Thoughts on Rape in Alabama Law and Culture

The number of reported incidents of rape has increased in Alabama exponentially since the 1960’s. If this rate of growth continues Alabama’s homes and college campuses will no longer be safe to conduct their normal activities. Something must be done to solve this problem before it spills over to future generations as socially acceptable behavior.

According to the law rape is the carnal knowledge of a female through force or the threat of force, including all attempts. (Alabama Justice Information Center).   Do males and females see rape as the same thing? A male student I interviewed at the University of Alabama, defines rape as “either emotionally or physically trespassing against someone’s will, mainly pertaining to sexuality.”. This is a very broad view that could apply not only to sexual assault, but also to property crime and other forms of non-sexual offense. However, the idea of rape is brought out. Females, being the more likely victims, seem to have a more intense grasp of what rape is and does. A paranoia rising in campuses across Alabama has triggered a growing awareness among students. One female student I interviewed at Shelton State Community College, defines rape as “violently taking control of someone’s body when, although they may be into you, they refuse at that point what you offer.”.  This description is very close to what usually happens during a rape.

A typical rape scenario would sound a lot like this:

It’s a Friday night. A 22-year-old female goes to her friend’s house for a party. Between the hours of 6pm and 6 am.  She sees a 28-year-old male that she knows or has met. After she has become drunk with alcohol on her own or after he slips a paralyzing drug, mostly likely rohypnol, into her drink, the criminal-to-be takes her away under the cover of trying to be a good friend. Once he either takes her home or just away from the crowd somewhere. He takes advantage of her mindless state. While this is happening she may regain some form of consciousness. This is when a struggle may occur resulting in injury for the victim. 74 percent of rapes involve some form of verbal or physical violence (Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center). The next morning the victim knows something fears shame, embarrassment, and the thought of not being believed. She says nothing.  No one is punished and no one is helped.

The after affects of a rape encounter for the victim are as follows:

Continued anxiety

Continued helplessness

Sleep difficulties

Social withdrawal

Reluctance to leave the house

Difficulty forming intimate relationships

Sexual dysfunction

Crying spells and/or anxiety attacks

(University of South Alabama)

Unless she speaks up no one will be able to help her deal with these deep emotional issues. Sadly, this is how the majority of rapes happen, since only an estimated 10 to 50 percent of rapes are reported (University of South Alabama). The 1,337 rapes recorded by Alabama’s authorities do not even began to suggest how often it actually occurs. A number that captures a closer parallel to reality would be about 3,000 rapes per year. Of the small number authorities are aware of only 46% are cleared (Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center). When asked how rape could be prevented the female student said, “More awareness. Many girls and guys are afraid to talk about it, which leaves people feeling alone when they aren’t.  If people would really see how real it is and the things it leaves behind then maybe there would be more awareness. Maybe then everyone would be more serious about it.” The A.C.A.R., Alabama Coalition Against Rape, feels the same way. This organization was formed to:

• Increase the reporting of sexual assault

• Increase public awareness of sexual assault

• Improve investigation and prosecution of sexual assault

(Alabama Coalition Against Rape).

Another preventive measure that would directly affect the number of occurring rapes would be to crack down on drug and alcohol distribution and consumption. In 90 percent of rapes that happen on college campuses, one or both of the individuals involved had consumed alcohol (University of South Alabama). That fact alone calls for some action by either government or college officials. Date rape drugs like Rohypnol and GHB are common occurrences in all night parties. Rohypnol is the perfect drug for what the rapist wants. The physical effects of this powerful sedative may be noticeable within 15 to 30 minutes after ingestion and last for hours with possible amnesia to what happened after the drug was taken (Rape Treatment Center).   Tasteless, odorless, and colorless it is undetectable to any of the human senses. GHB, also powerful and quickly effective, is known for its use in body building because it metabolizes the body (Rape Treatment Center). However, if either of these drugs is mixed with alcohol they become deadly. Some form of legislation must be past to disarm the rapists who have manipulated these materials.  When the male student was asked how to prevent rape he said that if someone committed a rape under the influence of alcohol then they should have all drinking privileges taken away for life. That may sound extreme, but when taking into account the value of human life it turns into a matter of profit and loss in today’s economy driven society. Without booming industries like alcohol and tobacco, feeding America’s already fat pockets, the land of the free could go to a slightly lower standard of living. Of course this is unacceptable. Until this country is willing to sacrifice its numbing treasures for the lives of the hurting the victims will keep drinking away the tears and the rapists will keep drinking away the guilt, never thinking that the drink is its own reason.

