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Would You Report Your Rape?

Andrew Sullivan —  Dec 8 2014 @ 4:41pm

Danielle Campoamor shares her own experience:

I always thought that if I ever became a victim of sexual assault, I’d say something. I’d be the girl reporting it, sitting on a witness stand and pointing a defiant finger, just like the actresses on SVU. There wouldn’t be a second thought or a deliberate pause; I’d simply speak up because that’s, of course, what you do. And then I became a victim of sexual assault.

When the police officer was standing in front of me, a pad of paper in one hand and an overworked pen in the other, and asked me if I wanted to file charges, I paused. Tears were running down my cheeks and my legs wouldn’t stop shaking and my best friend’s hand, honorable in its intentions, failed to comfort me. The officer had already asked me how many drinks I had consumed. In fact, he asked me on three separate occasions. He had already asked what I could have possibly said or unintentionally inferred, prior to being forced onto a bed. He had already raised his eyebrows and tightened his lips and wrinkled his brow.

And a part of me already knew. So, I said no. I just wanted it over.

She did eventually report the assault, only to be met with condescension:

The detective explained to me that women get “confused” rather regularly. He explained that many a woman sat in my chair, defiantly lying until they couldn’t lie anymore. He told me that drinking and judgment and embarrassment, even boyfriends, can contribute to a woman continuing to cry wolf. He asked me if this was what I was doing. Was I confused? Was I ashamed? After all, I had been drinking.

I said no.

The detective nodded, almost annoyed that I didn’t save him the extra paperwork. He told me he would do what he could, but often times the “he said/she said” cases don’t go anywhere. He assured me that even if it didn’t, a report would be on record. I guess he thought that would be comforting.

That was almost two years ago. Nothing has happened. The evidence is backlogged and the detective is out of contact and the monster is still hiding.

McArdle tries to relate to such stories:

When I was in college, I was the victim of someone who stole a bunch of money from me. I knew who it was, and I didn’t report it to anyone except a couple of friends. Why not? Years later, I’m not sure I can say. I can cite a deeply ingrained aversion to asking for help from authorities, which is certainly a part of my character, or point out that the accusation would have been hard to prove, even though, for tedious reasons I won’t go into, I was quite certain who had committed the theft. But that could just be post-hoc rationalization; what I actually remember is that it happened, and I didn’t report it. Instead, I stopped buying food for about a week. And I wasn’t even faced with having to rehearse hours of unimaginably gruesome trauma over and over to investigators.

So I find it extremely easy to believe that a girl stumbled out of a fraternity house, bruised and humiliated, and just wanted to go home and pretend it never happened. But even if I couldn’t, that wouldn’t be evidence of much of anything, except the contours of my imagination. People do crazy, insane, unaccountable things all the time — if you found it hard to believe that fraternity brothers committed a premeditated gang rape, why was it so easy to imagine that a girl made up a rape story to recount to a national magazine, where she risked humiliating exposure? Whichever you believe, the explanation for this seemingly insane behavior is the same: Sometimes, people aren’t very good at counting the consequences of their own actions.

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.

Another reader:

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.

Another:

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.

Would You Report Your Rape? Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Dec 12 2014 @ 10:41am

From the reader who shared in August her story of rape:

I’m writing you back on the topic of rape once again, but it’s important and I’m glad you continue to have this conversation and that you are focusing on the real issues, and dissecting them, especially now that the UVA story has muddied the waters for so many.

I also didn’t report my rape. If I could explain why in one simple sentence, I’d say this: because my brain didn’t have space for a fight, or a crusade, or a trial. It was too busy dealing with having just been raped. Believe me, that’s plenty to absorb. Living quietly in shame felt like the default, not going straight to the police.

To put it another way, I’ll refer you back to the marvelous essay “No. No. No.” you posted from the reader recounting her horrific rape:

Rather than openly confront what had happened, I tried to bury it. I couldn’t say anything. I wasn’t worried about what would happen to him; I was worried about what would happen to me. … I never wanted to be a victim, even though that’s what I was. It’s why so many of us don’t tell a soul, especially initially. You figure if no one knows they can’t look at you differently or treat you differently than they had before. You won’t receive their looks of pity, or even worse, some sense of skepticism or disbelief. They won’t see you as damaged, somehow less than the woman you were before. Even though that’s how you feel.

That’s exactly right. Or think about it in terms of cost vs benefits. The benefit of putting your rapist in jail, or at least getting him thrown out of school, is not small. It means knowing he will pay for what he did to you and that he will be less likely to do the same to another woman. That’s not nothing.

But the costs are also great, and it’s all of the things mentioned above and more. Add in the less than 50/50 chance you have of getting a conviction, or even having people believe you. The prospect of going through all of that (in my case, while I tried to get through my freshman year of college) without much of a chance of success, knowing it would turn into a he said/she said, tilted the balance for me – even if we pretend I was making calm, rational decisions at that point!

Then add in how the people around you, especially the men but also the women, will perceive you once you go public, how their opinions will change and how they need to treat you will change, and it tilts the balance toward not reporting further. I didn’t want to be “the girl who’d been raped.” I knew that I would be. So, from two bad options, and at a horrible, vulnerable time, I choose not to report.

To put it more accurately, it chose me. That brings with it another level of pain. Or as that woman put it:

And yes, part of the shame is knowing I did nothing to hold him to account, and that I may have put other women at risk by not doing so. …So, add that on to the shame of something I’m not guilty of, that I didn’t ask for.

Right again. Let’s not pretend that not reporting is some great weight off our shoulders. It wasn’t for me, and I know it isn’t for other women in these situations. Not reporting, not standing up, adds another layer of shame on to what’s already happened. It made me feel weak all over again. It still does. Do I sometimes wish I’d made a different choice? Yup, I do. I try not to second guess myself because it hurts too much, and because it’s over. Mostly.

Hope that helps. It’s one more story anyway. Much love to you guys. You’re the best site on the Internet!

We just have the best readers. More of their stories here.

A reader adds a new angle to the thread:

I was convicted in 2001 of embezzling more than a million dollars, for which I served 1-1/2 years in prison. I may come at this from a different angle, being a gay man who was raped in prison, rather than a straight women raped in college. I didn’t report my rapes (there were three). I didn’t even discuss them with friends.

First, if you think reporting a rape in a college environment is hard on the reporter, it is pure hell in prison.

The very first thing that happens is you’re transferred from your housing unit, so you lose your job and program. I was in a terrific program with one of the greatest teachers of my life, so the loss would have been substantial.

Second, why one was moved becomes common knowledge very quickly (in prison, gossip travels faster than the speed of light), so you will be a target, an known easy mark, wherever you’re put next. Third, the accused, at worst, suffers the loss of a few days good time. Most of the time, the event is found to be consensual sex (because I was gay, so of course I’d want to have sex with a man) and both are punished. I wouldn’t even be able to get medical care to ensure I did not seroconvert (I am HIV-). There was very little upside to reporting. So, I kept quiet and found ways to keep myself out of the situation.

I am sad to say that being raped was not the most traumatic thing to happen in prison. But even now, ten years later, every so often, I still wake in the middle of the night shaking with fear because of my stay there. On the other hand, I wouldn’t now report either. It is over with and done. I’ve moved on and don’t want to be involved in anything there. If this places others in danger, so be it. I don’t think the report would be fair to me or to anyone I accuse. After so long, even I don’t trust my memories of the events.

Thus, I don’t blame people for not reporting – it is a very personal decision. But I also don’t think accusations long after the rape are helpful either. Either go forward at the time, letting the chips fall where they may, or let it go.

Would You Report Your Rape? Ctd

Dish Staff —  Dec 15 2014 @ 1:42pm
by Dish Staff

The personal thread takes a new direction:

Thank you so much for continuing the discussion on rape. My rape story is a little different. I never felt a tremendous weight of shame, but rather anger that some jerk could think it was okay to do that to me. And anger at the ways our culture fosters that kind of thinking.

I was a college student living in an off-campus house with several people. My birthday party that night was the usual: a decent amount of drinking and a lot of fun with friends and friends of roommates. I eventually went to bed, alone. My roommate wasn’t in bed yet, so I left the bedroom door unlocked for her. A little while later I woke up from a heavy, drunken sleep to an acquaintance beginning to rape me. He was a college basketball star, and a very tall imposing one. He is black and I am white. I fought him and started screaming, which finally caused him to stop the rape and leave.

I did not report the rape to the police or to the university because who would believe an underage drunk girl against a college basketball star? They would undoubtedly claim I led him on, and if I argued I did not, I felt there was a very good chance they would pull the race card. After all, why wouldn’t I be interested in the attentions of the local sports hero, unless I’m actually a racist?

I will echo some of your other writers and simply say that in a case such as this, of he-said, she-said, I felt it was not worthwhile to fight to be taken seriously. We all have a lot of battles to fight in life, and this isn’t one that I necessarily wanted to spend my efforts on, only to be interrogated, dismissed and have my reputation tarnished.

In the aftermath of this incident, my friends barely took my story seriously and continued to be his friend. I eventually moved away and graduated college elsewhere.

I abhor the worship of university sports heroes and “frat culture,” with its repulsive, dangerous combination of male entitlement and female objectification. I believe it is that kind of misogynist thinking that led my perpetrator to justify what he did to me. But I don’t want you to get the impression that I hate all men. I have been married for more than 15 years to a really great guy, and we are raising two smart, strong girls. I simply feel our culture has for too long tolerated certain behaviors that are not respectful or healthy for women (or men, for that matter).

Would You Report Your Rape? Ctd

Dish Staff —  Dec 16 2014 @ 3:22pm
by Dish Staff

Another reader adds his story to the powerful thread:

I want to offer a male perspective from someone who has been through something similar, in order to say it’s not just women who have these reactions. As a young teenager I was sexually abused by a teacher/coach, someone who had become like a father-figure to me (I’ve never met my real father, who left before I was born). It happened a few times, but I was eventually able to avoid him when the teacher transferred to another school.

I never told anyone until I was 19 or so, when I just couldn’t deal with my depression on my own and finally told certain friends and family. My mom reported it to the original school and contacted the police. They were sympathetic but didn’t do anything to follow up or take away his position. Mine was the only reported case. I did write a letter for the police and have it filed as a report, but I never followed up. I spoke briefly with a police investigator on the phone who was pretty clear that since it was several years prior, and my word against his, that it would be a tough case to push forward. I told myself that if other reports came up then I would testify or participate in whatever investigation was necessary, but didn’t want to go any further if it was just me, and ultimately didn’t ever follow up on it.

Later in my early-20s I did get counseling for my depression. The counselor wanted to pursue the police case again, since the individual was still a teacher in the school system.

I was doing better psychologically and she felt obligated to by law, as well as her personal desire to see the man behind bars. With my permission, she contacted a police investigator again. I spoke with him initially on the phone, but ultimately I still couldn’t handle it. I stopped seeing the counselor and did not follow up any more with the police. It wasn’t necessarily a conscious decision. It was like everything would shut down. I became so anxious that I went numb and just couldn’t face it. When pushed, I would answer questions and was open about it. But my subconscious reaction was to avoid the situation as much as possible.

I am not a weak man or someone afraid of confrontation. I served in the military, including a tour in Iraq. I have seen and faced some tough situations, but I never suffered the fear and anxiety that I faced when trying to report what happened to me or the idea of confronting my abuser. For the most part I do not suffer from PTSD related to my Iraq experiences. But I do, even still, suffer from PTSD related to my sexual abuse and find it difficult to have long-term, intimate relationships. I am in a far-better place then I was, but it is still there.

I know that if other reports came up that my abuser had done similar things to someone else, then I would gladly testify and confront him, do whatever I could do put that person behind bars. I’m not sure I could do that for myself though, and would still find it very hard to face him. I still feel guilty that I didn’t do more to report and push the case, as your other reader stated, and pray that no one else was ever abused because I didn’t have the courage or ability to follow through. I can understand completely why a woman wouldn’t want to report her rape, or might only report it to the school, but not push for a criminal case. That seems to be the natural reaction.

I agree with you completely that there has to be some defense process for the accused, even at the school level, but at the same time many schools and police need to be more assertive in pushing for investigations and going to the next step. Many victims just won’t be able to be their own advocates.

Would You Report Your Rape? Ctd

Dish Staff —  Dec 18 2014 @ 11:25am
by Dish Staff

This reader thread, sparked by Danielle Campoamor’s story, is among the most powerful ones we’ve had this year. So far we’ve heard from a convict who was raped in prison, a white coed assaulted by a black basketball star, a young teenager sexually abused by his teacher, a followup from a woman who told us about her rape, and several others. Our next installment is from a gay reader – with an unexpected twist:

When I was 26, I was raped while traveling to London. I stayed several days longer than my straight friends and decided to go hit up the gay bars after they left. I met a guy from Germany, we danced and decided to go back to my hotel room. At some point he started to try to put it in. I told him that I wasn’t bottoming unless he wore a condom and that I didn’t have any. He held me down and went at it anyway. Which is the dictionary definition of rape, isn’t it?

I did not report the incident immediately and waited till I returned to the US several days later to seek treatment. I was honest with the doctor about what happened. She exerted extreme pressure on me to report the incident and get counseling. The process of trying to report such a crime is horrible. The police engaged in every behavior victim’s advocates dislike; victim blaming, disbelief, and homophobia were a constant.

The counseling service was likewise useless. I didn’t receive a return call about my situation for nearly two weeks. The woman who did call me back made it clear that she didn’t think my incident was worthy and then offered me a time-slot months in the future. I ended up just scheduling an appointment with my normal psychologist to discuss the incident.

I felt horrible and I wasn’t even traumatized by the rape itself. I couldn’t imagine what dealing with this bullshit and an actual traumatic experience would be like. I enjoyed that night with the German – a lot actually. He stayed the night, we hung out the next day and I stayed at his hotel that night. We had breakfast the next morning and said our goodbyes. I’m Facebook friends with him now. I expect to travel to Germany this summer to visit friends and we’re actively planning on meeting up for a day or two in Berlin.

Sex is a powerful experience. Like any powerful experience you can get hurt. I took a risk going out and picking up a random person to sleep with. I could have been very badly hurt but I wasnt. I did not contract any STDs or get physically hurt – both real possibilities. I learned to take some basic precautions and be prepared. I’ve started on PreP. I make sure to qualify hookups more than I used to.

I’ve also learned that I can’t be open about my experience because it doesn’t fit the narrative. I’ve literally had people blow up at me when I admitted that he’s apologized and I’ve forgiven him. I’ve learned never to suggest that other people might feel similarly; that makes me a rape-apologist. In the end, I’m not honest about my experience because too many people think they can cherry-pick ideas that validate their preferred narrative. But that’s the crux of the problem, isn’t it?