The Blame Game

In an article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, James Taranto explored what he calls a “balanced look at college sex offenses”.  Without outlining the entire article, the main point of Taranto’s op-ed is that women should be held equally accountable for sexual assaults involving intoxication.  The consistent undertone of this article is the fear of false accusations and the ruining of young men’s lives.  Taranto’s main thesis is that if a man and woman are both intoxicated and the man sexually assaults the woman that they are both, in fact, equally at fault.  Taranto explained that:

“If two drunk drivers are in a collision, one doesn’t determine fault on the basis of demographic details such as each driver’s sex. But when two drunken college students “collide,” the male one is almost always presumed to be at fault.”

Last time I checked women do not possess the biological parts to collide into a man but that’s beside the point.  Shitty analogy aside, Taranto’s main point is clear.

I don’t doubt Taranto’s is putting a commonly held belief, especially amongst many men, into writing.  We can all agree that some people have been falsely accused of crimes and that is a horrible reality. However, it’s a commonly accepted fact that rape and sexual assaults ranks among the most underreported crimes in this country.  The number of un-reported sexual assaults exponentially outweighs those of false accusations.  The sentiment behind this article is a clear indication why.  Many women who have been sexually assaulted while intoxicated remain silent for fear of being judged.  Frankly, many sexual assault victims believe that people who hold Taranto’s beliefs will be the police who investigate their assault or a member of the jury in their trial.  The fear and shame keep them silent and many more of these incidents remain unreported than men became falsely accused.  And, I’d venture to guess that stories of false accusations are so widely reported when they occur because they are such rarity.

I remained silent for a long time. I downplayed the details of the story and told a handful of people that I had had too much to drink and ended up at someone’s apartment. I didn’t recount blacking out. I didn’t recount waking up to someone having sex with me. I didn’t recount pushing and screaming and running to the bathroom. I never told people that he kept saying, “I thought it would be cool”.  I never told anyone that the last thing I actually recall was getting out of the taxi at his place. I didn’t tell people that I continually fell down on my way to his front his door and he picked me up and practically dragged me inside.

I didn’t give the complete details because I felt ashamed. And, I do not think my reaction is rare. In fact, I think it’s common. I truly believed I was doing what was right for me for multiple reasons. Partly, I thought my case was a loser before it was even initiated. But, additionally, there was a part of me that believe I deserved what I got.

I was out at a bar without my boyfriend. I was wearing a little green dress I had bought from Forever 21. What self-respecting attorney would be wearing a Forever 21 dress? I had been drinking since noon that day because it was Memorial Day weekend and I didn’t have work the next day. I ended up at the bar after I had had a fight with my boyfriend.  I didn’t tell anyone because I knew I’d have to give the details of how I got there, what I was wearing, and how much I had had to drink.  I knew the only witnesses were me and him. I knew there were parts of the night I couldn’t recall and that lack of recollection would be held against me. I knew that I would be asked about college. I knew I would be asked how many times I went out in college and drank too much.  I knew someone would inevitably ask me what the difference was between a sexual encounter after a party in college and this incident. I knew someone would ask how those experiences were not rape but this incident was rape.  I could hear all the questions. I could hear all the doubt. I could hear all the blame. I knew immediately that speaking up was a losing proposition so I kept my mouth shut.

I didn’t speak up because I thought I could just move past the event and I would be better off.  As I’ve written about before, unfortunately for many different people in my life and those no longer in my life, all repressed emotions do eventually come bursting to the surface in unexpected ways.  To this day, I have mixed emotions about the situation and how I handled the aftermath. I’m not sure if I regret not reporting the incident and immediately telling my story. Additionally, there is an added layer of shame to my story because I was a licensed attorney who was raped. There’s an unwavering and persistent burden of guilt that comes with being an attorney who remains silent in the face of a crime. But those feelings are equally weighed against the feeling, rightly or wrongly, that as the victim who is a licensed attorney I’m the person in the best position to assess whether I had a case worth reporting in the first instance.

I do think there needs to be more discussions about binge drinking on college campuses. This is a serious and pervasive problem that men and women would benefit from being educated about. However, the fear of an epidemic of false accusations is unfounded and not true to reality. The reality is that most sexual assault victims feel so ashamed and regretful that they would rather stay silent than relive the details of their situation. We don’t want the questions. We don’t want to be judged. We don’t want to hear the doubt in the voice of the lawyers, the judge, and, sadly, our friends and family.

Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer and I don’t know whether I would have reacted differently if this incident happened today. I would like to believe that I would stand up for myself and my rights. I would like to believe I would respect myself enough to call the cops.  I would like to believe I would have the strength to be courageous enough to tell my story. But, honestly, I can’t tell you that. I was confident and strong when I was raped. I was outgoing and smart. I had volunteered with various women’s organizations that focused on domestic violence and women’s health issues.  I prided myself on being a champion for women’s rights.  I volunteered as a mentor to school aged girls. I was a licensed attorney. There was nothing about me in person or on paper that would indicate that I would remain silent in the face of a sexual assault. But I did.  If my story isn’t an example of how de-humanizing, destabilizing and unsettling sexual assault can be to a person, I don’t know what is.

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