Featured, Theory & Essay

Experience A Rape Trial Through The Perspective Of A Victim

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.

Shamira Ibrahim

Shamira is a twentysomething New Yorker who likes all things Dipset. You can join her in waxing poetically about chicken, Cam'ron, and gentrification (gotta have some balance) under the influence of varying amounts of brown liquor at her semi-monthly blog, shamspam.tumblr.com

  • TeeChantel

    Thank you for writing this, Sham.

  • Nik White

    Thanks for sharing your truth. Last year I attending a screening of a documentary on campus sexual assaults and there was a Q & A afterwards with a panel that included a female police officer. One of the things she said was that they are typically only trained to interview/interrogate suspects not victims/survivors. This blew my mind but explained part or the reason why folks feel re-victimized after reporting a crime. The officer is working on a project to train campus police to handle the interviews better.

    • I think I’ve heard about that project, and they’re begging, borrowing and doing all but stealing to pay the bills. I’m as libertarian as all get out, but can we get some government funding on this? Maybe use some of the money saved from all those DWB and stop abd frisk cases.

      • Nik White

        Right! Part of the problem is that assaults/rapes/etc are handled differently campus to campus and there’s a slippery slope on which law enforcement agency foots the bill. Some towns are reluctant to do it because they don’t want to look anti-campus in some instances.

  • Great post and thorough post on an extremely difficult subject, Shamira!

  • Val

    First, thanks, Sham. *eHUG*

    One of the most tragic aspects of this is after women have been raped and then suffer through the multiple interviews with police and ADAs and suffer through a medical exam and a rape kit is done, it is very likely that that rape kit will sit in a police warehouse for years and then be lost or be damaged due to mishandling or negligence.

    And when this happens it often results in lesser charges being filed or cases being dismissed altogether.

    • LoveTrenia

      Years ago, I worked as a court advocate for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, and I worked at 3 police precincts. I was the victim’s first point of contact after the initial police report was filed, and I can tell you the detectives did NOT want to get involved. I helped them with victim impact statements, and was often in the room when they talked to police. In my experience, dealing with victims of sexual assault is very uncomfortable for folks, and it makes for an often messy process.

      • It’s where the DA’s place their resources. They can spend a lot of time locking up black people for crimes white people commit in equal measure (drug use), but they can’t insist police labs clear up their rape kit backlogs. It’s the pursuit of easy stats over justice.

    • Illumina

      I was just about to comment about the untested rape kits. If you want to see rape culture in action, untested rape kits are a prime example.

      I read an article a few months ago that said in once instance they identified a serial rapist who had been active for almost a decade by the time they got around to testing the first victim’s rape kit. Just imagine all of the trauma that possibly could have been avoided if they would have just done their job.

  • miss t-lee

    Great post, Shamira.

  • Leggy

    I’ll never forget the story I read recently about some girl who was raped and she called the police and did everything required of her. The man broke into her apartment, tied her up, raped her, took pictures of her and then forced her to shower afterwards. She reported but they kept harassing her for more details, they kept saying she wasn’t traumatized enough, that she didn’t seem like a rape victim so she got tired and recanted her story. She said she made it all up. They charged her to court,made her pay a fine for lying.
    Only just a couple months later, the rapist rapes a lot more women and when he finally gets caught. Guess what they find? A picture of that first girl he raped. They had to call her and apologies and expunge her records. It was just a terrible situation.
    Anyone who wants to read this story –

    https://www.themarshallproject.org/2015/12/16/an-unbelievable-story-of-rape?ref=hp-2-112#.ivNQQeosC

    • LadyJay?

      Jesus!

    • -h.h.h.-
    • Quirlygirly

      I honestly think that is why they did that to her. For her to recant so they would not have to deal with looking in to her case. This story has my emotions all over the place. And rape is not a new crime or crime that just came on with the advent of technology. There are certainly better ways of handling the case/ the victim and vetting the evidence. After you have gone through something like this, it may a bit satisfying to be be vindicated but it is too late for them damn. sorries. You can keep them sh!ts.

    • QueenRaven23

      Wow.

