So I just finished grading a set of 74 undergraduate essays. The assigned topic: abortion. And indeed, I read a lot of moving stories about pregnancy scares, boyfriends who saw their girlfriends through an abortion, friends who got pregnant at 16.
What I didn’t expect: a flurry of even tougher stories about rape. Out of those 74 papers, four volunteered heartrending stories of how their author had been raped. Another young woman had told of her rape in discussion last week. That makes 5 out of 74, or 6.8%.
No, this doesn’t rise to the the much-ballyhooed, much-maligned “one in four” statistic from Mary Koss’ research in the early 1990s. No, my sample size isn’t big enough to draw any broad, statistically significant conclusions.
However. These were all forcible rapes (mostly by acquaintances). They are what even Whoopie Goldberg would call “rape-rapes.” If you asked about lesser sex crimes, the overall number of sexual assaults would likely be much higher. (Koss also counted attempted assaults when she measured the prevalence of sexual assault among college women.)
When I hit the last of these stories, I burst into tears of anger and grief.
Four of the five women were 15 or younger when they happened. The other two were 18 or younger. Most of the students in this class are early in their college careers. Their high schools weren’t safe, but we can’t claim they’re any safer here at the university.
Here’s what really kicked me in the gut: These are only the stories that emerged when a completely different question was posed! The assignment had nothing to do with rape, intrinsically. But for some of these girls, rape is now inextricably linked to how they view their risk of pregnancy. A couple of them blame themselves for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or failing to report promptly. How can they arrive at a place where sexuality isn’t forever entwined with danger? (Some of them have, remarkably, and I was privileged to hear their stories. Of course, I’m obligated to protect their privacy, so those stories stop with me.)
And how many more stories were left untold? How many other stories would surface, if a different question were asked?