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Your Rape, Your Problem | How ‘The System’ Fails Sexual Assault Victims

Check the news any day of the week and you’ll likely find a story about someone being prosecuted and sentenced for sexual assault. It’s sadly commonplace in our society to read stories of justice being served against rapists and child molesters. These news flashes have become so common that it’s deceptively reassuring; almost comforting to be presented with a system that seems, for all intents and purposes, to work.

The bad guys break the law; the bad guys are arrested; the bad guys go before a judge; the bad guys go to jail. Right?

Unfortunately, the system built around our social norms, mores, and laws doesn’t always work that way. In fact, when it comes to sexual assault, more often than not it doesn’t work at all.

For every 100 rapes in the United States only 8 rapists will be prosecuted, and of those 8 only 3 will spend even a single day in prison.

 

Only 3 for every 100 rapists will ever spend  a day in jail

With hundreds of thousands of sexual assault crimes going unreported and/or unprosecuted every year, it’s something of an epidemic this lack of justice. There are numerous factors in any individual case that may contribute to it’s not being prosecuted – starting with victims choosing not to report the crime in the first place. The shame, fear, and stigma attached to being victimized can preclude any possibility of justice being served.

Those victims who do call police or visit the hospital to file a report are injected into a process that is not designed to meet their needs and is run by people who have not been properly trained to deal with the potential emotional volatility of sex crimes. In some cases the crime is ‘mislabeled’ or deemed closed without investigation based on the responding officer’s perspective of the situation. Victims at one college reportedpoor responses and insensitive questioning by local law enforcement, including not being believed, being blamed for inviting the assault and being discouraged from going to the hospital.

Assuming the case IS successfully reported and received as a sexual assault crime, the sexual assault interview process continues. Sex crime victims understandably arrive at these interviews anxious and uncomfortable. Mixing improperly trained investigators with already upset victims creates a cycle of “the victim shutting down, leading to an increasingly judgmental detective, to an increasingly withdrawing victim.”

It can also take literally months for a rape kit to be processed (there is currently a backlog of over 400,000 rape kits waiting to be processed) – leaving the victim waiting, internalizing, and waiting some more. During this time many victims decide not to pursue the case.

For younger sexual assault victims the difficulty in simply ‘telling’ stretches into an issue around the statute of limitations for such crimes. For civil cases, New York requires people who allege they were abused as minors to come forward by age 23. In Virginia, which has no limit on bringing felony charges. Alabama, Idaho, Maryland, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Virginia, and Wyoming are among the states with no statute of limitation for sexual assault, according to a table compiled by the National Association of District Attorneys. Hawaii has the shortest statute of limitation: just three years for all sexual assault crimes, except first-degree sexual assault.

As if the trauma of living through a sexual assault wasn’t enough – victims who do choose to step forward and pursue justice in their cases are forced to navigate a system that is not equipped or prepared to handle their needs physically, emotionally, or judiciously.

“It’s difficult enough to deal with the physical and emotional effects of having to fight to protect yourself from the person who hurt you,” says one woman, “But to also have to fight the system that’s supposed to protect you is too much. It’s why so many women back off.”

Justice Women

This article, like the issue at hand, does not have a tidy ending. There is no way to ‘wrap up’ a piece on the re-victimization of our society’s victims of sexual assault – but let’s use this opportunity and the facts as they are to open a dialog and begin to answer the question ‘How can we do this better?’ ‘How DO we protect the victims from a faulty system?’ ‘How do we create justice for those who have been sexually assaulted?’

Resources:

There are few resources related to “navigating the system” for victims of sexual assault and their advocates – one such resource is the Online Handbook | Advocating for Women in the Criminal Justice System in Cases of Rape, Domestic Violence and Child Abuse from Justice Women. This online handbook includes full-text sections devoted to:

Advocating for Victims of Sex Crimes During the Police Investigation

Advocating for Victims of Violence Against Women at the District Attorney’s Office

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One response to “Your Rape, Your Problem | How ‘The System’ Fails Sexual Assault Victims”

  1. […] has been a victim of sexual violence can often be intimidating and frightening – sometimes causing victims to withdraw from the process completely, and often resulting in under-reporting and lower prosecution rates for […]

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