    • Nik White

      I heard about that story!!!

    • PinkRose

      Rapists (some) are very clever in covering up their assaults, many wear condoms to decrease the amount of physical evidence and to support their claim that the s*x was consensual.

    • RewindingtonMaximus

      I remember that.

      They didn’t compensate her enough at all for that.

      And that’s exactly the kind of reason why a woman won’t go to the police.

    • Duff Soviet Union

      That was awful. And it’s why I think even the 2-8% of fake claims is overstated. A lot of times the cops are just bullying them into submission.

  • PinkRose

    Call me sadistic AF, but I imagine a man would think twice about raping a woman if he thought his p*nis could get shredded in the process………

    • Nik White

      Not sadistic but creative and resourceful. We wouldn’t have to worry about repeat offenders.

    • HouseOfBonnets

      They have things like that,,,,I’ll have to look up what it’s called again.

      • PinkRose

        I’ve got an idea of my own that would work as intended.

        • Kas

          Do not share with the class.

          • PinkRose

            Don’t worry, I’d need to get a patent first.

    • I’ve been pro-castration but only medically. I wouldn’t want chop the wrong man.

      • Kas

        Do you think that would stop a rapist from raping again?

        • PinkRose

          Great questions Kas.

          • Kas

            My personal opinion is that it wouldn’t, but I’m still pro chemical castration.

            • Epsilonicus

              I am definitely against that. This sounds like Todd and his libertarian friends but I just do not trust the gov’t enough to do it right.

      • PinkRose

        I’m not talking about shredding POST rape. I mean a p*nis getting shredded while IN the act of raping someone.

        • Back in the day didn’t VSB do a post on some such device that South Africans used for this?

          • PinkRose

            I’ll have to check that out, I’d certainly consider getting one for my daughter if she lived on a college campus where rape seems FAR more likely to occur.

          • Yes there’s an anti-rape thing that can be inserted and the only way for it to be removed is by a doctor.

            • PinkRose

              That sounds more like an anti-sex thing than anti-rape.

            • I found the link, Ricky. I posted it below.

          • The dreaded teeth. Great invention..

    • Janelle Doe

      I may have read somewhere that someone wanted to invent a condom that did this very thing in South Africa but they were told it would be too cruel of a punishment; his could be an urban myth though… .
      Nope just looked it up (just saw on CNN in 2010 an article on a condom called Rape-Axe

  • troubleman

    Great article. But what is the alternative? An accusation is just that. In order to prove the accusation is true, evidence is required. What else can be done to reduce the trauma of the victim while maintaining the rights of the accused?

    • Freebird

      Wrong forum.

      • troubleman

        How is this the wrong forum? Isn’t that the theme of the whole article?

        • Freebird

          The post by Shamira is about the victims POV and their trauma. Your comment mentions the accused. This isn’t a discussion about the accused.

          • troubleman

            Really? Every comment on this post mentions alleged and/or convicted rapists. How can you be so dismissive? Isn’t it better to think of constructive reforms than to fantasize genital shredding?

            • Kas

              For this particular post on the topic, people arent here to debate the defendent, but to discuss the trauma to the victim. The writer is speaking from personal experience as are several of the posters. For this one post, why not let them have a much deserved space to talk without worrying/debating the rigjts of the defendent. Im not saying your question isn’t valid, just that this post is not the one to have the discussion on. IMO

              • troubleman

                Kas, I usually enjoy/respect your comments, but I have to disagree. We’re a bunch of thoughtful, seemingly educated POC. Asking what can be done to make the process easier for the victim is what we should be doing. Merely mentioning the right of the accused shouldn’t disqualify my comment.

                • Kas

                  To be clear, I think your question is valid. Let me try to make my point in a different way. If the author of the article had said what she wrote directly to you, would your response have been along the lines of “but what about the accused”? The author has been not just an advocate for people that have been raped, but a victim as well. She is hoping to give a measure of what it’s like to deal with both the act and the justice system afterwards. We (me and you) know that in real life the defendent will have the opportunity to defend themselves. I don’t see the point in debating that point on “this” post, as we have covered it on the previous two. You obviously don’t need to agree with me, but I wanted to make sure you understood where I was coming from.

