Sexual Violence Culture

A couple of months ago I read about an Oregon woman, 21, who was asked by her 24-year-old neighbor, whom she knew, for a ride into town. Once in the car, the man pulled out a gun and ordered the woman to drive into the mountains, where he sexually assaulted and then murdered her. Readers’ comments beneath this online article shrugged off the episode either because of where the woman and man live, or because the woman allegedly had a “reputation.”

Once at the gynecologist’s office in rural The Dalles, Oregon, I was filling out an intake questionnaire for an annual exam. Because I am a writer and, by nature, think about big-picture things, I answered the question “Have you ever received unwanted sexual advances?” with “Hasn’t everyone?” The doctor did not appreciate that I was being philosophical; she spent ten minutes asking a series of pointed questions until I assured her that I was safe in my home.

I’ve done no research to back this up, but I think it’s safe to say that anyone and everyone, female or male, experiences an unwanted sexual advance at least once in their lives. A stare, a brush-up, an inappropriate comment. I write this not to decrease the seriousness of harassment but to out it as a problem for everyone, not just “white trash” or “sluts.”

When it comes to more serious advances, the perpetrator is usually someone the victim knows. In a rural area, this gets especially tricky because the victim will probably also know the perpetrator’s family, and they hers. Most rural cultures still revolve around traditional male and female roles, which can lead to women being doubted when accusing a man of sexual assault and can cause women to not report a crime at all, because the prosecution of the rapist might affect a family member’s or friend’s ability to pay their bills. This can make bringing a rapist to justice—if it is even attempted—a protracted, ugly affair.

I did some editing work for a domestic violence shelter in the same town my doctor’s office was in, and learned a lot. The executive director, Tara Koch, is a tireless advocate for people who want to leave violent and/or abusive relationships, and her staff and volunteers are brave supporters of them, collecting food, household items and money. She and her staff have an uphill battle.

Rural law enforcement officers do not always have the training to understand and appropriately deal with domestic violence patterns and issues. They usually lack resources to investigate domestic violence calls, and are physically at risk when they investigate them, especially when answering calls to remote, secluded homes. And they may have personal conflicts of interest, or convictions that are at odds with the rights of women.

Discussing rape and domestic violence can be uncomfortable. But the more stories are told, the more women will realize they do not have to bear the burden of sexual assault and domestic abuse alone, and the more abusive men will realize it’s no longer something they can get away with. Doing nothing will only allow it to continue.

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10 thoughts on “Sexual Violence Culture

  1. rich wandschneider says:

    i remember years ago, when there was a ballot measure asking for parental notification for minors seeking abortions. wallowa county voted no on that measure, joining many “liberal” portland voters. i was explaining this to an urban friend recently, and she asked whether that was due to rural “keep the government off my back” thinking. i answered–without thinking– that it was because small towners know when it is a stepdad or a football hero abusing, and they are not going to get in the way of the girl seeking assistance.

  2. If women are afraid of unwanted sexual advances, or the more serious sexual attack, then they should (1) get a concealed carry permit 2) get a gun and 3) get training on how to use it. And I not talking about an hour at the shooting range. An effective fire arms course should involved at least 6 full days of training at the minium. The course should not only teach you how to handle the weapon but also how to kill. If you women don’t want to do that, then please, stop whining. Everyone hates a whiner.

    • Does that mean you think it’s ok for a 3 year old to have a loaded gun? Does that mean it’s ok for a 12 year old to have a gun? Just wondering at what age you think gun trianing should begin, because sexual harrasment and assult could happen to anyone at any age in any demographic.

    • Just a matter of time before some LaPierre clone had to drop a log on the lawn. The young lady in the example given here would have benefitted NOT AT ALL by carrying a gun. Do you think it would have saved my SISTER from her horror — at age 6?!? If not for a mail carrier with a conscience, she wouldn’t be here today!

      Tell me when it’s one of YOURS that she should have been PACKING.

  3. Great advice. You’re suggesting a young woman who is assaulted, say, for example, by the guy who’s driving her home from babysitting his children should SHOOT him? Here is a much better way to look at it — as a man’s problem, not a woman’s: http://9gag.com/gag/5674046

  4. Nicole says:

    It didn’t happen in a rural area, it happened in the fourth largest city in Oregon. Her body was dumped in a rural area in the Columbia River Gorge near my house. Sometimes the best training in the world, gun proficiency or a good eye for people can’t protect you, if you trust the person who ends up assaulting you.

  5. From what I recall about the story, it was pretty rural, even if it was technically within Gresham city limits. There’s a pretty big range in that area. But, I took “rural” out of that sentence. Thanks for reading.

  6. Casidy Anderson says:

    Hey Kristi – great post! I used to work at a domestic violence shelter for women and their children quite a while ago (mid 90’s) and it opened my eyes to so much. In Minnesota (the Twin Cities) we’ve had quite a few headlines of women murdered or gone missing in the last month, and one of the results has been a renewed voice of violence-against-women experts to speak out about the problem and the need for funding and education. We need better education for kids on the subject too – and considering so many kids will not get this education at home for so many reasons (either the conversation is too uncomfortable, “doesn’t apply to us”, just not on the radar, or on the flip side too close to home…) – we need better sex ed in schools that covers the subject of rape (for men AND women), and we could also benefit from a women’s studies course (mandatory) in high school as well. I’ve got so many ideas on how to reform our incarceration system too, but I’ll leave that for another comment! Good to read your stuff … have a great day!

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