You’ve just experienced the worst night of your life.
Maybe you remember all of the details, maybe you don’t. And truly, both circumstances are a unique brand of unfathomable hell. Either the detailed knowledge of all the ways that you have been irrevocably violated seared into your brain for eternity. Or a gaping space of unknowns left to be filled with speculation as to just how, exactly your personhood was desecrated. It’s a quandary I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
No matter the circumstances, this series of events will impact your day-to-day life for the foreseeable future. And should you choose to take any sort of punitive action, you will be forced to relive that experience, in detail and ad nauseam, for years on end.
You may start with a close friend or family member; presumably — or rather, hopefully — a sympathetic ear that doesn’t prod moreso than offer themselves as a source of support. But then there’s the police report. Where you will have to answer what happened to you multiple times in as many ways, assisted by a detective combing painstakingly over your narration for inconsistencies.
Depending on the timing, you may be compelled to get a rape kit done — a rigorous, two to four hour ordeal where you are stripped naked and probed at length, on the heels of one of the worst violations possible to a person’s body. You are then questioned again, by several people, asking the same iterations on inquiries, which ultimately demands that you re-experience that trauma for them.
Assuming the DA’s office decides to pick up the case — which can be unlikely absent witness testimony, video proof, or DNA evidence — you will have to again endure the soul-crushing repetitive cadence of informing yet another individual of that day. Not only will you need to detail what happened to you, you will need to address how you arrived at that environment, what grey areas may have existed — and there will always be one to exploit; there is no such thing as a “perfect” rape victim — what your career is, what your grades are if you are in school, what kind of daughter, sister, partner, or mother you are, your recent sexual history, any interaction you’ve had with the assailant following the incident, and an eternal list of harrowing probing at a regular frequency for weeks, if not months.
If the prosecution decides to push for a plea deal, it stops there, regardless of whether the conclusion is to your satisfaction. Because even in your reprisal, your agency is limited. If it proceeds to a trial, then you are wrung through the excruciating rigamarole again, only this time it includes parties even less invested in your vindication. Throughout this entire exercise of agonizing and comprehensive personal dissection, you are expected to never waver; to be consistent; to stay beyond approach.
Best case scenario? Your attacker is found guilty with limited cause for appeal. Worst case, the aggressor is acquitted and the months, possibly years of retelling, at great toll to your personal well-being and livelihood, is seemingly for naught. And you are expected to pick up your life and move on, with the knowledge that the person(s) that laid ruin to your spirit have not been held accountable.
That is what it is like to “experience a very painful moment in my life.” That’s what it is like to know that your “life will be examined and put under the microscope in ways that it never has.” And that is exactly why framing a rape trial around the experience of the accused vs the victim is one of the most tone-deaf responses to the adjudicate of rape and sexual assault possible — and how Nate Parker’s initial response prompted a cascading increase of scrutiny culminating in the present-day excoriation of a 17-year-old case.
Enduring the harrowing agony of a rape trial following your near-inhumane victimization is an almost-indescribable experience. My words — the combination of personal lived experiences, as a victim and recounting as an advocate — don’t do it justice. Continuing to frame the event through what the accused went through and not affirming or acknowledging the torment that is demanded of the victim(s) not just in this high-profile case, but most others that don’t make it to the headlines, is a slap in the face to the realities of surviving rape and sexual assault. It is imprudent at the very least, and continuously abusive and derogatory at the worst.
As we continue to engage in discussion around the tragic circumstances in this case and the ones sure to come after this, it would behoove us to choose our language and narratives wisely. At the core of these conversations is a person’s pain and trauma, and that can’t be erased from any conscientious dialogue on the topic if we plan on making any progress on addressing rape and rape culture with any level of substance.