                  • Other_guy13

                    I posted my response earlier…idk what to say at this point.

                    • Tambra

                      For some people men, in particular black men, are always the victim. They fail to realise that within our community men also occupy a position of power and authority and they too are capable of terrible acts even if they are emasculated when they leave the community.

                  • troubleman

                    Just to be clear, I feel like my consideration for the accused has been overblown. The crux of my comment was asking Sham and the VSBers what improvements should be made to the process. I’m not trolling, I’m genuinely interested. I hope this doesn’t become a place where people are shouted down if they don’t mimic the majority opinion.

                    • Kas

                      Fair enough. I raised your last sentence in a post yesterday. FYI, D A (new poster as of today) raised a similar point above. She a lawyer, but had no real answer. I think her posts are worth finding. I’m confident that there will be another post to delve into the question you raise though.

                    • Freebird

                      It’s already that place.

                • Lea Thrace

                  It’s not a DQ. Its a request that you have the conversation somewhere that is not this thread. Out of respect for the victims…

            • Freebird

              I actually have close to home reasons to ask questions like you are…..but this was not the post. And while I think you raise things that shud be discussed…..somewhere, I’m not sure this was the time or even then place…..just my observation.

              • Kas

                My thoughts as well.

                • Freebird

                  I know this is a forum for the smartest….sometimes folks know too much for me. Not enough consideration or benefit of the doubt on both sides of the isle. But hey…

                  • Kas

                    To paraphrase one of my father’s sayings about the comment section as a whole, including me. If I could buy it for what it’s worth and sell it for what it thinks it is worth, I would be a rich man.

    • cyanic

      I said before false accusations are worst because they permanently stigmatized the accused.

      • not really.

        • cyanic

          How so? If Michael Jackson was completely innocent of everything he was accused of and went on trail for the suspicion still lingers after his death. It makes those who don’t know you well doubt you even when the facts are staring them in the face.

        • troubleman

          Not really? The accused has his name and face splashed across the headlines. He suffers all of the consequences of a conviction except jail without a trial.

          • What social consequences do rapists face? Sincere question. What dire repercussions has Nate Parker faced that is comparable to PTSD?

            • troubleman

              I was referring to the ramifications people face BEFORE trial. As far as Nate goes, he was acquitted and is still getting backlash, boycotts and a ruined reputation. I can’t speak to if that’s equal to PTSD though.

              • What boycott? A handful of people deciding to not see his movie is not a boycott. He has gotten significantly more support than backlash. There have a been a good many articles written by major publications in support of Nate and how he can “move past” it (The Hollywood Reporter literally just wrote about it). His reputation is hardly ruined by any measure of the imagination.

                What ramifications do people place before trial? Society, the law, the police, college institutions, businesses, etc. are aggressively and consistently on the side of the accused when rape allegations are brought up.

                • cyanic

                  We’re supposed to be a country of innocent until proven guilty.

                  • and from a societal vantage rapists are considered innocent even when proven guilty. what’s your point?

                    • cyanic

                      Who? I defended Bill Cosby because I knew the take down of him was too organized not to be suspicious. He’s guilty and I accept that now. But I don’t see myself a fool for questioning many of his accusers accusations. God forbidden a spiteful person ever wants to slander you with their own false allegation.

                    • Aly

                      What did it finally take for you to see Cosby was guilty? Was it the 5th victim coming forward or the 10th?

                    • cyanic

                      He stopped denying and started admitting. I knew he was guilty of cheating on his wife. And the use of drugs felt plausible to keep his one night stands from selling their stories to the press. But it really did boil down to taking their consent away through drugging.

                • troubleman

                  Look at the case of the wrongly accused: Duke Lacrosse, The Rolling Stone article. Those are just the cases off the top of my head. Those people were treated like rapists for months! As for Nate, this is going to come up every time his name is mentioned. He’s had 2 VSB posts in a week. When was the last time that happened? Prince’s passing?

