A Rape Victim Explains Why She Didn’t Report It

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.

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  • eric

    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.”

    I imagine its something of a vicious cycle. Prosecutors want a high success rate, so they don’t prosecute rapes where the victim has been drinking or where it’s he said/she said, because the jury is more likely to acquit in those cases. That feeds back in to the public’s perception that if you have been drinking, you are partially at fault (and the perception that women lie about assault), and so it goes round and round.

    The solution, as with many problems in our system, lies with (stopping) prosecutors putting their careers ahead of equal justice under law.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    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.

    If it’s a legitimate rape, the prosecutor has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    Meanwhile over at Hetpat, Ally posted an article about the Rolling Stone story about campus rape at UVA…and only ONE of the commenters (me) actually talked about something other than the dodgy statistic about the 2-8% probability of rape reports being fabrications. It’s past NINETY comments there, and the concerted avoidance of the original topic is absolutely stunning.

    I guess it’s sometimes useful to have a part of the problem so close by for all to see. Disgusting and shameful, perhaps, but useful…

  • wscott

    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

    The part I bolded is critical, and often ignored. It’s easy (and often correct) to blame cops & prosecutors, but the bottom line is it’s often very difficult to get 12 jurors to unanimously agree beyond a reasonable doubt over what often comes down to a case of He Said She Said. Even a sympathetic prosecutor will be reluctant to prosecute a case they don’t think they can win. I’m not defending “the system” but the problems are cultural as much as they are legal.

    And yeah, you’d think the Detective could at least pretend to be a tad more sympathetic. But the fact is cops have to learn to emotionally distance themselves from the victims they talk to, or they’d all go bat-shit insane after a couple years. It’s hard to turn that off.

  • culuriel

    Modus @2: I saw your tag and wondered how you could possibly make a joke about this. But then I laughed through my tears.

  • http://physicalism.wordpress.com/ Physicalist

    I’ve had three friends that I know were raped (all by acquaintances). None reported it.

  • lofgren

    I think the cop has to ask some of these questions as part of their job. Rape victims are not the only witnesses who complain about the cops asking questions which they infer to mean the cop doesn’t believe them. But a part of the cop’s job is to determine how reliable the witness (and victim) is. Still I don’t understand why they can’t preface their questioning with something like, “I have to ask you some aggressive and repetitious questions now. I don’t know you, so I have to figure out how trustworthy you are because it’s part of my job.”

  • abb3w

    @0, Ed Brayton:

    He basically refused to file charges if the victim had had even a single drink.

    I wonder how much of this is because of jury attitudes, and how much of this is from vestigial opposition to the 21st Amendment.

    The more general aspects of “purity culture” seems likely a part of the problem, either way.

  • pocketnerd

    Please keep this article in mind next time you hear somebody insist there’s no such thing as rape culture.

  • http://drx.typepad.com Dr X

    Life in Chicago has led me to the position that unless I have a very compelling reason, I will not talk to the police. Dealing with the police as a crime victim or witness has been almost uniformly a very crappy experience that left me feeling frustrated, angry or feeling like they don’t give a rats ass so why bother. I can’t imagine trying to deal with these characters if the nature of the victimization were much more sensitive than a property crime.

    They have a dehumanizing, belittling way about them and show no indication of an ability to put themselves in the shoes of the person they’re talking with. I’ve often felt like the PO is a complete moron talking with me as if I’m the moron. I know it doesn’t have to be this way because I had one experience with a couple of police officers that was great cosidering the awful context of the crime, proving to me that nothing about the job precludes the possibility of cops seeing citizens as human beings. But more typically I feel dehumanized and put on the defensive when I’m being fully cooperative and potentially helpful. But I end up giving short answers to questions and not volunteering much because I just feel diminished by their reactions.

    I don’t mean to suggest that it’s just as bad for me or for everyone as it is for a rape victim. I’m just saying that given my experience dealing with POs in less provocative situations, I can imagine that I would think long and hard before reporting a rape if I were a woman who had been victimized. I’d be thinking about whether I really want to subject myself to questioning from some stupid goon after such a horrible experience.

  • jenniferphillips

    I wonder how much of this is because of jury attitudes, and how much of this is from vestigial opposition to the 21st Amendment.

