A Survivor’s Response

30 05 2007

This powerful post comes from the blog Taking Steps. If you follow the link, you will also find a really interesting conversation going on in the comments section. Thank you to little light (blogger) and to Pigeon (guest poster)!

on the record

This is another guest post by Pigeon, in response to the huge mess going around right now in relation to the accouncement regarding the Duke lacrosse rape case. I didn’t feel qualified to offer an opinion myself, certainly not one that’s not already been offered by folk who know better than I do, but this is important to read. If this doesn’t bring it home for you and hurt, I’m not sure you’re a person.
Anyway. I should leave it at that.
Except this, considering how many trolls are out running around right now: if you so much as consider being an asshole about this, I will moderate you so hard your ancestors will feel it, capisce?
–ll.

i tried to write about this post a few days ago, a few days after the duke verdict came out.
i tried, and erased and rewrote and erased, and gave up.
i want this to come out right. i want this to be so many things, i don’t much think it will be. but i think i need to write this anyway.i didn’t expect the duke case to shake me so much. i feel like i hear about, talk about, read about, think about rape every day. i like to think i’ve built up some callous at this point, a tough, thick covering to take the edge off.the whole thing caught me off guard. i didn’t follow the case very closely, mostly just reading feminist analyses on various blogs, snippets on npr. closely enough though, to know that the whole thing was deeply fucked up, that something happened to that woman that night, whether or not it fit the official charges or was perpetrated by the three accused.and now they’ve been proclaimed not guilty, and that’s fine. i don’t know if they did it, but let’s presume innocence. glad they got their names cleared.

except now you hear the news, following “three boys innocent” with “she was never raped” and liar and whore. and no one seems to notice that the accused men’s innocence has nothing to do with whether or not she was raped, only that they didn’t do it. she called 911 for a reason, she went to the hospital afterwards, the examination supported her claims of sexual assault. we have no reason to think those results were wrong, no new information to contest it. perhaps she picked the wrong guys from the line-up, but that has little to do with what actually happened to her.
(go to feministe for more intelligent, coherent and thorough thoughts on this. read the comments at your own risk. i wish i hadn’t.)

but no one seems to remember that. instead it’s just liar, liar, liar. as if survivors aren’t called liars often enough as it is. this case just adds fuel to the fire of news media crying out, “she says she was raped, but what if she’s lying!” perpetuating the idea that women routinely lie about sexual assault to deflect attention from their own misdoings.

i don’t know a lot of statistics, and am never quite sure when to trust them, but i do know a lot of women, and i trust them a whole lot. of all the women i know, more than not have been raped, sexually assaulted or sexually abused at some point in their lives. of these women, more than not never reported. and of the few who did, more than not suffered pretty intense negative consequences because of it.

and no, this is not just the women i know, and, yes, they are representative of a much larger trend that exists in equal numbers outside of the communities that i’m a part of. it is not just a queer women thing, a once-alcoholic-drug-addicted women thing, a feminist women thing, a young collegiate women thing, a femme women thing.

and so here’s yet another very public rape trial which ultimately tells survivors that it’s your fault because you put yourself in a vulnerable situation or let him buy your dinner once, because you were drunk or not wearing enough clothing or made eye contact and smiled, besides, you’re probably a slut. and if you do try to press charges, no one will believe you anyway.

so, whatever, i was raped when i was sixteen. i was at your standard someone’s-parents-are-out-of-town-for-the-weekend-let’s-get-wasted high school party, drunk way past the point of blackout, he was the 21 year old buying us the booze. i thought i had been stupid and irresponsible getting so drunk in the first place, talked about how i needed to “take responsibility” for my behavior. rape never crossed my mind.

i was in therapy at the time, and told my therapist about what happened. she mentioned, initially, that she needed to check the mandatory reporting laws, that she might be legally bound to report it as statutory rape. i told her i didn’t want it reported. i never heard about it again, so assumed the law agreed with me. we talked about reckless sexual behavior, how that tied into my other self-destructive tendencies. the word rape never came up again.

looking back, i realize she wasn’t that great of a therapist, but i’m still shocked and retroactively appalled that she didn’t identify what happened as rape, that she apparently bought into my insistence that it was my fault for getting drunk enough to be blacked out enough to kind of say yes to a guy i was still too dizzy to even see clearly. (the left side of his face had a massive scar running from the top of his cheek bone down his jaw, the aftermath of a drunk driving accident a few years back. it is the only part of him that i can still picture in my mind, and something i did not actually see until the next morning). she knew how much i’d drunk—after smoking a few bowls, i downed ten shots of vodka in less than ten minutes, then topped off with some beer, on an empty stomach, at 100 pounds—that it was something of a miracle that i hadn’t ended up in a hospital with alcohol poisoning. we talked about why drinking that much was really not a good option for me, but not about how you are totally unable to consent while in a blackout. looking back, i can’t decide whether it was a matter of gross incompetence or internalized victim-blaming, or both.

what i didn’t know until very recently was that she actually was legally required to report what had happened. apparently the law is pretty straight forward.

