When writing about rape in fandom two weeks ago, I included the following:
“I’m not saying there’s never a time to talk about criminal prosecution of rape and why people might choose not to endure the ugliness of a rape trial. I’m saying this is not the time.“
Thank you to everyone for not derailing the conversation. So often when someone talks about rape, the immediate response is some form of “You have to report it!” I saw this at a few other blogs: “You have to get the asshole arrested!” Or on the other end of the spectrum, “If you didn’t press charges, you have no right to complain!”
Rape is a crime that rips power and control from the victim. You know what doesn’t help you regain that sense of control? When everyone jumps in to tell you what you have to do. Especially if you add a heaping pile of guilt: “If you don’t press charges and he rapes someone else, it’s your fault!”
Bite me. Rape is the fault of the rapist. No matter how hard some people try to pretend otherwise. Most of the time, when people talk to me about rape, they’re not looking for me to fix it or solve things. They might be looking for someone to believe them. They might be looking for support. Often they’re just looking for me to shut up and listen.
That’s hard. I feel pissed off and hurt and powerless, and I want to do something. I want to fix it, and I want to make sure the bastard who did it gets punished. But that’s not something I have the power to do.
Not helpful: You have to press charges! (More about satisfying my own need to punish the guy and to stop feeling helpless.)
Might be helpful: If you decide to press charges, I’d be more than willing to go to the police with you, and to court if it goes to trial.
So why would someone choose not to report rape? Rosefox linked to this blog post explaining some of the reasons. Some police officers are wonderful about sexual assault, but not all. I’ve known people who reported a rape, only to have the cop refuse to believe them and threaten to arrest them for filing a false report. Then there are the stats on how few rape cases go to trial, and how few of those result in conviction.
As for the trial itself… I’ve been through the court process for a custody issue. It was one of the most stressful experiences of my life, and it dragged out for close to a year with hearings, appeals, rescheduled dates, meetings with attorneys, and so on. Imagine going through that experience as a rape survivor, having to relive the rape again and again in front of strangers, hostile attorneys, and the rapist himself.
Do I want rapists locked away? Of course. So what’s more likely to help that happen? Trying to bully a rape victim into doing what I want? Or trying to support her (or him), letting her make her own choice and offering to support her in whatever choice she makes?
I also wonder if this insistence on “You have to report it!!!” is another facet of our attitude that stopping rape is women’s responsibility…
Discussion is open and encouraged, but once again I’ll be moderating as needed to keep it respectful and on-topic.
March 8, 2010 @ 10:39 am
You’ve got a tough job, Jim, and I don’t envy you it, though I am glad you’re doing what you do to help these victims.
Your link to that article about the idiots who think women who dress “sinfully” are to blame makes my blood boil!
Jim C. Hines
March 8, 2010 @ 10:48 am
I’m no longer working as a rape/crisis counselor. (Day job + writing + kids meant I no longer had time for volunteer work.)
I think the idiots in question are an extreme example, and most people aren’t that stupid. But it still infuriates me that the stupid is out there at all…
March 8, 2010 @ 10:56 am
Thank you for covering this topic. I sometimes wonder if many of the people blaming the victims for not going to court.
I myself have been to court in an ultimately futile attempt to get a restraining order. And even that was stressful and nasty—each time my stalkers wouldn’t show up, and we had to arrange yet *another* hearing. For three times we did this over a couple of months, and, being a student with only self-funding from meager stipend, ran out of money. And, it has to be said, ran out of heart. And throughout this constant fear that the judge would still not give it.
The courts told me that not completing the over five required trials meant that I was *implicitly* giving my stalkers legal permission to stalk me.
But I had no money, nothing to pawn, no way to obtain enough emergency funds.
Imagine how many times worse a rape trial would be.
It was so horrible….
March 8, 2010 @ 10:59 am
That first sentence in my comment ought to have ended with “ever gone to court themselves.”
Jim C. Hines
March 8, 2010 @ 11:05 am
If I had a nickel for every time I mistyped a comment…
I never had a clue how stressful the court system could be until I got drawn in myself. Financially, the money we spent could have paid off all of my wife’s loans from college. Then there’s all of the waiting, and the not knowing whether it will be worth it, not to mention having to prepare to face the guy every time you get called back in.
I know what you mean about running out of heart. There comes a point when you just start to ask whether it’s really worth this much pain and aggravation.
“The courts told me that not completing the over five required trials meant that I was *implicitly* giving my stalkers legal permission to stalk me.”
That just … I can’t even … argh. Did the court ever issue warrants or impose any consequences when they blew off the trials?
