During trial work I have learned that victims are failing. They are not being “good” victims for the criminal justice system. If victims would perform better, cases would be more easily prosecuted.
Let’s be clear, the focus of trial is not typically the perpetrator, it is on the victim’s choices and behaviors before, during, and after the rape. Subsequently, it is up to potential victims to behave properly to convict rapists. Here are 10 tips.
Choices prior to the assault will be interpreted as if you knew you were going to be assaulted. This includes sex with the perpetrator prior, agreeing to go for drinks, flirting – let’s face it, everything you did before the assault is up for grabs. In hindsight, it is assumed the victim knew what the agenda was and the choices are thusly judged. What is overlooked is that the offender knew what the agenda was.
Always immediately understand you are being sexually assaulted. It is important to know right away that a sexual assault is occurring. Ignore the research showing that victims are often confused, bewildered, or in shock about what is occurring. Even if the assault is not physically forcible or committed by a stranger, the victim should know right away that an assault is occurring. There should be no confusion, self-blame, or excuses for the perpetrator.
When this rape is identified, fight back with obvious effort. Don’t try to talk to the person you thought you could trust, just fight. Don’t freeze; don’t try to “wiggle” your way out of it. It doesn’t really matter if you think fighting will make it worse, do it anyway. Otherwise, someone might think you wanted it no matter how many times you said “stop,” “no,” or “let’s do this later, ok?”
Don’t shower! Never mind the fact that the last thing on your mind is to pursue prosecution after the assault. Ignore the tastes, smells, fluids, and other sensations that accompany sexual assault. Even if you want to feel clean and normal again, remind yourself that your body is a crime scene where evidence can be collected. If and when you do get a rape exam in a timely manner, remember that the evidence collected is likely to provide evidence of consensual sex with the perpetrator. In most sexual assault cases, injury is unlikely and DNA will be explained by the rapist who will say you wanted it. Also, if you do “save” evidence, it can be used as proof of a plan to frame the offender.
If you have a cell phone around, stop everything and go get it. It serves many purposes. Wherever it was, you might be asked why you did not use it to text or call someone for help. “Real” victims will immediately want to let someone know what is happening, not to mention have enough control over the situation, the offender, and their own reactions to obtain the phone and use it effectively. This same reasoning is true for any retroactively identified opportunity for escape.
Time the assault. The second you know you are being assaulted, take note of the time. The phone you somehow retrieved can be helpful in this matter. During the assault, make sure you continue to note the time, as you will be asked how long it went on and other time questions ad nauseam during the investigation. Do your part to be accurate about this. If you are not, it will be brought up to suggest you are not credible.
Be consistent. Make sure that no matter how upset your are, how many times you are interviewed, what you are asked, or how you are asked it, say the same thing over and over. Ignore any triggers, embarrassment, confusion, distress, newly retrieved information, or answers to any new questions. If you do not say the exact same thing, you will be considered “inconsistent,” therefore less credible. Again, it is important to ignore research about memory, the neurobiology of trauma, and common sense. We can talk about a movie we saw a different way every time (same movie), but victims cannot describe sexual assault differently each time (same assault). To do this, you have to be okay talking about the very graphic, intimate details of your sexual assault. Be aware, too, if your story is too scripted, it will sound like a lie.
After the assault, have no contact with the offender. Make sure you are prepared to hate and fear the assailant, no matter who he is. Even if you loved him prior to the assault, you should not want to have any contact with him. Even if he apologizes, confuses you, or you think he can explain what happened, don’t have contact.
Have trauma, anger, and fear, but not too much. After an assault, you are expected to be traumatized, angry, and afraid. But if you are too angry or afraid, you might be showing a motive to “retaliate,” or showing “problems” that might have made you “misinterpret” consensual sex. While there are many clear symptoms of trauma, these can be used as “proof you have issues,” therefore a motive to lie.
Finally, pick the right rapist. When you think you might be sexually assaulted, pick the right assailant. Do not choose someone “nice,” attractive, well-liked, or with status. If you do, the offender will use these qualities to prove that he is “not like that” or is a “good husband/worker/soldier,” thereby is incapable of rape. Finding a “stereotypical” sex offender will serve you well in successfully seeking justice.
Clearly, this advice sucks. Yet, these ideas persist and are effectively used against victims. I continue to have to explain, both in the courtroom and out, why this type of thinking is profoundly enabling to rapists.
Here are pieces of the truth. What I have learned from my work with offenders is this:
Offenders have an effective public persona. They exploit our beliefs that we are good judges of character.
Accurate hindsight focused on the offenders’ choices reveal how they create and exploit vulnerabilities of their victims.
Offenders groom the environment and activate retaliation. Prior to the assault, the offender has engaged manipulations of the audience’s perception of the victim, the offender, and the assault. This foundation is also what motivates retaliation against the victim following the victim’s report of the assault.
Offenders are adept at camouflaging their offense behaviors.
Offenders are masters at exploiting myths, misinformation, and the human frailties of trust, love, hope.
Offenders rely on the fact is it easier to believe that victims will lie than to believe in rape.
Better tips? There are people who will believe and not blame you. Many of these people include informed, committed individuals throughout the criminal justice system. Don’t be afraid to ask for support. During the assault, fight if you can. Resistance can make a difference, but realize you are making the best choices you can in the situation. Try to tell the best you know how. Tell as much as possible, even if you are afraid it makes you look bad. What you are telling might reveal the offender in ways you don’t understand.
This is easier when you believe there is nothing you can do to make someone rape you. Hold people accountable for sexual respect and boundary violations. Break free from socialization to be polite to someone who is ignoring our “no.” Stop the erosion of respect through sexual harassment. Understand and reject the burdens of silence and consequences that the offenders shift to their victims.
I hope someday, I am out of a job.