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Maryville Reminds Us Why So Many Rape Survivors Stay Silent

Maryville Reminds Us Why So Many Rape Survivors Stay Silent

I don’t think my childhood was vastly different from the average, and there is one thing I remember keenly from hours of after-school specials, episodes of Sesame Street and parental warnings: If I’m ever in trouble, all I have to do is find a police officer. He will help me.

Though I didn’t see hordes of police officers roaming the streets of my small town, looking for kids to help, it was a comforting thought. If I’m in trouble, the police will help me. It’s too bad I had to grow up and realize that the world isn’t that simple.

I’m sure by now you’ve heard about the travesty of justice that took place in Maryville, Mo. The description of events is unlikely to change. On January 8, 2012, a 17-year-old popular high school athlete (and member of a local influential family) named Matthew Barnett had sex with a 14-year-old girl named Daisy Coleman, who was plied with excessive amounts of alcohol. Another boy did the same with Daisy’s 13-year-old friend, and a third student recorded some of the incident on his phone.

In Missouri, consent can’t be given while drunk, which means that Barnett raped Daisy. As the Kansas City Star reported, very few people deny that this actually happened. But, for reasons that are unclear, this open and shut case was shut prematurely, and the boys involved are facing no charges.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the town turned against the girl and her family. Daisy’s mother lost her job and her brothers were bullied. One girl even wore a shirt that said, “Matt 1, Daisy 0.” Daisy has tried to commit suicide two times over the past two years.

Even if you haven’t heard this specific story, you’ve likely heard many others like it. It is a maddeningly common story, almost to the letter. What can be even more enraging is that Daisy’s mother did everything “right” for her daughter (even though this concept itself is bogus). She took Daisy to the hospital to be examined. The evidence of sexual assault was there, yet nothing came of it. Worse than that, Daisy was blamed.

It’s really no wonder that rape is such a chronically unreported crime. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), 54 percent of sexual assaults go unreported, and 97 percent of rapists never go to prison. When the consequence of standing up for your own dignity is more abuse, I’m unsurprised that so many people choose silence.

This type of nonchalance is also evident when threats of violence are made against women. Facebook did not consider a page set up solely for the discussion of whether a feminist blogger should be murdered to be harassment (although the page has been subsequently taken down for unknown reasons). Rebecca Watson at Skepchick (full disclosure: I’m a writer associated with that website) is no stranger to online harassment, but has found her dealings with the police to be fruitless:

The last [threat] I reported was last year. A Skepchick reader happened across the website of a man who had written disturbing things about murdering women in general and me in particular, including photos of me with targets on them. The reader alerted the other Skepchicks, who compiled as much information as they could on the person, including his real name, age, and location (about a 3-hour drive from me). Let’s call him “Rick.”

Because I knew what town “Rick” lived in, I called his local police department. They told me there was nothing they could do and that I’d have to make a report with my local police department. So I called my local police department and the operator transferred me to a detective, but I got a busy signal. I called back and the operator sent me to another line, which rang and rang for ten minutes before I hung up. I called back and finally got through to someone who told me that there was nothing they could do but take a report in case one day “Rick” followed through on his threats, at which point they’d have a pretty good lead.

Her dealings with the FBI weren’t much better.

A few more weeks later, I emailed her to tell her that in a month I would be giving a public talk just an hour from where “Rick” lived and that I wasn’t sure what to do. She told me, “You take whatever precautions you need to take.” She also asked me to resend the screenshots, which I did. She replied saying her computer wouldn’t open the .zip file I sent but asked if the screenshots were the same as the links I had sent her. I replied to say that yes, the screenshots were all the same as what the links showed, since “Rick” hadn’t edited or taken down anything he had posted.

That was September of last year. I never heard from her again.

It’s like the system is set up to specifically keep women silent about abuse they endure online and in real life. As long as Maryvilles and Steubenvilles keep happening, as long as threats against the lives of women aren’t taken seriously, I will never question why rape survivors stay silent.

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Photo Credit: ephotographer via Flickr

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134 comments

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4:54PM PDT on Oct 28, 2013

"The accused might be innocent (and would have a trial before peers), but your office should consider the message sent out if repeatedly alleged rapists are not prosecuted. I do sympathize if the male really believed the sex was consensual, but we can't ignore the real possibility that the female clearly did not want it or that peer pressure is leading many female teens into sexual encounters without their consent and hurtful to them."

..my point being that perhaps in this case it's best to have a trial to address the evidence in court, even if the known facts and allegations leave room for doubt.

If their is only harsh punishment as an option, then the alleged rapist (in a trial among "peers") might get off when otherwise "he" would suffer some sort of punishment.