March 8, 2010 @ 11:59 am
The judge was very nice about it, and he was concerned, but his hands were tied. There was actually a group of us with stalkers at the University (though we only heard about each other’s existence, but never who anybody was—for good reason). We got put into dorms and our information suppressed and everything. Which indicated to me that this proble was actually common, since they already had the process in place. And of course rape is also a regular incident in college, so there must have been set-up for that, too. And even my specific case, they had a process for, and all the emergency deans knew it. And the campus police.
I felt very sad when I found out about this.
The judge was one of the few judges in the little University town. I wonder, sometimes, how many times he had to tell people, who ran out of money and endurance, this sort of thing. He looked so tired when he told *me*.
He let me write on the margins of the little paper they gave that said I was giving up my rights permanently to get a restraining order, “I do NOT want said people to contact me ever again,” even though that wouldn’t technically hold up in court, except as character evidence maybe, if the lawyers involved were kind or something—but it was all he could do for me.
There were no warrants and no consequences. The campus police wanted to, very much, but they couldn’t do anything about it either.
And that was all with sympathetic people. There are lots of people in other place who would not get that sympathy from the law. And even with the law’s sympathy… it just fell apart.
There were other legal stuff I could do, but it broke my heart to do it, because the only thing I could do to escape was give up my identity. And later, I had to do again for another identity. And again. That stuff isn’t nice either, and is somewhat survivable, and gah, involves at least two court dates each, depending on what county/state you’re in, but at least my stalkers/abusers wouldn’t (probably) show up. You have to put in notices to papers and everything. I was horribly paranoid for years. I hate courtrooms so much now, I don’t think I could put up with having to leave another identity again. I don’t blog under my real name, either, and that’s also changed over the years. Which always sucks.
I bet some who were raped have similar feelings; and also, what if your rapist turns into a stalker? That probably does happen, ye gods. Then you have the rape trial (which has a high probability of failing) and then even more crap.
It’s hard to feel safe again. It’s especially hard when some of your friends are unsympathetic, too. It’s all psychologically damaging. I wish more people knew about things like that.
I very much appreciate you blogging about subjects like this.
Such a long comment….
I Am So Tired, Let What Happens Happen | Spontaneous ∂erivation
March 8, 2010 @ 12:24 pm
[…] C. Hines, who is awesome, has a blog post up about reporting rape, and how fucking hard it is to do so, and you have to go read it, because it is all true. Even if […]
Jim C. Hines
March 8, 2010 @ 3:31 pm
Ugh. I’m glad the people involved were sympathetic, and I can imagine how frustrating it must be to be on that side of the process and have your hands tied by procedural laws and so on, but to me that means the law needs to be fixed.
If the job of the system is to protect people from criminals, and even when you’re trying to do everything “right” it still fails, then yeah, the system is broken. Particularly given how much additional stress and pain you have to go through in that failed process.
March 9, 2010 @ 7:26 am
I used to work as a rape crisis advocate and in training we were taught we shouldn’t define the experience for the victim; if someone calls in and says they were forced to have sex and they felt threatened and weird about the experience but they don’t use the word rape, we can’t tell them, “You were raped, go to the police NOW!” Their sense of autonomy and dignity have alread been taken from them and it’s important to respect their need to feel in control of their life again. If they ask legally would what happened to me be considered rape, of course we would say yes, that is the legal definition, and let them know what their options are. And if they decide to talk to the police or press charges, they have the right to have an advocate for emotional support during the process. Unfortunately sometimes as an RCA you can be the only support because of unsympathetic friends and/or family who put the blame on the victim.
Jim C. Hines
March 9, 2010 @ 8:27 am
That’s interesting. We were trained differently, using rape as a broad term for sexual assault. Not to force anyone to report, but we found that often people were reluctant to label their attack, and there’s a tendency to talk around it. Saying something like “You seem to be really upset, and from what you’re describing, it sounds like you were raped,” often appeared to help people label it and talk more openly. Like it made it safe to actually say the word, if that makes sense?
I think part of it comes from rape myths, from the idea that a “real rape” involves strangers and weapons and so on. So if the experience didn’t match the media-fueled idea, people would be very hesitant to identify it as rape.
Not that there’s any one right way to do this stuff. And I definitely agree about respecting choices and the need to reclaim that control. I don’t think the details are as important as just having someone whose willing to listen, who believes you, and who doesn’t blame you for what happens.
March 16, 2010 @ 2:04 am
Found you through abyss2hope. I have written about this on my blog, but I don’t feel comfortable posting the link here.
