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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