I know I, for one, chose not to report my assault for this reason. Even if I had not washed away all the evidence almost immediately after waking up, I knew that I did not stand a chance with all the “evidence” the defense lawyer could blast against me.
Let’s see…I was drunk when it occurred…I was dating the perpetrator…though I hadn’t had sex with him, I had been physical with him in other ways prior to that night…I spent a week in the psychiatric ward starting a few days after I was assaulted…I had been diagnosed as bipolar, in which promiscuity can be a symptom…and there are ample other things I’m sure they could have used against me. Needless to say, none of this information I wanted broadcast publicly, only to find out that my perpetrator was “Not Guilty.”
Based on personal experience and the stories of others, sexual assault stirs up every ounce of insecurity you have. You feel violated, hurt, dirty, empty, confused, dissociated – a hundred different things even in the course of one day. Although your mind and body are telling you loudly and clearly that you were raped or assaulted, you still find ways to blame or convince yourself that you somehow deserved it. In fact, the second you become a victim of sexual assault, you are forced into a grueling trial in which you are cast in the role of prosecutor – prosecutor of yourself – and this is a role you can’t escape regardless of whether or not you decide to press charges.
Why didn’t I do this or that differently? Why didn’t I scream to the mountaintops? Why didn’t I see all the signs? Why was I so stupid to drink so much? Why was I trustworthy of someone who didn’t deserve my trust? I could list a hundred different self-blaming questions that belong to so many others and myself, but you get my point.
And then, if you are one of the brave individuals who decide to press charges, you’re expected to overcome this emotional chaos and find the wherewithal to defend yourself in a trial that should be directed towards the actual defendant. You’re now stuck in this two-fold role of prosecutor and defender of yourself. No wonder why so many of us are scared away from the legal system!
So, I’d like to propose a new type of trial. I’m not saying let’s not put the victim on trial – that’s going to happen regardless of whether or not the person presses charges – I’m proposing that we go ahead and give her the opportunity to prosecute herself. But let’s give her access to the most powerful and talented “defense lawyers” out there!
Victims deserve the opportunity to present each and every reason why they think they were at fault for someone else’s selfish actions, but they deserve to be met with the greatest opposition possible. They deserve as much love, support, concern, and respect as necessary to counteract self-blame, self-doubt, and self-loathing. Victims deserve to feel whole again by working through these negatives emotions in a supportive and safe environment. To free themselves from the hold of a crime they did not commit.
I have read too many stories in the support forums to believe that our legal system is anywhere close to offering the kind of support that sexual assault victims need and deserve. That’s why it’s even more imperative for those of us who have been assaulted to create support networks of individuals who we can trust to take on the important (and often difficult) role of our defender. Individuals who can see through our self-blame and self-doubt and recognize that it’s not grounded in the truth. These individuals have their work cut out for themselves, as we sexual assault victims have been sent a pretty convincing message from our perpetrators. A message that enables us to create a pretty vicious case against ourselves.
Luckily, the case against ourselves is full of holes. We just sometimes need access to a fair trial to help us realize it.