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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.

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?

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.