But I thought you were my friend
I wrote this in 2015, before the #MeToo movement. It’s all the more relevant now as voice after voice — of both women and men — sound out in the lingering anguish of having been used as a thing.
Like so many young college women, she was raped by a male friend, someone she thought she could trust. She is the daughter of a friend of a friend – nobody you would know. Nobody I even actually know. Nor do I know the specifics of the case except that I do know the specifics of many, many cases just like hers.
He was a friend. They hung out. She liked him. They talked about everything and nothing. She felt safe with him. And then, the mask came off. The monster face stared out at her and he was on her, tearing at her clothes, forcing her down, forcing his penis into her body, thrusting, ravaging, harming, perhaps even tearing, then leaving her in a heap, feeling ruined, soiled, shamed and broken.
Stranger rape is horrible. All rape is horrible. But there’s an extra dimension of horror when you’re raped by someone you trust. A friend or even a boyfriend. There’s no expectation of trust with a stranger, so to some extent, given the random nature of the universe and the percentage of humans who are generally horrible and men who are predators in sheep’s clothing, it’s a shock that isn’t shocking. Friend rape doesn’t just break that trust. It breaks all trust – including her trust in herself. How can she trust her own judgment when the consequences of having done so were so devastating?
The statistics on friend rape – on date rape – are out there. You can Google them yourself. It’s one of the reasons women don’t trust men. We trust men on a day by day but limited basis because we know damned fecking good and well that at any minute, they can remove the benevolent mask and a ravening beast intent on harming us will stare out – and then pounce.
So this young woman, her trust broken, is brave and goes to the hospital and gets the exam and the rape kit done only to find out that this young man will get as a consequence – pretty much nothing. They moved him to a different dorm, sure, but the young woman is informed that there are few convictions for rape relative to the number that actually occur and what they put the women through during a rape trial is nearly as bad as the rape and thus, not worth it.
And in this toxic garden, rape culture grows.
In my experience, legal deterrents don’t actually work. Anyone miscreant enough to be willing to commit a godawful crime against another person – rape, assault, murder – won’t be thinking enough to believe that he or she will ever be caught, let alone suffer consequences. So despite the serious penalties for rape, rape continues unabated.
But let us consider the consequences of a system that lets rape happen with impunity because the legal process is so brutal to the victim that the woman is advised not to pursue charges unless conviction is a surety. This is a reflection of society’s attitude toward rape victims as a whole. Take a read of Tyler Kingkade’s 2014 article: Why It Really Matters When College Officials Say Terrible Things About Rape and The Daily Mail’s article: Women ‘to blame’ for being raped which both amply illustrate social attitudes toward women and rape. If a woman hasn’t been chaste, hasn’t dressed like a nun, has been in the least flirtatious – well then, she asked for it.
Or, in the case of our young woman, she was friends with a young man.
With such attitudes prevalent, it’s no wonder women stay silent or don’t pursue charges.
Here’s the deal, though. A woman should be safe from rape even if she’s walking stark naked down the middle of the street with a sign on her back saying “Do me.” A woman should be safe from rape even if she’s lying passed out in the middle of that street with that same sign on her back.
A woman – simply – should be free from rape, because rape isn’t a woman’s responsibility. Rape is the responsibility – entirely – of the rapist. That’s it. Beginning, middle and end.
A woman shouldn’t need to prove that her vagina has been heretofore sacrosanct. Or that she is a teetotaler. Or is as asexual as a fence post and regards flirtation as evidence of satanic possession. A woman has nothing to prove except that she was raped and that’s the job of the rape kit and the prosecutor.
If a woman says she was raped, the kit needs to be used and prosecution should proceed, based on evidence – and if the rape is proved, because our system of justice still requires justice be properly served (at least if you’re white) – then the full penalties need to be dispensed. Period.
Because as long as we prosecute only after putting the victim on trial for what society deems appropriate female character, rape will be considered a freebie crime, to be committed with impunity – at will.