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Carpentier writes: "A sexual assault occurs every two minutes in the US, but here is a rare spotlight on how the justice system handles rape charges."

Activists from the online group Anonymous rally at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Steubenville, Ohio. (photo: monochromevisions)
Activists from the online group Anonymous rally at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Steubenville, Ohio. (photo: monochromevisions)


How the Steubenville Case Exposes the Cruelty Faced by Rape Survivors

By Megan Carpentier, Guardian UK

10 January 13

 

A sexual assault occurs every two minutes in the US, but here is a rare spotlight on how the justice system handles rape charges

e're not here to get justice for you," the prosecutor in my sexual assault case told me in our first meeting. "We're here to get justice for society."

The fact is that, if the way sexual assaults are investigated and prosecuted - as in Steubenville, Ohio - represents the justice that society wants for victims and survivors of sexual assault, there's little question why 54% of sexual assaults in America go unreported to the police.

It's because, of the 46% of assaults that are reported, only about 25% of those lead to an arrest. One quarter of those arrested will never be prosecuted. Only about half of those prosecuted will receive a felony conviction. And only about half of those who receive a felony conviction will serve even one day in jail.

And all that despite the fact that every two minutes, on average, another person in America is sexually assaulted.

Occasionally, outcries against the justice system, like the one going on in Steubenville, gives survivors an indication that the poor quality of justice we receive for the assaults committed against us isn't exactly the justice the rest of society wants for itself. But in the 149 days since the Steubenville survivor was assaulted, statistics indicate that nearly another 85,000 sexual assaults have been committed in the United States. And for these, there are no protests, no Anonymous group turning up videos or digging into the backgrounds of the police and prosecutors, no spotlight on anything but, in all likelihood, the background and personality of the victim.

When one is sexually assaulted - assuming the police investigate at all and the prosecutors intend to do any sort of prosecution - they don't just look into the background of the perpetrator or his (or her) actions during the assault. Police and prosecutors examine the background of the victim, which, under the American system, means that anything that could prove "exculpatory" for the defense must be turned over to them (such as, occasionally, one's own sexual history). It almost goes without saying that questions like the ones asked by assistant football coach Nate Hubbard to the New York Times have been asked directly of the victim by prosecutors and the police:

"The rape was just an excuse, I think … What else are you going to tell your parents when you come home drunk like that and after a night like that?"

One defendant's lawyer, Walter Madison, also told the paper that the 15-year-old girl's prior behavior will be at issue at trial:

"He said that online photographs and posts could ultimately be 'a gift' for his client's case because the girl, before that night in August, had posted provocative comments and photographs on her Twitter page over time. He added that those online posts demonstrated that she was sexually active and showed that she was 'clearly engaged in at-risk behavior'."

Undoubtedly, she'll have been asked to explain those to the police and prosecutors as well, to determine what sort of justice society wants dispensed to the victim at hand.

They've certainly called her friends and family, interviewed anyone who saw her that night, undoubtedly asked party-goers if she was acting flirtatiously, if she was a virgin, if she had "a thing" for football players. So it's not without a certain sense of Schadenfreude that one reads - courtesy of Alexandria Goddard of Prinniefied and KnightSec - about the background and familial connections of those doing the investigation and, in the case of the coaches, not punishing the boys involved. Those sites are just doing to those in charge in Steubenville what the cops, prosecutors and defense team have done to the victim of this crime (and all the victims of this type of crime): put their lives under a microscope in an effort to assess their motivations and to make sure they are acting in good faith.

The City of Steubenville and the Steubenville police department have put out a "Facts" site establishing a timeline of their investigation and listing facts about the town, including the jurisdictional issues between the police department and the sheriff's office, the statute of limitations covering sexual assaults in Ohio, and the connections of various members of law enforcement agencies to the town's schools and the football team in general. That seems to carry the implication that accusations that they are protecting the team's players are automatically false if they themselves were never on the team.

While it is probably obvious to some that the site lacks more content because of the constraints of a pending prosecution, it also documents the defensiveness with which the town's leaders are handling the accusations against them. But it is also a register of how much both they and their accusers seem to believe that the poor quality of the justice that might await this victim is mainly a function of the supposed individual biases of those entrusted with administering that justice on behalf of society.

The fact is that statistics and experience show that most victims and survivors of sexual assault get little in the way of what looks like justice - regardless of whether the perpetrator is or isn't a football player on a beloved team, or a talented director, or the head of an international organization. Justice, we're told, is for society to obtain. As victims, apparently, we don't quite count as a member of that anymore.

 

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+6 # Michael_K 2013-01-10 07:11
Please note that this is Ohio.. perhaps the most depraved and corrupt state in the union. One can't act surprised that teen-agers pattern their behaviour upon the adults around them.
 
