"You’re a survivor now, not a victim."
January 8, 2016 12:58 PM   Subscribe

Most American rapes go unreported and unpunished. In part because ideas about what constitutes a ‘‘real rape’’ still hinder investigations and prosecutions, and many police officers continue to read vulnerability as complicity. But there is another unacknowledged side to the investigation of sexual assault: the huge numbers of victims who are children or teenagers. New Haven, CT detectives estimate that more than 80 percent of their cases involve minors — a number only slightly higher than national statistics. Such cases are rarely reported immediately, which means that there is rarely any physical evidence to investigate. "To Catch a Rapist:" How New Haven's special-victims unit fights a hidden epidemic of sexual assault that is disturbingly difficult to investigate. (Some may find the descriptions and topics in this article disturbing or triggering.)
posted by zarq (24 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite


 
In part because ideas about what constitutes a ‘‘real rape’’ still hinder investigations and prosecutions, and many police officers continue to read vulnerability as complicity.

To some extent that is true but the overwhelming larger part that accused rapist go unpunished is due process. Proving rape is difficult not because of any rape culture, not because of misogyny, not even because some moron may think the assaulted person was asking for it. Proving rape is difficult because most rape is not the forcible kind of rape many picture. More often rape is from a friend, relative, or even lover.

Physical evidence can show that sex happened but not necessarily that it was non-consensual.
posted by 2manyusernames at 1:16 PM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


This part is especially worth repeating:
The No. 1 complaint of sexual-assault survivors, according to Archambault, is that law enforcement doesn’t keep them up to date on the status of their investigations; often detectives don’t even return victims’ phone calls. Yet keeping in touch with the victims is espe­cially important in the case of sexual assault, she says, ‘‘because there are so few good outcomes.’’ Denied justice, victims especially need to feel respected by law enforcement. But the reason that it’s crucial to stay in contact with the victims is the same reason that detectives often don’t — they hate being the bearers of bad news. As noted in the policy and training guidelines published in 2015 by the International Association of Chiefs of Police: ‘‘Virtually all sexual-assault victims want validation from the authorities that the crime occurred, and this may be a more critical element of a successful response and investigation than a criminal prosecution or conviction. Regardless of the investigative results, responding officers and investigators have the power to help a person heal from sexual assault.’’
posted by thetortoise at 1:22 PM on January 8, 2016 [8 favorites]


I missed how that isn't part of rape culture explicitly. Disbelief of victims as a default absolutely is part of rape culture.
posted by odinsdream at 1:22 PM on January 8, 2016 [18 favorites]


Disbelief of victims as a default absolutely is part of rape culture.

Absolutely. And its really sad, because that leads to rapes not being reported, which in turn leads to more of the same culture.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:33 PM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


To some extent that is true but the overwhelming larger part that accused rapist go unpunished is due process. Proving rape is difficult not because of any rape culture, not because of misogyny, not even because some moron may think the assaulted person was asking for it. Proving rape is difficult because most rape is not the forcible kind of rape many picture. More often rape is from a friend, relative, or even lover.

Physical evidence can show that sex happened but not necessarily that it was non-consensual.


Did you read the article? "The most current thinking on sexual-assault investigations is that there is always corroborating evidence. Detectives just have to be willing to search for it. It might be found in cellphone records or on social media; there might be witnesses before or after the act. Finding this other evidence requires commitment and creativity on the part of the investigators." Not to mention that if the victim is a child, consent isn't even at issue.
posted by ostro at 1:36 PM on January 8, 2016 [23 favorites]


To some extent that is true but the overwhelming larger part that accused rapist go unpunished is due process.

Bullshit.

Concern about "due process" did not cause the accumulation of more than 13,000 untested rape kits in Florida alone and more than 70,000 nationwide, and testing those rape kits would result in a bunch of slam-dunk rape prosecutions:
Testing old rape kits usually leads to a torrent of new prosecutions. Several law enforcement agencies have found that the rape kits point to serial rapists.

