Friday, May 16, 2008

Why Rape Survivors Go Online

CNN has a story about a teenage girl, Crystal, who turned to the Internet for help after being raped at the age of 15 and after the criminal justice system stopped working for her. The first part of the story focuses on rape victims who decide to go online and the risks they face by doing so.

Many of these rape victims abandoned the criminal justice system after those systems abandoned them or worse turned on them. Other rape victims saw this abandonment by the legal system and decided the safest option was to avoid a system which can so easily turn on rape victims. It this danger which often gets minimized or simply accepted as being a normal part of the process in so many stories about survivors and the Internet.

What stood out for me as a key problem impeding the recovery of rape victims -- and motivating this girl's call for help -- was this section near the end of the article:

Orange County authorities charged the 23-year-old man Crystal accused of assaulting her with lewd or lascivious battery. According to court documents, Crystal and the man both said they had an ongoing sexual relationship.

The prosecutor, who declined to comment to CNN, concluded that the teen and the 23-year-old had consensual sex, according to the case file.

Florida law states that a 15-year-old cannot give consent to sex. And though Crystal was 15 at the time of the alleged forced encounter, the prosecutor wrote that the case would not be prosecuted because Crystal was "a mere 1 month away" from turning 16, when it would be "legal to give consent," according to documents.

This prosecutor's conclusion goes against the law -- even the statutory rape law -- and it directly dismisses the experience of the girl who was forcefully raped. Now that CNN picked up her story I wouldn't be surprised if her case has been reopened, but it shouldn't take going public for a rape victim to get what should have been done in the first place.

Even if she had some sort of sexual history with her rapist -- that would make him a criminal even with her agreement -- yet in the eyes of a prosecutor a forceful rape magically became consensual sex and the statutory rape laws were treated as if they didn't exist.

That is as logical as using the fact that a man previously got a boy to spar with him in the boxing ring -- as if the boy were an adult capable of making an informed decision about the risks of allowing someone to punch him in the head -- in violation of the gym's rules as proof that when the man sucker punched the boy outside the boxing ring that the assault was no assault at all but merely another occurrence of sparring.

The previous disregard of the rules by the man in this scenario actually supports the plausibility of the later allegation of physical assault. The man's attempts to shift responsibility for his actions onto the boy would likely fall flat.

No reasonable person would view an adult sparring with a child in direct violation of the rules as nullifying the possibility that this man was guilty of physically assaulting that child. But when the violence is sexual many seemingly reasonable people instantly lose their reason.

And that loss of reason is what makes survivors going online to talk about their rapes so risky to the survivor's mental well-being and why having identifying information is risky. This online danger is only a more easily identified manifestation of the danger rape victims face when they tell people offline.

These pervasive attitudes which are hostile to those who disclose rape are also why talking about having been raped will give some people justification to treat that survivor as a liar the moment they learn that survivor's rapist was not convicted of a sex crime.

Here's what one blogger (I refuse to give this person a link) had to say about this girl's YouTube video:

A 16 year old self proclaimed rape victim reaches out to You Tube to help with her case. Real or not? Decide for yourself

The problem with this question is that it is an invitation for unfounded allegations.

It didn't take long to find people who have judged this girl's case without any genuine concern about the actual evidence in her case. They are instead judging her case by comparing this video to what they believe a "real rape victim" would do. For some people the making of this video is all the proof they need to declare her a liar or to declare that she is perpetrating a hoax. These people are revealing their eagerness to attack rape victims. Any excuse will do.

Ironically, those who rush to make unfounded and false accusations against rape survivors are among the loudest opponents of unfounded and false rape accusations. This contradiction means that these people are in reality hostile to all rape accusations. The few reports which are proven to be false simply give them an excuse to continue with their unfounded and false accusations.

Judge Phillip Brown in Georgia is one such person who seems to have no idea that his assessment of a lawsuit filed by Melanie Ross against Daniel Day over a rape was prejudicial. After demanding her entire sexual history -- in opposition to state and federal shield laws -- he threw out a civil lawsuit and fined her $150,000.

If his demand for a woman's entire sexual history is legal because the rape shield laws only apply to criminal cases that needs to change because this demand is a form of intimidation that clearly protects rapists by looking for an excuse to dismiss the relevent evidence in the case.