                  • If the worst thing you experience in the world is 2 VSB articles in a week. He gon be aight.

                    • Kas

                      Chuckle

                    • troubleman

                      I’m just saying his chosen profession is based on reputation. His career is probably ruined. Is that a jail sentence? Does it bring the victim back? NO. but it’s not nothing..

                    • Aly

                      His career is not ruined, stop it. The movie studio for Birth of a Nation even put out a statement saying they stand behind him.

                    • troubleman

                      Yes because they’ve already bought it. It’s his next movie(or lack there of) I’m talking about.

                    • cyanic

                      A black man in Hollywood with a tainted rep is a big deal when the studio who purchased the rights to his movie overspent for it.

                    • Other_guy13

                      Please stop…or are you trolling???

                    • troubleman

                      I’m not trolling. I read this site everyday. Did I say something wrong? Please correct me.

                    • Other_guy13

                      I responded up thread…not being rude at all…I just don’t think this is the time nor place for your argument…trust me. Don’t start this fight…It’s not about the accused right now…they will have their day. I promise you that.

                    • Kas

                      Ends on a cliffhanger. Interesting

                    • Other_guy13

                      Idk if I was supposed to laugh but I did lol

                    • Kas

                      Sometimes we have to laugh to keep from crying. #whatevergetsyouthroughtheday

                  • God Shammgod

                    For the record, the reasons why those are at the top of your head is that for a secksual assault case to make it all the way to trial/high profile visibility with that many holes in it are statistically rare. Same way we remember all the major plane crashes.

                  • Ghettoprincess

                    This post was meant to give insight to the experience of actual victims of rape, not the minority of false accusers, but real victims. The overwhelming majority of victims are not part of some high profile case being reported on. With 1 in 5 women reporting an attempted or completed rape and 1 in 2 sexual violence, others in this discussion and probably some of your loved ones are a part of the group this post is meant to give a voice to. Your comments feel like someone going to a black lives matter planning meeting, not just some town hall discussion on race relations and policing, going up to the mic and saying “all lives matter”.

                • Duff Soviet Union

                  I always laugh when people say that r*pe victims are “trying to ruin his career”. Like, how many famous men have *ever* had their careers ruined by being ra*ists or abusers?

              • LMNOP

                Well, the girl he allegedly raped killed herself, so there’s that.

      • Ghettoprincess

        “I said before false accusations are worst because they permanently stigmatized the accused.”

        Could you clarify your statement. Worse than what?

        • Duff Soviet Union

          Genuine provably false accusations (as opposed to a not guilty verdict) don’t stigmatize anyone except the accuser.

    • Other_guy13

      No Shade
      Although I have lived through what you are speaking on…I don’t think this is the time or place to have this argument. It took some time to see (and prayer) that throwing this up in the face of those who have been R A P E D is really disgusting. I say this as a man who has been both molested and accused of R A P E. It’s important to see it from the eyes of the victim…many do not know the impact that these actions have on the victim. Many do not know the impact these actions have on the falsely accused. But there is a clear time and place to bring it up. The great article “BUT” is where I see an issue. It distracts from the issue. I will admit that I too have made this mistake but again….not the time nor place. Maybe there will be an article about this issue that you speak of (I wont write it) or maybe not. Take personal experience out of the equation and actually HEAR the victim’s story. I’m not coming down on you nor am I changing my stance. What I am simply saying is think about how this can be viewed by the many strong, beautiful and amazing VSS’s on here who have been through this trauma.
      “. What else can be done to reduce the trauma of the victim while maintaining the rights of the accused?”
      I don’t have the answer to this…but I can say that throwing up the “what about he accused” defense around to someone who has actually gone through this will never be the answer….My thoughts….take it or leave it.

      • Tambra

        Hug to you OG. Sorry to hear about your experience.

        • Other_guy13

          Hug to you Tamb…thank you…just sharing my thoughts.

          • Tambra

            I take your words as being more poignant because of your experience on both sides of the coin. To take that stance is amazing to say the least.

            • Other_guy13

              It was a team effort really…

      • Erica Nicole Griffin

        You are very brave to share your experience in any way but especially publicly. Thank you for sharing.

