Former President Jimmy Carter: Universities and the Military Must Address Sexual Violence Against Women

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The two greatest and most revered institutions in the United States — universities and the military — wrongly turn a blind eye to sexual violence against women, former President Jimmy Carter said today in a speech at Princeton University.

“Almost every university administration is very reluctant to admit that, ‘On my campus, girls are sexually assaulted,'” Carter told an audience of more than 800 people at the Princeton University Chapel.

Carter, who has done humanitarian work in 146 countries, said the problem is part of a broader pattern of oppression and violence against women and girls around the world that is the greatest unaddressed human rights issue of our time.

He explores the issue in his latest book, “A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power.” The book addresses the suffering inflicted upon women by a false interpretation of carefully selected religious texts and a growing tolerance of violence and warfare. Key verses are often omitted or quoted out of context by male religious leaders to exalt the status of men and exclude women.

Carter said the violence, suffering and humiliation women and girls endure is unpleasant, disturbing, and often “unbelievable.”

He discussed the practice of genital mutilation, the selective abortion of girls in some countries, sex slave trafficking in the U.S. and around the globe, sexual discrimination, harassment and rape.

Carter, 90, said he and his wife left their own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, in 2000 after the church declared that women should be subservient to men. Jesus treated women and men as equals and Carter noted that many leaders in the early church were women.

He said more than 60,000 people in the U.S. are sex slaves, and local law enforcement agencies are aware of the locations of brothels and whore houses, but they often let them operate in exchange for bribes or sexual favors.

Sexual assaults are a major problem at universities and colleges. Female students  are given counseling but the rapists are rarely expelled or prosecuted, he said. School administrators don’t want to make an issue out of the sexual assaults, thereby enabling serial rapists on campuses across the country. Men believe therefore believe they can rape without fear of expulsion or prosecution.

“I can’t understand why a university would want a serial rapist to remain as a student,” Carter said.

Less than five percent of campus rapes are reported on U.S. college campuses each year. The rate is 35 percent for the general public. Forty percent of universities did not report a single rape on campus over the last five years, he said.

The U.S. Justice Department released a report last month that showed that 90 percent of the rapes committed on college campuses are committed by four percent of the men. One in five girls is sexually assaulted before graduation and one in 10 is raped.

“This university is not immune from it. Neither is Yale or Harvard,” he said.

In 2012, 26,000 cases of sexual assault were reported in the U.S. military, yet only 310 rapists were brought to justice, or less than 1.5 percent.

“A plethora of unaddressed crimes are perpetrated against women and girls in this country and around the world, Carter said. “It results in the loss of life, the disfigurement of girls, the sexual bondage of millions of girls sold into brothels, and the sexual assault of women on university campuses, probably including this one.”

Carter received the James Madison Award for Distinguished Public Service. He also signed books for a few hundred people after his talk and answered questions from several students.

Carter told students they can assume personal responsibility and let their voices be heard by calling for an end to violence against women on campus. They can report criminal activity to the school administration and make sure schools do something about the issue.

He said Title IX should be interpreted very rigidly, and penalties against schools that do not comply should be severe. For the next year or two the federal government should work with schools to give them a chance to sort things out before issuing penalties, he said.

“Rapists should be expelled from school and put in jail,” he said as many in the audience applauded.