“They paraded my panties around the courtroom like a banner of my guilt, my shame, and my horror”, a rape victim whispered. Victims of a “tragic rush to accuse” North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper stated after dropping all charges and declaring three lacrosse players innocent of rape. “If you drag a hundred-dollar bill through a trailer park, you never know what you’ll find.”James Carville applying the nuts and sluts strategy to Paula Jones. Humiliating the victim was an all too common strategy designed to degrade the victim and deter reports of rape. Our Shock and Awe 24 hour news media ate it up and spit it out. Victims, targeted at every angle, slowly found strength and survivors of sexual violence worked tirelessly to establish safe havens and rights for victims. Today, all states and the federal government have passed laws to establish a set of victim’s rights to allow for certain protections, including but not limited to the right of information, the right to be treated with respect and dignity(no more panty parade), the right to apply for compensation, the right to a limited roll in the criminal justice process and the right to a speedy trial. On the flipside, the sixth amendment sets forth rights of the accused with guarantee a fair trial, the right of information, the right to legal counsel and the right to confront the witness to name a few. The rights of the accused are established in four out of the 10 constitutional amendments that make up the bill of rights. The judicial process is important to follow in order to respect and protect the rights of all parties, especially the tenuous rights of victims. Because these rights are so important it is imperative that we do not conflate the two parties and their position and create a social lynching or as Justice Thomas put it a “hi-tech lynching”. Relying on public opinion as to whether we follow process will only make victims less likely to come forward. Victims of sexual assault and or domestic violence are often shamed, belittled and terrorized and the last thing needed is to establish a precedence of a public trial where citizens shaped by their own experiences and agendas decide without fact or finding who is credible.
Politics have twisted these two sacrosanct rights, appealing to our individual moral compasses. Each side digging in passionately about their beliefs, fueling the political rhetoric, neither side right or wrong just inspired, but where does this moral subjective vigilante justice get us as a society. Victims are re-victimized, and the social norm becomes “shout your mind.” If you believe it, it’s true regardless of the process. This blatant disregard for the judicial process is concerning because victim advocates have worked diligently for years to establish procedures and protections that remove the subjectiveness of individual conscience. No longer do we hear expressions that were once the norm “she wanted it” or “her skirt was too short.” Just as it morally wrong to victim blame, it is just as unconscionable to socially prosecute someone as a rapist without due process. When procedures are arbitrarily removed to suit specific agendas we open Pandora’s Box and potentially set back the rights of victims. It is disappointing that victims rights are being used to promote political agendas as the preservation of victim’s rights should be the top priority.
Sexual assault is a bigger issue than most people realize, yet still the most underreported crime. Recent headlines have brought more awareness to the trauma of sexual assault, and the gravity of sexual allegations. Rape is a violent crime, not at all sexual in nature. Rape is not about our skirt being too short or that we asked for it. Rape is sheer violence. Our legal system and our police departments are now armed with rape sensitivity kits, educated to utilize specific verbiage when questioning victims in an attempt to solicit memories and obtain facts. Our legal system no longer tolerates holding the victim’s underwear up in the courtroom with the implication that her whoreish ways provoked the attacker. Procedures now dictate judicial process protecting and providing safety for the victims and their families. Victims should never have to relocate or have death threats issued against them from their community because of a public relations “trial”. When we forego process we run the risk of setting back the rights of victims and once again silencing our voices. We cannot go back to the days of shaming victims.
One in three women will be sexually assaulted. One in five will be raped and one in three will be the target of domestic violence. These statistics increase when children and even men are included. Sexual violence is a traumatic and life-altering vile crime. Weaponizing a victim’s testimony creates a time machine in which we are punted back 50 years and victims are called liars, and their motives and lifestyles judged with puritanical values while ignoring the motives of the rapist. In this age of polarization and #Metoo era, we cannot afford to take sides lawlessly and impose our opinions at will. More importantly, we cannot allow sexual assault cases to be tried in a court of public opinion, as our society did to Juanita Broderick just 30 years ago. We cannot go back in time and make assessments of guilt or innocence based on limited knowledge or how we as individuals feel. Victims must be protected and provided a safe space to share their story and seek justice, conversely if we desire to uphold victims rights we must respect judicial procedure for the accused.
This past month a woman was outed against her will, cross-examined and re-victimized. A woman who relied on her lawmakers to protect her, a woman who trusted these lawmakers to understand the specific procedures, respect her request for anonymity, and her rights as a victim. The bastardization of the judicial process, the polarizing response created by political power junkies only sets back and silences the voices of victims. Judicial due process and victims rights must not be warped into a one size fits all to advance personal agendas. As targets of violence and assault, WE rely on process to protect us and bring justice, therefore it is important to preserve the process for all. Public shaming and public humiliation based on “I feel he/she was telling the truth or I feel he/she was more credible” may aid in silencing our cause. Often victims know their accuser, especially children, and fear not only speaking their truth but fear for the well-being of the person who sexually violated them. The complications of sexual assault and abuse are extremely delicate and confusing, which is one of the many reasons we must adhere to proper procedure. Speaking out is difficult enough, let’s leave judgment and shame aside and respect victim’s rights and judicial process. Victim’s rights should not be a delicacy afforded to a few, but a tenable right for all.
Why don’t women come forward?
Fear of retaliation
Fear of not being believed by family or law enforcement
Self-blame and/or embarrassment
Fear of “not enough proof”
Shared custody of children
Fear of the justice system
Feel the crime wasn’t “serious enough”
Reporting on Sexual Violence https://www.nsvrc.org
Victim’s Rights http://victimsofcrime.org