So I’ll say this and it’s going to be long:
I just love how people think if you report a rape the victim will be automatically believed and rapist will be locked up. Sorry people, that is not reality.
Most rapes are committed by a person the victim knows, trusts, likes or possibly loves. It amazes me how people act like it’s weird not to press charges against them. (Just like their ideas of preventing rape center around stranger rape that just don’t apply to the overwhelming majority of cases. Seriously? I should carry around mace and take self defense so I can mace and beat my boyfriend if he tries to rape me?!) It’s hard to even process what just happened, much less start the process of putting someone you love in jail.
We also live in a world that hates rape victims. From the time we’re born we hear all about those “lying women” who ruin men’s lives. We’re constantly told from infancy that men’s crimes against us are our fault. We did something to bring it on and therefore we deserved it. We hear all the things we’re supposed to do to make us “good women” that will protect us. We hear all these messages when rapes are reported in newspapers or rumors we hear of non-reported rapes. How the cases are covered in the media have an affect. We also hear what people spout off their opinions about a victim they don’t know in a situation they have never been in that’s in the news. We hear it of domestic violence, of stalking, of everything. What was she wearing? What did she do? Why didn’t she do this? It’s mind-blowing to me when people pretend these attitudes don’t exist when they’re shouting at rape victims to report. Everyone is keenly aware of this whether they choose to admit it or not. We all know how badly victims are treated, especially when they’re not virgins who were attacked by a man in the bush.
After absorbing all those messages for so long, they are in your mind after you’re raped. Those messages make the first thing you do as a reaction to it is blaming yourself and going over the event because you’re not sure it actually happened or maybe you took it the wrong way. Then you feel guilty because you may have done something that you know is in the “mistake” category from all the victim-blaming prevention advice you’ve absorbed your whole life. So how can you go to the police when you know you’ve made that mistake? Plus, it’s someone you like/love/trust. How can you put them in jail?
And let’s not forget all those lovely oh-so-supportive people in a victim’s life who blame her for his freely made choice to commit a crime against her. Like her, they’ve absorbed all the victim-blaming messages their entire lives. So they do what they’ve been trained to do: nitpick her every action and make even the most normal thing into something “stupid” that, in their mind, partially absolves the rapist and lays responsibility on her shoulders – i.e she asked for it. They actively discourage her from reporting by blaming, calling her a liar, telling her she’s responsible. A lot of times, they’re ignorant and bold enough to say it to your face. Other times, they listen to you and pretend to by sympathetic and then you hear what they really think from someone else.
And they actually tell her not to report because she shouldn’t “ruin his life.” When you tell a victim not to “ruin a man’s life” you’re telling her she’s not as valuable as man and that she doesn’t deserve justice. He shouldn’t have to pay for doing something as meaningless and tiny as ruining her life! In fact, it doesn’t ruin her life at all! It’s just a little unwanted sex. Right?
After dealing with all that, you get one of those random “YOU SHOULD REPORT IT NOW!” people. They are just as infuriating and harmful as the people who discourage you. Someone yelled at me and dropped me as a friend because I didn’t report mine. You know what I needed? Someone to talk it through with who would actually listen instead of being a self-absorbed asshole who made my trauma all about them.
The problem isn’t victims not reporting – that is a symptom of the problem. When people stop blaming the victim, calling the victims liars, and rape is taken seriously as a crime things will change. Telling them to report when no justice will come of it is insulting and a complete waste of time. All it does it make the victim feel even worse than she (or he) already does. So pat yourselves on the back, you peeps who insist upon reporting, for being so supportive and understanding to the rape victim in your life. You really helped her – just as much as the great friend who told her not to ruin that poor man’s life.
I read your other post where some of the commenters were talking about people using the excuse that a rapist was helpful at their convention. It amazes me how people protect rapists all the while claiming rape is the worst crime besides murder and how “real” rapists should be severely punished. Or how they think raping a human being doesn’t make him a bad guy because he’s good in all these other ways! I can’t imagine the mental gymnastics they have to do to feel okay with themselves for silencing victims and putting so many other women in danger by protecting him.
Jim C. Hines
April 1, 2010 @ 9:09 am
“I just love how people think if you report a rape the victim will be automatically believed and rapist will be locked up. Sorry people, that is not reality.”
Definitely not. The statistics on how many reported rapes actually make it to court, and how many of those court cases result in convictions … it’s depressing as hell.
I wish we lived in a world where everyone felt safe to report rape, and could trust that they’d be taken seriously, treated with respect, and not blamed/punished/attacked for what someone else chose to do to them. But we’re a long way from that (which I know you’re very well aware of).
Thank you for this comment.