A ranty, funny, dead-serious intersectional feminist blog.

Posts tagged “SAAM

The Choice to Be Silent

Trigger warning: discussion of rape.

Note: This post has been updated since its original publication. I just kept having more to say on the subject. Also, I’d like to amend “silent” in the title because while many survivors choose not to report, we are often far from silent about our rapes. This is about the choice not to report a rape to the police.

I am a multiple rape survivor. I have experienced what it’s like to report rape and I have chosen not to report rape. And although I want all rapists caught and punished, I fully support every survivor’s right to choose whether to report rape and I do not question any survivor’s choice no matter what. For me—and for most of the feminists I know—this is fundamental.

A recent post on Fiending for Hope discussed the choice not to report a rape as an act of self-care and something to be respected. She went so far as to suggest that survivors who choose not to report are courageous:

People that do choose to report their rapes are incredibly courageous and I support them so freaking hard. But those of us that don’t choose to report are no less courageous.

She didn’t claim that the choice not to report required the same amount of courage as choosing to report and face the consequences which will likely include being grilled about every choice she made leading up to the rape and immediately after. She merely stated that choosing not to report doesn’t make you less courageous. I agree with her (on all counts—read the piece if you haven’t) and will take it a step further: I believe that choosing not to report requires courage (of perhaps a different kind), and I don’t think that there’s a mathematical formula you can apply that will determine which survivor must display more courage. It’s not a contest, and every survivor must be courageous—sometimes just to get up in the morning and live our lives. But while choosing to report a rape may require the courage to deal with systemic abuse of rape survivors, choosing not to report—choosing instead to take care of yourself first and foremost—requires the courage to deal with the fallout when people hold you responsible for the rapist’s future actions.

Because there are still those who believe that a rape survivor owes it to society to report rape—as though by doing that we are protecting society from a rapist—and hold survivors who don’t report responsible for rapists running free. I saw some of this in the reaction to the piece in question—and to the quote above. The idea that a survivor might choose not to report a rape is, to some, not a courageous act but a cowardly one—one that leaves a rapist at large, and so, endangers others.

Fun fact: 97% of rapists never serve time. It’s estimated that about 46% of rapes get reported, only 12% of rapists ever get arrested, and only 3% go to jail. So how, exactly, am I protecting society by reporting my rape when the odds are the rapist will never see the inside of a prison cell? When, in fact, there’s a good chance that my rape kit will sit untested on a shelf for years—possibly decades?* How the fuck do you take a rapist to trial without testing a rape kit? You don’t. (Hence the 9% of rapists who get prosecuted.)

via RAINN

via RAINN

I don’t know the percentage of female rape survivors who report and are subsequently treated like criminals and interrogated about their clothing choices, how much they had to drink, how many sexual partners they’ve had and whether their attacker was one of them, whether the “sex” was actually consensual but they regretted it later…but I’m guessing the percentage high based on pretty much every survivor I’ve read or talked to. So when people say that a survivor owes it to the rest of us to endure this scrutiny and shaming even knowing that the rapist is going to walk free almost every single time, they are basically saying, “If you don’t run the gauntlet, you’re responsible for all future rapes this perp commits.”

A rape survivor is never, ever responsible for future rapes perpetrated by his or her rapist. I mean, the fact that I actually have to say that… But you know, I do. And for anyone out there who questions a survivor’s choice not to report, I’d like you to think about the following:

Would you support a rape survivor’s choice not to report a rape because…

…he feared for his life?

…she was drunk and can’t identify her attacker?

…his attacker threatened his family?

…her attacker is already on trial for another rape?

…his attacker was a family member dying of cancer?

…her attacker got hit by a truck right after the rape and so will never be able to rape again?

If you answered yes to any of these questions (or can conceive of any possible circumstance under which you would be ok with not reporting), then you support a rape survivor’s right to choose whether to report. And so, to question any survivor’s choice to report a rape is bullshit because you have no idea why they are choosing not to report and IT’S NONE OF YOUR GODDAMNED BUSINESS.

Out of three rapes, I reported the first two. I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about whether to report the first time, but the second time I was afraid it wasn’t rape because I didn’t fight, and a police officer convinced me that it was indeed rape and took my report. Neither of these times did it ever occur to me not to file a report, so no particular courage was required for me to do so. I wasn’t out to save anyone—I was a mess and I did what people told me to do. What required courage was dealing with the aftermath of having reported—the disbelief, the betrayals, the trial in the first case where a public defender sputtered accusations at me, the 12-year-old victim, as I sat on the stand after months of build up. The third time circumstances were complicated enough that reporting seemed utterly futile based on my experience with the system. I did not display courage in choosing not to report; I just did what I had to do. But I wasn’t *more* courageous when I reported the previous rapes than someone who chooses not to simply by virtue of filing a report, and to say I was is bullshit. And furthermore, I can’t conceive for one second of holding a prior victim of any of the men who raped me responsible for my rapes.

