The Justice System we Face with Rape and Sexual Assault by Alex Guthrie

I came home at ten o’clock on a random Saturday night only to get a phone call from my toughest friend. She was in tears saying she needed to see me. There was something very unsettling about hearing and seeing the bravest person I know so shaken up. I told her I would meet her at a coffee shop so she could talk to someone. When I arrived at the coffee shop, I had never seen her so upset before. She explained to me that an older guy she had dated when she was 14 had assaulted her when they were together, but had left town when he graduated high school. The man had basically kidnapped her at one point by telling her they were going on a camping trip together. She described to me how she felt in the relationship and said, “I was scared, but I was only a kid, you know? An older guy liked me, and I liked him so I just let it happen.” Of course my first thought was, “What triggered her and brought this back up now?” But my question was immediately answered when she said that he was back in town and had sent her an email saying that they should get together. She told me that he knew where she lived and how to get in her house, and she was terrified that he would show up somewhere or find her.

Rape and sexual assault are major issues, and although it may seem as if they are always treated as big issues, society does not always view these crimes as seriously as they should be. For whatever reason it may be – whether it be drugs, alcohol, mental illness, etc. – rape is a very hard crime to prosecute a person for. Women are raped all the time, yet the men that commit the crime do not always realize what it is that they are doing wrong or realize that they really did not get consent. A victim can take the crime to the police and try to give them evidence, but because women have lied about being raped and men often lie about the intentions they had, it is a hard crime to prove and provide evidence for. Many times, a woman, man, or sometimes both, are completely intoxicated and are unable to give or withdraw sexual consent. Sometimes rape or sexual assault can be due to a mental illness a person has, but often it is just someone doing something bad or, in some cases, being selfish and not thinking about the other person. The fact that there are so many different ways a man could try to “justify” it also contributes to the struggle when it comes to prosecuting a person for sexual assault or rape. But why is this crime not always taken as seriously as it should be?

When I asked my friend about what she wanted to do about it, or if she wanted to report it, she said, “I can’t report it. I have no evidence. I have cuts on my knees from him abusing me but they look like shaving cuts. And he’s the one that put that in my head so that I couldn’t report it.” This is why it is such a hard crime to prosecute someone for. When a girl goes to the police and says, “This person raped me,” they can’t just immediately lock the guy up. They have to go through an interview process and listen to the guy as well as the girl and find witnesses. If a girl needs help and reports it immediately, they also have to go through the rape kit exam in order to find more evidence of injuries, DNA, and other any other proof. If there are no witnesses or other victims from the same man, it is hard to tell whether he actually committed the crime or not. My friend said she couldn’t report it because she had no evidence, but then it becomes a constant battle in any victim’s mind of, “What if he did this to someone else? It’s my fault that it happened to another person because I didn’t report them.” Almost every victim has this thought, and it is almost impossible sometimes to get it out of their heads.

Although every rape or sexual assault crime committed is serious, any child or minor rape is the crime taken to the extreme. It is so much more traumatizing as a child, especially when you may not know what is happening. When you are an adult or young adult, you know what is happening, which can be just as scary, but as a child, you are traumatized for life. A child has their entire life ahead of them, but an experience like this can change how you grow up and how you live your life. The one thing that is very different from being child victim versus being an adult victim is as an adult it is so much easier to lie about it or be in a place or situation where it is easier for the man sexually assault you. Children don’t go to parties, drink or do drugs, so when it comes to the difficulty of figuring out how to prosecute a person, it is much easier to know that a child is most likely not lying, wasn’t drinking and put themselves in the dangerous situation.

My mother was also raped when she was just a child at 11 years old. She was even younger than my friend, and it was more difficult to report because she did not know the person. She said he was wearing a beanie hat when it happened, so she couldn’t see his face well. When she reported it, she had to go in and try to pick the man out of a line behind one way glass. “It was so scary, you know, being an eleven year old girl,” she said. She told me that another girl also reported a man for raping her later on and had given the description of the man having something all over his legs. My mom said that that was the one thing she remembered, was him having something on his legs. They had my mom sit in the courtroom during the trial and she told me, “It was one of the scariest experiences, being in a room with the person who could possibly have been the man who raped me.”

