Danielle Campoamor writes a poignant and enraging column at Buzzfeed that shows what nearly every rape victim goes through when they try to report it to the police and explains why so many decide not to pursue criminal charges against their rapist. And it all goes back to slut-shaming and victim-blaming.
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. I wanted the judgmental police officer gone and I wanted the flashing lights outside the house gone and I wanted this feeling of disgusting inadequacy gone. I wanted to hide under the covers, away from the monster my mother and father had warned me about since grade school.
I said no.
The police officer nodded, almost thankful that I saved him the extra paperwork. He told me I could change my mind at any time. He gave me a case number and a patronizing pat on the back and said he was sorry. I told him I was sorry too.
She decided the next morning to go ahead with it and called the police again. After a humiliating visit to the hospital, she had a visit from a detective a couple weeks later:
And then the questions started.
And then I knew.
I was asked how many drinks I had. I answered honestly. I was asked about any conversations we had shared previously. What did I say? Did I give him an idea that it would be OK? I was asked what I was wearing. Was I inciting? Was I inviting? Was it really my fault?
Was I even telling the truth?
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.
A few years ago, as editor of the Michigan Messenger, we did a series of stories about two MSU basketball players who had been accused of raping a fellow student. Despite the fact that one of the two players essentially admitted it to the police, saying that the girl had screamed for them to stop and he had but the other player didn’t, and the fact that the police recommended rape charges, the prosecutor refused to file charges. We did some research and found that he had a shockingly low rate of filing charges in cases of rape. He basically refused to file charges if the victim had had even a single drink.
This is, unfortunately, quite routine. It’s why only a fraction of the rapes that take place ever get reported, why only a fraction of the rapes that are reported result in criminal charges and only a fraction of those charged get convicted. Because slut-shaming and victim-blaming are so ingrained in our culture that prosecutors don’t want to charge and juries don’t want to convict if they can find any possible flaw in the victim’s behavior that allows them to say “well she had it coming.” It’s perverse and unjust.