261.5
(c) Any person who engages in an act of unlawful sexual
intercourse with a minor who is more than three years younger than
the perpetrator is guilty of either a misdemeanor or a felony, and
shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one
year, or by imprisonment in the state prison.

he was 21, i was 16.
5 year age difference.
pretty clear.

there’s more too, about what does or does not constitute consent, and there’s the broader california rape law, both of which would have something to say about my blood alcohol level, but that’s almost beside the point.

whether or not i thought it was rape, whether or not she thought it was rape, she was legally obligated to report it.

and i can’t help but wonder why she didn’t, and what would have happened if she had.

as it was, my life was a mess. he lied about what happened a week later, my friends had known him longer than they’d known me, and i was quickly and quietly ostracized. although i didn’t see a connection at the time, my already not-so-great eating diminished from little food to no food, instead swallowing caffeine pills by the handful. more than anything, i was overwhelmingly disoriented. i could never remember how many pills i’d had at any given time, so would have another just in case. i remember throwing up and nearly collapsing at the park down the street from my house, laying on the sidewalk because that was all i could do. some of the neighbor stoner boys helped walk me home, and i made it up stairs in my room just in time to start shaking and convulsing uncontrollably, then puking some more. i was mentally and emotionally completely checked out, but my body knew and my body reacted, shaking and collapsing and puking where i couldn’t scream or cry or feel anything. (of course, the combination of caffeine pills and ephedrine and no food and no sleep helped that along nicely). i have no idea how i went to school, did homework, had conversations. i was utterly and completely wrecked, and i truly had no idea why. i maintained then and for years afterwards that the event had not affected me at all.

i can only imagine how much worse it would have been if she had reported. whether or not i would have given her his name, she would have had to tell my parents and the DA or the police or whoever these things are officially reported to. my parents would have made me tell them who it was, and would almost certainly have pressed charges. the friends who had quietly ostracized me would have then been forced to pick sides—and really, we all know whose side they were going to be on—and what was an incredibly lonely and isolating time might instead of been one of public shaming and humiliation. i imagine a hospital examination would have been required, which would have been terrifying and humiliating, followed by having to recount the events over and over and over again to the litany of people who inevitably get involved in official investigations—doctors, social workers, police, lawyers, we can probably add school officials because let’s face it, gossip gets round real quick at an all-girl’s catholic school. and there are all the ways in which they could try to discredit me—i’d had previous sexual partners (read: promiscuous), i’d lied to my parents to go to an unchaperoned party (read: dishonest, rebellious, put myself in a vulnerable/dangerous situation, irresponsible), had a mix of drugs and alcohol in my system (read: blatant disregard for the law, reckless behavior, self-destructive), history of self-destructive behaviors (read: emotionally unstable, mentally ill). it wouldn’t matter that i was an honor student with good grades, that i had never been in trouble before, that i was well-rounded in my activities, and generally pretty responsible. it wouldn’t matter that was i good kid, and really, just a kid even though i would have hated you for saying so. it feels cynical of me to assume that i would have been accused of lying, of trying to get attention, of being emotionally unstable, etc, etc. but i’ve been around long enough to know that it would mostly likely have gone down that way, especially since he was lying about it to begin with.

and sixteen year old me, who did not call it rape, did not even consider that it might be rape, would have been forced to choose between going along with charges that i didn’t want pressed in the first place, or saying it didn’t happen, or that i had wanted it, or something else that was not true, to try to put an end to it, which would only add to the opinion that i was some stupid, lying girl trying to get attention.

i know it might seem irrelevant to go down that road, create a reality that did not and will never now occur. it’s all guesswork, anyway, my best guesses of how it would have gone down knowing what i do about the people who were involved and the process of reporting sexual assault. but there is a point. ultimately, that therapist did me a huge favor by not reporting, however ethically questionable and illegal that decision may have been. it would have torn my life to shreds.

but here’s why this matters. i am the kind of girl who is privileged by our legal system. light-skinned, well educated, well spoken, from an upper-middle class family. my mother is even a lawyer. i was a good student & generally responsible kid on top of that. i was also pretty fucked up, but those battles were kept very private. on the outside, i had both institutional privilege and the approval of popular culture on my side. not to mention, i had a loving and supportive family, and a decent friend-base, even if most of them lived on the other side of the country at that point.

and it would still have turned out really fucking ugly. at best, i would only have had to face social consequences at school, among my peers; at worst, if it actually went to trial, if the media got involved (as cities go—if you could even call it that—the place was pretty small, so it’s entirely possible), i would have been surrounded and questioned and examined from all sides. and that would only be the outward assault—i have no idea how i would have held up emotionally under that kind of scrutiny. and who’s to say what the outcome would have been, i could very well have ended up a liar and a slut who almost ruined some poor boy’s life.

yeah, reporting sure is not looking too appealing.

and then imagine that you didn’t have a supportive family, maybe you risked physical abuse if your parents found out. imagine you’re black and the people you’re reporting to throw back racist stereotypes about how black women are promiscuous and sexually aggressive. imagine you’re a drug addict, imagine you’ve been in trouble before, maybe a lot, maybe you’ve got a record. imagine that he was actually your boyfriend, and that you’d been having sex for a few months now. imagine that your whole high school calls you a slut already. imagine that you really like to wear short skirts.

and how much worse does reporting sound now?


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