famalaoan / politiku

Breaking the Silence

The Pacific Daily News had a strong article today on the rate of reported forcible rape on Guåhan.  Dr. Ellen Bez and Marissa Aguon of Healing Hearts were interviewed.

I remember seeing a similar report from 2010, when Guåhan did have the highest rate of reported rapes in the U.S. and territories.

It has always struck me that people don’t believe rape is a problem, because 80% of those affected are afraid to come forward, because they worry that no one will believe them . . . a Catch-22 indeed.  I am very tired of hearing people in power dismiss a problem because no one will come forward to report or reveal a crime.

Silence is a legitimate factor.  Fear of social penalties.  Fear of causing difficulty or aggravation to the attacker.  Fear of homophobia (especially in boys or men who have suffered rape).

We should be encouraging people to report crimes, not discouraging them.  Let it be reported, and let it be examined and judged and investigated.  That is fair.

Rape rate 2nd highest in US: Unreported rapes not included in statistics

Written by Cameron Miculka, Pacific Daily News, Feb. 2, 2015

Although Guam has one of the highest rates of reported rape in the country, the data likely shows only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the island’s problem of sexual violence.

According to national and local statistics, Guam’s per capita rate of reported forcible rape is more than twice the national average.Neither local nor national data take into account the number of unreported rapes, which make up the vast majority of all attacks, according to federal surveys.

In order to better educate the community and address the need for better disclosure rates, staff at Healing Hearts Crisis Center, a branch of the Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center that provides support for victims of sexual assault, are working to better educate the community about stamping out sexual violence.

Each year, the Guam Police Department compiles its Unified Crime Report, which provides data about specific crimes committed in Guam.

Since 2009, the number of reported forcible rapes in Guam has risen from 29 to 110 reports last year. In 2013, the most recent year for which both national and local statistics are available, GPD received 106 reports of forcible rape. That comes out to a rate of 64.2 reported rapes per 100,000 people.

The national rate, according to the FBI’s own unified crime report, is 25.2 reported rapes per 100,000 people.

Of the 50 states, only Alaska, with a rate of 87.6 reported rapes per 100,000 people, has a higher rate than Guam.

Dr. Ellen Bez, a medical consultant for Healing Hearts Crisis Center, was initially skeptical of the data put forth by police that indicated Guam’s rate was more than twice the national average and whether the local data scaled with the national data.

However, she said, she wouldn’t be surprised that Guam’s per capita rate was higher than in the U.S., and posited several factors that could contribute to the situation here.

Bez said those factors could include large households and the presence of migrants who come from communities where sexual assault doesn’t carry the same consequences it does here.

She added that the center is exploring the possibility of conducting surveys and generating its own statistics about rape in Guam.

However, the number of reports made in Guam could just be the tip of the iceberg.

According to the U.S. Justice Department, the majority of rapes have gone unreported in past years.

In 2013, the department’s “Crime Victimization” survey indicated that only 28 percent of those who reported being raped said they reported the incident to police.

Bez said the standard statistic puts the number of unreported rapes nationwide at around 60 to 80 percent.

However, there’s no telling right now how Guam’s disclosure rate compares to the country.

Bez said she’d expect the rate to closely mirror the national statistic, with the island maybe falling closer to the higher end of the scale.

Whatever the rate of unreported rapes is, she said, it’s an issue Guam needs to face head on.

“I mean it’s a huge problem,” she said. “It doesn’t make any difference if you say 60 or 70, it’s a huge problem.”

Family member attackers

Maresa Aguon, Healing Hearts program manager, said the victim’s family dynamics also can be a factor.

In the majority of rape cases, the perpetrator is usually identified as a family member or acquaintance.

Aguon said in 2013, of the 111 clients Healing Hearts served, 51 percent of those clients said the attacker was a family member. An additional 36 percent of clients said the attacker was an acquaintance.

That’s been consistent with data collected over the last few years, she added.

“Stranger rape is not the big, hot issue on this island,” she said. “It’s not where the majority of the victims come from.”

The 51 percent figure includes all clients served at Healing Hearts over the course of 2013, both children and adults.

It’s uncertain how those numbers compare to the bigger picture of rape in Guam because the police no longer provide that information in their reports.

Bez added that this is similar to the situation in the U.S. mainland, where most rape victims know their attacker.

Aguon said the fact that more than 80 percent of victims know their attackers could contribute to low disclosure rates.

“These children — and a lot of times these are the children — these children know what’s going to happen if they tell,” she said.

Accusing a family member of rape will lead to tension in the household and, if the attacker is the primary breadwinner, a possible loss of financial support for the family.

Fear factor

Bez and Aguon said attackers “absolutely” depend on victims’ fear of coming forward.

Bez added that a child’s fear of seeing their family be torn apart can be one of the biggest factors in play.

“You know, the adjudication process can sometimes take years to get things going,” she said. “And in the meantime, the child sees their life falling apart.”

“And here this child said something and they see the result, they’ve lost everything,” she continued.

As a result, some victims might want to recant their accusation to avoid further strife.

Male victims

Disclosure is especially difficult when the victims are male, said Bez.

Aguon noted that in 2013, 14 of the center’s 111 clients were male.

Bez said having those victims come forward about being victimized is “always harder.”

“Boys, you know, traditionally have to be tougher and braver,” Bez said.

She added that there tends to be more shame associated with boys who are raped.

Aguon said the center has seen very few males come through their doors, especially adults.

Bez also said that it’s not uncommon for male victims to wait years, “sometimes more than half their life,” before coming forward about being sexually assaulted.


Overall, disclosure is the “number one” issue for fighting back against sexual assault, said Bez and Aguon.

In order to solve that issue, Bez and Aguon said outreach is a huge component of the work they do.

The two women said the agency works to spread awareness and educate the island’s population about what sexual assault is and how it can be stopped.

Those campaigns, said Aguon, have brought forth real results.

“The point to be made is that we noticed that when our outreach and education and prevention efforts increase, that disclosures increase,” she said.

She said the agency has a program that brings educational material into elementary schools to share with students.

Public elementary schools can request agency representatives come into schools for presentations about keeping safe and recognizing good or bad touches.

Furthermore, there’s the LaniKate Task Force, a government of Guam initiative to put sexual assault education into all public schools at all grade levels.

She added that the task force has identified a curriculum used in Hawaii that can be adapted for use in Guam and fine-tuned to the cultural norms here.

Having a culturally relevant curriculum, Aguon said, is important in order to address some of the issues of rape specific to Guam, such as those that involve family members.

Bez said other cultural elements that need to be tailored for Guam involve language barriers and overcoming differences in what norms are in place for various communities on island.

Male advocates

Aside from going into the schools to share their message, Bez said they are also recruiting advocates among men in the fight against sexual assault.

Traditionally, when speaking about rape, men are seen as the perpetrators or “bad guy” in the situation, she said.

“And we’re really trying to enlist the aid of men and have them help us,” said Bez. “As opposed to looking at them as the source of the crime, how can we engage men in this fight?”

Aguon added that the inclusion of men in the conversation is one being held even at the national level.

Ultimately, Bez said, the goal is to move the island to a point where there’s nothing that needs to be disclosed.

“‘Disclosure’ means something’s already happened, and we’d like to get it to the point where we really just have kids better educated on who’s OK to go with, who’s not OK to go with,” she said.

“And that’s really what we’re after,” she continued. “That’s the goal, is to get kids before they’ve been hurt.”


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