It’s been an emotionally charged week for those tuned into the Kavanaugh hearings and Bill Cosby’s sentencing. Judgment about what both the accused and the victims have said, as well as what should happen now, filling print and web pages, news programs, and social media posts.
Everyone seems to have an opinion about what should be believed, done or supported in these two high profile cases. I’m not here to tell you what to believe. Nor am I here to help you see my side of both stories. I want each of you to come to your own conclusion. What I can do, though, is help you sort through the information about both cases and pick out what doesn’t matter.
Why should you listen to me? Because recovery from sexual assault is both my personal and professional story. I survived eight years of sexual abuse as a child, that I was able to stop with the legal assistance of new jersey sexual assault lawyer. Now, I am the Executive Director of The International Association of Trauma Recovery Coaching. Every year I train and certify Trauma Recovery Coaches to help those who have endured trauma as both children and adults. I know sexual assault.
Today, I want to tell you what doesn’t matter about sexual assault:
How long it took the victim to report the crime
Sexual assault leaves the victim steeped in shame. When an individual feels shame they isolate in an effort to avoid others seeing their shame and judging them. They might feel that they were in some way at fault for the assault (a typical aftereffect of sexual assault; see my post about this on PsychCentral). The lies the abuse taught them are strong and pervasive. They can keep a survivor quiet about their assault for years, even decades.
And if they do speak up, the consequences are often swift and negative. Christine Blasey Ford catapulted into the public eye when her accusation of assault at the hands of Brett Kavanaugh came out. Death threats, vicious character assassination, and swift judgment became her reward for speaking up. Other victims will now think even harder about speaking up after seeing what Dr. Ford has gone through.
Sometimes victims don’t report sexual assault immediately after the crime because the victim’s mind repressed the memories. Dr. Jim Hopper, an expert on sexual trauma and memory, states that there is “research evidence showing that it is not rare for people who were sexually abused in childhood to go for many years, even decades, without having (recognizable or explicit) memories of the abuse. This body of work shows that claims to the contrary are contradicted by lots of scientific evidence.”
I have had clients come in to see me in their sixties who have only recently recovered memories of their sexual assault(s). Under threat, our mind processes memories differently than when we are safe and calm. Gaps in memory are the norm, not the exception.
How old the assailant was at the time of the assault
It is inconsequential if the accused assailant was only a teenager. Abusers should not be given light sentences because they are young, as Brock Turner was in 2016. Turner’s father said jail time would be “a steep price to pay for twenty minutes of action.” Mr. Turner is welcome to step into my virtual office where I can tell him about hundreds of women who were sexually assaulted for only 20 minutes and have suffered a lifetime of aftereffects. His son got six months in jail. These victims are serving life sentences.
How old the assailant is when convicted
Bill Cosby’s lawyer, Joseph Green, argued that his client was too old to go to jail, that it wasn’t safe for him because of his age and health: “’How does he fight off the people who are trying to extort him, or walk to the mess hall?’’ The irony of this statement left me speechless. Cosby’s victims didn’t get the chance to fight him off because he drugged them. A child cannot protect themselves against abuse from adults. This excuse is valid for no assailant. Ever.
The socioeconomic status of the victim and the assailant
The laws should be equally applied to both the privileged and the poor. An alleged assailant should not be given a “get out of jail free” card because they play tennis with the judge’s brother or have a “fixer” who can pay out large sums of money to victims. And poor victims are not due any fewer protections from the law because they have neither tennis buddies or friends in high places.
The race of the victim and assailant
Like socioeconomic status, race should never come into play in the reporting and prosecuting of sexual assault. A black man accused of raping a white woman who pays for it with his life was a horrible reality during our country’s century of open racial segregation. Sadly, those kinds of racial judgments still exist. Racial bias needs to stop being a part of our judicial system.
The sexual history of the victim
Who the victim has slept with in the past, how many people she has slept with and what she did during those sexual encounters is a moot point. It has no business being discussed when a victim makes a report of sexual assault. The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 created a federal rape shield law so that victims cannot be questioned about their past sexual history.
That doesn’t stop the public, family or friends from judging a woman as “rape-able” because she’s been sexually active before her assault. Let’s stop the “wink, wink, nudge, nudge, boys will be boys” hall pass given to men while we tell women they deserved to be raped because they wore a short skirt.