 
+9 # AnastasiaP 2013-01-10 09:41
Sorry but it's far far far FAR from true that Ohio, where I currently live, is "perhaps the most depraved and corrupt state in the union." I can name a dozen others I've lived in (Illinois), visited (Louisiana) or done extensive research about (any of a number of southern states including Mississippi and Texas) that are way worse.
 
 
+3 # Michael_K 2013-01-10 11:13
I also live in Ohio, for my sins, and while you may be right that some other states I haven't lived in are just as corrupt, I doubt any have achieved the shocking gleeful openness of the Ohio corruption. It's in-your-face and apparently proud of it. (BTW, Louisiana has a long way to go to reach the institutionalis ed depravity of Ohio)
 
 
+42 # chrisconnolly 2013-01-10 09:08
Rape is the only crime where the victim is blamed, interrogated as if guilty, and dismissed because of gender. Why aren't the boys' 'sexual' histories a case in point? Allegations of rape have the same percentages of false as do all other crimes, that is about 2%-4%. So why is allegation of rape nearly 100% of the time dismissed because the victim is female? We are still a very primitive society if we continue to believe half of our population can't be assaulted and isn't respected.
 
 
+19 # wyrdotter 2013-01-10 09:27
Thank you, Chris. And Michael_K? Not sure what you have against Ohio, but it's 5th in the nation for number of rapes, behind California, Texas, Florida and Michigan. Perhaps, instead of using the royal "One" to be smug, you could study the problem and realize that 99% of rape victims are female, and are blamed for their own victimization is the problem. It's the problem in all states of the US and around the world, and it's time we stopped telling girls how to avoid being raped(i.e. stay home, stay quiet, wear burkas) and started teaching boys not to rape.
 
 
+3 # Michael_K 2013-01-10 11:18
I think that the general amorality of a community will impact its crime statistics, including rape.
 
 
+10 # Artemis 2013-01-10 12:18
Yes, and I think men should start bearing responsibility for teaching boys not to rape. That will involve, for many, if not most, taking a good look at their own behaviour, language and friends, and their history of sexual advances and activity. Instead of chuckling when their sons make lewd comments about women.
I was quite frankly shocked, despite growing up during the sexual revolution of the 60's to see a description of his 'likes' by a young male relative of mine on Facebook, just by pure accident as I don't use Facebook, that was explicitly sexual in a most demeaning, chauvinist, women serving men-way. It left me with the sense that he had probably been influenced by access to pornography and that he and his buddies thought it was acceptable and cool. Unfortunately, I was reminded of this unpleasant glimpse when I saw the video that Anonymous had released.
 
 
+5 # tbcrawford 2013-01-10 11:23
Back to education. Sex sells. But tragically, most people fall for the subliminal gospel that being sexy (M&F) brings attention and success. What if we taught children other values. It is horrific (to me) to see provocative clothes for infant girls featured in department stores. Young teens must struggle to find non-provocative attire in the mass market. Once an adult able to make rational choices (+/- age 20), Ladies, you're on your own and hopefully not brainwashed completely that you're doomed to spinsterhood if you don't display lots of flesh. And of course the boys get the message girls who flirt may be treated as sex toys and deserve what they get. Now, I gather there's a plague of binge drinking among young women. Can't imagine why, can you?
 
 
+19 # Glen 2013-01-10 12:25
tbcrawford, isn't just young women who "display lots of flesh" who get raped. Even grandmothers and middle aged women are raped for various reasons, and don't forget little girls who haven't a clue what it means to be sexy.

The U.S. has highly antiquated social mores and laws that encourage aggressive males, and applauds their maleness. There is not much teaching of being proud of being a decent man with character in addition to being male.
 
 
+10 # DorothyK 2013-01-10 12:38
As long as we continue to go backward and blame the victim, perhaps it's time that we went further backward and allow the family members of the victim 'take care' of perpetuator
 
 
+2 # hoodwinkednomore 2013-01-10 15:49
Right On, DorothyK! We can start by full castration for convicted rapists...
 
 
+5 # kelly 2013-01-11 09:12
When my car gets stolen do the police who come to answer the call check the car and the scene take the info and get to work on the case?
When my house gets broken into do the police come out take pictures dust the place figure out what, if anything has been stolen and try to find the thief?
Or...
do they say
you should have parked your car somewhere else, it's your fault.
You shouldn't live in a high crime area move your residence, you're asking for a break-in.
Why is it than when someone is raped, the cops feel obligated to say the crime is the victim's fault when they don't do that in any other crime? If someone is stabbed walking down the street do the cops ask the victim,"what did you say to that guy to make him stab you?" I hope not. I would hope they arrest the guy who went after you with the knife...but since rape isn't really considered a crime, this is what you get.
 
 
+4 # Cassandra2012 2013-01-11 15:38
Because most cops are male and are frequently misogynists themselves.
 

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