After Detroit processed a backlog of 11,000 rape kits, police identified more than 100 serial rape suspects.
posted by jamjam at 1:37 PM on January 8, 2016 [35 favorites]


> the overwhelming larger part that accused rapist go unpunished is due process

That process begins with investigation. When police departments decline to even investigate - including not testing thousands upon thousands of rape kits - then that is when the failure begins.

Also, it's not like "failure of due process" and the existence of rape culture and misogyny are mutually exclusive.
posted by rtha at 1:39 PM on January 8, 2016 [8 favorites]


Also, if you read all the way to the end, you will see that a serial rapist was in custody on another charge, but the warrant took six months to be approved, by which point he had been released and deported. How's that due process working for us?
posted by rtha at 1:40 PM on January 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


Back on my eighteenth birthday, my friends threw me a party, and as often happens at these events, there was alcohol. One of my friends was a fourteen-year-old girl who had never had alcohol before, and she drank way, way, way too much Jack Daniels. This resulted in a long stretch of vomiting and crying in the bathroom, during which her then-boyfriend decided that it was time to introduce sex into their relationship. She was understandably not even a little bit interested, and he decided to ignore that.

So I come into the bathroom to check on my friend, and there she is, bawling and covered in vomit, protesting as forcefully as she can manage as her boyfriend is physically trying to pull off her clothes. He was also fourteen and hadn't hit his growth spurt yet, whereas I was eighteen, 6'5" tall, and in the best physical shape of my life. I wasn't looking to get violent, so I just picked him up by the back of his clothing, carried him out of the house, and deposited him on the street.

Fast-forward fifteen years. I'm now in my thirties, and out on a date. Somehow, this story comes up, and the woman that I'm out with says, "Well, if he'd had sex with her, it wouldn't have been real rape."

Which... What? I point out that there would have been sex and non-consent, which are the only two necessary ingredients for rape. The definition is pretty fucking clear. She shakes her head and says, "If that's rape, then I've been raped by like eight guys."

And I get really quiet, because what the actual fuck. I didn't know how to process the logic of the words that that were coming out of her mouth, much less how to formulate a coherent response. She apparently misread what my silence meant, because she quickly followed it up with, "Well, obviously I meant in addition to the guys who actually raped me."

I was screaming on the inside for the remainder of the night.

It still fucks me up. If someone who has been through this to the extent that she has can't recognize this thing when she sees it, what possible chance do we have of convincing the rest of society, most of whom haven't been forced to confront this issue and would rather it be kept quiet?
posted by Parasite Unseen at 1:52 PM on January 8, 2016 [58 favorites]


That's heartbreaking, Parasite Unseen.
posted by en forme de poire at 1:53 PM on January 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


Also, it's not like "failure of due process" and the existence of rape culture and misogyny are mutually exclusive.

The commenter was suggesting that it's adherence to the requirements of due process which limits the prosecution of rape. In reality as you know, while rape can be an inherently difficult crime to prove in court, there's a much more blatant and egregious problem of law enforcement simply not giving a shit - as jamjam said collecting real physical evidence and letting it rot.

(A friend of a friend, who is a cop, once told my S.O. in casual conversation that most rapes are made up because, uh, he can totally tell they are lying. She found this very upsetting and he didn't understand why!)
posted by atoxyl at 1:53 PM on January 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


Parasite Unseen - i just saw a twitter stream yesterday where the woman was explaining very clearly why she doesn't count those types of events as rape when she's recounting her sexual assault history. partially because it's too complicated to explain to people who don't get it, but more so because it's just too hard to acknowledge being raped that many times. this is an opinion i've heard shared by a lot of women -and when i'm being completely honest - i'm one of those women. if you ask how many men have raped me - i say 4. if you ask how many times i've had coercive sex that if someone else described it to me, i'd call it rape - well the number is so high to be staggering, so ignore those mostly.
posted by nadawi at 2:02 PM on January 8, 2016 [26 favorites]


"Physical evidence can show that sex happened but not necessarily that it was non-consensual." Unless of course the age of one participant is below the legal age of consent, in which case "consent" itself is meaningless.
posted by jfwlucy at 2:30 PM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


And unless there is physical evidence of violence or drug intoxication.

