My rape was astoundingly typical.
I wasn’t forced into an alley or attacked by a stranger in my home. I wasn’t beaten up, I wasn’t threatened, I didn’t get pregnant as a result.
My rape was like most rapes: I was in college. I was drunk. I left a Spring Break “foam party” with an Army officer who was also in Cancun on Spring Break. We went to the beach. Things started getting out of hand. I said “stop.” Repeatedly. He didn’t. I remember quietly saying “help” as two guys ran by, laughing, and took a picture.
That was it. When it was over, I called him a “drunken ass” and went back to my hotel. He went back to his. I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t tell my best friend, or the girls I was traveling with. I certainly didn’t tell my brother, who was staying in the same hotel. The next day, I went on with Spring Break as if nothing happened.
At the time, keeping my rape a secret seemed like such a no-brainer. What was I doing to tell the police? That I got drunk and left a party with a guy I didn’t know? What would they think of me? Would they even prosecute a case that like? What would I tell my parents? I certainly hadn’t behaved in the manner befitting a good girl, a college honors student, from a small Midwestern town. No, I would undoubtedly be told that I was responsible for what had happened to me. The police would laugh at me, or worse, not believe me. Better just to keep quiet. In fact, most of my friends are probably surprised that they’re hearing of this for the first time.
I moved on with my life. I went back to school. I applied to law school. I went on to become a public defender and spent time defending people who were accused of crimes. Often men who were accused of rape. So you see, it’s not that my judgment was so skewed by my own experience that I couldn’t be objective. Or that I wasn’t willing to ensure rapists got a fair trial, even if I believed them guilty.
My rape didn’t ruin my life. It didn’t hollow me out like it does so many women. In that regard, I was lucky. I was full of rage, but I got over it. Eventually.
Given that I’m no shrinking violet, those who now know about my rape are surprised that I didn’t stand up for myself, that I didn’t scream bloody murder from the rooftops until the guy was behind bars. The only explanation I have is that I was one girl. One very young girl — and my immediate assumption was that I would be “up against” several adult men. It never occurred to me that I might tell them my story and they would believe me. From the beginning, my assumption was that they would side with my rapist, and it would be my job to convince them otherwise. I suppose I believed this based on everything I’d heard men say about women and “date rape” during my formative years.
Many of us, male and female alike , were appalled, though not shocked, by the news that Florida State Quarterback Jameis Winston would not be charged with sexual assault, despite the fact that the prosecutor seemed to believe that a crime occurred. Throughout the press conference, he referred to the accuser as “the victim,” and was clear that he felt he couldn’t get a conviction, not that he was convinced a crime had not taken place.
Which brings me to my point. Having spent many years in criminal court, I’m familiar with prosecutors’ love and adoration for their conviction rate. Many prosecutors won’t take a case to trial unless it’s a slam dunk winner. Sadly, real life is not CSI, and slam dunk cases with rock solid evidence don’t exist much of the time. In those cases, if the prosecution believes a crime took place, they are supposed to do advocate for the victim, let the victim tell her story, and let the jury decide who is telling the truth. It is NOT their job to only take cases to trial where they look like superstar prosecutors so they can get re-elected.
It seems every time we have a case where a woman accuses a high profile athlete of rape, we get the inevitable we “we just couldn’t prove it” press conference. Where are the prosecutors who say “I believe my witness, we’re moving forward, and we’ll let the jury decide. Let the chips fall where they may.” THAT’s what prosecutors are supposed to do. Seek justice. Not just win cases. Newsflash: Many woman get raped when they’re drinking. Many rape victims are not virgins walking home from church. Some of us foolishly put ourselves in situations that we should not have. But the penalty for stupidity is not rape.
I don’t know what happened between Jameis Winston and his accuser. I do know that, after a woman is raped, the prospect of a police interrogation and cross-examination second-guessing your behavior is paralyzing frightening. So frightening in fact, that many of us choose to keep quiet. And I know that every time we see one of these “we can’t prove it” press conferences, it confirms what many of us believe: That unless there are severe injuries and/or witnesses to your rape, you might as well not even bother reporting it.
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