The claim that having a sexual history means that all rape accusations are false is what is truly frivolous and illogical unless current sex crime laws are ignored in favor of the old laws written before women had the right to vote. Those old laws didn't outlaw rape, they defined who men could and could not legally rape. This means that those old laws legally sanctioned the rape of certain girls and women.

The judge found that since Ross and Day had previously had a sexual relationship, Ross should have known her claims were “frivolous... there was no reasonable belief that a court would accept Plaintiff’s claims...”

This judge's ruling places Ross in the group of women who can be raped by Day with the full blessing of the law. But because the judge supports this man's right to rape indirectly by calling this woman's claim frivolous, Judge Brown can deny the reality of what he did.

This judge's assessment in this case goes beyond mere illogic because in their previous sexual relationship, it was reported that Day's actions hurt Ross and when she asked him to stop hurting her, he refused.

The moment Day refused to stop hurting Ross during sex, he became a rapist. That violence ended their relationship. Yet this judge viewed this as evidence against the woman hurt, not against the man who demonstrated a willingness to be sexually violent a month before the alleged rape which left Ross with bruises.

If this is logical, it is the logic which acquaintance rapists use to decide who they can rape.

I believe this judge should disclose his entire sexual history with the same level of detail he required of this woman to prove to the appeals court that his ruling on this lawsuit was in fact impartial and not self-serving.

If this woman's entire sexual history is relevant to this lawsuit then his is as well. If he is unwilling to make such a disclosure, he should be viewed as unable to make an impartial ruling on this case.

Of course Judge Brown will not make such a disclosure because he didn't demand a similar sexual disclosure from Day which might have shown that the Plaintiff's claims were highly credible and which might have revealed other sex crimes. A potential pattern of consensual sex is supposedly proof that rape is impossible, but a potential pattern of sexual violence is meaningless.

That communicates that this judge views sexual violence as irrelevant to rape cases.

These 2 cases are far from being isolated incidents. There is another case in Cleveland where the prosecutors don't seem to understand the evidence.

Prosecutors say they believe the girl was telling the truth, but say surveillance video of the incident, does not prove a rape occurred. The girl and her mother, who have seen the tape, believe it does. "Take it to court 'cause there's a lot of parts showing what he did when he picked me up and threw me in the closet," the girl said, describing what the video shows.

"She was trying to go back through the double doors, he had cut her path off, he lifted her up by the back of her jacket and walked her to this room," said the girl's mother.

The actual incident was not recorded, but prosecutors say there are two instances on the tape where the girl appears to be moved through the hallway by force. "And there's perhaps ten instances that kind of counter-balance that or counteract that, that make it look as though she is moving voluntarily," Naso adds.

The problem with the view that anything can counter-balance force is that force creates an atmosphere where there is no ability for the girl to make a free decision. Once a boy corners a girl and uses force on her to get her to move "voluntarily" then her testimony that she was forced has been proven.

If the prosecutors don't get this or if they do believe this but communicate a belief that force is meaningless to proving rape that encourages rapists

This blatant abandon of reason is also why having survivors going online to talk about their rapes and the flaws in the legal system -- both criminal and civil -- which support the sexually violent is so important.

Many of those who want the criminal and civil justice systems to continue to be illogical and hostile to rape victims are active online and if those voices aren't countered many people will accept dangerous beliefs either because the topic is unpleasant or because the hostility toward rape victims serves their selfish desires.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 10:19 AM   10 comments links to this post


At May 16, 2008 3:16 PM, Blogger Lyndsay said...

Wow, I hear more and more outrageous things every day. So what's far enough from 16? Two months? Three? Four? It's like any possible excuse to justify rape from a police officer or judge or lawyer will be made and works way too often. Something more needs to happen to change if thousands of people in one day could call government leaders and demand better...

At May 16, 2008 5:13 PM, Blogger JENNIFER DREW said...