Which is another thing that bothers me about the first comment in this thread. Obviously, rape - like any crime - can be difficult to prove to an acceptable legal standard, which means that rapists will go free.

But the discussion isn't about the cases that were investigated and prosecuted properly, and simply failed to convict; it's about cases that were mishandled, in part due to rape culture. We have plenty of evidence that that's a fucking lot of cases.

Claiming that physical evidence can only show that sexual contact occurred, is just an example of sidestepping the issue on a slightly smaller scale. Obviously, sometimes physical evidence is ambiguous. The problem is that even when it points toward rape, rape victims are interacting with a system whose actors commonly believe in disgusting rape myths, and who will mishandle, discount, or ignore it.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 3:53 PM on January 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


Perhaps we need a catchy term to use for non-forceful acquaintance rape so people will get the fucking clue that wheedling someone into acquiescing to sex they don't want is criminally not OK. There is enough of a difference between that and forcible rape I can understand how some people can convince themselves it isn't "actually rape".

I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of the reluctance for people to acknowledge it as rape is due to that sort of rape being very nearly socially acceptable. Teens brag about that shit. I'd be unsurprised if the percentage of people who either have done it themselves or know someone who has is very nearly 100%.
posted by wierdo at 3:54 PM on January 8, 2016


I was once talking to a friend about the EL thread, of all things, and about how there's this thing on motherhood boards where women will talk about being in agony, crying through sex, and hating themselves for not wanting to have it. I said something about knowing how that feels and my friend went silent. I think I misread the silence because I added "it doesn't happen now, but with one of my exes it did a fair bit".

But I don't count that in my own personal rape stats. It goes in my 'ugly ghosts' stats, along with all the men who hit on me from when I was twelve, all the men who looked at me that way from when I was eight, all those 'so mature' and 'so smart' and 'girls mature quicker and should go out with older men to compensate' whining assholes that made the years of 13-19 so very godawful. The groping and the pressure and the having to have quick hands because if you didn't and they got the upper hand you lost control. Having to balance your own desire with defense.

It's the real rapist ex who tried, over and over, to get me to admit it was okay that his previous ex was 16, because he waited until she was 'legal'. With all the 'you were like that when you were young' from him. He was in his 20s, so 19 wasn't quite as bad and he had no doubt there. But christ did he want me to absolve him of his guilt for the previous girl. Tell him that it wasn't morally suspect, it wasn't coercive, it wasn't exploitative or manipulative.

It's the way I flinch now, the moment someone tells me how smart I am, because for years that was a precursor to being told it was my own fault adult men hit on me. It's the way I react so badly when people talk about girls maturing early, as if breast development is reflected emotionally and intellectually, as if society doesn't uphold this as a way to sexualise teenage girls against their will then tell them it's their own fault.
posted by geek anachronism at 5:05 PM on January 8, 2016 [17 favorites]


Thanks nadawi for articulating my lived experience in a way I've never been able to explain to myself before.

If I added it all up I'd sob and never stop so in my head it's 8 rapists and then just some really shitty relationships. To call it what it actually is would basically break me. Sometimes we perpetuate rape culture upon ourselves to maintain sanity and not hide inside ourselves and never come out.

I've never seen it explained that way and it helps me see why I tell my therapist that those don't count and feel threatened when she tries to counter act that. I can't stay breathing if I accept that I've never not dated a rapist in 40 years. Serious distracting and avoiding to do now before that lands too hard.
posted by kanata at 5:14 PM on January 8, 2016 [8 favorites]


If someone who has been through this to the extent that she has can't recognize this thing when she sees it, what possible chance do we have of convincing the rest of society, most of whom haven't been forced to confront this issue and would rather it be kept quiet?