        • Other_guy13

          Thanks

      • troubleman

        I agree with and appreciate your comment and your stance. It appears my comment was either misinterpreted or not articulated very well. My intent was not to throw up any defense of the accused. What I was trying to say was, what can be done to alleviate unnecesarry extra trauma in the context of our criminal justice system?

        • Kas

          You could have saved us a lot of “trouble man” with better wording in your initial post.

          • troubleman

            I see what you did there… funny.

        • Other_guy13

          There is no way…use empathy and actually feel what the victim is say saying. I really don’t have the answer though…just try your best to see both sides I suppose.

      • KingsCounty

        I too have been threatened to be falsely accused of this crime, it has traumatized me. But I know that this article is not the place for me to discuss that. I would love to read that type of article some day but VSB isn’t that place.
        Reading this article made me cringe and hurt in a way I haven’t before. This is eye opening on another level for me. It’s not often I read things that make me feel the way this made me feel.
        That discussion you want to have troubleman can happen another place and another time. When that discussion takes place, you, myself and others will share our stories. But this isn’t for that.

        • Freebird

          “I would love to read that type of article some day but VSB isn’t that place.”

          It really isnt. And that’s ok.

          • Other_guy13

            I’m curious…why not?

            • grownandsexy2

              Am curious myself but didn’t want to ask,

              • Other_guy13

                LOL

            • -h.h.h.-

              demographics.
              the majority of the readers/commentators are black females, and many of the commentators/readers have gone through enough trauma/assaults/harassment that the stories of 1 or 2 black males on being falsely accused would be seen as inconsequential at best, and a cheap shot at worse.

              this sight is for black people, but this is a safe zone primary for males and females and others who are not down with patricarchy…if you’re the type of male that occasionally says no h*m*, can recite “What these B****ches want from a N****a” and still volunteer time at a food pantry, your story and experiences are secondary.

              • Other_guy13

                “stories of 1 or 2 black males on being falsely accused would be seen as inconsequential at best”
                “your story and experiences are secondary.”
                So my story doesn’t matter….good to know

                • -h.h.h.-

                  never said your story doesn’t matters…but weigh it against every other story.

                  that being said, that’s how it seems to me i’ve been reading vsb for 4-5 years, i haven’t seen a blog post centered around anything close to what you’ve went through.

                  • Other_guy13

                    ” this is a safe zone primary for males and females and others ” Safety is not and should not be given to some an not all. I understand the argument but I disagree the result. In a community of any kind there are diverse people and experiences. To only be willing see one side of any story is counterproductive. That said….this is still not the time and apparently never the place…and that saddens me the most.

                    • -h.h.h.-

                      i guess some topics, aren’t made to be discussed/debated, like others.

                      it is what it is, yaknow?

              • Negro Libre

                I think the primary issue is the focus is on stories.

                One of the reasons why I often prescribe these problems to feminism, isn’t simply because of me being anti-feminist (speaking for myself), I’m mostly addressing philosophical issues, many of which still exist in academic psychology. The approach to dealing with trauma, by telling one’s personal experience of trauma in a safe environment freely, as well as how it relates to society, is mostly psychoanalytic in origin (Check out: Century of the Self by Adam Cutris). Basically the idea is that the impact of a traumatic event can be lessened, if you openly talk about it with a person you trust will not use it against you (what we today call a safe space.) It seems no political interest group has embraced this approach as much as has been the case under feminism in our modern times.

                I personally have problems with this approach, because in my experience working in the field of psychology and putting these ideas and approaches into practice in controlled environments, I came to the conclusion, at least when it dealt with my male and female clients, young and old, that this approach to dealing with trauma led to ostracism and institutionalization, which is why I’m often very much against it and the social and political reforms suggested based on such conclusions. That being said, you have to know when and where to pick your battles and who may or may not listen to an alternative approach on such a serious issue, especially when they’re the ones who suffered from it.

                No one’s going to listen to you if they don’t deem you credible, no matter how logical or truthful the word coming out of your mouth might be.

