The Fort Worth Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated held its annual Sisterhood Luncheon last Saturday, and I was privileged and honored to be the keynote speaker. A cloud hovered over the luncheon, though, and the media was there to talk about it. Four Delta women have been raped in the Dallas Fort Worth area in the last year by a serial rapist who appears to be targeting women in their 50s and 60s. The rapes have caused such alarm that the national President of our sorority, Cynthia Butler McIntyre, has issued an alert, suggesting caution in displaying Delta identification on automobiles, and in wearing identifying t-shirts and sweaters.
Every two minutes, someone is sexually assaulted. More than 200,000 people, mostly women, are sexually assaulted each year. But only one in sixteen rapists will spend even a moment in jail – more than 60 percent of all rapes are not reported to the police. Most rapes occur within a mile of a victim's home, or in her home, and almost two-thirds of all rapes are committed by someone the victim actually knows. Nearly 80 percent of all rapes are perpetrated on women under 30, so the Delta rapes are unusual in many respects. Still, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority has the opportunity to turn the pain of these rapes into an empowering moment by organizing to stop the violence against women.
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was authored by Vice-President Joe Biden when he was the senator from Delaware. It became law in 1994, and was reauthorized in 2000 and 2005. It is up for reauthorization again this year, and while it should face no trouble in Congress, who knows with this Congress? While there should be no resistance to this reauthorization, it is important for women to remind their congressional representatives that this critical legislation must be reauthorized.
Additionally, there is a federal agency that focuses on implementing VAWA by providing resources to organizations dedicated to preventing violence against women. The Office on Violence against Women (ww.ovw.usdoj.gov) is part of the Department of Justice. Earlier this fall, they held a meeting of university chancellors and presidents to talk about campus safety and violence against women, since college-aged young people are more likely to be victims of such violence than others are. The office urges people needing assistance to reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE.
Although we are well into the twenty-first century, we still treat the crime of rape with nineteenth century sensibilities. Many women lack the courage that the Guinean victim of former World Bank President Dominique Strauss-Kahn (also known as DSK) showed. Yet her treatment is a cautionary tale about why so many victims are silent. After Naffissatou Diallo spoke up, we learned all her business – that she cleaned rooms for $25 an hour in New York, that she had an acquaintance or fiancé who may have been involved in drugs and was incarcerated in Arizona, that she may have lied on her immigration application, and that she may have earned income that she did not report. Before it was all said and done, charges were dropped. Then DSK fled back to France where he spoke of an "inappropriate relationship" with Diallo. Give me a break! When does spilling your semen on someone you do not know constitute a relationship? I digress. The point is that many women don't speak out because they don't want to be dragged through the media mud of scrutiny into their past lives. Even a prostitute can be raped, but the prostitute wouldn't likely get a fair trail, especially if her abuser were rich and powerful. The victim's character is still placed on trial, and that shouldn't be the case. And yet, how many women judge victims of rape with the same harsh scrutiny that others have. What was she wearing? Was she asking for it? Was it just miscommunication?
VAWA does not address many of these questions, and perhaps it cannot. We have to change the culture so that rape is so repugnant an act that most people will not consider it as an option, that penalties are so harsh that people can be thrown under the jail for such crimes. Four members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority were violated in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and more than 200,000 people are violated in our nation each year. Delta can use the pain of these rapes to lead the nation in drawing a line in the sand. Enough is enough. It is time to stop the violence against women.
Dr. Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, NC.