Here in the UK despite the law saying any child under the age of 13 is presumed incapable yes incapable of consenting to being penetrated by a penis yet a male rapist has been acquitted and the male judge claimed the 12 year old girl 'welcomed sexual activity which was not forced.' Judge also claimed 'the girl was inappropriately aware of sex.' Judge ignored report on male rapist which defined him as being 'manipulative and predatory.' Judge also ignored evidence that male rapist even when knowing actual age of girl still persued her with the intent of gaining penetrative access to her body. In other words with the intent to rape her. Laws intended to protect girls from predatory male rapists are good but as is often the case UK judges believe such laws do not apply in reality. Instead many judges continue to blame women and girls for men and boys raping them.

We definitely live in a rape culture and one moreover wherein rapists continue to have their crimes excused and justified.

Unfortunately for the young woman who had no other recourse but to use youtube in an attempt to highlight her case enabled the voyeurs and porners to view it as 'entertainment' and also show their misogynstic contempt for what happened to this young woman.

At May 16, 2008 5:21 PM, Blogger JENNIFER DREW said...

Link to report on UK judge claiming 12 year old girl 'welcomed sex' is -

By the way male rapist is not a paedophile because this teenage male believes it is his right to sexually coerce and then rape a 12 year old girl for his sexual pleasure. It is all about male sexual power and control not paedophilia. But then paedophilia implies such males are suffering from an illness or defect when truth is they are not.

At May 16, 2008 9:56 PM, Anonymous m Andrea said...

As usual, this was a really good article, Marcella. Thank you very, very much.

Kind of interesting how you can write such well-thought out articles, one after another, each one exposing the illogic of common behavior, and yet still be ignored by the mainstream press. Almost as if they don't care.

Just to prove they don't care, would you mind if I started sending links to some mainstream media and congressional critters? This post would do nicely, but do you have any other special favorites you'd like them to read? Let me know if it's okay.

At May 16, 2008 11:29 PM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

M andrea, you are welcome to send links to anyone you want to contact. Pick any post you'd like to highlight. The more awareness we can get on the reality behind these issues, the better. If a reporter wants to add my insights to reporting on this subject, I'll be happy to help that person out.

For me different posts of mine highlight different aspects of this issue so I don't have one or two favorites.

At May 18, 2008 11:54 PM, Blogger NOLA radfem said...


When she was in college, my sister-in-law was raped by her mailman. It was a small town and he was Mr. WellKnown Family Man. The police had DNA and everything and were furious that the prosecutor wouldn't pursue the case, but he wouldn't. Small town, all of them probably related, and here she was a college girl from the city...

Makes me sick.

At May 19, 2008 7:31 AM, Anonymous Barbara said...

Look how the legal system let down the parents of Megan Meier (the MySpace suicide case). The prosecutor in MO said there 'was no case' despite having 1000s of emails & letters pointing out the numerous communications statutes she violated. At least the Feds have indicted her 'murderer' Lori Drew now.

Bigamy victims get the same short shrift. Cops laugh at them, prosectors ignore them. The Victim is left hoping and praying some reporter will pick up their case to embarrass the law.

Online harrassment - same thing - cops look at it as a minor thing - despite the facts that it causes suicides, emotional trauma, self-harming and so on.

Personally, prosecutors and police who don't take these cases, especially rape, seriously and find loopholes to avoid doing their jobs should be subject to prosecution as well - with no cost to the victims to go after them!

At May 21, 2008 4:46 PM, Anonymous nandita said...

Some time ago, I did a little research online and came across quite a few stories of what judges had to say about rape... a lot of it absolutely stunned me.

Reading your post reminded me of it. The whole judicial set-up not limited to cops seems to view rape as being a minor offence, often imagined.

Some of the stories I came across left me speechless though.

At May 24, 2008 7:46 AM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

To Mr. Anonymous South Carolina (via who comes to my blog nearly every day,

It's telling that you didn't find this reference to Melanie Ross until you did a blog search on her name a week after this post was written.

When you only comment to attack those who report or disclose rape and clearly have no similar genuine disdain for boys and men who rape, you are telling me far more about yourself than you mean to.

The picture you are painting of yourself is an ugly one. No wonder you remain anonymous.

At June 25, 2008 5:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow abyss2hope, you really do think you know everything. do tell everyone how to be feminists. you're right, but self-righteous and that gets my goat. no wonder trolls come here. you really do give feminism a bad name.


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