Around three hundred incidents of rape are reported to the Albuquerque Police Department each year. Nearly twice this number are registered at the Rape Crisis Center and S.A.N.E. (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) program. Some specialists estimate that an equal or greater number of rape and sexual assault incidents in Albuquerque are not reported at all.
Across the United States, only 24 percent of all rapes reported to the police result in the suspect’s arrest. 18 percent are prosecuted in a court of law, 10 percent lead to a conviction, and about 6 percent lead to jail time. Considering pandemic underreporting, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) estimates that less than 3 percent of all rapists will ever spend time behind bars. In New Mexico, the number of women likely to suffer rape or attempted rape in their lifetime (one in four) is six percentage points higher than the national average, and the likelihood perpetrators will be arrested, prosecuted, convicted and sentenced to time in prison is lower.
Taken together, we might conclude that our justice system has utterly failed to punish and deter sexual violence, and that rape is the felonious violent crime to get away with in America. Forgiving the overburdened justice system for just a moment, we might also indict society at large, because our apparently high societal tolerance for sex without consent effectively reduces our legal statutes to a mere normative suggestion. And like many normative suggestions that are inconsistent with actual norms, we ignore them.
And so we see an enormous discrepancy between formal legal statues and actual punitive outcomes. While New Mexico law mandates an 18-year prison sentence for criminal sexual penetration in the first degree, perpetrators sentenced to prison spend on average less than one year behind bars. Meanwhile, the District Attorney’s violent crimes division is heavily backlogged, such that rape cases—“a low priority crime”—often take years before they are brought to trial. Even when police investigations are made and forensic evidence is ample, victims frequently drop their own cases amid the attrition of time. As most rape cases are ultimately decided on “he said/she said” evidence, there is no case without a victim.
Now, considering an estimated 97 percent failure rate for convicting perpetrators of rape, is it reasonable to ask if rape is perhaps not such a heinous crime after all, and that this is why its prohibition is so poorly enforced? Perhaps, like J-walking or tearing the tags off of mattresses, it is something we have codified as illegal but which we all know deep down is a matter of total inconsequence. Perhaps the vast majority of rapes—those that are not “legitimate” rapes at least—are as inconsequential as and indistinguishable from that low-life you brought home from the bar while your beer goggles were still on. Perhaps rape is just bad, regrettable sex, the likes of which sexual assault defense attorneys will assure to the jury the victim always had on a very regular and very slutty basis. Perhaps the entire concept of rape should even be turned on its head, and be thought of as a choice on the part of the victim. Like smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, it is an unhealthy choice, but one for which the addict/victim has no one but herself to blame.
But alas, let me be frank: to believe rape is anything but a heinous crime against humanity is to believe bull shit.
And it is equally heinous that we have done so little to stop it.
I have lost sleep over many injustices, some of which have occurred under my nose or before my eyes. I have seen the rich systemically and unceremoniously crush the poor. I have seen the poor crush one another in desperate and stupid bets to diminish their relative misery. I have seen the wretched and their gods crush me, take away my loved ones, my hard earned things, my dignity. I have seen a good many lives so pointlessly mutilated by hate, jealousy, or greed, and their corpses so mutilated by bullets, knives, and tropical heat. But of all this that in one foul utterance we can call life, nothing has haunted my dreams so much as the pervasive and persistently ignored tragedy of sexual violence in every place I have been.