Whether the victim has clear memories of the entire assault, including what happened beforehand and afterward
Dr. Jim Hopper to the rescue again! His research shows that our brains are wired to remember some parts of a traumatic incident while forgetting other parts. That’s the typical way our brain behaves. Just because a victim cannot tell you exactly what happened with unimpeachable detail doesn’t mean they are making it up.
“Ignorance of how memory works is a major reason why sexual assault is the easiest violent crime to get away with, across our country and around the world.”
Whether the victim fought back against the assailant(s)
Before anyone judge’s a victim’s absence of “fighting back” they need to understand the concept of our brain’s use of the “freeze” response in reaction to a threat. There are three types of freeze responses that our brain reaches for automatically when it perceives a threat. Our pre-frontal cortex shuts down and we respond with the primitive part of our brain that tells us if we don’t move we have a greater chance of surviving. Like a rabbit in a field of tall grass, we stay still in hopes that the predator will move along to something that catches their eye.
Whether there were drugs and alcohol involved in the assault
No, it doesn’t matter whether either the assailant or the victim consumed alcohol or drugs prior to or during the assault. A drunk assailant doesn’t deserve a pass. Nor does a drunk victim deserve to be assaulted.
The punishment for drinking or doing drugs is never rape.
The type of sexual assault
A victim of sexual assault has no less a right to understanding, compassion and criminal justice if they were “just groped” rather than raped. Is there a difference in our legal systems in charges that can be brought according to the severity of the crime? Yes. But do not mistake that as an endorsement of varying values of victims.
A victim who was “just groped” has just as much of a right to have their crime vigorously investigated as a victim who was raped.
None of these issues matter when it comes to sexual assault. Please educate yourself or seek out someone who knows about sexual trauma before you pass judgment on a victim or an assailant. No one deserves a knee-jerk reaction. Proceeding carefully, keeping science in mind, and with compassion, we are much more likely to arrive at the truth than when we put any of these ten issues into play.
Here’s a list of wonderful helplines – you can also visit their websites for resources and to educate yourself further about sexual trauma:
Rape Abuse & Incest National Network 800-656-4673
Childhelp USA 800-422-4453
National Domestic Violence/Abuse Hotline 800-799-7233
Leslie Hickey saysOctober 6, 2018 at 10:29 am
Wonderful insightful article!
Rachel Thompson saysOctober 6, 2018 at 1:35 pm
Thanks, Sis! So appreciate your comment. Bobbi is great.
Good to see you here on my blog xx
Lydia saysDecember 3, 2018 at 1:18 pm
Yes, exactly! Our world will be a much better place when none of these topics are raised after someone is sexually assaulted.
Andy saysDecember 15, 2018 at 7:15 am
While I never uttered a critical comment out loud, I am guilty of putting on my Judge Dredd persona in my mind. However, that all changed during my last year of high school. I witnessed the near destruction of star football player who was falsely accused of rape. The girl recanted her story and admitted that she made it up because he wouldn’t go out with her.
He was 14 to her 16. And while he was very large for his age, he was still 14, which is to say, only 10-11 mentally. He was terrified of girls. I was 18 then, and really began to see how the appearances and actions don’t make anyone deserving of any form of sexual violence. As for the girl, she was very attractive in my eye. Also pushed the envelope of the school dress code. And had a reputation for being promiscuous. However, I also knew she came from a broken family, absentee Dad, and she exhibited signs of mental illness, such as being a survivor would have.
See, she was the last person I judged, in my mind. As that whole thing played out, I noticed how she really acted, compared to some of the other girls who actually scared me. You know…the “Mean Girls.”
Unbeknownst to me, my own mind had been shielding me from my own trauma. Now that I’ve had nearly 2 years of living with revealed memories…it breaks my heart every time I hear of another victim. And fills me with righteous indignation towards every single perpetrator. Tho I’m on the fence about pre-teen and younger perps. I don’t know how to make any sense of that.
As for Bill…he deserves and has earned what ever befalls him in prison. He is no longer my Romper Room pal. No matter how cool I thought his magic pen ???? was.