    From talking to my district attorney friends, I gather that a lot of it is just prioritizing. Rape cases where there is any ambiguity or a whiff of a provocative circumstance are hard to win. In a system where time and money is tight and lawyers are getting laid off due to county budget cuts, etc., they limit their prosecutions to slam dunks.

    We had a case here earlier this year that’s eerily similar to the one Ed mentions in the OP. Three rapists, one intoxicated victim, no prosecution.

    http://www.kval.com/news/local/Sexual-activity-isnt-necessarily-criminal-258391891.html

  • smrnda

    Dr X, that’s about my thoughts as well. I’ve found cops to be indifferent, hostile or rather dim, always patronizing and always giving off this ‘tough guy’ vibe that’s the last thing you need if you’ve been victimized.

    On the questions, I really don’t see why ‘were you drinking’ is a necessary and relevant question. You would think an officer could simply take a statement of information the victim wishes to report, or that the victim could fill out a form and avoid having to deal with some tough guy in body armor with a pen. “Officer, I’m reporting someone threw a rock at my house.” “So, were you drinking?” I don’t see that happening.

    All police who work with rape victims should have to demonstrate conclusively they don’t buy into the rape myths, and maybe these crimes should be handled by people with special training, or statements obtained by someone other than the police who can forward those on.

  • tami

    I was 15 when I was assaulted. I never reported it because I was threatened with exposure. The perp used the fact that women are ignored and blamed to convince me that I would never be believed…and that not only would they not believe me, but I would be branded a whore because I was so “easy.” I was just a kid…so I didn’t know any better. I had just lost my parents and I didn’t want to embarrass my aunt who had taken me in. How easy it is to be intimidated into hiding and denying that anything happened. It’s easy to tell a child that she was the one at fault for dressing “slutty”…not the adult who forced himself on her.

    It’s too easy for the police to assume that girls and women are lying when they report sexual assault…and it’s too easy for those same girls and women to want “the whole thing just to be over” after it happens. I understand those feelings all too well. The truth is, however, it’s never over…it’s something that you live with for the rest of your life. I know now that I can learn to deal with the damage and move on though It took 20 years of living with undiagnosed PTSD…and a failed marriage.

    I don’t know the answer…I don’t know how to change the way some men feel entitled to own, control, and dominate women. I just know that it happens and it shouldn’t.

  • colnago80

    Re Raglng Bee @ #3

    It should be noted that some questions have arisen concerning what happened at Utterly Vacuous Assholes which has led to Rolling Stone backing of somewhat from their original story. It appears that the the story told by the complainant seems to have some holes.

  • colnago80

    Re #14

    Forgot to add the link.

    http://goo.gl/ym9ySM

  • leni

    So all I need to do to be the ideal victim is have a strict no alcohol policy. Well, mea culpa, I guess Dawkins was right after all.

  • smrnda

    In terms of cops grilling people who report crimes for their ‘trustworthiness.’

    First, I have no confidence or evidence to support that this happens all the time. This probably happens in *specific instances* when *officer bias* determines that the person is untrustworthy. When people I know who are Black have reported crimes to the cops, they definitely are blown off more than white people and subjected to greater incredulity.

    Second, let’s say I’m asking questions. Regardless of the trustworthiness of the person, is there any benefit in making someone feel like their credibility is already under attack? This seems like a type of cop ‘street psychology’ that isn’t likely to be based on any evidence – the idea that under tough questioning, people ‘making things up’ will shut down. If someone isn’t credible, or is, it would seem more sensible to approach them calmly, get them to give their report and then go over it later and check if anything doesn’t add up. The whole attitude of cops makes me think they’re getting their strategies from hollywood.

  • marcus

    So marcus, just a few questions. Before they beat you up and robbed you: Were you drinking or doing drugs? Were you flashing large sums of money around or doing anything else that might encourage them? Why are you wearing a Rolex? Did you verbally express to them that you would rather not be robbed? Well, we’ll do what we can, but you do realize that it is just your word against theirs.

    Yep, happens all the time.

    /sarcasm

  • http://drx.typepad.com Dr X

    Victim: The guy asked if I could spare some change, so I gave him a dollar. Next thing I know, he hits me in the jaw and takes my wallet.

