“Before you file an official police report, you should know that this part can be very hard on the victim.” Those were the words of the social worker called in to council me after I’d been raped. Two police officers and my friend Terence were also in the room.
“They’ll drag you through the ringer and you’ll have to re-live the experience again and again and again. They’ll question you almost as though YOU were the person who did something wrong. Chances are, they’ll also drag your past sexual history into it, especially if they think there’s any reason to suggest you invited this upon yourself.”
She said it kindly, trying to protect me from further hurt. She wanted me to know what I was facing if they ever caught the perpetrator who’d crawled through the window and taken my innocence from me. “You have a choice,” she said. “If you don’t want to report it, and you feel it would be easier to just walk away and try to get on with your life, you can.”
It didn’t seem like much of a choice to me. Let the man who did this walk free and some day find out another young girl had lived through the two hours of hell I’d lived through? Nope. I had to do everything I could to prevent that. I reported it. He was never arrested (though they thought they might have him a year or so later and I had to try to identify him in a series of photos). I never had to live through a court procedure. He might still be out there raping girls. The thought horrifies me.
The social worker’s words have been going through my head this week as news reports of another young woman who was raped in our province has surfaced. Tragically, though the case went to court, the rapist is walking free. The judge handed down a conditional sentence and no jail time, suggesting that the woman may have invited it on herself by wearing suggestive clothing and “letting her intentions known that she wanted to party”.
I don’t know the details of the case, but according to an interview on the radio this afternoon, they were in a car with a group of other people (after hanging out at the bar) when he started groping her. She told him to stop and he didn’t. Finally she said “I’m getting out of the car to get away from you.” He got out of the car too, took her into the woods and raped her.
I have no way of judging the woman’s behaviour, but this I know… no matter WHAT she was wearing, if she said no, it meant NO. Even if she was strutting down the street naked, he had no right to force sex on her. NO RIGHT!
Once again, our system has victimized the victim. After living through the hell of a court case, getting her actions trotted out for all the world to see, living through the shame of everyone thinking she was dressed inappropriately and “asked for it”, she now has to be told that the man who did this is a free man with nothing more than a conditional sentence.
Yes, I’m angry. Violence has a way of victimizing and then re-victimizing people. Not only do people get hurt by it, but if it’s not brought to justice, the next victim remains silent, and the violence is allowed to continue. And get worse. The next time a young woman sits in a room like I did with a social worker and police officer, she’ll know that if she reports this, there’s a good chance it won’t make any difference.
It’s the same thing we see with brutal dictators like those who are finally being challenged in the Middle East. For years they perpetuate their violence and the victims remain silent because there’s a good chance things will only get worse instead of better if they report it. In some countries, young women who are raped end up being stoned or forced to marry their rapist because somehow it was THEIR fault.
Though I didn’t have to live through the court system, I know a bit about what it feels like to feel blamed. When people found out what happened, I got a lot of support, but I also heard a number of stupid questions. “Why did you have your window open?” (Because it was a furnace in my apartment and I didn’t want to suffocate. Is it wrong to sleep with my window open?) “Couldn’t you have kicked him in the groin or something?” (And risk getting even more hurt than I was? As it was, he tried to stab me with my scissors when I tried to resist – I didn’t exactly want to piss him off further.)
It’s time to stop blaming the victim. No matter what personal choices we make, none of us invite violence on ourselves.
It’s time to call violence – under ANY circumstances – wrong.
(Note: I’m happy to learn that the judge in this case is under review.)