Sunday, January 15, 2012

A fair trial for all victims of sexual assault

Something you frequently hear is that in court cases of sexual assault, the victims end up being the ones put on trial. Anything and everything from the victim’s past is dredged up and put on display as “evidence” of why the victim must have consented to whatever sexual crime the perpetrator committed. The way sexual assault cases are handled legally frequently prevents victims from reporting the crimes. 

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. 


  1. I agree, survivor need a better emotional and legal advocate to protect us from ourselves and the brutality of the courts.

    There are two main reasons that the courts are so brutal toward the victim.

    1 - The laws concerning punishment of assailants and treatment of victims have been predominantly written, interpreted, and enforced by men. Men are far less likely to be a victim, thus they are written, interpreted, and enforced from a man's perspective. That's slowly changing though.

    2 - Second is being that these laws are written, interpreted, and enforced from a man's perspective, it is far more likely that a proven false claim of a sexual assault sets back the cause of fair treatment of victims in the courts. Even 1 false accusation is enough to damage the cause, but unfortunately there has been many throughout the years. These relatively few and far between false accusations causes people to become skeptical of true reports of sexual assault. The ones who become the most skeptical are generally men, being that they are generally the ones the false accusations are pointing at.

    Unfortunately I can't really imagine the court systems getting drastically more friendly to the victim until the idiots who make false accusations quit forcing reasonable doubt into every true report.

    That's my thoughts. I hope I didn't sound "smug" LOL

    1. Thank you for reading and providing your thoughts. Perhaps, a little too "smug," but we'll let it slide ;-)

      I think you raised some really good points in your comments. It's so true - even though proven false accusations are few and far between in comparison to the number of true accusations - these cases tend to be high profile, media-grabbing cases, which plays a role in further perpetuating victim blaming and skepticism.

      Also, I like your point about the one dimension nature of our legal system in regards to sexual assault. Having a diverse group of law makers is important in the making of any law, and sexual assault should be no different.

      Thanks again for reading and commenting!

    2. This is why I am wanting to do victim advocacy professionally. I'm applying for social work school and potentially law school to work in sexual/domestic violence nonprofits.

    3. Adele, this makes me so happy. That's really awesome that you are turning your personal experience into a way to reach out and help others. You will be able to relate to those who seek your assistance on a deeper level than other social workers without your experience. Good luck with your applications!

  2. I'm recently involved in the court process and I find it unfair that I'm the one who's like put on the stand, and that all he does is sit in the same room without even being questioned.. he's the one that needs to be put on the stand.

    I also used to date my perpetrator and was like physically involved with him after the breakup. before the rape.

    1. "he's the one that needs to be put on the stand." - uh, yeah! I completely agree. That is absurd that he is not even being questioned and that you are the one having to be put on trial. It is unacceptable that our legal system is not better equipped for handling rape cases. I am so sorry that you are going through this right now.

      By the way, I think you are so brave for coming forward and reporting him. I hope that the trial ends in your favor. You deserve justice for what your ex-boyfriend did to you. It doesn't matter that you were physically involved with him prior to the breakup. What he did to you was absolutely wrong.

      Thank you for sharing. Thinking of you as you go through this process. xxx

    2. I am sorry that they seem to be putting you on trial, it's not fair. I know it must be hard to go through the entire trial and all the pressure, blame, and doubt you must be feeling. I hope it gets easier for you.

      You are really brave to be putting yourself through all of this, and I am sure that you are protecting others by your brave actions. Please stay strong and we are all with you in spirit.