Like Britni says:

We all have our own stories and our own reasons for making the choices that we make. It’s important to remember that survivors make the choices that are best for them– not the choices YOU think are best for them. And all of those choices are valid. All of them.

Rape survivors don’t owe anyone anything. They certainly don’t owe us their continued pain and suffering so that we as a society can blame them for their rapes and lament the ruination of their rapists’ lives and ultimately let the rapist go free most of the time. They don’t owe us that.

I am a multiple rape survivor. I have reported rape and I have chosen not to report rape. Both choices ultimately required courage and still do. Every fucking day of my life.

*True story: To the best of my knowledge, one of my rape kits has been sitting untested on a shelf in Texas since 1981.

UPDATE: The #WhyIDidntReport hashtag on Twitter, which was started by @ethiopiennesays soon after I posted this piece, saw tens of thousands of tweets from survivors sharing their stories of why they chose not to report their rapes. If you can read their stories and walk away believing survivors have a duty to report or that reporting somehow equals justice, then there’s very likely nothing anyone can say that will change your mind.


PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)


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Changing the Conversation: Dark Alley Not Required

change-the-conversation-2

Trigger Warning for discussion of rape.

This post was originally part of Change the Conversation: A Day of Blogging About Sexual Assault (#pghSAAM) in April 2013. It has been edited since that time. 

One of the most damaging rape culture myths facing us today is that of the prevalence of stranger-rape: that is, a stranger following the perfect victim down a dark street, pulling him/her into an alley, and raping him/her. Yes, it happens. I’m not denying that. But I am here to tell you, in case you weren’t aware, that it is the exception—not the rule.

I’m not here to talk statistics, however. While they’re very important when it comes to forming opinions based on factual information, the point of this exercise is to share my perspective. And my perspective is this:

I have been raped multiple times. Some of my rapes have been pooh-poohed by others due to the circumstances—these are the “gray-rape” scenarios. Others get a pass from those same folks because there was apparently sufficient force or lack of substance abuse involved for the responsibility to lie firmly in the lap of my rapists (my cup runneth over). My sexual abuse started when I was four and continued into adulthood. And not one single time did a scary stranger pull me into a dark place and rape me at knifepoint. Not one single time.

The same goes for nearly every survivor I have spoken to in my over half-a-century on this planet. Many have been raped. Many have experienced rape multiple times. But right now I can’t think of a single example of scary stranger rape of the kind rape culture tells us are hands-down, no-question, “legitimate” rape.

Date-rape. Acquaintance-rape. Passed-out-drunk-rape. Too-paralyzed-with-fear-to-resist-or speak-rape. You-didn’t-say-no-enough-times-rape. Making-out-and holy-shit-your-boyfriend’s-penis-somehow-found-its way-around-the-crotch-of-your-short-shorts-and-past-your-underwear-into-your-vagina-rape.

No scary strangers. No dark alleys.

And most rapes of the kinds described above go unreported because, like the woman in the last scenario I describe above, maybe you didn’t even realize it was rape because you never said anything and you even continued to date the guy, but when you think back and remember that night, you know you didn’t want or expect sex, and now you remember—why didn’t you remember this before?—that you burst into tears at that moment and he asked you what was wrong and you said, “Nothing.”

And it was still rape.

It kills me to realize how many are living with the very wrong belief that what happened to them wasn’t rape because it wasn’t perpetrated by a stranger with a knife in a dirty, dark alley behind a dumpster. When we perpetuate the myth that only forcible, stranger-rape is “legitimate” rape, we create a culture wherein victims are not only disbelieved, they disbelieve their own senses—their own inner knowledge that someone they know and trusted has violated them.

Rape is rape no matter where it happens. No matter who the rapist was to you in the moments before the rape occurred. Rape is rape even if your friend/lover/spouse didn’t set out to rape you. Rape is lack of consent. Period.

And I’m not going to shut up about it.


Reference:

Related:


PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)


#SAAM Facts: Arm Yourself

Last fall [2012] when the GOP was falling all over itself to determine who in their ranks could make the most asinine comment revealing their ignorance about rape and biology and pretty much everything, Soraya Chemaly wrote this article on HuffPo reminding us of some very relevant (sourced) facts re: rape. I’ve chosen a few I think are particularly interesting/topical/important/timely to explore a bit. (See the above article for additional sources.)

Most Rapes Go Unreported

Many, many survivors do not report their rapes. The Department of Justice estimates that fewer than 50% of rapes are reported each year, and gives a low estimate of 300,000 yearly rapes nationwide. The Center for Disease Control has placed their high estimate at 1.3 million. I’m inclined to go with the higher number since, of my rapes, I’ve reported fewer than 50% myself (only one went to arrest/prosecution), and none of the many cases of child molestation (some of which were absolutely rape or attempted rape, and yet see how I still make a distinction) were ever reported to the police.

Most Rapists Never Serve Time

The statistic says that 97% of rapists never serve time. That’s based on the following from RAINN:

No matter how you look at it, this sucks.

Of the 46 rapes (out of this statistical 100) that are reported, only 12 of those reports lead to an arrest. Let’s think about that for a moment:

In 34 out of 46 instances, when a rape victim files a police report regarding his/her rape, the police don’t even bother to make an arrest.

Consider that statistics have also shown that most rapes are not, in fact, stranger rapes, but are committed by someone the victim knows. And then remember the hundreds of thousands of rape kits that sit untested on shelves in police department evidence lockers across the US (one of mine in Dallas, TX). Because prosecuting rape is clearly not a priority in this country.

From Wikipedia via the National Institute of Justice:

“18 percent of unsolved alleged sexual assaults that occurred from 2002 to 2007 contained forensic evidence that was still in police custody (not submitted to a crime lab for analysis)”; 2) One major challenge is that 43% of law enforcement agencies “do not have a computerized system for tracking forensic evidence, either in their inventory or after it is sent to the crime lab”; 3) On average, 50–60% of kits test positive for biological material that does not belong to the victim; 4) Survey responses indicated that there may be some misunderstanding of the value of biological evidence. 44% of the law enforcement agencies said that one of the reasons they did not send evidence to the lab was that a suspect had not been identified. 15% said that they did not submit evidence because “analysis had not been requested by a prosecutor.”[12]

So, we don’t bother testing rape kits if no one asks us to, or because we haven’t identified a suspect. Wait, I watch cop shows—isn’t DNA one of the ways cops ID suspects who have raped before? Oh, for that to work they’d need to test even more rape kits, and in this country, we’re way too busy with the war on medical marijuana to worry about justice for rape survivors.

32,000 Women Become Pregnant Resulting from Rape Each Year

That’s right, Todd Akin: According to the National Institute of Health, rape results in 32,000 pregnancies yearly. In fact, in a 2003 study, scientists found that pregnancy occurs twice as often as a result of rape than of consensual sex.

Our analysis suggests that per-incident rape-pregnancy rates exceed per-incident consensual pregnancy rates by a sizable margin, even before adjusting for the use of relevant forms of birth control.

And yet, right-wing politicians who think their hearts are in the right places believe it’s perfectly ok to restrict Plan B, the “morning after” pill to “emergency rapes.” You know, those stranger rapes that happen more often on television than they do in real life. Thanks, GOP.

In 31 of these United States, Rapists Have Parental Rights

Imagine for a moment that you’re a woman who has survived rape and become pregnant. Should you desire an abortion, 24 states require a waiting period. Should you decide to keep the child, the rapist can sue for parental rights in 31. This is a nightmare I can’t even bring myself to imagine for more than a moment. And yet thousands of women face this in our country each year–hundreds of thousands live with it even as I write.

Here’s a handy graphic from Huffington Post showing how each state rates when it comes to laws regarding pregnancy resulting from rape:

Most Military Rapes Go Unreported

The Pentagon estimates that in the US Armed Forces, 80-90% of rapes go unreported. In 2011, 16,500 rapes were reported. I’ll let you do the math. Estimates place the number of male rape survivors in the military at anywhere from 8-37%—much higher than in civilian life (but possibly lower than in the prison system, depending on who you ask).

Also, I’m going to quote this one directly from the list:

Percentage of military victims who get an “involuntarily” discharge compared to percentage of charged and accused who are discharged with honor: 90 percent involuntary to 80 percent with honor

I have no words for how fucked up that is. <—Except those ones.

