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On Thursday, Slate’s Emily Yoffe published an article describing three incidents of sexual assault she experienced as a child and a young woman, and, until now, never disclosed. In light of the current Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse trial, Yoffe states she has recently begun to think more deeply about her response to these assaults, and why she remained silent on them.

As the writer of Slate’s Dear Prudence column, Yoffe understands the power in speaking up. Nonetheless, she also understands her reaction to the incidents of molestation she experienced growing up. She writes that she was not traumatized by the abuse because they were isolated incidents; she was able to put an end to them in the moment, though they were undoubtedly crimes. Yoffe quotes director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, David Finkelhor, who says that “From a cost-benefit analysis, it makes a lot of sense not to disclose” when the incident is isolated, as it was for Yoffe. From a child’s perspective, telling an adult would potentially lead to further conflict with friends and family.

Reporting sexual assault can be an empowering act for survivors, but taking a case to trial can also, sadly, prolong the trauma. One of Yoffe’s assailants was a well-respected priest and congressman, and Yoffe recognizes the sad truth that ending her silence on his assault may have negative consequences:

If my 16-year-old daughter had experienced what I did, of course I would want her to tell me. I would also act. A teenager who tries to molest his cousin should at the very least get intervention. A father who touches the breasts of his daughter’s friend should be reported to the police. But as much as I hate to say it, I’m not so sure I would advise her, if she were a young adult, to report a groping by a powerful man. As we’ve seen too many times, coming forward in a case like that opens a woman up to character evisceration. Father Drinan died in 2007, and I’m aware that I’ll be assailed for besmirching the memory of a distinguished man.

Sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes. According to RAINN, 54% of sexual assaults go unreported and only about 3% of rapists will ever spend a day in jail. Yoffe spoke to an attorney who advised the importance of reporting such crimes, because “the likelihood is that the person who has done it will do it again.” Yet, despite the importance of preventing a perpetrator from causing further harm, survivors of sexual assault who do speak up are not always believed. When the Twitter hashtag #ididnotreport surfaced, many tweets cited fear of disbelief as one reason for remaining silent. Because of Sandusky’s status as a beloved coach at Penn State, one victim of his abuse says a school counselor did not believe him when he attempted to speak up. A family member of one of Yoffe’s abusers, Father Robert Drinan, released a statement that indicates some disbelief of Yoffe’s story. Due to these types of responses, Erin Gloria Ryan of Jezebel describes silence, social consequences be damned, as an act of self-preservation:

It’s a survival technique, silence; a tourniquet around a trauma. As the mind goes into shock, it’s not considering the social implications of self-preservation. It’s just trying to stay alive.

In the face of such disbelief, it is no shock that so few report sexual assault. To fight sexual assault it is crucial that more people speak up, but rather than simply encourage more survivors to speak up, we should also ensure that we are more inclined to believe them.

My Molesters [Slate]

 

In response to an article in The Atlantic Wire, Kate Harding tweeted: “Once more with feeling: Rape allegations are not a ‘sex scandal.’ They are a violent crime scandal.”

The article in question concerns French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn. DSK has already been charged with numerous allegations of sexual assault, as The Atlantic has previously reported on. Now he is being accused of gang-raping a Belgian sex-worker in 2010. The Atlantic article however equates this latest accusation of a violent crime with a “sex scandal”:

Sometimes we just wish Dominique Strauss-Kahn and his sex scandals would vanish from the news cycle. He probably does too, considering the fact there are new accusations coming out today that he allegedly gang-raped a Belgian prostitute in D.C.hotel in 2010.

Gang rape, or any form of rape, may involve a sexual act, but it is not itself sex. It is an act of violence. Reporting that equates allegations of rape with a sex scandal perpetuate the myth that rape is about sex, when in reality it is about power.

Last year, media coverage of the accusations of sexual harassment made against DSK were reported alongside coverage of former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s infidelities and child with a member of his household staff. Kate Pittman at Loose Garments described the conflation of these two events’ similarities as an indication that we do not consider crimes involving sexual violence a serious matter:

Conflating these two events frames the sexual assault charges as something other than what they are, criminal violence.  Dominique Strauss-Kahn is innocent until proven guilty.   But discussing this alleged crime using terms like “sexual antics” and “sex scandal” illustrates that socially, we still do not take crimes involving sexual acts as seriously as other crimes.

The L Magazine also talked about the harmful consequences of labeling allegations of rape or sexual abuse as “sex scandals” in light of Penn State’s so-called “sex scandal.” Last fall, numerous media outlets discussed the accusations child rape made against Penn State coach as a “sex scandal,” but a non-consensual act of a sexual nature committed against a child should in no way be conflated as sex.  It should not fall into the same category as a story about a politician having a child out of wedlock by, what appears to be, consensual sex between him and his housekeeper. Putting an act of violence in the category of a sex scandal only appears to lessen the crime, which, as L Magazine describes, has harmful consequences:

Calling rape a sex scandal reinforces the idea that it’s equally bad to get caught messing around on your wife as it is to rape someone. I know there are people out there who are like oh, it’s just language, quit quibbling, politically correct blah blah blah. But language matters. It’s how we understand the world around us, and every time somebody minimizes rape or apologizes for a rapist, they make it that much easier for some other person out there to think he or she can get away with rape.