To be fair to your friend, it's not necessarily that she can't recognize it. It's that the whole problem you cite in the second part of your sentence ("what chance do we have of convincing the rest of society?") constantly reinforces for women that we aren't always entitled to call a rape "a rape." There's actual legal precedence for that, in addition to the mounds of societal bullshit that leads women to diminish their own experiences by characterizing them as something less than rape.

For a long time (and in some states, still, I think?), there was no such thing as spousal rape, legally speaking. On top of that, the actual, legal definition of rape has changed over the past couple of decades in many jurisdictions. Rape used to be defined as forcible, penetrative, PIV intercourse. The FBI definition is now "Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim." That's a huge shift. That's redefining rape -- or, more accurately, recalibrating its definition.

I can personally tell you it's a huge shift, because I feel entitled to use the word 'rape' to describe a sexual assault I experienced. That is, I feel entitled to it right now, writing this comment on this website. But I don't always, and I didn't always. Back when I experienced it, even if I had told anyone (and I didn't, because I didn't think anyone would believe me, and I was afraid of being labeled a slut), what happened to me would not have been called "rape" by the legal system or by the people around me. Today, it absolutely would.

So you take a society that diminishes women's experiences, still engages in victim-blaming, and you add to that the fact that many women's experiences from long ago would now legally be considered rape, but weren't at the time? You put those things together and you'll find that women have a hard time navigating and describing and owning their own experiences, because this society does not make it easy to, and because the messages we've gotten all along about rape, and what constitutes it, and how we invited it, are fucking confusing and crazy-making.

I totally get where you're coming from, but I hope you can see where your friend might have been coming from too.

Perhaps we need a catchy term to use for non-forceful acquaintance rape so people will get the fucking clue that wheedling someone into acquiescing to sex they don't want is criminally not OK.

Due respect, and no offense intended, but the very LAST thing we need is to start classifying different "kinds" of rapes differently. What we need is to clarify what actually constitutes rape, and to clarify that there are no *degrees* of rape. Rape is rape.
posted by mudpuppie at 6:17 PM on January 8, 2016 [15 favorites]


I hope this article brings some pressure on the DA's office to get their act together.
posted by salvia at 12:28 AM on January 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


mudpuppie, I don't disagree in principle that any coercive sexual interactions are or should be labeled rape. Problem is that there are so many fuckheads who just refuse to get it that I think a separate term might be less threatening to the vast number of people who have engaged in such activities in their past but refuse to think of themselves or their friends as rapists because they didn't literally hold a woman down and force themselves into her.

There continue to be a vast number of people who won't acknowledge that other forms of rape are a problem. I just think that even if it takes calling it something else to get them to acknowledge that it is unacceptable it would be worth it. It might even make prosecutors more likely to charge people and juries more likely to convict if there were a linguistic difference between "those people" who commit violent forcible rape and those who coerce women nonviolently.

Many to most people already make a distinction between the two in their minds, so giving them the mental framework to see that it is still unacceptable despite not being precisely the same might just push people away from excusing nonviolent coercion simply because it doesn't fit their preconceived notions of what rape "really" is.
posted by wierdo at 1:26 PM on January 9, 2016


I kinda hesitate to step into this debate on terminology, because I want to defer to those with more knowledge, experience, and training in the field of sexual assault and its prevention. So, I apologize in advance for the ignorance I'm bringing to the topic.

But just thinking of my own evolving understanding of rape, (as a woman growing up trying to understand the threat it posed and what yucky sexual situations could be called "rape," etc.), I actually think that the term "date rape" was a useful bridge term to get past the era when only stranger rape was considered "real" rape. Now, I never hear that term; it seems like it's just called rape, as it should be. And it alerted me (not that rape prevention should be the would-be victim's responsibility) to the threat of rape by a trusted acquaintance.

