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Read our latest newsletter: February 2017.

What's Happening

"Educating our communities and elected officials about the needs of survivors in our local cities and towns requires year round focus. JDI is our pathway to informing and influencing the state and national agenda to end sexual and domestic violence." ~ Karen Cavanaugh, Executive Director of Womanshelter/Companeras. PICTURE: Staff from The Center for Hope & Healing with Attorney General Maura Healey at JDI Advocacy Day.

JDI Statement on Rape Rhetoric

Statement by Jane Doe Inc. by Mary R. Lauby

Recent controversial comments about rape offer great political fodder for speculation on the upcoming elections. Amid all the discussion of language and politics, let’s not forget that beyond the politics are real victims of rape – women, men and children whose lives will be forever changed because of the violence perpetrated against them. When a person is raped and in need of services, support, and safety, our response should be compassionate. The MA Legislature and the US Congress can demonstrate this compassion by fully funding rape crisis services, prevention, education in the Commonwealth and promoting good public policy through the immediate passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Reauthorization.

Uninformed and callous comments about rape speak to the need for continued education about sexual violence, rape and women’s reproductive systems. Nearly 1 in 2 women and 1 in 4 men in MA experienced sexual violence victimization, in their lifetime, other than rape; it is estimated that more than 12% of Massachusetts women (more than 400,000) have been victims of rape. National studies estimate that 33,000 female rape survivors become pregnant as result of rape. It is scientifically untrue that women can somehow mysteriously stop a pregnancy as a result of rape. And it is offensive and ignorant to suggest that there is legitimate or illegitimate rape.

Such rhetoric reveals a widespread misunderstanding about rape which results in misguided and inappropriate individual and societal responses to victims and, we would argue, demonstrates the need for passage of VAWA and the need for immediate increases in prevention, education and local services for victims of sexual violence. The conversation must shift quickly from a conversation about language and politics to the need to address the current global epidemic of sexual violence. Where is the action that demonstrates that our society does not condone or tolerate rape or other forms of sexual and domestic violence? Where is the funding to meet the needs of victims and prevent further violence?

On an individual level, victims are triggered and re-traumatized by remarks that call into question their experience of rape. Future victims will not come forward to seek services or report the crime for fear of not being believed or seen as “legitimate.” Perpetrators and future perpetrators are emboldened by such statements and these social norms are some of the many that must be tackled in order to address the roots of sexual violence and coercion in our society. Others will have wrong information about their options. Survivors deserve victim-centered responses that are sensitive to the pervasiveness of trauma and its impact, and that creates emotional and physical safety.

On the societal level, our efforts to prevent sexual violence are undermined by victim-blaming, insipid myths around which rapes are “legitimate” and other misconceptions rooted in an ideologically driven perspective that does not value equality for women and that disregards victims. We’ve seen this strategy before – putting forth information with no regard for the truth as a way of confusing people about the issue and their rights as well as requiring that we put energy into disproving a completely bogus, uninformed, and factually incorrect statement. We need practices, policies and funding that both support sexual violence prevention and services and hold offenders accountable

To this end, we call on the Massachusetts Legislature to fully fund sexual assault prevention and services in the Commonwealth. The programs that provide direct support and advocacy to rape victims have experienced significant budget cuts since 2009.

We also call upon Congress to reauthorize the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). For the first time since its creation in 1994, VAWA is being held hostage to partisan political ideology. The entire Massachusetts Congressional delegation supports a strong, bi-partisan VAWA that supports all victims of sexual and domestic violence. We ask them to continue to pressure leaders and colleagues in Washington to pass VAWA immediately in recognition of the continued need to support victims and survivors of sexual and domestic violence.

Let us shift the focus from whether rapes are “legitimate” or not to a primary prevention focus on healthy relationships and healthy sexuality in order to prevent sexual violence before it occurs. Ironically, the very discussion that ensued from the firestorm of recent comments is the very evidence that this is needed now.

Let us not be mired in the partisan politics sparked by these recent comments regarding rape. The evidence is clear that our work as social justice advocates against sexual and domestic violence is far from done. Let us focus on solutions: trauma-informed and victim-centered policies and practices, adequate public and private funding, earlier and ongoing education and prevention and sound public policy.


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