Everything You Need to Know About Rape Trials, Rape Victims and Rape Culture
In light of everything going on with Decapitated, let’s talk about sexual assault.
If you’re a human being on planet Earth, you probably know a woman. You may not know her very well. You might not even be friends with her, but you know her. At some point in this woman’s life, she will be sexually harassed. This will probably happen before she’s 18.
According to research by a non-profit organization, 85% of women in the United States experience street harassment before the age of 17.
That’s just the beginning. Because, while street harassment sucks, it’s something that the vast majority of American women will go through and it’s just a tiny piece of the puzzle concerning why sexual assault is so common in the United States and the rest of the world.
Where did that come from?
My name is Nina, and I’m a lady who lives in the US. I’m also a metal vocalist for the bands A Sound of Thunder and Womanowar, and I’ve been involved with the metal scene for the past ten years. This means everything from booking shows, to touring with three smelly dudes (sorry guys), to having random men literally pick me up and carry me to their tour bus. My experience as a woman and an activist has led me to look into a lot of research on sexual assault, which I’d like to share with you to help explain a few things to anyone interested. Since I’m an American, I’m going to talk about this subject from an American perspective. Statistics vary across the world, so I’ll talk about what I know.
You’ve probably heard about Decapitated and the gang rape allegations they are facing. If you’re like many dudes out there, you may have reacted by saying something like:
It’s pretty much a given that if a woman accuses someone of rape, she will be accused of lying. Just about every guy “knows a girl” who lied about being raped. Bring up the subject, and he’ll tell you about “this girl I know” who accused a guy of raping her. After the tenth guy who “knows a girl,” it starts looking like women are all a bunch of liars who accuse men of rape for some reason (why, I really don’t know). If you want to believe that women lie about rape, there are plenty of places you can go that will back up your beliefs. Unfortunately, what you’re ignoring are actual facts regarding women and rape in the United States.
Here are these actual facts:
- The prevalence of false rape reports are between two and ten percent
- 82% of all juvenile victims are female
- 90% of adult rape victims are female
- Females ages 16-19 are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault
Now, you could read all of these facts and still assume that women who report rape are lying. You would, however, be doing a great disservice to all of the women who are raped and are pressured into not reporting it. Around two out of every three rapes goes unreported (RAINN). That means that despite one out of every six American women saying they’ve been the victim of attempted or completed rape, there are way more out there who aren’t saying anything.
And by the way, guys, instantly accusing every alleged rape victim of lying doesn’t exactly give women the confidence to want to report their crimes.
I think dudes who do this don’t understand what it takes to report a rape case. Let’s start with the fact that three out of four cases involve someone close to the victim; a boyfriend, a friend, or a family member. Only 7% tend to be strangers, which makes reporting someone you know that much more difficult. The process of reporting a rape involves a lot of trauma for everyone involved, including being subject to a rape kit, which includes a medical examination and photos. And that’s without considering all the time it takes to go through interviews with detectives and police officers. If the person in question is arrested, it will impact his entire family. Which leads us to why women don’t often report rape:
- Fear of retaliation
- They believe the police will not do anything to help
- They believe it’s a personal matter
- They report it to a different official
- They believe it’s not important enough to report
- They don’t want to get the perpetrator in trouble
With those depressing statistics aside, how much time does a person have to report a rape after it happens? In the US all states are different, with the statute of limitations ranging from three to 30 years. That said, physical evidence can fade within just a few days, which is why victims of rape are encouraged to report what happened quickly. DNA is tricky, and while things like blood and hair might last if it gets on a victim’s clothes, sperm has around a 72 hour window before it is absorbed by the body and rendered an ineffective form of evidence.
Now, not all cases go to trial. A lot of sexual assault cases go through a plea bargain, which is an agreement between the prosecutor and perpetrator’s representative. In a please bargain, the perpetrator will agree to plead guilty to the crime in return for a reduction in penalty, such as a lighter sentence. This course of action does not involve or require the survivor to testify.
If the case goes to trial, the victim will usually be asked to testify. This can really suck for victims, but there are often laws in place that can help them within their state’s Victim’s Bill of Rights. These rights vary and you can check them out here.
Let’s go into why testifying can be so shitty for a victim. Imagine, if you will, having to relive one of the worst most traumatic experiences of your life. Imagine being questioned for your sincerity, having a jury decide whether or not you’re lying, and having the pressure of knowing that if you fuck up, the person who raped you might go free. Now consider the fact that “…the defense’s job is to undermine that witness,” (Abbe L. Smith, director of the Criminal Defense and Prisoner Advocacy Clinic at Georgetown University). The defense, or, the guy being accused of raping someone, has a lawyer whose job is to make the alleged victim feel like shit so his client can go free. So not only does the alleged victim get to relive their experience, but they get to be grilled for it on the stand. All so that maybe, maybe, their abuser can see some sort of punishment for their crimes.
That shitty experience aside, what kind of evidence needs to be presented by the alleged victim in order to actually convict someone? It varies, but generally the rape needs to be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt” which means witnesses, DNA, and victim testimony are all very helpful but they do not guarantee that the perpetrator will be found guilty. If the jury can be convinced that a mountain of evidence isn’t enough, the defendant could go free. This actually happens a lot. Most perpetrators don’t go to prison, with more than 99% walking free.
Historically, rape trials don’t go so well for the victims in question. Not only do they face psychological trauma (which has been identified as Rape Trauma Syndrome), but the aftermath of a rape trial can follow a woman for the rest of her life. Her name gets out into the world and harassment follows. You don’t need to look hard to see evidence of this; just look at the women who accused Bill Cosby of rape. Look at any woman, including the women accusing Decapitated, and you’ll immediately find people willing to go to bat for the people accused. Making matters worse, there are hundreds of stories of women who do not report rape because of their fear of public harassment.
So: what is the point of presenting all of these facts and statistics? Why did I bring up street harassment? It’s because rape is a symptom, but rape culture is the disease.
What is “rape culture?”
Rape Culture: A society or environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and abuse.
In other words, when a woman reports that a band gang raped her and the first thing a bunch of dudes do is accuse her of being a liar, that is a symptom of rape culture. You are the reason real victims do not report their assaults.
I know that people aren’t going to read this and suddenly have a change in perspective. I’m willing to bet there are still plenty of guys who will see all of these stats and think “so what? Bitches lie” and continue to post their own facts about why women lie and why you shouldn’t believe us.
However, for the few people who do read these statistics, who do suddenly realize that women in the US often have a pretty shitty time, I hope you do something. Talk to your friends when they say something stupid about rape. Tell the guy shouting at a woman on the street to shut the fuck up. Listen to your friends when they have something important to tell you, but remember that all the women accusing men of rape are also someone’s friend, or girlfriend, or daughter. Or son.
One in 33 men are victims of rape, and one out of every ten rape victims is male. This isn’t a woman problem: rape culture is a human problem, and it has no place in the metal scene.
For more information on sexual assault, I suggest checking out RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network).