Watching my friend endure a rape trial reconfirmed everything I knew about rape culture

justice

In the week leading up to Christmas, I had a lot of festive-type things on my to-do list. Purchasing gifts, finally putting up the tree, and preparing to go away to visit family. But that’s not what I did.

Instead I accompanied a close friend to court for the trial of the man who allegedly raped her.

Her employer, John*, the dealer principal at the car dealership where she worked, was charged with 10 sexual offences against three young female employees. The three who agreed to testify, that is… Two were teenagers at the time.

John offered my friend, a stunningly beautiful 18-year-old, a job immediately. She hadn’t even applied — she just happened to be visiting a friend who worked at the dealership. She accepted, excited at the opportunity and the prospect of starting her first real job, which she would rely on with no family in the state.

My friend shared testimony of what started as a friendly working relationship with a man she saw as a father figure. Initially, he made what she perceived to be relatively mild comments about her appearance and figure. In time these compliments became unwelcome and overtly sexual — at one point he said to her, “I bet your p**** looks great under that skirt”.

She described her disgust at her boss’s habit of exposing his genitals and masturbating in front of her — in the office, in the car as she drove him to and from appointments, and in a hidden room in the dealership, where the police found his semen.

My friend sat in court day after day, forced to recount, in excruciating detail, her experience of being groomed, manipulated, and eventually sexually assaulted by a predator 30 years her senior, over a period of 18 months. She then endured a vicious cross examination as her wealthy boss’s QC top lawyer tried to tear her apart and assassinate her character for more than two full days. She teased and seduced him, he argued. She made it all up. They had a consensual sexual relationship. She was obsessed with him — her balding boss, old enough to be her father — despite having a boyfriend (now her husband). John’s lawyer even argued her claims were financially motivated and said she was punishing the accused for refusing to buy her an extravagant apartment.

By the end of the second day, my friend was so frail she required assistance to walk back to Victim Support Services.

I sat in the back of the courtroom watching it all. I watched as the accused claimed each of the young, attractive victims had instigated and consented to any and all sexual contact with him. It was sickening.

On Christmas Eve, my broken friend called me with the verdict. Not guilty on each count except for one indecent assault against a different teenage girl, regarding an incident where he had pushed her against the wall and said, “You’ve just got to try it.”

My friend was understandably crushed. She wondered why she had put herself through this ordeal that had lasted years, struggling through post-traumatic stress and trying to pick up the pieces of her life, apparently all for nothing.

It got worse when the jury could not come to a verdict on the most serious charges: sexual penetration without consent. Given the not-guilty findings, the prosecutor decided to drop the charges. Yet, another blow to my fragile friend.

A few weeks ago, John was sentenced. The judge heard that he had a new job lined up — but only on the condition that he was given a spent conviction. So, the judge obliged, and the man who “allegedly” raped my friend and sexually assaulted various other women walked away with a spent conviction, a fine of $5000 — pocket change for a wealthy man like him — and a new job.

This is rape culture.

Victims are afraid to come forward because being victimized somehow reflects badly on them, rather than the men who abuse them. And hey, they’re probably just looking for fame or money or the fun of a long, drawn out court battle where they experience the pleasure of recounting intimate details of their rape to strangers, while their rapist’s lawyer gets a free pass to aggressively pick them apart and argue that the assault was all their fault.

These despicable men target and assault even multiple women and children with confidence, knowing full well they can do so with impunity and that they will get away with it. Even after uploading photos of the rape featuring their teenage victims vomiting, these men escape jail time. (Side note: Facebook failed to remove a video I reported of the gang rape of a crying teenage girl, claiming it did not violate their terms.)

Rape culture is a convicted rapist being sentenced to 30 days in jail despite the fact that his young victim has already suicided. It’s the man convicted of raping (and impregnating) his daughter who gets away with no jail time because of his “otherwise good character.” It’s when a 16-year-old victim is threatened with jail time for tweeting the names of her attackers who had also distributed photos of the assault. It’s the hackers who exposed the Steubenville rapists facing more jail time than the young men who raped a high school student, while the media emphasizes that the rapists were good students with “promising futures.” It’s a pattern of child victims accused of acting or appearing older than they really are, apparently ensnaring their adult rapists. It’s an Australian man convicted of sexually assaulting a woman, receiving a suspended sentence, but getting three years for stealing a caravan, because we know where women rank, and it’s below caravans. I could go on. And on.

I already knew the “justice” system was broken — I knew that women very rarely reported sexual violence, that complaints very rarely lead to an arrest, that “not guilty” does not mean innocent, only that it couldn’t be proved in a court of law, and that most rapists will never spend so much as a day in prison, hence victims hesitate to come forward. I’ve known all this for years, but there was something about seeing it all play out in the life of my friend, her wearily putting her head in my lap as I stroked her hair to comfort her.

“We will have to live the rest of our lives in pain, agony and mental torture for what he has done to us… left to pick up the pieces,” says my friend.

And I don’t know how to respond.

*Name has been changed.

Caitlin Roper is an activist and Campaigns Manager at Collective Shout: For a world free of sexploitation.

