Content warning: This post discusses rape and sexual assault, specifically within the context of what happens when rapes get reported.
‘What To Do When Someone Approaches To Tell You About Sexual Assault or Abuse‘ attracted a lot of attention last month. I got a lot of emails about it, and I read a lot of really great commentary on it from victims/survivors.
One theme that inevitably came up was our old friend ‘why didn’t you report it?‘ in the form of iterations that it’s really important to tell victims to report. Thankfully, lots of people pushed back on this so I didn’t have to, to remind people that the most important person in the equation is the victim and that the most important thing to do when you have a friend telling you about a rape or sexual assault is to support your friend. One of the most atrocious things I saw people claiming was that victims/survivors have an obligation to report to prevent the rapist from assaulting someone else. I shouldn’t be surprised by this argument, because I see it all the time, but, yes, my jaw actually dropped, because it’s one among a litany of horrific and awful things that people say about rape, and victims, and survivors.
Before I delve into the problems with this, let me make this crystal clear: The only people responsible for rape are rapists.
Period. End of discussion. If you are a rape survivor/victim who has chosen not to report, and there are a lot of reasons not to report, and anyone has ever said that you are somehow to blame for something your rapist did, that person was wrong. And I am so very sorry that someone felt it was appropriate to tell you that. That people have felt it’s appropriate to tell me that. Because that is all kinds of wrong and fucked up and it is attitudes like that, things like that, that perpetuate the existence of rape culture.
Because all that is? Is a new iteration of victim blaming. Now, not only do you need to be the ‘right kind’ of victim, but you also need to be a ‘good’ victim and report it. Bullshit is what I say to that.
And here’s why, aside from the fact that you are not responsible for the actions of other human beings.
In case you’re not aware of what happens when you report a rape, here’s how it goes down:
You contact law enforcement. They will interview you. In the interview, you will be asked to recount events in detail. You will be questioned in detail. Those questions are going to include things like ‘what were you wearing?’ and ‘why didn’t you…?’ They will also decide whether or not a rape kit should be collected.
Here’s something important to be aware of: When you report a rape, it is treated as a crime against the state, not against you. You are evidence. You are a witness to a crime. And that is how you will be treated. The interview is conducted for law enforcement to decide, in their opinion, if a crime occurred, and what steps, if any, should be taken.
If the decision to collect a rape kit is made, you will go to a hospital. You will probably be in a cold and windowless room. You will be subjected to a highly invasive physical examination. Hair combings will be collected. Any material from under your nails will be scraped out and bagged. Medical personnel will try to be compassionate. You can opt to have a representative from a rape crisis centre present. But, ultimately, it’s you alone on the middle of that table. It’s you lying there, staring at that spot on the ceiling and wonder if the last victim thought it looked like a banana too.
This information will be brought to the prosecutor. The prosecutor will review it, and will review you. You will be interviewed again. If you want the case to go to court, you had better hope that you are the ‘perfect’ victim. You had better hope you are not transgender. That you are white. That you are not a sex worker. That you were not under the influence of anything. That your rapist is not also a romantic partner.
According to statistics from RAINN, if a rape is reported in the United States, there is a 50.8% chance of arrest. I’m using statistics from the States here because, well, they were easy for me to access. Rates vary pretty widely globally, which is something important to keep in mind. 80% of arrests result in a prosecution. Remember, it’s a crime against the state, and the prosecutor will not move forward with the case if the evidence isn’t good enough.
So. Now your rape is being prosecuted. All those questions you got asked? They’re going to be asked again, while you’re on the witness stand. While your rapist is in the room. The defense is going to cross-examine you. The sole goal of the defense is to discredit you and they will use every tactic possible to do so. That includes dredging up details of your personal life. It includes repeatedly hammering you about every aspect of the case. Why weren’t you more heavily bruised? Did you scream? Why were you in that part of town anyway?
The trial is over. There’s a 58% chance that your rapist will receive a felony conviction. And a 69% chance, in the case of felony convictions, that the rapist will go to jail. RAINN estimates that 6% of rapists in reported rapes spend a day in jail. Six. Percent.
People talk about reporting as though it’s a magic bullet. Like, poof, you report and your rapist is immediately whisked away and locked up in jail[1. A jail, of course, that protects its inmates from prison rape, because once you report it, your rapist can never rape again, right?]. People who push, push, push with the reporting are often not people who have experienced rape, let alone encountered the ‘justice’ system when it comes to handling rapes.
They have never sat on a witness stand with their bloodstained panties shoved in their face with a demand that they verify that yes, those are their underpants. They have never lain alone on an ice-cold exam table while a nurse tears them apart with a speculum. They have never sat in an interview room at the police station, being bluntly told that they couldn’t possibly have been raped because they are whores and everyone knows whores don’t get raped.
They have never borne witness to any of these things.
They have never had to explain to a rape victim that the prosecutor will not be pursuing the case in court.
They have no fucking idea.