Language is not innocent; it is in part because of this language that we live in a culture where “college football is more important than children not being sexually abused.” Our language should reflect how  serious and harmful a crime rape is, not treat it like tabloid fodder.

Thank you Kate Harding, for reminding us again: Rape allegations are not a “sex scandal.” They are a violent crime.

DSK’s Pimping Scandal Now Has a D.C. Gang Rape Allegation [The Atlantic Wire]

New Sex Allegations Against Strauss-Kahn [NY Times]

Rape is not a “Sex Scandal” [Loose Garments]

What Happened at Penn State is Not a Sex Scandal [The L Magazine]

What does it take for a woman to prove she was raped? NYPD Officer Michael Pena was found guilty of sexual assault this week but as reported by New York magazine, the jury could not come to a consensus on rape charges and the judge has declared the trial over. Pena was accused of raping a schoolteacher at gunpoint last summer, but despite eyewitness accounts and the presence of Pena’s semen in the victim’s underwear, the jury was unable to find Pena guilty of rape. Pena’s lawyer argued that he “failed to have intercourse with her” and thus no rape took place. The New York Daily News reports that they jury did not convict Pena because the victim failed to recall small details of her surroudings:

But a Manhattan jury made up of highly educated professionals refused to convict Officer Michael Pena of rape for a startling reason — the victim could not recall the color of a car parked by the courtyard where she was forced to her knees, sources told The Daily News Thursday.

In addition to proving penetration took place beyond any doubt, that force was used, that the victim did not previously know the assailant, it seems anyone pursuing rape charges must also remember every minute details of the surroundings when the rape took place. Did whoever posed such a question ever stop to think if the color of a nearby car would really be on the mind of a person facing a violent assault? No wonder rape is so underreported.

Judge Ends NYPD Rape Trial Without Rape Verdict [NY Mag]

Jury refused to convict NYPD cop Michael Pena of rape because victim couldn’t remember color of parked car [NYDN]

 

Ontario’s highest court made a landmark decision towards the decriminalization of sex word by legalizing brothels. The five judges unanimously voted in favor of decriminalizing brothels in order to allow sex workers to conduct their business in safer environments. The court ruled that communicating for the purposes of prostitution will remain illegal, a point in the ruling Mr. Justice James MacPherson and Madame Justice Eleanore Cronk criticized, arguing it will add to the dangers of already vulnerable street prostitues. The decision also made room for sex workers to higher bodyguards or drivers provided no one profits off the worker by means of exploitation. For a closer look at the decision, check out The Globe and Mail’s breakdown.

The decision represents an important step in government choosing to prioritize the safety of citizens over the privileging of certain moral stances, as The Globe and Mail reports:

The judges also explicitly rejected a Crown argument that prostitutes make an informed decision to enter a dangerous trade, saying that prostitutes deserve as much protection as other citizens who work in “dangerous, but legal, enterprises.”

Lawyer Alan Young represented the three women who put forth the case, including Terri-Jean Bedford, pictured above. HuffPost Canada quotes Bedford, a retired dominatrix, on the ruling:

“We’re not sex slaves. We’re not going to give it away. We’re not going to lay down and take the beatings any more like the police and the federal government would like us to.”

The decision is binding in Ontario but is expected to go to the Supreme Court of Canada in fall of 2013.

Thanks to Kaila for the tip.

Landmark ruling legalizes brothels in Ontario [The Globe and Mail]

Breaking down Ontario’s prostitution ruling [The Globe and Mail]

Prostitution Canada Law Appeal: Ontario’s Top Court Strikes Down Brothel Ban [HuffPost Canada]


Jane Doe will be giving a lecture at Concordia University in two weeks’ time on the structural obstacles posed at levels of society that “prevent meaningful discourse and resolution regarding the crime of sexual assault”. She should know–she spent eleven years suing the Toronto Metropolitan Police Force for negligence regarding a case of a serial rapist.

In 1986, Jane Doe was assaulted by a serial rapist, and went on to become the first woman in her situation to secure her own legal representation in the case, making her privy to court proceedings that raped women who testified were never present for. After the rapist was convicted, she went on to sue Toronto Police for negligence and gender discrimination, and after eleven years, won the case. She wrote a book about the experience entitled The Story of Jane Doe: A Book about Rape. 

On March 14th, Ms. Doe will be talking about “the use and efficacy of police warnings, the sexual assault evidence kit, the trial process and other responses which contribute to gender and race inequality, rape mythology and an abysmally low conviction rate nationally.”

The current inquiry into the police investigations of the case of Robert Pickton hauntingly echoes Doe’s story, reminding us that little has changed.

Event details
Wednesday, March 14 at 5:30 p.m.
Room H-110, Henry F. Hall Building (1455 De Maisonneuve Blvd. W.)
Sir George Williams Campus, Concordia University
Admission is free

There will be a book signing after the lecture.

More details about the lecture.
More details about the book.

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