Prison is a Rape Culture All Its Own

It is estimated by some that prison rape is one of the most underreported forms of rape. Some will tell you that when it comes to rape culture, prison has the outside world beat hands down. Personally, I don’t see it as a competition, but I am well-aware (as are most of us, I think) that prison rape is a huge problem not only in our prisons, but for our society. Our “correctional system” breaks people and then releases them back into the world where they’re completely unequipped to survive and thrive. At least 20% of prison inmates experience rape, and if you’re LGBT, your chances increase significantly.

From the Bureau of Justice Statistics:

    • An estimated 4.4% of prison inmates and 3.1% of jail inmates reported experiencing one or more incidents of sexual victimization by another inmate or facility staff in the past 12 months or since admission to the facility, if less than 12 months.
    • Female inmates in prison (4.7%) or jail (3.1%) were more than twice as likely as male inmates in prison (1.9%) or jail (1.3%) to report experiencing inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization.
    • Among inmates who reported inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization, 13% of male prison inmates and 19% of male jail inmates said they were victimized within the first 24 hours after admission, compared to 4% of female inmates in prison and jail.
    • Among heterosexual state and federal prisoners, an estimated 1.3% reported being sexually victimized by another inmate, and 2.5% reported being victimized by staff (table 8). In contrast, among prison inmates with a sexual orientation
      other than heterosexual (including bisexual, homosexual, gay or lesbian, or other), 11.2% reported being sexually victimized by another inmate, and 6.6% reported being sexually victimized by staff.
    • Similar differences were reported among jail inmates, with heterosexual inmates reporting lower rates of inmate-on-inmate victimization (1.1%) and staff sexual misconduct (1.9%) than nonheterosexual inmates (7.2% and 3.5%, respectively).

Rape as a Weapon of War

Again, I’m going to take these directly from the list. These numbers serve as a startling reminder that rape—especially male-on-female rape—is and has always been considered a good way to humiliate your enemy and reward the troops for a job well done.

Actions vs. Words

The above only scratches the surface. There is so much work to be done. A reader commented today on Always Aware that we need less talk and more action. I’m in total agreement, and yet I feel paralyzed in the face of all this to do anything but read and learn and write and discuss and try to understand what it is that will turn our culture around—to understand what actions I can take out in the world to make real change.

I’m planning a road-trip sometime in the future, and I’d like it to be a thing of action and not just words. I’ll be thinking more about what that means, but if you’ve got any suggestions, please let me know.


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Reference:

On the Web:

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Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.


Always Aware

AlwaysAwareV4I have been aware of predators since childhood. Since I was four or five years old and first had a man’s penis in my mouth. Contrary to some knee-jerks here and elsewhere, the fact that I’m aware of predators in my environment does not mean that I think all men are predators. It’s one of those double-edged swords women so often find themselves at the wrong end of: If we get raped, we should have been more careful. If we’re careful, we’re alarmists (worse, we’re FEMINISTS) who believe all men are out to rape us. There’s no winning with some people.

But those are not the ones we seek to reach this month. Over the next few weeks, while the Steubenville wound is still open and oozing, it’s our job to appeal to those people who are not yet aware (or not yet aware that they’re aware) but are ready for awareness. We’re not preaching to the choir or trying to make the blind see–we just need to be vocal enough and authentic enough to reach those who are out there listening, absorbing, and becoming warriors in their own time, at their own pace.

I’ve seen it happen. I know how powerful our stories can be. Share yours. The world needs your voice.


Updates:

Note: Lest anyone think that the point of #AlwaysAware is to put the onus of rape prevention on potential victims, it is not. The point is that (most) women are always aware of potential of violence. We are taught to be afraid and trained to be vigilant. Sexual Assault Awareness Month is not for us–it’s for people who don’t spend every day of their lives alert and aware and looking for ways to keep something like this from happening to them. It’s for people who don’t understand how often women experience assault. It’s for those who believe that women, not men, should be responsible for preventing male-on-female rape. Until we’re all #AlwaysAware of the problem of rape culture, women will continue to bear the weight of that awareness all 365 days of the year.

I’m adding new posters as often as I have time to make them. I’ll replace the one at the top now and then, and add alternate ones here.

AlwaysAwareV3_2

AlwaysAwareV2

AlwaysAware


Related

A Brief History (the Bad Parts version)
I Am Jane Doe
10 Things Rape Is Not
Letter From Another Jane Doe
Bree’s Story

The idea for “Always Aware” started with a Twitter chat with the Sin City Siren and was further inspired by the above illustration by Laura Boyea (used with permission).
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.


School District: Sexually Abused 12-Year-Old “Negligent”

Kristen Lewis Cunnane, age 12

Kristen Lewis Cunnane, age 12

Trigger warning for rape and child sexual abuse.

