Male legislators cannot ignore sexual assault

Rachel Freeman

A firestorm hit Twitter and Facebook last October as millions of Americans shared stories of sexual assault and harassment under the banner of #MeToo. Forty-five percent of American Facebook users either posted or saw the hashtag. The only people still on the sidelines? Our male legislators. 

There was a 35 percent gap between female and male legislators addressing sexual misconduct. Elected officials should be our societal leaders, representing our shared values and goals. Male legislators need to engage in conversations with their constituents and create laws to further protect victims and prosecute predators. 

Sexual violence affects us all. Every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted. Social media movements over time have brought attention to the harassment too many Americans experience.   

Many Americans look to their elected officials for acknowledgment of this issue. Seventy-two percent of female legislators posted about sexual misconduct on social media, but only 37 percent of men did. Thirty-one percent of Republican legislators mentioned sexual conduct in a post while 46 percent of Democrats did.  

Nearly all statistics of sexual misconduct show disparity in how the issue affects men and women. Women are attacked disproportionately more with 90 percent of rape victims being female. Men are disproportionately likely to be the perpetrator with 90 percent of sexual assaults committed by a man, including 93 percent of assaults against men. Considering this dichotomy it is incredibly important both genders work together to find solutions. 

 Legislators have the platform and the power to address national problems. When a majority of men in control of our governing bodies ignore this issue, it becomes virtually impossible to fully address the problem. 

It is understandable if men who are not victims of sexual violence want to make sure they do not overshadow the voices of victims. But, there is a big difference between overshadowing and refusing to be an ally by staying silent.  

Rep. Ryan Costello, R-PA, has proven himself an ally by acknowledging the issue and taking definitive steps. Costello partnered with male and female colleagues to sponsor the Member and Employee Training and Oversight On (ME TOO) Congress Act. This act changes sexual assault reporting procedures within Congress. Other lawmakers should follow Costello and the few other men taking action to combat sexual violence.  

All legislators need to take notice of their constituents’ problems, listen to those most affected, discuss solutions and pass legislation to address the issue. The fact that a majority of our male congressmen are not willing to have a conversation about a topic that affects millions of Americans is unacceptable. 

Instead of staying silent, male legislators should have conversations with victims and write laws based on those conversations to address sexual violence. Currently, 99 percent of rapists serve no jail time for their crimes and the majority who are incarcerated are jailed for less than three years. Legislators must reform how sexual predators are prosecuted and increase the severity of punishment for the convicted. 

Rachel Freeman is a international relations and global studies junior from Cedar Park. Follow her on twitter @rachel_frmn.