I’m staring at a blank page. And I have to tell you a story. It involves a friend of mine who was recently raped and is trying to find some semblance of justice in this society we live in.
She doesn’t have bruises or pictures of injuries; she wasn’t beaten or bloodied. In fact, this man was someone she knew and knew well.
But she said no.
She said no for two hours. She told him she was, in fact, gay, and that nothing was going to happen between the two of them.
But he didn’t listen. He raped her anyway.
My friend, we will call her Sarah, has what are perceived to be “options.” But they aren’t real options because one necessarily precludes the other. Sarah was told that she can file a report with the police and bring official charges. Or she can do Nothing.
Let’s give this a little context. A lot of women are reluctant to report an incident of rape because the system is inherently stacked against them. We live in a sexist society that puts the victim on trial rather than the perpetrator in an effort to achieve “due process.” We are unnecessarily asked about our actions regarding the night in question. “What was it that you did to make him think it was appropriate to ‘have sex?'”
But, for Sarah, due process means that she has no real options. Her rapist is a violent and dangerous man who will retaliate against her if she reports him. Sarah, courageous as she is, cannot report him to the police without putting her life in danger.
That’s just a fact.
Sarah is trapped in a situation that countless women find themselves in everyday. She seeks justice and retribution; she wants to ensure that this man never rapes another woman again. “The buck stops with me,” she told me, with so much conviction in her voice that I could feel it through the phone.
In an ideal world, she would be right. She would report this man and he would go to prison and never rape again.
But this is not an ideal world.
Instead, she is sitting at home mulling over her “options,” neither of which is actually viable, and feeling helpless and deflated; feeling utterly defeated by her rape and the process through which she must travel to get justice.
After countless conversations with Sarah, I am intimately familiar with her story and her very legitimate safety concerns. But there is no middle ground: she either reports him or she doesn’t. Neither of these are real options for women like Sarah. If she reports, she literally risks her life; if she doesn’t, she feels as though she is conforming to a society that consistently stays mum on the subject of rape. And she’s allowing him to rape again.
Because he will.
She and I are speechless. We live in a country that prides itself on its perception of gender equality and its “justice system.” But the system fails women like Sarah everyday, all over the country, and not because Sarah doesn’t have the courage to speak out. Because there is no middle ground on which she can carry her claim.
I am not a criminal attorney and cannot propose what this road might look like but I do know that there needs to be one. Victims of any crime, and rape in particular, need to feel protected and safe and have a place where they can tell their story and be heard. Sarah knows that she may never see this man put behind bars and, she tells me, that’s “actually ok. Because I really just want to stand up for myself and make sure that I did the most I could to ensure he never does this to another woman, ever again.”
To My Beloved Friend
You spoke your truth and told your story. The system failed you and that is a reflection of the many flaws of this society. It is not at all an ingredient in the veracity of your claim. You are strong, you are courageous, and you will make a difference in this world because of this experience, even if it doesn’t feel like it right now.