      • RhetoricalReverie

        I am so happy that I can love you again! I was a little e-heartbroken earlier this week, but you bounced back like a champ. I genuinely appreciate that you heard our VSS’s and not only listened, but here you are checking someone. *DAPS*

      • Thank you for sharing and modeling vulnerability. I’m so sorry for what you went through.

    • Negro Libre

      I think you’re mixing issues of morality with issues of legality in most of your comments on the article.

    • Epsilonicus

      There is no alternative that can drastically change it. We have a justice system where you are innocent until proven guilty. And there is an undeniable need to capture as much data/evidence as possible. There is tinkering to be done, but at some point you need the victim’s perspective. I don’t know too many ways around that.

      • Negro Libre

        I think this once again has to do with not acknowledging the line between legality and morality. Everything that covers the realm of the victim has to deal with moral issues, whether it’s on the level of individual, cultural, social etc. However, when we deal with the realm of legality we’re talking about the relationship between the government and the accused.

        I only voice my concerns when I feel people are taking for granted the “Why” we have the standard of “Innocent until Proven Guilty” and start to talk of it as though it is a mere obstruction or necessary evil; without Innocent Until Proven Guilty as a standard, there really is no actual justice system and guilt and innocence become something that is a matter of character rather than evidence. Some people have already applied this, and experimented with it on College campuses under Title IX and the results have been utterly ridiculous, but many people have continued to support it, because they think the ends justify the means.

      • LMNOP

        We could make it legal to stab someone who raped you.

        • Epsilonicus

          History has shown us that societies that practice that kind of justice are not places you probably want to live.

  • D A

    As a woman who found herself suddenly attempting to get out of a moving car when a normal conversation with a reasonable, respectable and prominent middle – aged man about a work project we were doing turned into almost a boxing match (I still hate seatbelts) as I tried to prevent him from grabbing me and felt fear well up in me like vomit as he just wouldn’t stop and was so strong. He was furious with me. Demanded to know what I expected, after all we were both adults and he was Latin and Latin men are well known for being lover and I am a black West Indian woman and black West Indian women are well known for having hot blood. I’ve often analysed that incident trying to decipher what cues I missed that would have alerted me to something like that being on the horizon or what signals I sent that could be interpreted in a way that nearly caused me serious injury. It is maddening because the thoughts sneak up on you when you least expect it and spoil random hours and days even years later.

    It would never occur to me to discuss this in person with anyone but as I’ve followed the discussions of the issue of sexual assault over the last two years I’ve had to grapple with it in a different way as I’m now a lawyer. While men who have been accused of sexual assault will frame the discussion from their own perspective almost always in a way that either diminishes or completely negates the experience of the accuser, I cant avoid the larger perspective.

    I’ve tried numerous times to fit my experience into the rules of evidence in order to meet the standard of proof. My experience was the very worst; there were only two people there, and mercifully there was no forensic evidence as the incident did not get that far. The only evidence would be my testimony as against his testimony.

    Leaving aside the other issues that affect these circumstances; the fact that one party is inevitably more believable than the other for complex cultural and social reasons, the fact that in countries such as the USA the criminal justice system in uniquely hostile and even dangerous to certain groups of people, the fact that in other countries such as my own the said system is hobbled by disparities in class, skin tone, access to resources and so on; the fact that matters of a sexual nature will inherently contain serious cultural, social, historical, religious and other baggage for all involved to wade through even if only in one’s own mind, I’m not sure it is possible to make the experience of women who have been assaulted any less harrowing.

    The obstacles in the way; constitutional guarantees of a presumption of innocence, an adversarial system of litigation, the rules of evidence, the criminal standard of proof, the burden of proof on the state, the requirement for disclosure of the prosecution case to the defense, the discretion of the prosecutor to decide whether to prosecute a case; they all combine to create a veritable gauntlet for anyone who will pursue a case.