I wouldn't want an entirely separate term, but I wonder if another "___ rape" phrase couldn't help teach the public that having sex with people too drunk to consent or who are otherwise not actively consenting in any way is, yes, a form of rape. (I dunno, maybe the news shows could do stories on some just-released report discussing "a new kind" of rape and the threat it poses to our youth.) Eventually, the modifier could go away (much as the "date" prefix seems to have faded) and people would go on just calling it "rape." Anyway, I'm sure people in sexual education and violence prevention have thoroughly studied this question.

On a more personal level, (where I do feel I have expertise, just on my own self), I'd like to have more nuance in terms. It would've helped my younger self a lot to have names to give situations that one hesitates to call rape but also were yucky or not-exactly-wanted in one way or another. There was a great MetaFilter post on this maybe a year or two ago; if I get time later I'll try to find it.
posted by salvia at 4:12 PM on January 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


When you add those modifiers it does detract - 'lady doctor' or 'male nurse', it delineates a space where the modifier is not a real part of the noun.

Nuance is nuance, same with how one comes to terms with these things. But creating a space where 'rape rape' (thanks Goldberg) is a thing and all these other rapes don't get to be included because 'oh no that isn't rape that's nonconsensual sex'. And we are kidding ourselves that it isn't already happening, that it would not strengthen those people who don't want to look at date rape as rape.
posted by geek anachronism at 6:03 PM on January 9, 2016


I'm not sure if I understand everything you're saying, geek anachronism, so I may be missing your point (or I might've been misunderstood; I for one wouldn't want a term like "non consensual sex;" I'd only want a term that was ___[Something]__ Rape). But I can defend my thinking in relationship to the first part.

When you add those modifiers it does detract - 'lady doctor' or 'male nurse', it delineates a space where the modifier is not a real part of the noun.

I'm not sure I agree; sometimes they are just varieties of the same thing. Red apple, green apple. Suspension bridge, drawbridge. Naming them that way can highlight underlying similarities despite some outward differences (sphaghetti squash, acorn squash; chainsaw, circular saw, bow saw).

Even when [modified noun] is compared to just [noun], the former isn't always seen as inauthentic or less serious: killer whale, axe murderer, child pornography.

Anyway, maybe our differences arise partially because I wasn't focused on whether the term would persuade the kind of extremists who would deny that date rape is rape. I was thinking about people who are learning about consensual sex and what's appropriate (or trying to put a name to the sense that something isn't right). It sounds like you're looking at the political realm, and I'm very much not an expert on how terminology impacts those debates.

A parallel term to consider might be "emotional abuse." I ended a relationship when it crossed the line into "abuse," but I drew that line where I did because of all the educational material available about "emotional abuse" and the forms it took (namecalling, belittling, using threats, etc.). It never turned physically violent, so were it not for the awareness campaign around "emotional abuse," I might've not defined what happened as abuse. I might've even put up with it longer. I agree that ultimately, everyone makes sense of the nuance for themselves, but having easy mental access to detailed lists of what constituted emotional abuse helped me more quickly say "yep, that thing that just happened was a form of abuse" and leave. I'm sure there are still knuckledraggers who'd say that namecalling isn't abuse, but they would've done that either way. Meanwhile, the "emotional abuse" education campaign helped me better understand what was happening and leave a bad relationship before it got worse, and presumably it helped others as well.

That said, I'm sure there are differences between this example and what we're discussing. And I'm not an expert and might be off base.
posted by salvia at 3:23 PM on January 10, 2016 [2 favorites]


(Aaaaaand, I hate writing long comments about important but sensitive topics like this, especially when I'm speaking about anything but my own personal experiences, so I want to append a lot of caveats to the comment I just left, or just delete it entirely. I'm not here to argue for the sake of it (nor do I think anyone else is). But I did want to reply, to see whether additional explanation would clarify what I'd originally meant, and/or to better learn where we disagree.)
posted by salvia at 3:30 PM on January 10, 2016


« Older A Modest Proposal, Texas-Style   |   A third way: Non violent protest Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments