Sexual assault is a notoriously under-reported crime.
And we should all know why. Study upon study has shown, women who have experienced rape and other sexual assault often find that reporting the crime and being subject to the subsequent interrogations often feels like a “second victimization” (see the report linked above for much more about this).
In a horrifying story coming from the town of Republic, Missouri this issue is, once again, on nauseating display.
During the 2008-2009 school year, a special education student, then in the 7th grade, filed a lawsuit against the Republic School District, alleging that not only did school officials fail to protect her from harassment and sexual assault at the hands of another student, they actually made her write an apology letter to her rapist.
According to the Springfield News-Leader, the girl told school authorities about the incident, and they didn’t believe her. Eventually, she recanted her story.
Without asking her parents’ permission, the school forced the student to write a letter of apology to her rapist and hand-deliver it. After which, she was expelled for the rest of the year.
Once again, the school officials didn’t believe her. This time her mother took her to the Child Advocacy Center, where “an exam showed a sexual assault had occurred. DNA in semen found on the girl matched the DNA of the boy she accused.” The boy has since pleaded guilty in juvenile court.
The persistence of “rape myths” make it damn near impossible for survivors of sexual violence to come forward. There are many reasons for this but the relentless focus on the survivor’s behavior and personal characteristics makes people feel that they need to be “perfect” victims. Who among us is perfect?
Furthermore, this woman is described as a special education student, and we should take this moment to have what I call an “intersectionality moment:” there’s a widespread failure to deal with the both the historical and contemporary contexts of sexual violence as a tool of subjugation and colonization, specifically in regard to communities of color and people with disabilities. For a great piece about disability justice and intersectionality, click.
I’ll leave you with this, which came straight back to me when I read this story. From “Poem about my Rights” by June Jordan (click and read the whole poem, please):
I have been raped
cause I have been wrong the wrong sex the wrong age
the wrong skin the wrong nose the wrong hair the
wrong need the wrong dream the wrong geographic
the wrong sartorial I
I have been the meaning of rape
I have been the problem everyone seeks to
eliminate by forced
penetration with or without the evidence of slime and/
but let this be unmistakable this poem
is not consent I do not consent
to my mother to my father to the teachers to
the F.B.I. to South Africa to Bedford-Stuy
to Park Avenue to American Airlines to the hardon
idlers on the corners to the sneaky creeps in
I am not wrong: Wrong is not my name
My name is my own my own my own
and I can’t tell you who the hell set things up like this
but I can tell you that from now on my resistance
my simple and daily and nightly self-determination
may very well cost you your life