- - Sunday, November 23, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Rape.

The word is powerful, prompting the image of a strong man overpowering a smaller woman, forcing himself on her against her will. It is a savage act, an act of dominance and violence and, often, hate.

And lately, the word is everywhere.

Bill Cosby is accused of having raped or sexually assaulted more than a dozen women when he was the star of some of America’s favorite TV shows.

Freshmen women claim they were gang-raped by fraternity members at the illustrious University of Virginia. Three teenage girls charge that they were raped by a former classmate in Oklahoma.

In the latter two cases, the women have been further victimized by the people who were most supposed to come to their aid. At the University of Virginia, school officials, fearing a scandal, swept the accusations under the rug. Only after Rolling Stone magazine this month wrote a lengthy article detailing the charges did the university take action, suspending all campus fraternal organizations while police investigate.

The charges were particularly horrifying: In the Rolling Stone piece, the student described being raped by seven men in 2012.

“She remembers every moment of the next three hours of agony, during which, she says, seven men took turns raping her, while two more — her date, Drew, and another man — gave instruction and encouragement,” wrote Rolling Stone reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely.

The writer draws a conclusion about why the university ignored the student’s claims for so long.

“Rapes are kept quiet, both by students — who brush off sexual assaults as regrettable but inevitable casualties of their cherished party culture — and by an administration that critics say is less concerned with protecting students than it is with protecting its own reputation,” she wrote.

The case in Oklahoma is even worse. At least three high school girls say they were raped; two were 16 at the time, one was 14. The alleged predator was an 18-year-old former student who, according to reports, videotaped and disseminated footage of at least one of the rapes.

Once again in this case, the school failed to take swift action. Instead, the girls were subjected to ridicule by other students; one victim was suspended by the school for three days for swinging a book bag at a male student who verbally harassed her about the attack. Another was chastised by a school administrator for her behavior — lying about where she was going, hanging out with boys, allegedly doing drugs.

Meanwhile, the Cosby allegations continue to mount. Some 16 women now say they suffered unwanted sexual contact — many say they were drugged and raped by the comedian, now 77. Mr. Cosby, for his part, refuses to discuss what he calls “innuendo,” and because the statute of limitations has expired in nearly all the cases, it remains to be seen if criminal charges will be filed against “America’s Favorite Dad.”

The FBI says less than 50 percent of rapes are reported. Worse, as in the Cosby cases, accusations from women — even when they tell the same stories over many years — can still go nowhere. For instance, Mr. Cosby faced a civil lawsuit in which as many as 10 women were said to be ready to testify against him. But he settled the case in 2006, and that ended the matter.

Of the recent reports, the Cosby case is the most egregious: a powerful man allegedly taking advantage of young women who were thrilled to be around the celebrity, some believing his promises that he’d put them in his show or make them famous. His story is reminiscent of President Clinton, who as governor of Arkansas reportedly had state troopers deliver young women to him and, in the case of Monica Lewinsky, took advantage of a star-struck intern young enough to be his daughter.

But the response to the Cosby accusations illustrate a changing tide on rape. Ten, 20, 30 years ago, women raped or abused by powerful men often buried the assaults deep in their psyches, thinking no one would ever believe them. But women increasingly report rapes now and, unlike in the past, there is often less persecution of the victims, who often were maligned as loose or culpable. Raising awareness of the issue in recent months have been Congress and the White House, which launched “It’s On Us,” a campaign to educate people about campus rape.

“Our online hotline has seen a 25 percent increase every year,” Jen Marsh, vice president of Victims Services at the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network in Washington, told The Associated Press. “I think it has a lot to do with the dialogue happening around this issue.

“There is definitely a sea change of sorts with these activists being very open,” she said. “The focus has been unprecedented. We’re seeing some overwhelming support.”

It’s about time.

Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @josephcurl.

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