No, this isn’t a post about how women are lying hussies out to ruin the lives of good men with wrongful rape accusations. If that’s what you were expecting, you’re definitely reading the wrong blog (actually, come to think of, stick around; you may learn something).
What I’m talking about is this: Living in a rape culture, women are acutely aware of the type of rapes–and the type of victims–that are taken seriously. And the type that aren’t. The “good” victim (the only kind that counts in the minds of many, many people) is attacked by someone she doesn’t know while dressed “modestly” and not under the influence of alcohol/drugs or engaged in “risky” behavior. She’s an upstanding citizen with no history of criminal activity, mental illness, or conduct outside the norms of mainstream society.
Thanks to prevailing rape mythology, many people also have very definite ideas about what happens before, during, and after a “real” rape. Real rape victims want no sexual contact of any kind with their attackers and make this crystal clear right from the start. When attacked, they don’t just say “No;” they scream, fight, yell for help, and/or try to escape. Ideally, the victim will duke it out with her attacker to such an extent that she is left with obvious physical injuries. After the rape, she will be visibly distraught and in tears, but this will not prevent her from reporting the attack right away. In the days and weeks following the assault, she will spend a lot of time in the shower and be too traumatized to appear to function normally.
Some rapes do indeed happen like that; most don’t. And the more a rape departs from this script, the harder it is for the victim to be believed and taken seriously. She didn’t fight or try to escape? She must’ve wanted it. She wasn’t crying or visibly upset right after the rape? She’s probably lying about being attacked. She was seen laughing and seemingly having a good time just days after being raped? It couldn’t have been that bad.
Rape victims know this. Realizing that many people won’t understand why you acted in a way that doesn’t fit their preconceived notions of “how rape victims act,” or worse, knowing that many people will automatically disbelieve you because of your background or even blame you for being attacked brings some rape victims to the conclusion that there’s only one way they’re going to see their rapist punished: lie.
Most of the lies rape victims tell revolve around their use of alcohol or drugs, their relationship to the perpetrator, their reason for being in the place the rape occurred, their behavior before/during/after the rape, or their background. Virtually all lies are told to make oneself appear more like the rape culture’s idea of the “good” or “worthy” victim and/or to make one’s assault more closely resemble the rape culture’s “real rape” script.
Competent detectives and prosecutors know that victims may think they must lie to see perpetrators brought to justice and try to impress upon them the importance of telling the truth. They may attempt to reassure victims that telling the truth is absolutely essential and won’t prevent the case from going forward. And that’s true–to a point. Prosecutors must win their cases in the same rape culture the rest of us reside in, not in some alternate universe. Even if the prosecuting attorneys don’t subscribe to any rape culture myths themselves (which, of course, the victim won’t know), the DA’s office has finite resources, and they’re not going to bring a case they don’t think they can win. Too many skeletons in the victim’s closet and a rape that departs significantly from the “real rape” script, and they may conclude that their limited time and resources are better spent elsewhere.
Even if the DA’s office is prepared to take a chance on a rape victim who doesn’t fit the rape culture’s “worthy” victim ideal, that’s not the end of the victim’s quest for justice. The vast majority of criminal cases are plea bargained, but rapists are less likely to accept a plea agreement and more likely to roll the dice with a jury trial, if the victim or other aspects of the case don’t meet the rape culture’s standards for “worthy” victims and “real” rape.
There’s a case from the late 90s that I will always remember because it was the first time in my life that I got the message that someone might actually give a damn about junkies raped while buying drugs. Drug dealers raping female addicts is a very common occurrence, and most people, including most cops, believe women have only themselves to blame when they’re raped while trying to score drugs.
That’s why I was enormously proud of the prosecutor who went ahead with the case against a drug dealer accused of raping a female addict, even though I realized that the drug dealer being a known serial rapist with two prior rape convictions probably had a lot to do with that. In any event, the drug dealer decided to reject a plea bargain and take his chances with a jury, and the judge ruled that it would be too prejudicial to the defense for the jury to be told about the guy’s priors. However, the victim was a great witness, completely honest and forthright about the rape and her drug addiction. She was such a strong witness, I was actually surprised when the jury came back with a “not guilty” verdict. After the acquittal, a reporter told the jury foreperson about the drug dealer’s previous rape convictions and asked if having that information would have made a difference.
Without missing a beat, the jury foreperson replied that it wouldn’t have made a difference because the jury didn’t doubt that the victim was raped by the defendant; however, they were “concerned that she was there to buy drugs.” In other words, she didn’t deserve to see her rapist convicted because she’s a drug addict. Unfortunately this case isn’t an aberration. Even if a rape victim is able to convince cops, prosecutors, and a judge or jury that she was definitely raped, she may still be denied justice if she isn’t deemed a “worthy” victim or her rape didn’t happen according to the “real rape” script. Is it any wonder then that victims in those situations may feel they have to lie?
I bet you were wondering when I was going to get around to the new developments in the DSK case. As you have probably heard, the sexual assault case against former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn is unraveling because the alleged victim lied. Not about being sexually assaulted, mind you, but about her background and also about what she did in the immediate aftermath of the attack. She now says that instead of reporting the assault to her supervisor right away, she initially cleaned another hotel room, then returned to DSK’s empty suite and began cleaning, and only then did she report the attack.
I’ve talked to several people who think this is damning evidence against her, but if we weren’t living in a rape culture, it really wouldn’t be. It’s not at all unusual to be in shock following a sexual assault and to continue going through the motions. I know ’cause I’ve done it. In fact, if the whole thing was a setup and she “seduced” DSK with the intention of accusing him of sexual assault (either in hopes of being paid off to drop the charges or awarded sizable damages in a civil suit following the criminal conviction), you can bet that she would have run crying to her supervisor right away! This sounds like a classic case of a victim lying about some aspects of her rape so they won’t be at odds with people’s very limited idea of what “real rape” looks like.
Apparently she also misrepresented her income to qualify for subsidized housing, lied on her taxes to qualify for a bigger refund, and lied on her asylum application about being gang raped (after being instructed to do so by a man working on her asylum case; she had been raped in Guinea, but not in the way she described to prosecutors). Additionally, there are some indications that she may be involved in a drug dealing and money laundering operation, and a man described as her boyfriend is serving time on a drug charge. All of this makes her a “bad” victim, the kind of woman men can rape with impunity. She did not want to be that kind of woman. And so she lied.
She represented herself to police and prosecutors the way she believed she had to in order to be considered a “worthy” victim. A victim deserving of sympathy and justice. And so she became the pious Muslim refugee who survived unspeakable violence in her home country before escaping to the US where she was granted asylum. The devoted mother who has neither time for nor interest in any kind of personal life outside of raising her teenage daughter. The hardworking poor person who plays by the rules and somehow manages to get by on wages too low to get by on.
I expect that the DA’s office will drop the charges against DSK any day now. Sure, they still have the DNA evidence to prove that sexual contact took place, but since DSK’s attorneys are going with a consent defense (as defense lawyers always do when there’s DNA evidence), the victim’s testimony is essential. And her credibility is shot. So that’s the end of the case.
And that’s how it goes in a rape culture. First, we make sure women understand that only a few types of rape count and only a few types of victims matter, so those who don’t conform to those narrow criteria feel they must lie if they don’t want their attacker to get away with the crime. Then, when the lies are discovered, we tell rape victims that they are now no longer credible and it’s their fault the case against their attacker must be dismissed. Works out well, doesn’t it? For rapists, that is.