Revolution Online, December 12, 2008

Unopened Rape Kits and a Society of Violent Domination Over Women

First came the news that the LAPD has never opened more than 7,000 rape kits now sitting in its freezers and 200 of those have passed the ten-year statute of limitations. Two weeks later, the latest: nearly 6,000 rape kits in the hands of the L.A. County Sheriffs, who openly admit their policy has been a policy NOT to test them unless specifically requested by a detective. Human Rights Watch estimates there are many more untested rape kits lying around police departments in L.A. County, still making up only part of the 400,000 throughout the country.

How is it that DNA evidence from hundreds of thousands of violent crimes is sitting around in police department freezers untouched for years?

Superficially the cavalier handling of these rape kits seems at odds with the “war on crime” of recent years where the US prison population has become the largest in the world, including the unprecedented number of incarcerations for non-violent or minor drug offenses. What does this tell us about the kind of society we live in and its direction? Why would extreme physical and psychological violence against women, such as rape, be treated so inconsequentially by the authorities? Is such official endorsement of misogyny simply neglect or something much deeper as to the systemic and systematic oppression of women (i.e. the patriarchy)? It is the latter.

A woman in on online support group for rape survivors wrote, “It’s a good thing I had so much evidence because I learned fast that rape and sexual assault is the hardest felony to convict anyone of.” On NPR’s Talk of the Nation, a caller from Michigan reported, “I was a professional emergency room nurse for over 15 years, and I probably collected over 500 evidence kits [rape kits] for the state police and I never was subpoenaed to testify that I collected the tests, which would’ve been the procedure if it was prosecuted. … I’m always amazed at the amount of rapes that aren’t prosecuted.”

Most women never report being raped. The 200,000 to 300,000 rapes and sexual assaults reported each year are estimated to be only 20 to 40 percent of actual attacks. The revelations about the unopened rape kits further hammer home the point that going through the humiliation of reporting a rape, being prodded and combed for DNA evidence, having to tell what happened to accusing eyes, is absolutely useless. This is also expressed in the noticeable silence in response to this outrage. One woman, who was devastated after finally getting her rape kit tested only to find out it had passed the statute of limitations, said she expected people to be “up in arms” about the LAPD backlog. When it became clear that rape survivors weren’t speaking out about it, she realized, “Why should they? They don’t see the benefit of it.”

In the USA, a woman is sexually assaulted every two minutes. One out of every three women will be raped in her lifetime. Inside the US military, women soldiers are so often raped going to the bathroom at night that some have died of dehydration when they stopped drinking liquids in the afternoon so they wouldn’t have to go to the bathroom. And this same U.S. military, who people are told to cheer for in the name of liberating Iraqi and Afghan women, is gang-raping Iraqi and Afghan women as part of how they fight — like 14-year-old Abeer Hamza who was gang-raped by US troops in Iraq, troops who then killed Abeer, her sister, and her parents, and burned down their house to cover up the crime.

The routinely oppressive and often violent subjugation of women by men is part of the normal functioning of this society — codified into laws, the mass culture, the family, and all forms of religion. It is why some states didn’t even have laws against men raping their wives until the 1990s. It is why men can kill their wives and get reduced sentences for “crimes of passion” while most women in prison for violent crimes are there for fighting back against abuse by men. It is why over and over and over again women and girls who have been raped, molested, battered, and abused are the ones blamed for this violence against them, told it was something they did that caused it. And it is why when it comes to rape, the police are not interested in testing evidence, and the DAs refuse or act like they don’t know how to prosecute.

Currently, there is a certain consensus among large sections of the U.S. ruling class that reassertion of traditional family and patriarchal morality is needed in order to cohere U.S. society behind its brutal attempts to maintain its dominant position in a rapidly changing world. There are the Sarah Palin-type Christian fascist theocrats who for decades have been incessantly attacking and chipping away women’s rights to abortion, and who openly say they would strip women of the right to abortion even in the case of rape and incest. Given all this, is it any wonder why seriously dealing with rape and its roots has no priority in the local or national government?

Hand in hand with the theocrats have been the secular fascists like Heather MacDonald who have launched highly ideological attacks aimed at undermining and destroying what came out of the radical movements of the 1960s. MacDonald has insisted that rape on college campuses is a make-believe epidemic created by the women’s movement to encourage promiscuous women to make up lies against men.

Women in this “best of all worlds” function daily with rape as a constant threat and too often reality. The reason this kind of horrific violence against women can be so thoroughly dismissed as in the case of the rape kits is because of the position of women in this society as property, a relation that came into existence with the division of human society into classes. Even in an imperialist country like the U.S. where large numbers of women working outside the home has broken down some of the traditional family relations, women’s role is to maintain the family and produce children. To the extent that women have broken free of this, the crass commodity relations of capitalism have resulted in the expression of this property relation in other forms, like the extreme objectification of women’s bodies, (including the sex-in-the-city phenomenon of women objectifying themselves). Regardless of the freedom women would like to believe they have, rape is a brutal reminder of what their actual position is.

Calling for more DNA testing, more money for police departments, or more prosecution will not get us anywhere near to solving the horror of rape. Placing our hopes in the system and their enforcers to address the interest of the masses of women and humanity as a whole is worse than futile — it’s like asking the fox to guard the chicken coop as the saying goes. As long as capitalist economic and social relations exist with its commodification of women, rape and other brutal expressions of the patriarchy will be part of the “normal functioning” of such a society. It is fundamentally why eradicating rape has not and will not even be discussed as a serious goal.

What is needed is a communist revolution to uproot the traditional property relations and traditional ideas that give rise to the daily horrors against women. The masses of women as well as men need to be mobilized and unleashed to shatter all the chains that hold women down in this society in order to achieve a better world — and do away with the horror of rape that is but one extreme manifestation of everything that is intolerable with the status quo that cries out for revolution.

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