In light of the all-too-rare Steubenville rape convictions (only 3% of rapists ever serve a day in jail), I thought it was timely to post this piece, written by a young woman who confided in me, who is part of the 54% of rapes that are not reported.
It’s been over one year since I was raped in my apartment and I still feel like I need to keep my identity delicately cloaked in that of someone no one can recognize. But I am tired.
I am tired of this country’s rape culture; I’m tired of feeling betrayed by my own justice system; I’m tired of hiding and I’m tired of staying silent.
I’m not staying silent anymore.
In the last year, I can at least say that I’ve made progress. I no longer sit on my couch for hours, sipping wine to dull the pain, while actively repressed memories resurface with a vengeance; I no longer arrive at work in the morning only to be met with more trembling flashbacks, gripped with an incapacitating fear that he will rape me again. Sometimes, I even catch myself genuinely smiling and laughing, momentarily forgetting what’s haunting me.
But there are still many ways in which my life is not normal. Memories of the rape sneak into my consciousness even when I'm trying hard to focus on something like making dinner or doing laundry.
In the safe, comforting warmth of my new apartment, or during a run in the heavenly Berkeley hills, I still feel as though I'm clawing, scratching, kicking, just like I did that night, to try to escape. I'm still convinced that most men are targeting me, and I sometimes wake up in a sweat, crying and shaking.
It is often our hope as rape victims that we can find some peace, some justice after we are violated. In today's society, with the flaws in our justice system and our country's rape culture, this is just an elusive dream rather than a genuine road for healing.
Too often, all we can do is proceed full steam ahead, coping with the symptoms left behind, with no chance of legal recourse or acknowledgment from the community. From the day that we admit what happened to us, we feel as though all we want to do is crawl out of the hole we've been thrown into, and find our way in the dark to safety. At first, we hope that the justice system can do this for us. Then we find, like many women before, that it doesn’t work that way.
I was raped by a law school classmate towards the end of our third year. My acquaintance rape was perpetuated by my former clinic partner. We worked tirelessly together for our client, but I never trusted him. Except that night, despite my better instincts. As an openly gay woman, my mind couldn’t fathom his soon-to-be-discovered disregard for my sexuality.
Following an event for our law school, we shared a cab home from downtown DC. He promised to take the cab all the way to his apartment in Northeast after I got out in Northwest. But as soon as we got into the cab, his behavior revealed his ulterior motives. All I can remember from this fateful ride is that, within seconds, I was pinned against the cab door and he was trying to kiss me. On my lips, my neck, anywhere he could access.
"I'm gay!" was my initial retort, aware that he knew this, but hoping that the verbal recitation of this fact would shield me and compel him to back off.
It did not.
When we arrived at my apartment, he got out of the cab with me and promised that he was going to sleep on the couch. His apartment was too far and it was too late, was his reasoning.
Despite minutes of arguing I relented. I wanted to trust him and I thought I had made it clear that I was not interested. In anything.
I am gay, and he knew it. He would respect that, right?
For the subsequent two hours, he proceeded to violate me in every way possible. With his hands, his fingers, his tongue, his penis. I kicked, I yelled, I pled, I reminded him repeatedly that I was gay, still convinced that this would save me from his desire to strip me of all power and control.
At approximately 4:30 a.m., I was finally able to roll over to my right side and he laid down next to me, immediately fell asleep, and started snoring. I woke him and begged him to sleep on the couch. He finally agreed.
I woke up early the next morning with bruises on my thighs and cuts so deep in my soul that I was convinced I fled my body for good the night before.
For the following four months, I simply survived. I finished finals, started the last semester of my law school career, went to class (though friends noticed my weight loss and lack of care for my appearance) and when most of my work was done in April, I finally allowed myself to fall apart.
I told my friends, I told my girlfriend, I confided in those who could advise me of my options: I could press charges, I could report him to the bar, either anonymously or with my name at the bottom.
But what I soon realized was that my perceived "options" were not real. After countless conversations with confidential advisors and friends, we concluded that pressing charges was too risky. He had a temper and a propensity toward violence. Restraining orders and promise that law enforcement would keep me safe did not quell my fears. All he cared about was being a public defender, a position he currently holds, and an arrest would almost certainly put that on hold, if not tear it away from him all together. And I would be the cause. There would be no hiding.
"You would have to leave DC immediately," advised one friend.
I called the District Attorney and the DC Special Victims Unit, in an effort to get a realistic picture of what pressing charges would look like. Much to my horror, the man who answered the phone at the DC SVU asked why I was calling, after I had already told him that I wished to speak with someone about reporting a rape. I felt forced to explain more details than I wished to divulge over the phone, and told him that I was raped in my apartment by someone I knew. “I’m trying to figure out what I need to do if I want to report him,” I explained weakly. “I’m very afraid for my safety and wish to remain anonymous.”