    I cant imagine how to gather evidence, i.e. question the principal witness that could possibly make it easier for her. I cant imagine how to structure a trial in a way that couldn’t be traumatic and still protect the rights of a defendant to face his accuser, impeach her evidence, give evidence in his defense; in other words without eviscerating the presumption of innocence. In fact, the scholarship that I have read on this subject has reached the conclusion that constitutional protections of defendants is an obstacle that needs to be weakened.

    I cannot even entertain that for a moment. I think protections for defendants are not strong enough already and, of course, it would not be possible to create special circumstances for some defendants; i.e. only sexual assault cases, that would not apply to all others. Any breaches is the system of protection will easily and quickly infect all aspects of criminal justice system, which is bad enough as it is now, with terrible precedents.

    There are other lawyers on this board so I think it is worth discussing how to deal with the issues involved. Unfortunately it is especially required for black lawyers and academics in the USA given the fact that we will interact with the criminal justice system more that any other groups.

    This is all separate and apart from how people will discuss individual cases in the media, social media, the barbershop and so on. In that case the minimizing of the trauma of survivors is to be loudly and consistently denounced.

    • Kas

      Great comment

    • raul

      That’s where this article gets a little confusing and disjointed. It’s not clear whether it’s speaking to Nate Parker or rape trials in general. Cause while ol Nates looking mighty guilty that presumption of guilt doesn’t work in the general case.

      • Given that Nate Parker got VSB kicked off this week, I’m considering anything written about rape culture/ sexual assault on this site is a direct response.

    • RewindingtonMaximus

      Well said.

      I feel one problem with the criminal justice system is the immediate need to stress someone out after they’ve just been traumatized. You can barely grasp your head around what just happened to you, and suddenly you’re in a spotlight with dozens of strangers asking you questions, touching you, and invading your space. You have no room to process anything until after the fact.

      I get that the police want to get information out of us while the memory is still fresh, but grilling us without consideration doesn’t work. I get that the lawyers toy with your words because they need to be sure you’re sticking to your story with no deviation, but science already proves the human mind can be unpredictable when it comes to trauma.

      There’s no empathy in this system when you’re hurt. And I don’t understand why people keep acting like there’s a reason to have faith in a system that doesn’t show compassion for the people who need it to work properly.

    • L8Comer

      What a terribly traumatic event… truly terrifying… cuz do you try fight it out or jump out of a moving car? Sigh. Ugh, i’m so sorry that happened to you. I’m sorry that’s all I can say now. You bring up really good points that need to weighed and thought about and this post is so well written. I’m not in the space to come up with a thoughtful response to this, but I hope this opens the type of conversation you’re looking to explore. My initial thought though, whenever I have issues with how a system functions in my country, is to look to other countries who do it better… for a blueprint. Inevitably, there are so many factors that make things work in one country and not work in another, but it can be a good starting point imo.

    • The system is just plain rigged.

    • God Shammgod

      Your perspective is valid.

      Just to be clear, the context of the narrative isn’t uniquely about calling on the justice system to treat victims better; although that certainly needs to be addressed in a systemic way that I believe is truly outside of my faculties to address for various reasons; its more so to elucidate exactly what takes place for these people during that time, and why it is misguided when we fame discussions of rape trials around what the accused “went through” as if the witness gave one testimony and was just sitting around sending details to TMZ for cash until the trial date.

      I’m not arguing the lessening of defendants’ rights in the slightest; as a Black woman, my intersectionality (and personal experiences with law enforcement) would never permit such a blanket approach, given how unyielding the system can be against POC.

      I’m more focused on how we approach and discuss these cases in public forums. The policy, precedent and praxis of it all is something that is admittedly far beyond my scope, although to your point and mine, some discourse has to be had there.

      Edit: Also, I’m sincerely sorry you went through that.

  • I just remember a lot of stories from women in my life having gone through this and unfortunately many more women who also heard these who were and decided to go against any sort of reporting because of this reality. Then these men who the worst they feel of it after traumatizing someone is annoyance at the idea that they did something horrible. Their lives barely inconvenienced but want to be recognized as a martyr for something they did to someone else and all they get is support from other people because the woman is always a liar. I just feel hate and contempt.

    I’m sorry Shamira. Everything is just fucking awful.

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