The BDN Editorial Board operates independently from the newsroom, and does not set policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com
If you or someone you know needs resources or support related to sexual violence, contact the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault’s 24/7 hotline at 800-871-7741.
Asked at a press conference last week about the state law that outlaws most abortions after six weeks, even in the case of rape and incest, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott pledged to “eliminate all rapists” in the state.
This is a grand promise. But Abbott’s remarks betray a grave misunderstanding of what rape is and who perpetrates the majority of rapes. It is, therefore, a largely an empty promise — and a terrible rationale for a law that runs afoul of the women’s constitutionally protected right to access abortion services, enshrined in the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision.
“Let’s make something very clear, rape is a crime, and Texas will work tirelessly to make sure that we eliminate all rapists from the streets of Texas by aggressively going out and arresting them and prosecuting them and getting them off the streets,” Abbott said Wednesday.
With these comments, which downplay the cruelty and severity of the Texas abortion law, the most stringent in the country, Abbott perpetuates the false notion that rape is committed by men lurking in public looking for women to assault.
Most rape doesn’t happen on the street. It happens in marital bedrooms, in dorm rooms, in jails, on military bases. Most female victims are raped by men they know, often men with whom they live.
More than half of female rape victims are raped by an intimate partner, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Another 41 percent are raped by an acquaintance.
A small percentage of women are raped by strangers, although we in no way mean to minimize the severity of these crimes.
Because most rapes occur in private, the majority are never reported to the police. Few of those that are reported result in prosecution, and fewer still lead to a guilty verdict or plea.
Sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes. There are myriad reasons that victims don’t come forward. Fear of not being believed is a significant one. So too is the fear that they, like Texas cheerleader Amber Wyatt, will be punished and ostracized for reporting what happened to them.
Many victims also believe that reporting the crime is futile because nothing will be done about it, a fear borne out by statistics.
Out of every 1,000 sexual assaults nationally, only 310 are reported to police, and of these, only 50 lead to arrests, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Of those arrests, only 28 will result in felony convictions, and only 25 perpetrators go on to serve time in jail.
In Texas, more than 90 percent of sexual assaults are not reported, according to data from the University of Texas Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.
In cases that were reported and resulted in medical checkups, there was a backlock of tens of thousands of untested rape kits. Abbott did sign legislation in 2019 to address the state’s backlog of untested rape kits, which has since been reduced by 80 percent.
While we welcome Abbott’s pledge, we remain skeptical that eliminating rape and rapists is an achievable goal. And it is a poor explanation for approval of such a sweeping and dangerous abortion ban.