Tuesday, September 30, 2008

reporting rape and abuse

pastor steve hickey, an avid member of the opposition here in sioux falls, wrote about me on his blog last week. he named me as the "gal" coming in to south dakota from massachusetts, and called me an "angry, hurt, anti-life young person." i have no idea how he got to my blog, but i do give him credit, at least, for reading all the way through my post. (even if it does creep me out a little to have someone like him know that part of my life.)

at the end of my post about coming out to south dakota, i explained why my situation made me particularly empathetic to the victims of sexual violence that may need real access to the full gamut of reproductive health care -- which, yes, includes abortion.
Steve Hickey doesn't think that women, like me, who've been victims of rape or incest should have access to this service (he calls it babykilling, of course).
he also seems to believe that every single woman who's been a victim should be forced to report their attack. which means, bringing it back home to me, that he thinks i should have been forced to report my rape(s).
he links to a woman, Dianne Heynen, who, after accusing Planned Parenthood of wanting rapists to go free (a logical accusation for an organization that promotes women's rights...), claims that reporting rape is important, if not essential, to healing.

Dianne Heynen, my dear, you are wrong.

reporting rape is not essential to healing.
reporting rape is not important to every person's individual, unique healing process.
reporting rape can, in fact, be downright detrimental to healing.

if a woman chooses, with her own agency, to report her rape, then yes, it is a powerful tool of healing.
if a woman is forced into reporting her rape, into rehashing every ugly detail of every aspect of her violation? if it's not her choice, if she has no agency? that is not healing. that will only make things worse. that is repeating the violation -- forcing her to do something that she would not have willingly done. force at worst, coercion at best. this is not empowerment, nor is it helpful for any kind of healing, no matter how you look at it.

if i would've reported my rape, i would've been laughed out of the police station.
if i would've reported my abuse, i would have lost my family a full 7 years before i chose to cut my family out of my life. i would've lost my family long before i was ready or able to survive without them.
not reporting my rape or my abuse to the state saved my life. not reporting my violations is what enabled me to get to the point i'm at right now, to the point of calling myself a survivor.

i know myself and my healing process well enough to know that a report of the rape would make things a million times worse.
i know that by looking at myself, and i know that by looking at what was said to me, and i know that by knowing the laws that govern nonconsensual sexual relationships.


reporting the rape that happened on new year's of 2006 would have been impossible. i didn't even call that encounter "rape" until a full four months later. (meaning, if i'd gotten pregnant and needed an abortion, i would've called it 'nonconsensual,' but I absolutely would not have called it rape at the time.) a rape reported four months after the fact would be entirely moot, in terms of prosecution. it took me almost until june of that year - 6 months after the incident - for me to really come to terms with the reality of the situation. if i'd had to endure the judgmental faces of police officers and court officials, i doubt that i would have ever really come to terms with that rape. i'd still be in denial, i'm sure.
reporting the abuse i endured at the hands of my brother would have been equally impossible, given the fact that i didn't even call that "abuse" until 2 years after it stopped. i won't lie; i still have a very hard time believing that i wasn't at fault in those incidents. having to face the shame of that in front of my psychiatrist and therapist and the adolescent psych hospital staff and immediate family was bad enough. facing that shame with people i didn't trust...it's unthinkable. i can't even imagine how horrible that would be. which is not something i'd have to imagine, because it simply never would have happened.

what people have said:
so, so, so many people have insinuated or said straight out that i could not have had any realistic expectations of anything short of intercourse in the situation that came up on that New Year's a few years ago. so many people have told me that they understand why Bill felt it was ok to just go ahead, that i inadvertently gave him the green light when i made out with his girlfriend or went upstairs with the two of them. that i couldn't realistically expect to withdraw my consent to intercourse and make him stop after he'd already started.
and this was all without filing a legal report of the rape. without subjecting myself to the legal system that's so often harsher on victims than so-called "supportive" communities (like the one that expressed all of the above sentiments).
and an awful lot of people have termed the abuse by my brother as "childhood experimentation." even some of the nurses, who should be well versed in sexual abuse, working in an adolescent psych ward, classified my experience as such. my bio parents, unsurprisingly, believe it was nothing more than innocent childhood play. and these are people who i should have been able to expect unconditional love and support from. how would i expect support from a legal system that barely recognizes sibling abuse? how is that a legitimate expectation? it's not.

the legal system:
pure and simple, legally defined, what happened to me on New Year's would never have even made it into a court of law. and if it did, i'd be sent straight out of the courtroom. what Bill did was only a violation of me in terms of conscience and a nuanced understanding of "right" and "wrong." the legal system, especially in western NY, would never have protected my right to say "no." my "no" came after my "yes." it would've been a "he said/she said" case. and we all know which way those cases go. (hint: it's almost never to the "she said" side.)
and my abuse? well, let me tell you. when i was in 11th grade, i called a child advocacy hotline, one that provided legal advocates for children. i asked them what they might be able to do in my situation, given that my parents would absolutely not support me filing charges against my brother.
they, flat out, told me that there were no options for me, especially without my parents' support. they said that there was no point, really, in bringing a legal case - mostly because the age difference between my brother and i was so small. forget the fact that, in any sane person's view, it was absolutely abuse. that doesn't matter. because the law is the law, and it is narrowly written, and the accepted age difference for it to be considered "abuse" cuts off at 5 years. if john had been born in 1980 instead of 1982, i may have ahd a chance. but 3 years was just too small a difference. they all but told me that the court (like my parents, like an awful lot of the unsupportive people in my life) would see it as nothing more than innocent childhood experimentation.

i had no legal options.
i survived sexual abuse, and i survived rape.
but neither would have been legitimate or actionable legal claims. neither would have fit any criteria of sexual violence that currently exists in almost any state laws.

if i hadn't been so lucky, reproductively, in both of these situations, and if i'd lived in a south dakota with this abortion ban in place, i would have two babies right now, neither of which i'd be able to care for, neither of which i would have wanted. both of which would remind me, daily, of what happened to me. the thing i work so hard to move past/through would be thrown in my face, day in and day out. i'd be stuck, in a million different ways. and i would've been doubly traumatized, first by the sexual violence, then by the legal landmines i'd have tried - and undoubtedly failed - to navigate.

this south dakota law that's on the ballot this year would have made my path to healing that much more unmanageable. i thank god that i didn't have to maneuver through these kinds of hoops to find my way to where i am now. i thank god i was lucky enough to not have to try to maneuver my way through, because i'm almost positive i would not be where i am now. i would not have found my way to this place of (in-progress) peace.


Amananta said...

Back when you could only get a legal abortion if you were raped or deathly ill, many police actually mentally dismissed rape reports as lies, assuming women were just filing the reports to get permission for an abortion.

Anon Ymous said...

oh, gods, you poor thing... *hugs*

I can't believe people are telling you you had to expect the rape. That's so not on. You go up to a room with a guy and a girl after making out with the girl? Expectations are that the guy has permission to watch. That's it. No more without express consent - and you can *always* withdraw consent.

That's just crap. I'm so sorry you had to go through all of that...