Shared from the 4/21/2018 Colo Spgs Gazette eEdition

Sexual assault victims receive a life sentence

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month — suggesting we should all be more aware of sexual assault. Not a bad idea in concept, but rape is hardly a topic people would like to spend their time thinking about when they’re not thinking about their jobs, families, and hobbies. But the statistics show that sexual assault is likely to happen to you or to people you know. And when that occurs, victims spend the rest of their lives thinking about it, a lot.

Now perhaps you’re thinking that you don’t know anyone who has been raped. What’s probably more accurate is that nobody you know has told you. Thanks to the way our society responds to sexual assault and its victims, 75 percent-80 percent of victims never tell anyone. (Occasionally, I get the question—“how do you know if they don’t tell anyone?” It’s pretty simple — academic researchers come up with anonymous surveys. People will confide general information about sexual assault when they have the shield of a confidential survey.)

On the other hand, for those who do report it, the results aren’t great. Consider the unusual case of Brock Turner. You may recall hearing about the Stanford swimmer who was found guilty on three counts of felony sexual assault only to get a six-month sentence and serve three months in county jail.

Yes, the sentence is unusual as it’s not the eight years rapists receive on average, but what is more unusual from my perspective is that he was convicted. The Rape and Incest National Network reports that 993 out of 1,000 perpetrators won’t face punishment. That’s not a typo. Only seven out of 1,000 will serve time.

I find that the judge’s attitude in the case is actually very “usual.” Turner’s lack of criminal history, his show of “sincere remorse,” and the fact that alcohol was involved, impairing his judgment, were reasons the judge gave for the reduced sentence.

These are the same reasons we see rapists walk free with no conviction time and time again. Here in Colorado Springs, nine felony rape cases went to juries last year, and not a single person was found guilty. The prosecutors typically take cases they consider fairly strong to trial.

When alcohol is involved, juries almost never convict. Juries have trouble convicting rapists in these cases because they want to believe a defense that says everyone was drunk and didn’t know what they were doing.

We have a lot of research — and cases of course — that show that predators use alcohol as their weapon of choice. Sometimes they’ll introduce drugs to speed up the process. Rapists prey on people who are vulnerable — such as young girls, the mentally disabled, minorities, people at home alone, and people who are intoxicated. If I’m drinking at a party, would it be OK for someone to take me outside and beat the living daylights out of me because they feel like it? Of course not, but it’s the same logic.

What is equally troubling is the idea that somehow justice is not served by ruining the life of the accused. In Brock Turner’s case, the judge said he had considered the “severe impact” that a prison sentence would have on an offender of Turner’s age. He stated, “I think you have to take the whole picture in terms of what impact imprisonment has on a specific individual’s life.” Right now in Colorado Springs, we’re witnessing perpetrator after perpetrator getting probation in a high-profile gang-rape case. The victim was 13-years-old.

Wow. Are juries and judges taking into account what the impact will be on the victim’s life? It’s as though some people think rape was a bad experience, like falling down and scraping your knee. Let’s be clear. Sexual assault is a life sentence for the victim.

A 13-year-old victim will never be the same. I was a Big Sister to a young girl in junior high many years ago. After she was raped by a boy from school, this A student went to failing out. She became sexually promiscuous and began drinking.

In our work with survivors at TESSA, victims report long-term impacts, such as severe depression, constant anxiety and nightmares, difficulty bonding with and trusting people, chronic pain, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Sexual assault victims are 13 times more likely to attempt suicide.

Here’s the other thing. A Harvard study reported that rapists are repeat offenders. We see criminals convicted of homicide for less evidence. Here we still have a living, breathing victim to tell us the story. But time and time again, rapists walk free to rape again.

Unfortunately, it seems that Americans hear a few recantation stories and then think a lot of women just make it up, for attention. For attention? Rape victims tend to get negative attention. Of course, there are a few false reports that happen, but studies have shown that they happen less than 8 percent of the time. So shouldn’t that mean that about 92 percent of rapes should be punished — not less than 2 percent, which is the current state of affairs?

With families and jobs to take your focus, and now the springtime outdoors calling your name, your awareness is probably not going to be on Sexual Assault Awareness Month. But hopefully, if it hits your radar again because you’re on a jury or someone close confides in you, perhaps you’ll have a little bit more understanding.

SherryLynn Boyles is the executive director of TESSA,

the local domestic and sexual violence center.

See this article in the e-Edition Here