If we’re ever going to convince the world that rape is an important issue, we’re going to need people to see how epidemic it is. One of the more practical ways to do that is to remove as many obstacles to survivors who want to report a rape or assault to the justice system. Right now, the American justice system can be an intimidating and re-traumatizing place for survivors. Some of the barriers to reporting rape will be pretty hard to break down, simply because the police and the criminal justice system are not omniscient: to prosecute a potential perpetrator, they do need evidence. Rape and sex are two worlds apart, but the physical evidence left after either of them often looks the same, especially if the perpetrator didn’t use excessive violence. The difficulties police face in this, purely physical evidence realm, is going to take new and creative solutions to fix.
But there’s a whole other category of obstacles that survivors face to reporting assaults to the criminal justice system: attitude and philosophy. If survivors are viewed as hysterical women with an agenda, police are less likely to actively pursue their case. If there’s a shortage of SANE nurses and rape kits don’t get processed, prosecutors are less likely to pursue a case. If police just don’t want to deal with rape survivors, because those cases are tough and take a lot of time and are stressful, they are less likely to pursue a case.
This type of issue is not endemic to rape as a crime the same way that physical evidence might be in certain types of rape situations. There is nothing intrinsic to rape that requires the justice system to judge survivors, re-traumatize them, and drop cases. There are ways to remove those obstacles, like training special sexual assault police units (which Boston has, thankfully), fully funding SANE programs, and keeping survivors regularly updated on the progress of their cases.
I’m happy today, because I’ve gotten some good news recently about progress in exactly this area. Amnesty International just sent me a press release about the passage of the Tribal Law and Order Act as an amendment to H.R. 725. This is good news! Native American women and Native Alaskan women face a disproportionate number of rapes and sexual assaults, and until this act (which Obama still has to sign into law), survivors faced a ridiculous number of bureaucratic obstacles to reporting their assaults or getting necessary services like rape kits. The hope is this new law will reduce a great number of those obstacles that are based on jurisdictional problems, and allow survivors in those communities much quicker access to the justice system.
Likewise, in DC, the police department is undertaking a review of its rape and sexual assault policies. Go read the article - it’s an impressive case of the police union actively working to protect survivors and inform the public more openly about sexual assaults. This is the type of institutional review I’d like to see happen more often, and represents a strong push towards eliminating those obstacles for survivors that we can easily remove.
As I wrote about last week, the more survivors that can come forward and speak about their assaults, whether personally or through the medium of a police report, the harder and harder it becomes for the rest of society to view rape as a side-issue, one for women and maybe gay men to deal with in their spare time. If every survivor filed a report, every police office in this country would be completely overwhelmed and we might see this for what it is: a public health crisis spiraled wildly out of control. Maybe then we’d put the type of resources behind ending rape and sexual assault that it needs and deserved.
Since this is a positive news day, though, enjoy some fun music! The Stills, “I’m With You” (h/t to Master Rhinehart for this).
Dave has volunteered with BARCC since 2007 and works in higher education administration. He also facilitates a men's pro-feminist group, is a STARZ member of Socializing for Justice, a Yelp Elite '10 member, and sits on the advisory council of the Boston Medical Center's domestic violence prevention board. He got involved with BARCC to further his understanding of feminism and gender justice, and also to get the chance to show his speaking skills far and wide. He lives in Allston, where the music is.