“Since then I’ve always thought that under rape in the dictionary it should tell the truth. It is not just forcible intercourse; rape means to inhabit and destroy everything…After telling the hard facts to anyone from lover to friend, I have changed in their eyes. Often it is awe or admiration, sometimes it is repulsion, once or twice it has been fury hurled directly at me for reasons I remain unsure of.” –Alice Sebold
I’m watching a television show called “The Fosters.” I’m in love with this show for a myriad of reasons, from the fact that the main characters are a lesbian couple to the fact that is actually a fairly accurate portrayal of the foster care system. But the reason that I love it the most is that it makes me feel something, and that doesn’t happen often while watching television these days.
Right now, I’m furious and in tears. And if I could throw things at my television, I would. Another of the main characters is a sixteen year old girl named Callie. As the summer season has progressed, it has slowly come out that she was raped in a different foster home by her then nineteen year old foster brother, multiple times. The current episode revolves around her making the decision to go forward with a pre-trial hearing against that foster brother. It opens with her sitting in her kitchen with an ADA and her foster mothers, and the ADA informs her that because she is a foster child who has no one, and because the incident happened two years prior, it is nothing more than a he said, she said case. It will never get in front of the jury. He does, however, tell her that because she was fourteen at the time of the incident and the boy was nineteen, it could be considered statutory rape. Therefore, if she lies and tells the judge the sex was consensual, the boy will go to jail for a year.
To recap: if she tells the truth, nothing will happen to the boy. But if she lies, he will go to jail for a very short amount of time. He will get punishment for something, sure, but she will not receive any justice. Tell the truth, he will go free. Lie, he goes to jail. To quote the character herself, “What’s right about that?” The answer? Absolutely nothing. It isn’t right, and it isn’t fair. Yet, it happens more often than we like to admit.
I know more than my fair share about how the prosecution of a rape works, enough to know that it boils down most of the time to this exact he said, she said situation. There is one thing that is needed to go forward with a rape prosecution—a sworn statement from the victim. Add in a rape kit, and it seems pretty open and shut. Right? Wrong. Did the woman say no? This is very important. Whether there is a weapon involved or physical force or both, she must say no. Regardless of the threat level or whether she has been forced to silence, she must say no. Consent is ambiguous. She may or may not be believed. This is made even more difficult in the case of acquaintance (or spousal) rape. Has she had sex before? With this man? How many times? The lines for prosecution become blurred. In the eyes of the law, once a man is with a woman it becomes harder to say that they can’t do whatever they want with that woman. It becomes harder to prove consent. She said yes once, and that must mean yes every time. When it is he said, she said between a man and a woman who know each other, the man has a very strong case regardless of evidence. All he has to do is say that the woman was on board, and it creates enough doubt to invalidate the case. These women, these victims, are treated like nothing more than objects. They are harassed and bullied by prosecution and defense alike, simply because they are women and are viewed as weaker. The only message that they get to take away is that they need not bother with making themselves a better person because life will always screw them over. And somehow, someway, they have to be okay and make peace with that. Strong, wonderful, powerful women get screwed and told that they are worth nothing. And it’s wrong. So wrong. This thing happens to them, this tremendously horrible thing, and rather than bolstering a woman’s confidence, going through prosecution leaves her self esteem crumpled in the bottom of a trash can.
This experience serves to illustrate to the woman that people will not believe her. It teaches her that is better not to talk about it, that is better to preserve her reputation than to risk complete alienation. It teaches her that what happened to her is acceptable, and that she is worth nothing. It takes her voice away. These women are stuck with pain, with hurt, with blame, with shame, and sometimes even with diseases or babies that they can’t take care of. It was never voluntary, and yet they receive the blame that rightfully belongs on the shoulders of the man who attacked them.
If a woman says no, it means no. If she doesn’t say no because she is too terrified to say no, it still means no. Regardless of the relationship, whether the man knows the woman or was previously with the woman or never knew her at all, it still isn’t okay to force her to have sex. It is never okay. Never. Women should be rewarded for telling their story, not berated or ignored.
Someone needs to stand up and say that this is not okay.