I am not wrong – The worst story you’ll read all day

*Trigger warning*

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.

When she returned to school, the attacker she’d previously reported raped her again.

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

Join the Conversation

  • http://feministing.com/members/skoelle/ Spencer Koelle

    Well, I hope and pray that this is the worst story I read all day, because if I read something worse I’ll have to start drinking early this week. ._.

    The best I can say here is I’m glad the rapist was caught and prosecuted this time. =/

  • http://feministing.com/members/pizzuti/ Matt

    That’s horrible.

    There needs to be a better formalized process when it comes to addressing sexual assault and rape from a law enforcement perspective.

    When a person is accused of a crime, she or he is entitled to representation while making statements, and also entitled to be presumed innocent unless proven guilty. Yet when it comes to rape, victims – who enter the setting believing they are reporting a crime as victim rather than defending themselves against a crime – suddenly get switched over in the investigators’ minds into suspects, without any kind of representation; that switch-over is retroactive to the victim’s first contact with investigators in their minds. Where was the victim’s representation during that time, since she is now accused!?

    I think there should be a requirement, in every state, that there is a victim’s advocate present always when victims are meeting with investigators reporting rape. Because when these cases suddenly get turned over and the accuser becomes accused, its already too late – the victim’s rights (as a defendant) have already been violated by lack of representation while investigators started gathering gathering “evidence.” I mean when do you marandize someone who’s going to be turned on like that?

    • davenj

      “Yet when it comes to rape, victims – who enter the setting believing they are reporting a crime as victim rather than defending themselves against a crime – suddenly get switched over in the investigators’ minds into suspects, without any kind of representation”

      What does this mean exactly? The formal process ensures legal representation for those accused of a crime. How are victims being accused of a crime?

      I agree that the actual investigatory process needs an overhaul, but I don’t get how you conflate that with criminality.

      • http://feministing.com/members/grrleconomist/ Chloe H.

        This girl was criminalized and expelled from school because of making a ‘false report’. And think of the other high school girl who wouldn’t cheer for her rapist at a basketball game — she was also criminalized and sued for damages. It happens again and again. Victims are questioned, punished, and humiliated over and over again for reporting in social AND institutional (read: criminalizing) ways. We find victims punished for past crimes as a way to silence them and stop them from moving forward with prosecution on sexual assault charges. We find victims deported, sued, or jailed for their assaults. And all of this says nothing to the kinds of retribution offered up that DON’T come with legal implications.

      • http://feministing.com/members/pizzuti/ Matt

        *whoops* I meant to click “reply” but hit “report comment” and it was too late; sorry about that, there is no problem with your comment.

        Anyway… they’re being accused of a crime because “false reporting” is a criminal charge. Women who report rape end up being convicted of that crime, and thus have to pay penalties or serve a sentence.

        And there have been numerous occasions I’ve heard over the years where a woman gets a “false reporting” conviction, then ends up being validated later when an offender is caught.

        So you can see that not only is emotional double-victimization taking place, but there are actually legal consequences to coming forward sometimes.

        In this case the situation was handled by a school, but students are still entitled to a due process (though not a trial) before they can be suspended or expelled. They’re allowed to have the case reviewed, because there are lifelong consequences to expulsion. So even in this case, the girl’s due process failed, and she was basically found guilty of something that she was innocent of.

  • http://feministing.com/members/catriona/ Keisha

    This is horrifying. I’d also like to point out that this is the school district that tried to ban the book Speak. Speak is about a middle school student who is raped and lives in silence for an entire year until her rapist attacks her again at school. Very disturbing all the way around.

  • http://feministing.com/members/azure156/ Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

    They made her apologize to a rapist?!? Monsters. I don’t care if I’m name calling. Every official at this school needs to be fired and should probably not be considered capable of a job working with minors again, let alone ones who have disabilities. I can only imagine how arrogant that rapist must have been when they forced her to hand-deliver the drivel they forced her to write. I can only hope her parents have found a much better school for her and all the help she’ll need.

  • http://feministing.com/members/chayes007/ Courtney

    You were not wrong! I am so disappointed in this school district – and from my home state, where I heard nothing about this tragedy. It is unfortunate that violence toward women in southern MO is rarely taken seriously because it is so commonplace, and ignored in a patriarchal small towns. I am shocked that a school district would so blatantly downplay a student’s plea for help. And a special ed. student who, aside from being traumatized, probably had a difficult time communicating what happened to her. Very disappointing.

    • http://feministing.com/members/pizzuti/ Matt

      I agree… and if you noticed the school’s defense after being sued is “she made no efforts to defend herself.” I don’t know what exactly they are claiming but it LOOKS like they’re claiming that she’s responsible because she didn’t fight back.

      Then in her IEP a psychological analysis says she frequently goes out of her way and undermines her own interests to make others more comfortable.

      It sounds like she’s someone that could easily be made target of victimization and the school is somehow saying that makes it OK.