Worse than murder: The bottom line on sexual assault

In terms of cost, killings pale in comparison

Posted: Friday, June 01, 2007

Which is worse, being raped or murdered? Over the years - during hushed, late-night, soul-baring conversations - this question has come up.

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The answer, at least in terms of dollars, is sexual assault. It is the costliest crime in the United States, even higher than murder, according to the National Institute of Justice. Sex crimes cost our country a minimum of $127 billion per year, or about $508 per U.S. resident.

But those figures don't tell the whole story.

That $127 billion only includes adult victims. Prevent Child Abuse America says child sexual assault costs an additional $94 billion annually. We are up to $221 billion per year, and that doesn't include the cost of investigation, prosecution or incarceration of offenders.

And that $221 billion only includes reported rape and sexual assault. According to Stand Together Against Rape (www.staralaska.com), only one in 10 rapes is reported, making it the most underreported of all violent crimes. If all sexual assaults were reported, we are looking at an estimated annual loss of $2.21 trillion!

Staralaska.com says Alaska's rate of adult rape and child sexual assault is respectively 2.5 times and 6 times the national average. If the average state loses $2.54 billion to adult rape and $1.88 billion to child abuse, then the tangible cost of reported sexual assaults in Alaska is about $17.6 billion. If you multiply this number by 10 to account for unreported assaults, you find that these crimes cost the state $176 billion annually.

And how do you measure the social costs of both reported and unreported sexual assault? How do you measure intangible factors such as fear, loss of quality of life, pain, suffering and broken relationships?

Statistics found on staralaska.com paint an ugly picture:

Victims are 26 times more likely to have a drug problem, 13 times more likely to have an alcohol problem and/or to contemplate suicide. One in eight actually attempt suicide. One in four females, and one in six male children, will be sexually assaulted before they reach 18. Childhood victims of abuse are more likely to become involved in juvenile delinquency and criminal behavior.

There are so many questions surrounding this issue.

How can it be that in 2007, we still have walking among us, and our children, those who would commit these vile acts?

How could a father brutally rape his 6-week-old infant daughter, breaking her leg and tearing up her insides in the process?

How could a person coerce and manipulate a boy or girl with the purpose of sexually abusing the child, and not think to themselves, "Gee, there must be something wrong with me. Maybe I should get some professional help!"

How could a mother remark to her daughter that a girl who was wearing a halter top and a short skirt was "asking for it" when she was raped?

How could a businessman remark to a colleague that all a woman is good for is her vagina?

How could teenage boys in a classroom snicker through a presentation on rape and sexual assault, and react with shock and disbelief upon hearing that getting a girl drunk and having sex with her is rape?

The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality says society's primary approach to preventing rape is to focus on restricting potential victims' personal freedom to avoid "situations" where they could be sexually assaulted. This is a Band-Aid approach to a major bypass surgery problem. To prevent sexual assault, we need to address its causes, and that begins with attitudes.

We need to challenge victim-blaming remarks and sexism. We need to educate our children and teenagers about what constitutes sexual abuse and assault (see www.staralaska.com, for starters). We need to speak up if a movie, TV show or computer game violently eroticizes rape. There are so many ways we can help.

The real bottom line on sexual assault is that we all must do our part to prevent it. Can we really afford not to?

• Julie Speegle is a Juneau resident.

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