On the other hand, when rapists don’t use substance warfare or any weapons at all, some cases of reported rape are attempts by the “victim” to frame the accused. A legendary example of this would be the Scottsboro boys. This case put Alabama on the map in the worst way possible. Before Martin Luther King, Jr., the Scottsboro case is said to have been what triggered the civil rights activity two decades after the beginning of the case (Burck). March 25, 1931 nine African American under-aged supposedly raped two white girls. All of them were ridding on a train hobo-style. The two girls, Ruby and Victoria, were from the lowest possible economic positions and were rumored to be occasional prostitutes. During trial the two girls testified with conflicting stories that changed over time.  In spite of the extremely questionable character of the girls the white authorities of early 21st century Alabama were quick to assume that these Negro boys had done what they were accused of. At that shameful time in Alabama’s history equality and humanity took the back seat to tradition and ignorant pride. Sadly enough, all nine of the boys served years in prison for a crime they most likely never committed.  This type of situation is not unheard of today. Of course the racial factors have for the most part been demolished through the positive developments in Southern thought over the last 40 years, but some of the falsely accused still go to jail today. Some girls have used the threat of crying, “RAPE!” as a form of manipulation. Especially, today where laws against sexual offenders are becoming more public and embarrassing, someone overcome with hatred could ruin another’s life by simply saying they raped them. That is another reason why communication is so important in relationships. This way the male and female will be more aware of the other’s feelings. The male has to listen if his partner says “No” in spite of what body language or other conditions may suggest. In the same way females must make it undoubtedly clear if they feel violated by immediately voicing their objection.

A form of rape that society may forget is prison rape. The prisoners probably do not receive the same sympathies from the public, as do random college girls who never hurt any body, but the painful affects are the same in both types of rape. The act should not be more or less tolerated in either situation. Rape is rape. The punishment and counseling should be administered whether in public or in a prison. The government has stepped in to this particular fight with the Prison Rape Reduction Act of 2002. The intervention has the support of Alabama’s attorney general, Bill Pryor. He says, “Our prisons must protect public safety both by incarcerating dangerous criminals and through restorative justice. How can we expect a prisoner to behave as a responsible citizen and productive taxpayer after his release from prison, if that prisoner was the victim of rape and other violent crime while imprisoned? Our Constitution, which was framed based on a Judeo-Christian perspective of individual liberty, demands that we do better.” The Act will establish three programs within the U.S. Justice Department:

A statistics program will conduct annual studies and make subsequent reports of the incidences of prison rape in a sampling of federal and state prisons and local jails, and to review those institutions that greatly exceed the national average;

A prevention and prosecution program will be a clearinghouse for complaints of prison rape to be received confidentially and referred to appropriate authorities; and will provide training and assistance to prison officials on preventing and reducing prison rape, and detecting and punishing when the crime does occur;

A grant program will make annual grants totaling up to $40 million a year for state and local programs to prevent and punish prison rape.

This action by our government is very positive. This gives hope for more action in the future by the Alabama government that will help combat the emotionally and physically violent rape crime. With more awareness by organizations, better communication between sexual partners, and more government action against the substances that help create the conditions for rape Alabama has a chance to change the future for generations-to-be who had no part in corrupting the present.

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