Sexual Assault: How the Victim is Treated and How They SHOULD be Treated

In my last post, we discussed the three top reactions to women that report rape: indifference, disbelief, or punishment. As promised here is more information regarding these responses:

Indifference

There are multiple forms of indifference regarding sexual assault, these include:

Police indifference-  There have been multiple accounts of police indifference, from not testing rape kits (or taking too long to test them), to indifference in catching and prosecuting rapists. Departments have also been known to manipulate statistics for political purposes. Not only do these increase the trauma to the victim but they also endanger more people to these predators.

Church indifference- In 2010 Pope Benedict XVI wrote a pastoral letter to the Catholic Church in Ireland apologizing for the church’s, “well-intentioned but misguided tendency to avoid penal approaches.” As well as, “a misplaced concern for the reputation of the church and the avoidance of scandal.” Both were written about pedophile priests. Notably, he also neglected to reference the suffering of the children involved and downplay the trauma they endured.

Educators’ indifference- Often educational organizations seem blinded to acquaintance rape. Many schools fail to suspend young men who are found to have committed acts of sexual assault. In a 2010 study published by the Center for Public Integrity, they found that only 10%-25% of those found responsible for rapes between 2003-2008 were permanently suspended. However, it should be noted, not all college administrations do so. It is also important to know that their incentive to hide or cover up rape allegations is due to the potential suffering of their institution.

Disbelief

Disbelief is one of the worst responses because when we don’t believe the victim, the crime will not be investigated, and the accused will not be penalized. The two pillars disbelief stands on are: the assertations that the majority of rape claims are false, and the minimization of rape as ‘bad sex.’

Punishment

Instances of inappropriate punishment of those who make rape accusations appear frequently. There is a risk for criminal charges and harsh penalties that exist for those that make false rape allegations, which can also be given to those that retract truthful complaints in fear of retaliation. We also punish those that assist these women, blaming the messenger.

So How Should We Handle Rape In A Way That Supports The Victims?

“We need to encourage victims to speak out either loudly, softly or just with a whisper. Believe being able to talk without fear is really the key to healing. To have validation is profound. And that… Is powerful.” (Kuntz, Karen)

The three most important ways in which we respond should be as follows:

Listen- Don’t interrupt, try to one up them, or shut them down. Rather, engage in active listening and show them you are there for them.

Believe- Whether they forget details or can retell the story 16 times is irrelevant. What they are telling you is their truth and 100% what they believe.

Provide supportive responses- DO NOT TOUCH THE VICTIM, If they ask for a hug or some form of contact that’s fine, however, many victims can be triggered or set off by human touch. Supportive responses can just be stating, ‘I believe you.’ If you know of any resources, it can be helpful to share them, or even let the victim know that you are there for them.

We also need to provide some reform in the community.

Hospitals- As often one of the main places that receive disclosures, hospitals and medical clinics need to be trained in first response to sexual assault. In Canada, we must also reform the system so that victims can come directly to hospitals for a rape kit before having to call the police. As the system stands right now, the hospital must turn you away and send you to the police before they can continue with a rape kit.

Colleges and Universities- As having one of the highest sexual assault rates, post-secondary educators must also be trained in first response. They also must learn to encourage students to come forward and to take action against assailants. Students complaints should be dealt with accordingly, and the police should be involved at the request of the victim. Students should also be taught and encouraged to identify, report, and interfere with predators in a social setting. I think it is profoundly important to note that the University of Lethbridge has worked hard, while still needing to improve, on the ways in which they tend to sexual assault complaints. On top of the I Believe You campaign, they have offered self-defense classes, and I also ran into security at the first responders to sexual violence course last spring.

Police- Training for police officers needs to focus more on what the officer’s job actually is: collect evidence and leave the judgments to the prosecutors, judges, and juries. Police officers and detectives must also be educated in current rape research on predators, as well as, put in charge of identifying them.

Prosecutors- Unfortunately many prosecutors have been known to avoid filing charges in fear of public scrutiny. Kaethe Morris Hoffer, the legal director of the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, stated, “That the jury won’t convict is not an acceptable, or legal, reason for a prosecutor to refrain from charging a perpetrator with rape. To do so is the same as saying to a black man who was almost killed by a posse and a hanging, ‘We totally believe you, but in this community we could never get a conviction, so we are not going to prosecute the lynch mob.’ Fundamentally, if a prosecutor believes a crime was committed, he or she must not allow social biases to prevent him or her from seeking justice. Prosecutors certainly ought to tell victims when they think a conviction would be unlikely- due to social biases that make people doubt what women report- but they should always be willing to put the offender on trial if the victim, understanding the difficulty of winning, nonetheless wants the rapist charged.”

Media- Not only must media outlets publicize ACCURATE data on rape prevalence and false rape claims, but journalists must also seriously reconsider the ‘he said, she said’ ways in which they cover rape accusations. Presenting real investigative reporting and presentation of facts- without biased opinions- would significantly reduce the media’s role in perpetuating that men do not commit rape. They must also remove terms such as ‘having sex with a minor’ or ‘nonconsensual sex’ which minimize the force, humiliation, and trauma that come from rape.

We must destigmatize sexual assault and rape. We must reform our ways and provide support to the victim.

Sources:

The Other 90%-1st Responders to Sexual Assault, SVAC

Whisper No More- Kuntz, Karen; Self-published

Rape is Rape: How Denial, Distortion, and Victim Blaming are Fueling a Hidden Acquaintance Rape Crisis- Raphael, Jody; Lawrence Hill Books, 2013

 

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