She was twelve years old. An age at which, in a perfect world, she might have been curious about sex, but years away from worrying about it. An age when, in a better world than this, she should have remained an innocent child with no idea of the dark side of people like P.E. teacher Julie Correa who manipulated and abused her for three years.

This past September, 30-year-old Kristen Lewis Cunnane brought suit against Moraga School District in Southern California in order to seek justice for what happened to her and to help ensure it doesn’t keep happening. In what they claim is one of nine defenses they have no choice but present, Moraga School District’s recent filing states the following:

Carelessness and negligence on [Cunnane’s] part proximately contributed to the happenings of the incident and to the injuries, loss and damages.

I’m going to repeat myself here, and probably more than once:

SHE WAS TWELVE YEARS OLD.

After I was raped at 12-years-old, I sat in the witness stand completely unprepared as the public defender accused me of being a willing participant in a sex act and later panicking and crying “rape” when I realized I might become pregnant. I was a child and I had no idea that all over the country women and girls faced victim-blaming daily. But I would learn.

This little girl trusted her (female) P.E. teacher exclusively with the information that another (male) teacher, Dan Witters, had abused her. Little did she know, her P.E. teacher was already in the process of grooming her as a sex slave. For several years, Julie Correa raped Kristen and used fear to control her. Kristen finally broke free and blocked the whole thing, but when it came bubbling back up again she got Correa on the phone and eventually coaxed a taped confession out of her and Correa was convicted of sexually abusing a child entrusted to her care. She got 8 years. Now Kristen wants the school district to take responsibility for the fact that multiple teachers perpetrated abuse against her and other students. And the district is fighting back.

Kristen Lewis Cunnane

Now assistant head coach of the women’s swim team at UC Berkely, Kristen Cunnane says she was “floored” when she read the school district’s filing. You know who else should be floored? Every single parent with children attending school in the Moraga School District. Because guess what? If teachers abuse your child, your school district will blame your child for the abuse in an attempt to avoid taking responsibility. Your 12-year-old will be held responsible for being in the wrong school at the wrong time with the wrong teacher because the school district has to protect itself. After all, as school superintendent Bruce Burns explained,

“…this is a significant case that could have serious consequences for our school district. She is demanding several million dollars in damages. As a result, at this point in the proceedings we have an obligation not to waive any potential legal lines of defense. The district raised nine possible arguments that might be used in court. Attorneys routinely insert these into Answers filed to Complaints. Ms. Cunnane and the media have seized on only one of the nine potential areas and over-exaggerated its importance.”* [emphasis added]

Kristen’s response:

“It is beyond devastating that the District would blame me for the years of horrific sexual abuse I was subjected to when I was just a child. There is a critical need for a culture shift in Moraga and elsewhere when it comes to tolerance of child abuse in schools, and this just underscores that we have further to go than I even thought. I can only hope that this lawsuit will move us one step closer to zero tolerance, while also going some way to compensate me for the years of abuse I suffered.”

This culture that allows us to blame children for sexual abuse? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s called rape culture and it’s where we live. It’s bad enough that adults face this bullshit every day, but the fact that it is acceptable in a court of law to suggest ANY fault for adult-on-child sex abuse might lie with the child is a symptom of a very sick society. And the only cure is for every single one of us to fight it everywhere we see it–by writing about it, posting about it, talking about it until everyone tells us to shut the fuck up, and then we have to keep doing it. For Kristen. For me. For every girl or woman abused and then shamed for her behavior or her clothing, blamed for having the audacity to walk alone while female or trust a male friend or–God forbid!–an authority figure.

Say it with me:

ENOUGH.


*According to the San Jose Mercury News, “No dollar amount is listed in Cunnane’s lawsuit.” She believes “it’s for a jury to decide.”


UPDATES:

6/20/15: Kristen tells her story on CBS’ 48 Hours. Via that report:

The school district paid out a total of $18.65 million to Kristen Cunnane and the three other victims who filed civil lawsuits*.

Julie Correa is eligible for parole in 2018. Her husband has filed for divorce.

*Three “Jane Does” filed suit for their abuse at the hands of teacher Dan Witters (the same teacher whose abuse Kristen Cunnane trusted Julie Correa to help her deal with).

Abuse Lawsuit: Arguments Over Timeliness – Lamorinda Patch, 4/1/13

“Statute of limitations is issue in lawsuit of Kristen Cunnane against the Moraga School District over prevention of sexual abuse from the 1990s.”

Sign this petition to tell the school district they’re out of line.