I’ve been watching the webcast of a Senate subcommittee hearing on rape in the United States, and though I’m not able to watch the last panel, I wanted to note a couple of things. One is that I’m actually encouraged by what I’ve heard, especially about the need to have better definitions of sexual crimes and the need for better reporting and police support. Then again, the Senators present were Specter, Cardin, and Franken, so maybe that’s to be expected.
One thing, though, that bothered me, was that Specter seemed surprised that a public education and awareness campaign would be needed–what is to me one of the most important elements of eradicating rape culture. He stated that “people are aware of what rape means […] that it is violent and anti-social.” Seems to be missing the point a bit. There was some back-and-forth in this hearing between recognizing and seeming to gloss over acquaintance rape. The problem isn’t that people don’t know what rape is, but that sexual crimes aren’t culturally stigmatized and survivors don’t get social support. So yes, a public education campaign is vitally important, to change the way people think about sex and to prevent rape before it happens.
On the other hand, I was encouraged that particularly vulnerable populations were at least mentioned: indigenous people, immigrants, people with disabilities, people in institutions, LGBT people, the homeless, etc. I don’t know how much hope I have for things improving, but this hearing has shown that journalism, and just talking about it, does mean something.