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  • SPLIN

    I’m angry …all we need: hitwomen. SRSLY.

  • Morwen Sand

    We are going to have to demand our own reporting and justice services, complete with our own trial system. We will have to demand some of our taxes are allocated to fund this women’s force and legal system.
    What could we achieve? Well we could provide a service so that women could report sex crimes; we could gather the real statistics about rape and published them ( a powerful political tool). When a man was found guilty in our courts we could publish his name on a list, then advertise it as the must go to ‘check him out’ site before dating a new man.
    We could organise women, recruit volunteer Miss Marples to do detective work and keep a unnoticed eye on the perpetrator or benevolent eye on the victim. We could keep lists of female locksmiths and security services, put women in touch with each other for group therapy and mutual support, and much much more. Male legal services, like male politicians, will never represent women’s interests. So let’s start our own adjunct legal system.

    • Sally Hansen

      I propose we just leave on a spaceship and colonize a new planet… because fat chance male dominated society is ever going to allow this. It’s either violent overthrow or female separatism. That’s how much faith I’ve lost in this world.

      • Cassandra

        Unfortunately I agree with you, Sally. I keep my distance from men as much as possible. I keep them out of my personal life and avoid them/move away from them in public. Internally I regard male co-workers as predators who must be kept at arm’s length; having to interact with them requires me to don a psychological hazmat suit.

  • Inagrtio

    The Common Law system was designed by men for the purposes of men. It therefore does contract and commercial law relatively well, because that’s something they understand.

    There has been some progress made in terms of limiting the evidence around character and past sexual history – in some jurisdictions – but good Barristers will always find a way around it.

    What is needed is a complete re-understanding of the way sexual assault trials are to be carried out. The weight need to be shifted from whether the victim is lying, to the likelihood of whether the defendant committed the crime. The risks with that is an immediate challenge to a senior court arguing the laws violate established criminal law rights, so it has to be very robust. A further risk is those with high community standing will still skirt conviction because they’ll throw out their community service contributions and philanthropy as a “get out of jail free” card. I wonder how much work has been done in psychological evaluation; whether a test could be administered by a forensic psychiatrist to ascertain attitudes etc consistent with a rapist. Even to generate results on a scale that could put the evaluated person “more likely to rape” or “less likely to rape”, and there could be several scales that include psychopathy.

    Police also need to be educated to ensure their treatment of evidence and victims is consistent with solving crimes, not making moral judgements. In some parts of the USA, flawed policing and justice structures have come out with very unjust results. Part of the problem is a lack of resources for police with exceedingly low pay rates, which puts off intelligent people who can see it would only be a dead-end job. More money must go towards paying, retaining and training the right police officers to ensure justice is done. There also must be more recourse against the police so complaints are taken seriously.

    Any way forward is fraught with danger in terms of convicting in a way that won’t be overturned through procedural means. But perhaps early risks with be worth a long term reward with higher reporting rates, more matters heading to trial, and higher conviction rates.

  • Lucia Lola

    I am literally shaking with fury. This is a drop in the bucket, I know, but I can’t and won’t allow myself to become numb to the horrific injustice done to rape victims in our society, and our courts of law. I am filled with white, hot hate.

  • artemix

    The only thing that makes it better is an organized, autonomous women’s movement. This is the conclusion of a 30 year, 70 country study on violence against women conducted by the American Political Science Review published in 2012. They concluded that an autonomous movement is “more important for change than the wealth of nations, left-wing political parties, or the number of women politicians. There is no substitute for a face to face out in the streets and confronting the institutions kind of women’s movement.
    “Strong, autonomous feminist movements were the first to articulate the issue of violence against women and the key catalysts for government action, with other organizations sidelining issues perceived as being only important to women. Strong movements commanded public support and attention, and convinced the media the issues were important for public discussion. In countries that were slower to adopt policies on violence, feminist movements leveraged global and regional agreements to push for local policy change.” from APSR study.

  • anne cameron

    I’m all for a Hit Squad.

  • Sally Hansen

    “I feel there is no hope. None at all. Like I should just not date, or trust men, ever.” Sadly, your feelings are an accurate interpretation of reality. We all have experiences that confirm this. I really do believe that the only way to end this is to just separate ourselves physically from the world of men.

    • Cassandra

      And we all know what happens when women try to organize or do anything without the presence of penis.

      • Sally Hansen

        Exactly T_T

  • will

    Great point. It’s maddening that the loathing of women as expressed in pornography is so extremely normalized that such a statement is unusual or shocking to the status quo. It should be obvious, particularly in this context, that pornography is bigotry-induced-orgasm and further that orgasming to hate messages more deeply in grains those messages in the consumer.

  • No Comment

    Don’t give up hope calabasa. You deserve love.

  • will

    “Before patriarchy men and women never lived together, brothers raised their sisters children because it was accepted that a father could never know if a child was really his but could be sure of his relationship as an uncle. All family lines were matrilineal.”

    That’s really interesting. Can you point to any scholarly articles on pre-agricultural family structure? That is only if you have some materials at hand. I’ll also be searching myself. Thanks!