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.
Photo Credit: ephotographer via Flickr