Howard County residents certainly have reason to be alarmed by the 90 percent increase in the number of rapes reported in the county during the first six months of this year. The actual numbers may be small -- 21 cases reported as of June vs. 11 during the same six months in 1991. And since the increase in sexual assaults came to light, three cases have been ruled unfounded by police. Still, the nature of the crime will always warrant concern regardless of the numbers.
Something more appalling than alarming, however, is another statistic hidden within the rape figures. All except one of the cases reported this year in Howard are considered by police to be date or acquaintance-rape situations. The distinction between cases in which a victim knows her assailant and those in which she does not must be made because they say something entirely different about the necessary remedies.
Further, these figures out of Howard may suggest that in the aftermath of the William Kennedy Smith and Mike Tyson rape trials, two very different messages have filtered back to communities. For women, the message seems to be that it's all right to report an attack, even when they know the attacker.
For men? Well, for men, unfortunately, the message seems to have been moot.
Carol McCullough, director of the Howard County Sexual Assault Center, says the numbers suggest that some morays have not changed despite the attention given the Smith and Tyson trials.
"So much of rape, particularly among young people," said Ms. McCullough, "tends to be a misunderstanding about what is taught in the home. What we are still teaching boys is that when a girl says 'no,' she really doesn't mean it. And so much of the macho thing that is taught to boys tells them that to be a man you just go ahead and do it."
And what girls are still being taught too often, said Ms. McCullough, is that somehow they are at fault when they know their attacker.
To the county assault center's credit, much has been attempted in the area of prevention, particularly in the public schools. Last year, center officials paid 62 visits to Howard middle and high schools, speaking to more than 1,500 students about their attitudes toward assault.
But much more needs to be done, and much of it has to be done in the home. If for no other reason than to protect a child or young adult from being caught up in a tragic incident, parents must instill appropriate respect for others -- and self-respect -- in their offspring.
The statistics out of Howard indicate this message is still not getting through.