Several readers open up:
You didn’t ask for answers to your question, but I’ll give you one, since McArdle’s doesn’t really do that. You can try to relate, but you can’t put yourself into the mind of someone who has been traumatized by sexual assault. I often reflect on why I didn’t report being raped by two men 15 years ago and what I would do differently if it happened today. I’ve thought a lot about this recently, as the story told in Rolling Stone bore some striking resemblances to my own. There are many reasons why I didn’t report my rape:
I just wanted it to go away, to forget it, to not talk about it. I felt ashamed, I blamed myself. While I was in shock from the trauma I had experienced and talking myself out of telling anyone outside my close circle of friends, those same friends helped to reinforce my decision. They reminded me that I had been drinking the night before and that I had kissed one of the men, willingly, earlier in the evening. These things were true and I would have to explain them to cops, lawyers, judges, my family, possibly my employer and I would be judged by them.
One comment from a friend that day haunts me still. She said, “You can’t go to the cops, T is on probation and could go back to prison”. It haunts me because it made perfect sense at the time, in the mental state I was in, I didn’t want to be responsible for someone going to prison. I was already blaming myself for their crime and its consequences.
Couldn’t this kind of reaction also help explain why a person’s memory of an assault could become warped over time? Just as forgetting key details is said to be the result of a coping mechanism, so could exaggerating details as a way to overcome feelings of guilt and shame. You were scratching your head over this yesterday, so it’s one possible explanation.
I’d like to think that if faced with the same decision today, I would be stronger, that I would “be the girl reporting it, sitting on a witness stand and pointing a finger”, that I would know that what mattered was what they did to me against my will and not what I did to deserve it – because I didn’t deserve it, and no one deserves to be violated in that way.
It’s been very difficult to read your blog lately, and I think that’s okay. Some of your posts on feminism and the Rolling Stone story have weighed on me in a way that those on other topics in which we disagree do not. Ultimately I appreciate your perspective, even as I dissent, because it forces me to check my biases, especially the ones that I know are emotionally driven and (hopefully) it helps me see with a bit more clarity.
I wrote once before (in the context of race and criminality) about being sexually assaulted by a man who was later convicted on multiple counts and sentenced to a long prison term. What I didn’t mention was the attitude of the police when I first reported it. They were extremely skeptical that I’d actually been attacked in my own apartment at 3 a.m. They asked if I was in a relationship, and I said I’d recently ended one but was still friends with my ex – whereupon they tried to convince me that he (the least violent of humans) was the man who’d “showed up” in my bed, and therefore it couldn’t be rape, so it really wasn’t a matter for the police.
It was only months later, when the pattern of a serial rapist became blindingly clear (with a dozen victims in my area) that they finally took me seriously. If being raped by a stranger at knifepoint can be spun away by police, think how they might treat an eighteen year-old who was drunk when she was raped by her date. If police believe you when you report your car stolen, shouldn’t they extend the same benefit of the doubt to a woman who reports a rape? Her claim may or may not hold up under investigation, as with any reported crime, but that’s no reason to assume a woman is lying or exaggerating. Yet all too often police do.
I completely agree with Megan McArdle’s comments: I have never been sexually assaulted, but I find it 100 percent easy to believe that a victim of a traumatic sexual encounter (even one that might not rise to the level of rape) would not report it or report a somewhat confused story with lots of second-guessing herself.
At the wedding of some friends several years ago, I had the surreal experience of being weirdly groped by a married friend of mine while we were in the middle of a conversation with another friend: the three of us were talking, and friend A kept running his hands up and down my thigh (I was on a barstool) and I was just drunk enough and just confused enough by the weirdness of what was happening that all I did was push his hands away each time (but he kept coming back!) and friend B didn’t do or say anything.
In my retelling of it to a friend who knew all the parties, I kept second-guessing myself: why would anyone do that?? He seems like such a normal guy! Maybe I was imagining it? Maybe it wasn’t as bad as it seemed? Maybe I’m making too much of this super weird situation. Especially when you’re a little buzzed, or tired, or whatever, I can completely understand not wanting to subject your brain and psyche – which are already confused and traumatized enough – to the skeptical questioning of some cop or campus security who might just see some drunk, slutty girl who’s angry at some guy.