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How The Under-Reporting Of Rape And Sexual Assault Feeds Into Parenting Fear

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mom scaredParenting fear is a huge industry, and a huge problem according to lots of people who believe that insecure helicopter parenting is raising scared, over-protected kids who have never had the opportunity to recover from failure or solve their own problems. It’s easy to blame shows like Criminal Minds and the Law & Order franchise for our collective fears of child abductions, serial killers, and sexual assault. After all, seeing horrible things happen to good people on a weekly basis can wear on a person’s courage. Media sensationalism of high-profile cases don’t help the problem, either.

But I think there’s another less-mentioned influence out there that plays into parents’ inherent fear of leaving their children alone or letting them go out unattended. It’s the fact that sexual assault is largely under-reported and very rarely results in the criminal heading to jail. The failure of our justice system to prosecute or punish these criminals can make it feel like anyone you meet could be a rapist or a child molester.

That may sound like a big leap, but hear me out for a minute. Each year there are approximately 207,754 victims of sexual assault. It’s hard to say how many actual rapists, molesters or harassers that is, because a single person could have multiple victims. But still, 54% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police. That’s  112,187 instances where the police never even knew that a crime took place. So the perpetrators of those assaults were never even investigated by the police. Another scary statistic, only three percent of rapists actually spend a day in jail. That means that with all of the rape that happens in our country, the majority of those criminals are still out walking the streets.

Our country may like criminal dramas on television, but we’re also aware that most of the cases in real life don’t get wrapped up neatly in a bow at the end of an hour. Normally, the criminals aren’t caught and they definitely aren’t punished. For all the happy endings on Rizzoli & Isles or CSI, I think the majority of women especially know that most rapists are still walking around free and clear, no one knowing what kind of horrors they’re capable of inflicting on other human beings.

The thought of all those assaults that go unreported, the thought of all those rapists walking the streets, it’s a whole lot more terrifying than anything that Olivia Benson might face. It means that everywhere my daughter goes, she could be confronted with one of the criminals behind those 112,187 unreported incidents. I think about my daughter as a teenager walking through the mall and those numbers flood into my mind. There are a lot of people that she’ll come in to contact with, and any of them could be one of the criminals that got away. It could be one of the unreported masses.

Our justice system’s failure when it comes to rape and sexual assault is scary, and it creates a culture where it’s hard to trust the safety of our young kids. One more statistic to bring up, one in six American women is the victim of attempted or completed rape. A very small portion of those attackers were ever brought to justice. It’s easy to understand how those survivors might question the ability of police officers and judges to keep them safe. It’s easy to see how that would lead to the assumption that the world isn’t exactly a safe and happy place.

The under-reporting and under-prosecuting of rape and sexual assault in this country is a big problem. It’s unfair to the people who survive these attacks and deserve justice. But I think it also cultivates fear. How else are we supposed to feel about a huge group of criminals who have gone unpunished for assaulting and victimizing their fellow citizens?

(Photo: Lisa F. Young/Shutterstock)