The White House Should Quit Grandstanding and Confront Serious Realities About Rape
More than 300,000 substantiated rapes and sexual assaults against vulnerable Americans have been documented by federal agencies during Barack Obama’s presidency—but the White House’s just released Rape and Sexual Assault: A Call to Action barely mentions them at all.
Instead, as he has done on other major social problems, the president swung for the cheap seats: "We need to encourage young people, men and women, to realize that sexual assault is simply unacceptable," Obama lectured. "And they're going to have to summon the bravery to stand up and say so, especially when the social pressure to keep quiet or to go along can be very intense."
The best FBI and Bureau of Justice Statistics reports over time show young people have done an admirable job in reducing rape and sexual assault, with rates far lower than past generations—a trend this backwards-looking White House could learn from.
Reflecting stunning presidential cowardice, the new White House report purporting to confront rape and sexual assault barely mentioned a huge, crucial class of victims—children and teenagers raped and sexually assaulted in domestic violence. The Administration on Children and Families’ quietly released Child Maltreatment report substantiated 63,000 youthful victims of sexual violence in their homes in 2012—one every 8 minutes during Obama’s presidency.
Shockingly, this president, who loudly proclaims his concern for children’s safety at every turn, has never made a major statement deploring domestic violence against children and teenagers, four of five of whom are victimized by perpetrators age 25 and older. There are many times more substantiated cases of rape and sexual assault against children youths in their homes than on the school and college campuses the White House singled out.*
The president’s (in)action on more than a million substantiated cases of domestic assault and sexual abuses, including thousands of murders, victimizing children and teenagers during his watch has been confined to an unpublicized, rote proclamation on child abuse and re-authorizing a few policies crafted decades ago. The White House loudly prioritizes campaigns against domestic violence against adult women (a key constituency) but is silent on child and teen victims.
Again and again, the Obama administration, faced with the Western world’s worst social epidemics—gun killings, pharmaceutical drug abuse, violent crime, sexual violence, bullying, obesity—simply blames them on young people. Science, fairness, inclusion, all those values this president claims to respect, disappear when the opportunity to score points scapegoating the young arises.
Worse, this White House judges all young people collectively guilty for the crimes of a few of their number—a cruelty rightly called bigotry when applied to adult groups. Would the president be comfortable saying, “We need to encourage black people to realize sexual assault is simply unacceptable”? Or, “Parents are going to have to summon the bravery to stand up when their peers rape children”?
President Obama—intelligent, historically aware, surely cognizant of his words—has chosen to perpetuate the primitive, centuries-old tradition of “demographic scapegoating”: pointing the official finger at an unpopular, powerless population and inviting respectable constituencies to join the crusade. It’s an ugly, failed tactic.
All of the positive recommendations in the White House report could have been advanced in balanced fashion without crudely demeaning teenagers and young adults. That the White House press splash and sycophantic reporters turned the report’s release into yet another attack on young people reveals the motive to exploit, not confront, the sexual violence epidemic.
The best information—also unmentioned in the report—shows that young people have accomplished the largest decreases in rape and sexual offending and victimization of any age group. The FBI reports that just 11 percent of all rapes involve youths—the lowest proportion in half a century of records. Both FBI and crime victimization surveys indicate that broadened legal definitions of rape, awareness campaigns, more intensive law enforcement attention, and healthy generational changes have accompanied a 60% drop in rape and sexual offenses by teenagers and young adults in recent decades to the lowest levels ever reliably recorded—less than half the level when Obama was growing up.
The decline in rape has been most dramatic among California youths, where rates are 80% lower than 20 years ago, and 85% below the levels in the first statewide crime report in 1957. Older generations could learn from young people, if we could summon the humility.
Not likely. President Obama, his bitter right-wing critics, and interests across the spectrum all are products and leaders of a culture of unrestrained, older-generation self-indulgence. That Obama’s rhetoric and reports on sexual violence deploy the right buzzwords does not obscure the reality that his administration is cynically exploiting critical social crises for political gain, just as previous presidencies did. Rape and sexual violence are too devastating for this kind of top-level superficiality.
*Of course, the real numbers of rapes and sexual assaults are much higher in all venues than just reported and substantiated cases.
Posted in Blog, Political Landscape