Somber and defiant, a thirteen-foot Native American woman clad in bronze stands with her back to the Oklahoma State Capitol. She is a monument placed in tribute to the resilience of the Native American people. But today she stands in irony. A symbol of lip service paid to women in Oklahoma- minority women in particular.
It’s Women’s Equality Day and there is a press conference outside of the State Capitol. The doors are locked and we are standing outside, this irony too is not lost on us.
There is a devastating amount of research and documentation to affirm Oklahoma is not a safe or equitable place to be a woman. 31% of women between the ages of 18-35 reported experiencing sexual assault in their lifetimes.
Native American women are more than 2.5 times as likely as U.S. women in general to experience rape and sexual violence.
More than 20% of Black women are raped during their lifetimes and are two and a half times more likely to be murdered by men than their White counterparts.
Oklahoma touts the highest rate of female incarceration per capita in the world, is ranked 4th in the United States for homicide among women at the hands of males, and has an ever-widening wage gap.
These are just some of the statistics compiled by the advocates gathered at the capitol. But there’s another statistic that rings louder than the others. An appeal that rises to the top and demands action.
Over 7,000 rape kits in the state of Oklahoma remain untested. Rape kits which could free innocent people from jail, take the most violent of offenders off the streets, and give justice to victims, who are overwhelmingly women. These kits sit on shelves collecting dust as the statute of limitations runs out.
The absence of appropriated funding and resources to test these kits is evidence of the continued systemic disregard for women in the state of Oklahoma, from the top down.
Oklahoma will spend millions of tax payer dollars to lock up nonviolent offenders for decades, yet will not allocate adequate resources needed to test evidence which will put the most abhorrent criminals behind bars. This sends a message to the women of Oklahoma that we are second class citizens. That our bodies are not worth the cost of protecting. That we can be intimately violated, forgo further privacy in order to give the state evidence in an attempt to get justice, only for that evidence to degrade in a dark cabinet.
This is not about lack of funds, it’s about Oklahoma’s prioritization of women.
This is not justice. This is government sanctioned discrimination.
You may feel powerless to change anything, but your words in the private sphere can change the culture around sexual assault and gender-based violence. End victim-blaming language that asks women where they were, how much they drank, or what they wore when they were sexually assaulted.
Challenge your peers who perpetuate dangerous stigma against those who bravely step forward to report being assaulted. Our constant reminders to women – watch your drinks, don’t go outside alone, carry pepper spray – only serve to reduce risk; they don’t work to end the harm. Change the culture that suggests that any person ever deserves to be victimized and degraded, and be part of the social shift to stop protecting predators and start prioritizing the needs of Oklahoma’s most vulnerable communities
We get to choose the Oklahoma we live in. Let’s make it a safe and equitable place to be a woman.