How America Lets Rape Victims Down
We all know of the infamous Stanford rape case. A woman is raped while unconscious, two bikers witness and testify to the act, and she is sent to the hospital where evidence verifies the crime. This is one of the very few instances when the public sided with the victim.
With all this evidence lined up, there was little reason to side with the perpetrator. As horrific as this case was, it was still the best-case scenario for a victim. Witnesses to testify, evidence from her hospital stay, unconscious to deny those who screamed, “She was asking for it” (although, they still tried), and public support. Surely, the rapist was properly punished. Alas, he was released from jail after only three months.
Which brings me to this needed topic. The question is often asked as to why more victims don’t step forward, or why they wait until others speak about the same criminal. Truly, is it any wonder? Let’s look at the facts.
According to the Department of Justice, the estimate of the number of women raped every year is between 300,000 – 1.3 million. Why such a large range? Well, we have to consider that we don’t even know about the majority of rape cases.
Ok, so it’s a common issue. Why are so many unreported? Let’s go in sequence.
First off, the vast majority of rapes are done by someone the victim knows. This can lead to a number of conflicting feelings. If it was a trusted person, one may be in denial about it, not accepting the fact of the rape for a period of time. Sometimes it happens within a relationship, where previous sex has been consensual, leading to a confusion around the forced act.
Other times, victims may speak to mutual friends/family about it. It is not uncommon to then be blamed for the rape, to have sides taken with the attacker, or to be seen as a liar. Those mutual connections may want to protect them from any legal damage and suggest this not go to the police. Age also plays a factor, as children may not be taken as seriously.
There is also a vulnerability in rape that can make it a crime especially difficult to talk about. One may not be able to speak about it for a while, which brings questions as to why the choice to report it was delayed.
After the Rape
Evidence: After being raped, many people are in shock. They may be torn, or feel other residual effects of the violation. It is natural to feel the need to shower, to get everything off and to feel cleaner. However, when this is done, the evidence washes down the drain. It is also not uncommon to be in denial for some time, which also leads to the vanishing of evidence.
The best thing one can do is to go to the hospital and get a rape kit. This can provide evidence to the court, exposing signs of force and perpetrator DNA. Though even when dragging yourself to a hospital to undergo this intrusive experience while still reeling from a trauma, tens of thousands of rape kits go untested. The victim is then left no better than before.
If there is a trial: In rape cases, it is the job of the defense attorney to release blame. One way to do this is by blaming the victim, saying the person asked for it, was a flirt, dressed provocatively, and so forth. Lawyers will often bring up their sexual past and ask about other partners, painting a profile of a sexually promiscuous person who surely was not attacked, as this is their pattern of behavior.
This leaves the victim blamed for their own rape. They are exposed in front of everyone as a horribly painted version of themselves, being continuously victimized, with their character being questioned, all while the attacker watches.
After the trial: There is a high chance the rapist will go free. This would mean that enduring the entire process not only failed to bring justice, but the rapist is shown that raping a person is a low-risk crime.
Image acquired from RAINN
I do not share this to scare any victim from stepping forward. Please, please do. Instead, I show this to provide insight as to why they are discouraged. America lets victims down, providing slim chances of justice. It is unacceptable for the few who do get convicted to then be given a sentence with as few as three months in jail.
No changes will be made through ignorance. We need to have a conversation about this to make the changes needed to protect one another.
Also published on Medium.