    Investigating Officer: So you kind of led him on.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Dr X, look, you don’t put it out there if you don’t want someone to take it. I’m on your side, you understand that, but wrapping up your…your cash in a skimpy money clip (and in this neighborhood!) is practically begging for trouble. I know that you feel hurt and alone, but…

  • Childermass

    I can’t see how the police and/or prosecutors can avoid asking these questions. Indeed for _any_ crime, if I was the DA, the victim is going to be asked every question that one can expect a competent defense lawyer to ask. Indeed, if the victim can’t stand up to such question why would one think that they will be able to hold their own in the far rougher environment of court — the defense will have them as a light snack. Unless the crime was witnessed or recorded, the victim is the entire case. If they can’t take the heat, then prosecution is futile waste of time, money, and resources. Of course it goes to trial, one can’t afford to be surprised. One is more likely to win if you can anticipate the questions the defense will ask and the answers the victim will give.

    Is there any reason why the legislature can’t pass a law saying that a woman’s attire is not a defense for the crime of rape? After all just because a woman wanted sex does not mean she wanted it with the accused and even if she did, she had the unalienable right to change her mind. Heck write explicitly into the statute law: anyone can change their mind about having sex at anytime.

  • marcus

    childermass @ 21 You might be correct if we were talking about a prosecuting attorney interviewing a victim or preparing them for testimony at trial, however what we are talking about is a police officer taking a complaint of sexual assault. It is not their job to adjudicate the complaint merely, to take the report, see that it processed properly, and make an arrest if necessary. That is all.

    It is not their fucking job to be prosecutor, judge and jury! Think about it.

  • mildlymagnificent

    I think the cop has to ask some of these questions as part of their job.

    That’s true. It’s also true that those questions can wait more than a few minutes after first meeting a nervous/ distressed/ traumatised rape victim.

    If police officers learned a little about sensible interviewing techniques, like, say, establishing trust, when dealing with victims and witnesses they might find the people they talk to more forthcoming and cooperative. Cooperation is supposed to be a two-way street after all.

  • mildlymagnificent

    tami says … So sorry that happened to you. Also sorry that it took so long to get through it or past it and all that happened in the meanwhile.

    Wishing you a peaceful and hopeful life from now on.

  • http://ginmar.livejournal.com/2004/04/07/ ginmar

    @14: you realize those “questions” arise entirely from the unsupported denials of rich white boys denying they gang raped a girl?

    Seriously, wtf is wrong with people? Any rapist could create this kind of firestorm just by giving a fake name, job title, whatever…..which I’m sure NONE of them EVER do.

    And @3, raging bee, what’s “dodgy” about that statistic, except that it probably overstates the real rate?

  • colnago80

    Re ginmar @ #25

    14: you realize those “questions” arise entirely from the unsupported denials of rich white boys denying they gang raped a girl?

    Wrong, the questions arose from changes in her story in between the time that she spoke to RS and now.

  • http://ginmar.livejournal.com/2004/04/07/ ginmar

    Er….no. More anonymous people calling the victim a liar. No proof cited.

    I’ve seen this kind of thing in other rape cases. Give people anonymity and they’ll eagerly bash the victim.

    I notice the Post retracted, very quietly, its claim that Jackie had never met a particular frat boy. Unlike the way it trumpeted the original claim.

    They still haven’t come clean about THIS particular bit of shenanigans, though:

    The frat claimed there were “no sanctioned events on the day in question.”

    The Post’s version: “there were no events that day.”

    Such a minor thing that creates a huge difference. What other little sly edits have they made?

  • rilian

    A guy followed my brother in the dark, asking for money. Like, asking several times. My brother ended up giving him all the money in his wallet because he was scared. So, he was mugged.

    Ex monster raped and abused me a lot. Like that was how the relationship started. and it was like that most of the time.

    One day it was different, he didn’t wait for me to give in, he just grabbed me as I was trying to get out of bed and got on top of me and I … well, anyway, afterwards, he said thank you and he left the room and I just laid there for a while. I thought “should I call the police?” but would he know I was calling them? Would I have to run away? Would they believe me? Would they arrest him? I would probably just have to abandon all my stuff here and run for my life and then call my mom to come get me so I could live with her again.

