2.26.2014

Arresting rape victims who refuse to testify?

There's been a lot of talk recently about a controversial piece by Amanda Marcotte for Slate, entitled "Prosecutors Arrest Alleged Rape Victim to Make Her Cooperate in Their Case. They Made the Right Call." In it, Marcotte made the argument that it's sometimes okay to arrest and detain a victim of a crime in order to insure they testify, because it is more important to put the bad guys away than to be sensitive to their victims. After it was published, the Internet basically exploded and I don't blame them. Reading the piece made me very angry, then sad, then angry again... so I thought I'd join in and add my two cents.

 


Here's an excerpt:
Research shows that a victim’s refusal to cooperate with a prosecution is more about her relationship to the abuser. In this particular case, the victim has a long-standing history with one of her attackers, which suggests that she probably doesn't see this in the same way that someone kidnapped and assaulted by complete strangers would. While there are some interventions that can help reduce the problem of victims who recant out of these complex feelings, there's no silver bullet of counseling that will get all victims to see things the way prosecutors want them to.
The sad, unavoidable truth is that we have to decide what's more important to us: putting abusive men in jail or letting their victims opt out of cooperating with the prosecution as they see fit. Always erring on the side of victim sensitivity means putting some very bad men back out on the streets, where they will likely attack someone else. If that's the price that you feel is worth paying, OK, but it's also understandable that prosecutors might try to do everything within their power to convict a guy who likes tying women to chairs and assaulting them. 
Now Marcotte has a point... sort of. Looking at the situation at a simple, black-and-white, technical level it kind of makes sense. People who commit crimes should go to jail, so their victims have to agree to testify against them. The problem is that it isn't always that simple. It isn't always that black-and-white, especially when we're talking about crimes like sexual assault and domestic violence (both of which are at play in the case Marcotte cites: a woman was kidnapped by her ex-boyfriend and forced to perform oral sex on another man).

Yes, a DV or rape survivor's refusal to cooperate hurts the chances of prosecution. Yes, sometimes that refusal is due to a complicated relationship or history with his or her abuser. But there's way more to it than just that. Marcotte has framed the issue as if it's a case of putting the survivor's feelings over public safety:
Always erring on the side of victim sensitivity means putting some very bad men back out on the streets, where they will likely attack someone else.
That is not the issue. It's not about victim sensitivity alone. It's about a survivor's right to safety and autonomy. The idea that every domestic abuser or rapist on trial goes to jail - regardless of whether or not someone testifies against them - is ridiculous. More often than not, these very bad men will be back out on the streets anyway. Furthermore, the way we treat victims of sexual violence and domestic violence in this country is appalling. A woman is likely to be victim blamed and slut shamed and accused of lying. And at the end of it all, her attacker will likely not be convicted anyway - leaving her further violated and at risk of retaliation. The system is not designed to make it safe and easy for women to come forward, report these crimes, and testify against their attackers.

I know that Marcotte is aware of this sad state of affairs. I understand where she is coming from - wanting bad people to be held accountable for their crimes - but I also I know that she understands the way that rape culture works in our society. She has written on the subject several times and a lot of the people bashing her right now may not realize she is also a rape survivor herself. I don't believe that she feels that all rape or DV survivors should be arrested and forced to testify if they are hesitant (so it's not fair to frame her position as such) but I do think that she's perhaps having trouble separating her own experience from that of other women. She may have personally felt it was her duty to testify and therefore protect other women from her attacker, but not all situations are the same.

Yes, it's important to put the bad guys away, but not at the expense of the physical safety and mental well-being of their victims. What we need to do is reform the system from the inside first. We need to give survivors the resources they need - be it counseling, police protection, whatever - in order to make it possible for them to feel safe and comfortable testifying. We need to challenge law enforcement, defense attorneys and judges when they victim blame or slut shame. We need to stop publicly calling women who do come forward liars. We need to stop supporting and apologizing for celebrities who abuse women. I know Marcotte agrees with that. I want to put rapists and domestic abusers away as much as she does; I just question if forcing women to testify is really the best way to get to the root of the problem.

We need to make it easier and safer for women to come forward to report these kind of crimes and testify against their attackers. Arresting rape survivors and forcing them to testify does neither. It only reinforces the idea that their needs are not important, their bodies are not their own, and they do not have the power to make their own choices. No matter how many prosecutions this policy might actual result in... it just doesn't feel right to use the same means that rape culture uses to violate women in order to do so. We need to fight rape culture by being better than it; not by sinking down to its level. It might put more bad guys in jail but it also reinforces the same messed up system that creates them in the first place.

No comments: