Here’s a really common situation, pointed out to us by The Other Patrick. A woman is alone with some men. The men use body language to signal her that she will not be allowed to leave the room. What ensues is perceived by the victim and one of the participants as sexual assault. The other participant claims he thought it was consensual, and may even be telling the truth about his perception.
Unfortunately, the next bit is also common. Prosecutors Dunning and Brouck decided not to prosecute the alleged rapists. They, too, thought the victim agreed to dropping the prosecution. Are you seeing a pattern yet?
“After reviewing everything with the young lady, this was a mutual decision,” Dunnings said in a phone interview Monday. “She [the victim] fully understood and agreed, is what Ms. Bouck [Ingham County Prosecutor assigned to review sex crimes] related to me.”
But the victim challenged the statements by Dunnings and Bouck…
“It’s really hard to actually get a case to go through because there are twelve jurors and to get them all to see it from my point of view is hard,” the victim says Bouck told her. “Then she said she was going to take a defense approach, she started asking me all these questions.”
The victim says Bouck grilled her about whether or not it was possible the perpetrators thought the activity was consensual, why she didn’t yell and scream and why she didn’t run or try and fight her way out of the room. The victim was reduced to tears by the hypothetical interrogation.
“She just kept going, and I was crying,” the victim said. “I really don’t think she asked me if I wanted to (prosecute).”
It is a good idea for a prosecutor to conduct a mock defense examination so the victim will be prepared for trial. But not two days after the assault. Not until the victim has had some counseling. And just so we’re clear: the alleged rapists were never even arrested. The district attorney’s office never issued warrants.
Nor was the case unwinnable. Shari Murgittroyd, program director for Michigan State University’s Sexual Assault Program, said:
“You’ve got a great police report with all those statements,” Murgittroyd said. “It’s ideal to have the victim participate in prosecuting a criminal sexual conduct case, but it’s my understanding that it is not necessary.”
The victim remains unsure whether she would prefer prosecution, which she sees as at least an attempt at justice, or just letting the nightmare fade into memory. The point is: that choice was taken away from her, just like the choice whether or not to have sex was taken away from her.
This is why people are completely serious and not being hyperbolic at all when they say, “It’s like the justice system just raped the victim all over again.” Because sometimes the justice system takes away a victim’s control and treats her like an object to be used rather than a human being.
If you’re wondering how so many people could be confused about this woman’s consent, there are two possibilities. Women are taught in many, many ways that saying no will get them disapproved of by society. I was taught to say no loudly and proudly by my mother, yet I have felt the pressure to soften it to “Not right now” and so on – if I don’t, I’m a hostile bitch who doesn’t deserve to be treated as human, and when the person telling you what a bitch you are is much stronger than you and unreasonably angry and entitled, that’s a scary position to play. It’s possible this woman protested as hard as she knew how to protest, in both cases, but was dealing with more forceful, empowered personalities who were not also counseled (as my mom counseled me) that not everyone is capable of such assertiveness. The second possibility is that this woman protested very clearly, but the more empowered people in both situations heard what they wanted to hear because it suited them.