I, along with many family members (especially my dad and brother because they are males), can never truly understand the feelings that she gets or the small issues that bother her due to this experience. I often notice certain issues that bother her or possibly bring up memories of the experience, including gender inequality issues or problems with women being treated with disrespect. Although she has dealt with it very well, the election with Donald Trump has brought up some bad emotions. In a recent post she made on Facebook, she wrote, “You said to me that it is fine to speak about and possibly act on sexually assaulting women. I am a victim of sexual assault and cried alone the day I heard those word come out of Trump’s mouth. He brought me back to a deep dark place that only other women who have experienced this can completely understand.” No matter how old a sexual assault victim is, it stays with them their entire lives. There are ways they can receive help to lessen the pain or the thoughts they have, but once it happens, there is no way to undo it and those feelings and emotions will stay throughout their entire lives.

Child sexual assault is not the only big issue though. Rape and sexual assault are extremely common on college campuses. In college, there are many parties and hangouts. People show up thinking that everything will be fine, but if they are not smart about it, especially girls, it is very easy for them to find themselves in a dangerous situation or being sexually assaulted. Although rape on college campuses happens elsewhere besides parties, the main stories you hear from victims started at parties with drinking or drugs. The book Missoula by Jon Krakauer mainly focuses on stories of people who thought it would be fine to stay at a friends house or go home with a guy because they were drunk, but then it ends up being a never-ending sexual assault case. In almost every story, both the woman and the man are intoxicated, and sometimes the woman is even unconscious from drinking too much. When this happens and the woman gets sexually assaulted, it is very hard to determine whether the man truly did not know what was going on because he was too drunk, or whether he is lying about the entire situation as a whole. Although it should not matter what the guy says, if a girl was intoxicated, she was not able to give consent at all and it should be considered rape. But for some reason, if both the attacker and the victim were drunk, the court drops and ignores many sexual assault cases because there is no proof that it was actually rape. There is also the factor of how many drinks is considered “drunk” or “intoxicated”. How could they ever know if it was a crime when a woman says it was rape, but the man says that there was obvious consent? What if a girl only had one drink and said she got raped, but the guy says she was completely drunk? Just because there is no proof though, does not mean that the case should just be dropped completely.

Once a case is dropped, if a man is found innocent of the crime, very rarely will they never do it again. Missoula includes a study done with a sample of 1,882 male students from the University of Massachusetts Boston and found that 6.4% of them are rapists. That came out to about 120 males, but it turns out that 63% of those males were repeat offenders, meaning they have raped or committed sexual assault more than once. These men had raped at least 439 people which is an average of 6 victims per rapist. This is what makes the original victim feel uncomfortable when the attacker is not found guilty – the person is still loose and could potentially hurt more people.

If a man is guilty, but they are found innocent of a crime they actually did commit, it is so easy for them to find another person to hurt. This leads to self-blame, one of the biggest issues victims face when they are raped. Self-blame becomes a factor in the uncomfort when a man is found innocent. If a man is freed, the victims feel like it is there fault if another person is raped or sexually assaulted because they either did not provide enough evidence or they did not fight hard enough to stop it and prosecute the man. Only a person who has been raped can truly understand that feeling, which may be why the court does not prosecute the crime. Many people involved with the courts, including the prosecutors, probably have never experienced being sexually assaulted, so it is harder to sympathize with a victim or believe what they are saying. With so many good liars in the world, a “victim” can also easily make it up and try to accuse a man who is innocent, therefore the court has a hard time believing only one person with no evidence that it actually happened.

Many times it is sadness that victims feel, but they can feel so many other emotions, especially when issues are brought up. My mother’s post, mentioned earlier, also said, “Anger and frustration overtook me on a scale unimaginable to those of you who have never and will never have to be victim to a man just ‘taking what he wants’.” Once again, anyone who has never experienced sexual assault will never understand the feelings and the pain that victims go through. Even though we cannot understand it, we can still be there for victims and help them. Just listening and providing a victim with someone to talk to helps dramatically.

It is controversial as to whether it is possible to lower the number of sexual assaults there are, but there are still ways to help the victims and prevent it from happening to those around you. Keeping yourself safe and letting others know how to be safe can make it so that you are never in a dangerous situation. For example, never walk alone, especially at night, or make sure you have a loyal and reliable friend that will stay with you at a party. To help a victim, all we can really do is be there to provide a listener or a shoulder to cry on when they need it, and try to point them in the right direction for professional help if they seem like they need it. Do not overlook an issue like this. Do something to help and prevent it.

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