    He did it again the next day. I thought, “is this my life now? Will I be raped by him every day for the rest of my life?” because somehow I didn’t see leaving as an option.

    I don’t remember why, but he got a lot nicer after that. He was still a shit head, but way better, and I “loved” him too much to “ruin his life” and anyway no one would believe me and I had no proof. And then there’s the fact that people rape in prison. I don’t want that to happen. Even though I sort of don’t care if anything bad happens to him, I really can’t support rape as a punishment.

  • smrnda

    On ‘changing stories.’ If someone were to ask me an account of ‘exactly what did you do between 4pm and 6pm yesterday?’ I might not be able to give precise information, and maybe a day later I’d recall something or realize I’d been a bit off. If someone asked me ‘describe the person who stood in front of you in line at the store’ there is a good chance I do not remember correctly, but if I get a bit of information wrong this is totally in line with what we know from cognitive psychology about memory. Eyewitnesses tend to be bad at things like height. I’ve introduced myself and had people get my name completely wrong the next time I saw them, even though I have a fairly rare name.

    I can only imagine my recall might be a bit hazy if I’d been through a horribly traumatic event.

  • eric

    WScott;

    It’s easy (and often correct) to blame cops & prosecutors, but the bottom line is it’s often very difficult to get 12 jurors to unanimously agree beyond a reasonable doubt over what often comes down to a case of He Said She Said.

    That may be true, but what it shows is a bias against women’s testimony in such cases. If you go back 100 years, we basically had no modern forensics at all and pretty much every single judicial case came down to witness testimony. Boatloads of cases of an aggrieved party and a defendant saying ‘he did it/no I didn’t.’ We had no problem back then throwing people in jail for a variety of crimes based on the general presumption that, under oath, victims aren’t going to blatantly lie. Yet women victims of rape today aren’t given that presumption. Why not? If a cop without a dashboard camera recording or any other forensic evidence get up in front of a jury and say “on my oath, he was drunk,” and get a conviction, why can’t a raped woman?

    Now, I think everyone is glad that we don’t have to rely solely on testimony any more, because it is highly fallible. However, that does not explain why one group’s testimony (women claiming rape) is treated as so much less credible than anyone else’s testimony.

  • http://www.jafafahots.com Jafafa Hots

    Breaking news… The Koch Brothers are now establishing a fund to “defend men falsely accused of rape.”

    Translated of course means they are going to fund defenses of accused rapists. Not all, of course. Probably just frat boys and the like.

    Can they get any sleazier?

  • Michael Heath

    ginmar writes:

    . . . you realize those “questions” arise entirely from the unsupported denials of rich white boys denying they gang raped a girl?

    Wildly untrue; absurdly untrue: http://goo.gl/CXn32K. There are facts that falsify “Jackie’s” story.

    This in no way means I deny that “Jackie” was raped that night. I’m instead pointing out the depth of your defamation of others; that’s always a failure of character.

  • Michael Heath

    smrnda writes:

    I can only imagine my recall might be a bit hazy if I’d been through a horribly traumatic event.

    That’s a strawman on why reasonable people who are fiercely anti-rape are troubled by the RS article. There are facts that falsify the RS’s targeted bad guys that can’t be explained away by the victim’s failure to perfectly remember due to a traumatic event.

    There are also facts that falsify the RS’s narrative on why “Jackie” didn’t report her supposed sexual assault. That article led readers to conclude “Jackie’s” refusal to report her rape was due to a culture committed to not reporting sexual assaults due to the social costs risked by victims and their corroborating witnesses. But interviews of Jackie’s friends who helped her that evening instead have them claiming they encouraged “Jackie” to report her rape to the police. Cite: http://goo.gl/CXn32K.

    There are of course social costs to reporting rape to the authorities. And it’s important we strive to evolve a culture where people are as committed to reporting this crime as other crimes where people are highly motivated to report such. But here the RS article created a narrative that was not only too good to be true, it could discourage more people and their witnesses to participate in criminal prosecutions of rapists. And that would be horrible. Hopefully people will look past the RS and Jackie’s lies and increase their commitment to eradicating rape.