War at Home: Sexual Violence in Orange County

Guest Post by Matt Robinson

Two weeks ago, a student at Chapel Hill High School reported that she had been raped by two fellow students in the woods across the street from her school. Later that same week, an employee at Britthaven nursing home was sexually attacked by a coworker while she was at work. In the background of these attacks looms an unsolved series of rapes and sexual assaults in Carrboro last month, assaults likely the work of one man.

All of this occurred in less than one month, within 4 miles of Chapel Hill’s downtown post office. Five reported attacks on five women in one small part of one small county of one state, in what most would describe as a pretty peaceful town.

But peaceful for whom? Not for the police, who are now investigating five attacks. Not for stunned students, nursing home employees, and women who live alone, fearful for their safety. And the area is certainly not peaceful for the victims and those who love them. For these people, the myth of a peaceful hometown has been shattered, replaced by tears, fears, and horrible memories.

Maybe this is just a coincidence that these attacks are occurring here and now, a statistical fluke of bad luck. Perhaps things are better in the rest of the state, or the rest of the world, for that matter.

Crime statistics and the claims of victims, though, dispel this wishful thinking; in fact, almost anywhere you go women are continually victimized by sexual violence. In this state alone, and only in a recent ten-year period, 22,218 women reported that they had been raped. This horrifying number is more than double the number of deaths since the US invaded Iraq last March, Iraqi, US, and coalition fatalities combined. Granted, the victims in North Carolina’s sexual attacks survived, but the comparison to war is entirely appropriate, especially in light of the rapes reported by US servicewomen overseas in Afghanistan and Iraq. Sexual violence is a kind of war, a subtle and protracted battle waged by men for the sexual control of women, by force.

This war of the malicious and powerful against the powerless is aided by silence. Aside from society’s reluctance to deal with the subject head-on, the pain and trauma of rape is so profound that many women simply don’t –or can’t—admit it. It is widely understood that reported rapes are only part of the story, and that only half (or fewer) of women sexually assaulted report their attack to police.

There are many reasons why a woman would choose to hold her silence in the aftermath of a rape, reasons of intense shame and embarrassment, or the fear that no one will believe them. Sometimes it is the fear of more violence that keeps a woman silent, especially women in abusive relationships.

But one of the most insidious reasons that women keep their silence is because society as a whole prefers to keep silent about it. The press and media report on rapes when they happen, but seldom report on sexual assault as anything other than a series of isolated incidents (the Carrboro rapist notwithstanding). It is never regarded as a crisis, or as the epidemic of violence which it is, and it never seems to generate much discussion.

This silence must end. Sexual violence must become a topic of concern, not a subject of shame. Boys must be taught that having sex with a woman against her will doesn’t make them tough or manly, it only makes them rapists. Men must be reminded that it is they who have the obligation to put an stop to sexual violence, by refusing to allow women to be mistreated and by calling out men who make excuses for rape.

And above all, men must acknowledge that they – we – are each responsible for ending sexual violence. We have the power to commit sexual assault, therefore, we have the ability to stop it. Like the feminist graffito above the occasional urinal says, “the power to end rape is in your hands.”

The pain and grief of our sisters, our lovers, our mothers, our friends, demands that we do so.

Matt Robinsons is a local historian and activist. He can be reached at mattr @ ibiblio . org (remove the spaces).



Plus, I really take issue with the comment that women must arm themselves against potential assaults; implying that women who are not armed are in effect "asking for it".

And please don't equate human life with property. Actually, in this society we seem to value property greater than the rights of women... so here we have the crux of the problem.

There must be something wrong with my computer. It shows a post from Matt Robinson saying, "No matter how you look at it, having a penis in the home seriously increases the chances of rape. Which is what this thread started off with."

If that's what he really meant to say, and if it's true, then isn't the perfect solution to the entire problem self-evident?

Is anyone commenting here a victim of sexual violence / assault? It would be nice to hear the voices of some victims in these matters, since they are typically the ones whose opinions are silenced.

Two individuals are assaulted/attacked and the one guilty party gets 75 days in jail with a suspended sentence and 24 months probation? Am I reading the news wrong? You can rape and murder and do little or no time, but by gosh cheat the gov't out $$$ and you go to jail for years?

Trish, you are totally right about this insanely disproportionate sentencing. Violating another human being gets you a suspended sentence, but god forbid you get caught with some recreational drugs. They'll throw away the key.

It seems that sexual violence is not taken seriously by our government. Is this because it is viewed as a "domestic" (ie: personal, in the home, none of your beeswax) matter, or just plain old not giving a crap about women?

Yes, Ian, gun ownership is a constitutional right that, in theory, protects people. But Ruby is certainly correct - when we are talking about domestic and sexual violence, the lethality issue is beyond clear. In the US, 60% of domestic violence-related homicides of women occur with a firearm. In NC, a full 2/3 (or 67%, indeed more than the national average) of DV-related homicides of women occur using a firearm. There was a known history of domestic violence (i.e. police and/or court involvement) in 67% of those cases. Having worked in this field for over 10 years, I have known of far too many clients and one coworker murdered (need I say with a gun?) by a former or current partner. No matter how you look at it, having a gun in the home seriously increases the chances of death. If you would like the details about the 2002 and 2003 DV homicides in NC, please see http://www.nccadv.org/homicides.htm.

"No matter how you look at it, having a gun in the home seriously increases the chances of death."


No matter how you look at it, having a penis in the home seriously increases the chances of rape. Which is what this thread started off with.

As referred to above, two more women were raped this past weekend on Duke's West Campus, near Duke Gardens. Very brief coverage in the Chronicle, haven't seen the Herald this week.

This might be a good time to encourage people who care about this to do something. Orange County Rape Crisis Center trains volunteers to help victims of sexual violence. www.ocrcc.org

Especially needed are volunteers who wouldn't be 'typical' volunteers. (males, minorities, etc.)

Also OCRCC sponsors educational programs that help reduce the risk of becoming victimized. This seems like a much safer and healthier alternative to having a gun.

More madness, two marines convicted of assaulting a woman and her friend: http://www.herald-sun.com/orange/10-462183.html

It's especially disheartening when we have to protect ourselves from those whose duty it is to protect us!

I fear that if more people have guns at home, domestice violence will simply be more frequent and more lethal. That's no comfort at all.

No, there is a real reason why people in Orange County are being victimized--they have not taken adequate responsibiltiy for protecting themselves and their property.






In the average response time after a 911 call, there is still plenty of time for someone to beat you, rob you, rape you, and murder you. But you are not helpless.


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