Friday, April 06, 2012

More thoughts.

My blog post about my assault and the importance of being aware was picked up two days ago by Runner's World Online, published on their Other Voices blog. Eeeeee!!! Then, late yesterday, RW posted a link to it on its Facebook page. Eeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!! So lots of kind words still rolling in. This week has been absolutely surreal.

Out of all the comments that I've seen, there was one that was a little unkind, calling my story "offensively simple," pointing out that most rape victims experience their friends and family shrinking away in fear, and how the community and the police won't do anything to help them. She further pointed out that it appeared that I suffered no consequences of being assaulted.

I know, one negative comment. Not a big deal. But it brings up a few points I'd like to talk about.

First, let's just clear it up. Yes, there are consequences of being a victim of rape, or technically in this case, "criminal deviate conduct, sexual battery, intimidation, and criminal confinement." Um, duh!?! I chose not to spend a lot of time writing about those because it wouldn't help anyone, including me. I didn't do this so people would feel sorry for me. I wanted something good to come of it--for people to be able to take away something useful. Looks like that has been the case, so yay!

Now let's get to the real meat of the issue. The fact is that in most cases of rape, the victim knows his or her attacker. These are the ones that go unreported. I can't imagine how hard it would be to go to police, knowing that real repercussions could come back down on you because your attacker knows where you live, or even lives with  you. Also, in those cases, it can difficult, if not impossible, to prosecute because it turns into a "he-said, she-said" thing, competing narratives that invite interpretation, and suddenly even the victim might be questioning him- or herself. And society goes along with it. "Well, why were you wearing those clothes?" "Why did you have so much to drink?"

My case wasn't like that--I was attacked out of the blue in a public place and the police were able to come up with charges and gather actual evidence that the prosecutors could then use to effectively prosecute the charges. My attacker chose to deny that he was involved, instead of twisting the case into a narrative in which the blame was placed upon me, which is what so many rapists do.

So in a sense my negative commenter was correct about one thing: Sometimes people do shrink away and the police do not help. The police can do nothing if there's no case to build. They must work within the law, and the law, unfortunately, has limits. Believe me, I can tell you firsthand that the police, and the prosecutor's office, are EAGER to put rapists in jail. Their frustration at how often rapists get away with their crimes is very real. I don't think anyone questions the idea that at times, we have a flawed system.

And I regret to say that society often seems to buy in to this narrative that women--or men--are to blame for being victims. It's an insidious problem, and I don't pretend to have the answer. Perhaps it's just easier for people to deal with when they read about it in the newspapers, if they think, "Well, the victim put herself there, and I would never do that, so I don't have to worry about this happening to me." Sort of a defensive technique.

This is all just me rambling. I don't pretend to be an expert. I can only tell you what happened to me. It was hard, but I asked my family, my friends, my community, and the authorities for help, did it right away, and did everything I could to help them help me. And they responded in amazing ways. It's easy to be brave when you have the support of so many people. I really feel a little guilty placing any ownership on "brave" and words like it. If I had had people constantly questioning my interpretation of events, if the police had told me they couldn't charge my attacker, if the prosecutors had told me they couldn't realistically hope to make the charges stick in court, if he hadn't been caught the same day...well, things would be different. I don't think I would be so brave. And those scenarios are the reality that is faced by most victims of sexual assault.
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