With annoyance in his voice, he gruffly informed me that I would have to go to the police station and file a formal complaint. Of course there is no anonymous reporting, he said. My only option was to take official action: to tell my story, reveal his identity, and, more horrifyingly, my own.
It was all or nothing. If I chose to press charges, there was never any guarantee of conviction, much less trial, or even arrest. My actions would be questioned, my sexual history and sexuality told like a novel, all in the name of justice.
Despite the fact that I was painfully aware of all of these repercussions, I desperately wanted to press charges. But I was scared. "I just can't do it" became my default phrase. "He will know it's me.”
So, I chose the safe option. The "option" that gave me no justice.
It's easy to think that if we had real legal recourse for rape victims it wouldn't feel this way; it's easy to think that if only we could find some semblance of justice, we would feel better, whole, maybe even able to "move on.”
But the problem is that our system and our society don’t allow us to try. For acquaintance rapes like mine, which make up about 80 percent of rapes in this country, we are taught that our own actions led to being raped, and the responsibility is not placed squarely on the shoulders of the perpetrator but rather is spread to those of the victim. So we stay silent.
This is a reflection of our society and it is represented by the way the media discussed the Steubenville case. By questioning the victim’s credibility or decisions, we are allowing the law and its enforcers to get it wrong.Thank God the judge got it right.
Our country was quick to criticize the gang rape of a 23-year-old young woman in New Delhi, India, which highlighted the horrific rate of rape in the country and the ways in which women are viewed. The young woman boarded the bus with a male companion, who tried to fight off her attackers but was beaten back with an iron rod. As he lay defenseless, she was dragged to the back of bus, brutally gang raped and beaten. As if this savagery was not enough, when the attackers were done, they threw her off the bus while it was still moving.
She died approximately two weeks later in a Singapore hospital due to internal injuries sustained by the rape.
Thousands of Indians responded in solidarity, gathering in protests, vigils, and prayer. Despite police crackdowns on crowds with tear gas, water cannons, and batons, they continued to pour out of their homes in throngs to demand foundational change.
Last month here at home, news began to surface about the gang rape in Steubenville. The victim awoke the morning after her attack with little memory of what happened. She was able to piece it together with snippets from Facebook, Twitter, and text messages. What unfolded in her memory, and very publicly in the media, is horrific.
The victim was likely drugged and taken from one party to another, where men urinated on her and repeatedly raped her. The men who are accused of committing this crime have called it a “joke,” and captioned one photo taken with the word “sloppy.” This photo is of a young woman, believed to be the victim, being dragged like cattle by two men.
The brutishness of this crime leaves me nearly speechless, but what appalls me more is the country’s reaction, or lack thereof. To be fair, some are criticizing the local district attorney’s office for giving special treatment and protections to the men as members of the town’s prestigious football team. However, it likely that we would not know the extent of the cover up or the rape if it weren’t for the cyber-hacking group, Anonymous, that released information it found online.
Unlike in India, this country has not seen the kind of outrage a crime like this deserves. Instead, most of what we hear from mainstream media are questions about the veracity of the victim’s claim, despite video evidence of the alleged perpetrators talking about the rape and tweets detailing the ways in which this young woman was violated.
Rape cases are notoriously difficult to prove, often due to a lack of evidence and the unfortunate fact that the question at bar is distilled to a simple “he said, she said.”
In light of these struggles, why are the tough questions not being asked? I’d like to pose just a few: How can we shift society’s perspective on rape so that the victim is no longer the one on trial, no longer the one whose actions are questioned? What needs to change so that rape is no longer an issue we ignore but one we discuss honestly, however uncomfortable it may be? How can we uphold the defendant’s 6th amendment right to confront his or her accuser while also preventing more trauma for the victim?
In my case, even if safety had not been the determinative factor in my decision making, I can't say that I would have felt supported enough to report my rape – and I am a white, middle class, law school graduate. This plight deepens with impossibility when you add racial, economic, and political powerlessness.
I'm not a criminal lawyer and I don't know the happy medium that will uphold the defendant’s rights while also placing a focus on protecting and healing the wounded - the point is that there must be one.
There is a lesson to be learned from what’s unfolding in the world’s largest democracy: protesting in the streets by the thousands makes a statement and pushes an often-avoided issue to the fore; these questions are simply too big to miss and too important to ignore.
I chose to write this anonymously, not because I want to hide, but because I have to. But I also refuse to stay silent. And I urge all of you to do the same. For ourselves, women of the past, and future generations, we must reframe rape in a way that places the blame where it belongs. And that can’t happen without your voice.