By Beth Morrison, HAVEN CEO
“The perfect rape victim.” Much has been written in the past couple of weeks about what a rape victim’s behavior should be like, most in response to the Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK) rape case.
Media outlets have been reporting that the DSK case is in jeopardy, not due to the victim’s report of the actual rape but due to her behavior years prior (she lied on her asylum application and has interactions with known criminals) and her behavior immediately after the assault (she continued on with her work of the day – cleaning another hotel room).
The fact is that Strauss-Kahn also lied. He first stated nothing occurred that day with the maid, and then admitted later that they had consensual sex.
Yet the focus on lying is primarily on the victim not the alleged assailant.
Last week Wayne County District Court Judge Vanesa Jones Bradley jailed a rape victim for contempt of court, after the victim swore at the defense attorney during her testimony about the assault. Ordered to spend 3 days in jail, the rape victim spent one night.
In the 30+ years that I have worked with survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, I have experienced literally dozens of reactions, responses and behaviors from survivors.
The one thing that we know in this field is that there really isn’t one typical or classic response. I have seen survivors act with immediate outrage and activism for their rights. I have worked with women who worked, went to school, made dinner, and tucked their kids into bed, before ever telling anyone about their assault. Not everyone cries, not everyone screams, not everyone cowers in a corner, not everyone tells someone (police, spouse, friend, boss, coworker).
It is estimated that only 20% of all sexual assaults are ever reported to law enforcement. Hmmm – I wonder why? Is it maybe that the rape survivor feels that she will not be believed, that she will be labeled a liar, that others will judge her behavior not just during the assault but before, even years before?
If my car is broken in to and I accuse my neighbor and the police find evidence that I am correct, will I be questioned about whether or not I lied on my taxes, job applications, etc? Will I be judged for waiting to call the police about the break in until I finished work? Will my behavior in the days leading up the car break in be questioned and analyzed? If I’m not a perfectly behaved victim on the witness stand, will I be jailed?
We need to all stop blaming the victim and start holding the perpetrator responsible.
A former prosecutor and columnist, Roger Canoff, wrote, “We don’t get our victims from Central Casting. We get them from life. Gritty, unrehearsed, unvarnished life.” How true.