In 1983, a jury found that the man who had raped me in a bathroom (while I was passed out in the throes of alcohol poisoning) guilty. Of fornification. In the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1983 it was illegal to have sex if you were unmarried. So he was legally determined to be a fornicator, not a rapist. I did wonder at the time why I wasn’t charged with fornification also if all that had happened was consensual, albeit illegal, sex. Then I watched as the judge declared that the fine for the Fornicator would be $100. His uncle reached into his pocket, pulled out the money, and victoriously slapped it on the table.
I have to tell you. It was a very bad moment in my life.
I think of my seventeen-year old self sometimes with a sense of detached wonder. How on earth did I press on without the tools available today? The term “date rape” was not even in the vernacular. DNA testing, which would have helped me a lot (he denied touching me until literally the day of the trial) wasn’t available. I was given many, many dubious glances, by the cops, prosecutor, family members, friends, let’s just say, everyone, because I was drunk. I was drunk. How dare I say I was raped. Outrageous. My father, who I know would have happily put a bullet into the head of the Fornicator, had been dead for two years. My fifteen-year old brother did offer to beat the guy to death. As I write this I am moved by the courage of children. Mine and my little brother’s.
I cannot say I didn’t have any support. I did. It was support with reservation, though. It was “Well if you have to do this…”. But I carried on, because I knew The Fornicator would strike again and I thought it was my responsibility to stop him.
Years later, a trained professional once told me that people who are rape survivors are not necessarily the best people to change rape culture. Because (and this is very true in my case) the amount of anguish that seeps up from my unconscious mind every time I rehash what happened to me is so overwhelming it’s life threatening. Sadly this is not hyperbole. Other people, this therapist told me, other people have to make the changes. People who are not so damaged by it.
Ok. Well. It’s thirty-three years laters, folks. And what happened recently regarding the sentencing of the Stanford rapist illustrates to me that not much has changed at all, really, since the uncle of the Fornicator paid the $100 fine. A member of the machine which is our judicial system said, “Oh. Poor rapist.” So the victim of the Stanford rapist was failed and here I am, failed again. Not to mention the millions of other women who were failed. Furthermore, after reading her letter, I am struck that the trauma of a rape trial is still as damaging as it was thirty-three years ago. Something is so wrong when the trial of a perpetrator can be more damaging to the victim than the crime itself. I cannot speak for anyone else, but this was true in my case. I was still me before the trial. The trial changed me in ways that thus far seem to be irreversible. When you are on a witness stand for three and a half hours and a defense attorney calls your rapist your “lover of the moment” (oh yes he did) over and over, and the law requires you to sit there and take it, believe me. You change.
I changed. Rape culture, although better now than in 1983, hasn’t changed enough. Although one thing I will say is different now is that according to social media, many of you are not dubious, you are outraged. You share posts! You sign online petitions! You Tweet!
I am not moved by your outrage. Not at all. I just feel plain old rage. Because although there are many differences between 1983 and 2016, the END RESULT IS THE SAME. The Fornicator was a white college boy and so was the Stanford rapist. They seem to still be exempt from appropriate sentencing. I would prefer that you would actually take action to change legislation. Which is a little more involved than Tweeting and bitching about it at Starbucks.
Effective change is not an online petition to remove a single judge. One judge ain’t the problem. The judicial process is a delicate machine. We cannot rely on this process as it is because it involves human discretion. Because we live in a rape culture, if one part of the machine…a cop, a lawyer, a prosecutor, a juror, a judge…just one of them thinks “Poor Rapist” the machine breaks down and you get a sentence in 2016 that is so similar to one in 1983 that someone like me has to write a blog post about it when what I should be doing is staying off social media to prevent my PTSD from reactivating and ruining my life once again.
Take your outrage. Do some research about sentencing in your state. Call your legislator. Write an email. Demand mandatory sentencing without parole for all rapists. If your lawmaker does not change the law, take action to shut this country down until the law changes. Mandatory sentencing worked well for New York State when they made a law that read if you are convicted of illegal handgun possession you will spend a year without parole in prison. Now. If only rape would be taken that seriously in every state.
How long should a mandatory sentence be? Here’s a thought or two. One of the most painful things to me as I read the letter the victim wrote to the Stanford rapist was the palpable intent that woman had to make him understand what he had done. How it affected her. And I found myself thinking, “He doesn’t care and he never will.” I also thought how this is just the tip of the iceberg. She has the rest of her life to live with this. The isolation that it brings on cannot be overstated. From my experience, I will tell you that surviving a rape and trial is rewarded with a life sentence of isolation. You are damned if you talk about it and you are damned if you don’t. Victims are sentenced to life. Rapists do not care about that. So they need a deterrent.
I want rape to stop. Lock the door and throw away the key.
I know. It’s a little harsh. Poor rapist.