My heart often sinks in despair for the sexual assault survivors whose courage leads them to the witness stand.
Although I have been raped three times over the course of my life, I have never faced any of my perpetrators in court. And I have mixed feelings about that.
Part of me wishes law enforcement had taken my rape reports more seriously instead of relegating them to the waste-bin. Not only might I have experienced justice, other women might have been spared suffering.
Another part of me experiences a sense of relief because no defense attorney ever had the opportunity to cross-examine me as if I were the criminal on trial. No court of public opinion foisted their shame on me. My sense of self was never shredded by the incessant and cruel interrogation of my confusion and terror during the assaults.
I worry for rape survivors who testify. But I also admire their fortitude. And I feel a debt of gratitude to them for bringing the complicated terrain of rape to the surface where we can all revisit and examine our assumptions and blind spots.
Because even though it is 2020, we are still shackled to an archaic paradigm that forged rape laws for the express purpose of protecting men’s property rights. Not so long ago, women’s bodies were literally owned by men. For that reason rape was not envisioned as an assault on the woman. Rape was considered a violation of the man’s ownership of that woman.
With the advent of the #MeToo movement we have seen a dramatic shift in the patriarchal terrain as women have come forward en masse to claim sovereignty over their bodies and to assert their sexual autonomy.
But while we are freeing our hearts and minds of the shame that was imposed upon our foremothers so many years before, and while we are asserting our right to control what is done to our bodies; society and the legal system have yet to catch up to a version of justice that accurately reflects our collective experience of sexual perpetration.
In this moment it is crucial we understand that we will not change the laws or society’s assumptions and judgments until we are clear about several little known factors that shape many survivors’ responses to sexual assault.