her. Tarshis alleges that Cosby forced her to perform oral sex. So, Lemon took it upon himself to ask her why she didn't make an effort to prevent the assault.

Lemon's comments alone show that we have completely misunderstood this issue. This is a prime example of victim blaming.

Indeed, asking rape victims why they didn't do more to stop it is like asking a shooting victim why they didn't attempt to dodge the bullets.

Unfortunately, it's apparent that we have a long way to go when it comes to understanding rape.

We can all start by reiterating that it's never the victims' fault. No one wants to be raped or sexually assaulted. Victim blaming is wrong, and it must stop.

Sexual assaults on college campuses are a national problem.

In April, Vice President Joe Biden made a startling statement:

We know the numbers: one in five of every one of those young women who is dropped off for that first day of school, before they finish school, will be assaulted, will be assaulted in her college years.

Statistics support this assertion. Indeed, around 20 percent of women on college campus are sexually assaulted at some point, though only around 12 percent report it to the police.

This has to stop.

Much of this has to do with our skewed perceptions of what qualifies as rape. We need to educate young men and women on sexual assault and violence. Knowledge and awareness are the keys to prevention.

Concurrently, we must end the culture of victim blaming. This has been particularly evident on college campuses, and recently exemplified by a brave young woman at Columbia University who was raped in her dorm room bed.

Yet, sadly, she has been unable to convince administrators, police and even friends that what happened to her was rape. She has drawn attention to this by carrying around her mattress until the university expels her alleged rapist.

No students should feel afraid to walk home on their college campuses at night, but that's the sad reality at present.

Rape in the military is a serious problem.

The number of women in the military being subjected to sexual violence by their colleagues is unprecedented. In 2012 alone, an estimated 26,000 rapes and sexual assaults took place in the military.

What's more, victims are often pressured not to report what's happened to them, or faced with retribution if they do.

Sixty-two percent of sexual assault victims within the military claimed they faced retaliation after reporting being attacked.

Soldiers should be able to trust their commanders, but as these shocking statistics reveal, this is no longer possible.

Fortunately, this is a problem that has generated a great deal of attention amongst Members of Congress, the military and victims' advocates groups.

Yet, the public should also stand up in defense of those who volunteer to defend this country. It is disgusting that this occurs so frequently within the military, and it cannot be allowed to continue.

Men are raped too.

Perhaps one of the biggest misperceptions surrounding rape is that it only happens to women. Men are also victims of rape and sexual assault.

Last year, the National Crime Victimization Survey asked 40,000 households if they had experiences instances of rape or sexual assault. The survey revealed that 38 percent of the incidents were against men.

The CDC has also reported that one in 71 men has reported experiencing rape at some point in their lifetimes.

In some instances, male victims of sexual assault have reported that the perpetrators were women. This obviously challenges many assumptions about rape, and reveals that we all have a lot to learn when it comes to this difficult subject.

Simply put, it's time to have a sensible and honest conversation about rape, regardless of how uncomfortable it might make people.

We can't only focus on rape when it involves people in the public eye; we have to approach the issue comprehensively.

Citations: Don Lemon and the Rest of Society Dont Understand How Rape Works (The Daily Beast), Rape Is Grossly Underreported In The US Study Finds (Huffington Post), Nearly 1 In 5 Women Are Raped In Their Lifetimes Says Report (Huffington Post), Prevalence and Characteristics of Sexual Violence Stalking and Intimate Partner Violence Victimization National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey United States 2011 (CDC), When Men Are Raped (Slate), Sexual Violence (CDC), tudy Sexual assaults greatly underreported (USA Today), Impact of Rape Self Blame And Shame (UCLA Medical Center Rape Treatment Center), Sex offense statistics show US college reports are rising (Washington Post), One in five women in college sexually assaulted the source of this statistic (Washington Post), A Rape on Campus A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA (Rolling Stone ), Rape in the Military Its Time to Protect Our Soldiers (Huffington Post), Rape victim Retaliation prevalent in military (AP), Photos Women Who Risked Everything to Expose Sexual Assault in the Military (Mother Jones)