In any case (and as an aside), I don't want to appear to say this lightly but ultimately victims should try to clear their minds of things that were not their fault. Society makes sex and virginity into a major event. In some cultures it's treated differently. Again, I don't want to suggest the psychological costs are to be trivialized in any way, but for the sake of health and peace, victims should seek help or otherwise really try to exorcize the demons. It can be done.

4:53PM PDT on Oct 28, 2013

...But not everyone reacts like that to all uncomfortable sexual encounters and can leave doubt about how they feel. While you might not accept an adult molesting a small kid under any circumstance, it's different the context of 2 teen peers in a party, where perhaps sex was spoken about and what not, where perhaps parents advice might have been publicly mocked. ..or maybe within the context of a "lovefest" of some sort from the 60s, even if some of the participants are hesitant and later regret their participation.

Example 2. A person I love actually had me convinced for a little while long ago that she wanted me to "take her" assertively. I eventually convinced myself to try that (twice) out of total confusion (and with guilt), especially because the ambiguity got worse after the first incident. Needless to say her second reaction was very clear.

Some people are clear, even if it takes a while to get to that point in the eyes of the other party. And some people are not very clear and engage and may have even had been confused themselves or potentially in some cases even vengeful.

There are shades. It's not black and white. If punishment doesn't match the context, people will hesitate to convict. Was sex spoken about openly? Did "everyone" know what was up? Was there no physical or verbal rejection?

As an example of my position, I wrote in a petition on the Maryville case:

"The accused might be innocent (and would have a trial before peers), but your office sh

4:51PM PDT on Oct 28, 2013

Sarah F and others, a person can freeze up and maybe even want to pass out and not show much resistance. Teens (victims) can certainly succumb to peer pressure and also not show much resistance and even take initiative. Even adults have situations happen that don't indicate a violent or malicious rapist of any sort, eg, like how one story claims Julian Assange and his "girlfriend" had had sex multiple times even once earlier that day and were on great terms. Apparently, she was sleeping at the time she later claimed rape. Would she do this to someone she loves? Or was it because she found out he had effectively cheated on her?

So is a girl held down physically? Is she held down psychologically? There are many shades, and it's more than likely that the male having sex can have a very different idea about her views. Not all actions should be equally punished. Should we punish Assange (if that story is true) like we punish the men who plan, track, and assault a woman on the street by an alley?

Let me give a little personal perspective on related experiences.

When I was very young I came into the acquaintance of a "relative" who I noticed had a habit of sitting us kids on his lap and eventually reaching slowly for private areas. That didn't last too long before I told adults in front of him and made a big fuss. It was natural for me to make clear my wishes, and I had a sense of what was correct and not correct. But not everyone reacts like that to all uncomfortable sexua

9:03AM PDT on Oct 23, 2013

@Sarah F your one star will have to suffice! You deserve many for your posts. Thank you.
@David B - GREAT IDEA! A family friend once suggested making the rapist/molester sit on top of a wood chopping fulcrum (think triangle, pointy side up) and tie weights to his ankles. Every move he makes will cause more damage, slow and painful. Yours is right up there with that one.

5:42AM PDT on Oct 23, 2013

Rape is NOT a one-time crime! Being a survivor of rape, ongoing, from age 2 to 6...this has haunted me, clouded my thoughts, harangued me for a huge number of years.....and it never goes away...just even hearing the word can tail-spin my day. Rapists walk..and victims are given a life sentence.

3:32AM PDT on Oct 23, 2013

Thanks for sharing

2:56AM PDT on Oct 23, 2013

ty

2:30AM PDT on Oct 23, 2013

Scumbags who do this need to feel the pain.

2:20AM PDT on Oct 23, 2013

sorry but no is no. I don't care if the girl , women what ever is nude , no means no.and if your too stupid to realize what N O means , then what the hell are you doing out of the house on your own? if you ask and she says yes, then it can be warm soft , gentle , exceiting, so many things but if it happens after the girl says no , then it's rape and I have the solution for that. they will only do it once .there will be no repeat offenders. at least that's my understanding.insert a glass tube the full length of the penis.place it on a flat surface , and then smash it.so that it be full of small pieces of broken glass.that will cause sever pain with every urination and erection in the future.

2:53PM PDT on Oct 22, 2013

What she was wearing isn't important at all. She could have been covered from head to toe and it wouldn't have changed that he wanted sex.

Us women... we love to dress sexy when we're semi-attracted to a man, sure, and we do it when we're out with the girls... but we don't always do it to become sexually attractive to men/women. Sometimes we dress for ourselves. A self-esteem booster... when people admire us, we feel good, and that's all we want from it. Our clothing DOES NOT reflect what kind of woman we are. Some might be highly conservative and some might be very relaxed about their sexuality. I don't know if you understand that... so I'm going to put that out there and make sure it's clear.

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