Sunday, April 18, 2010

Still no safety from sexual assault

There's a perfectly horrifying article from the Washington City Paper making the rounds of the feminist blogosphere titled: "Test Case: You're Not a Rape Victim Unless Police Say So." The subtitle is as bad: "This is the story of the night Hannah was not officially raped."

Amanda Hess' account of what happened to a Washington DC college student is just as awful as the name suggests. The young woman went to a party, something she can't remember took place, her female friends couldn't find her, and when she did turn up she was vomiting and in pain in her nether regions. City hospitals and the D.C. police refused to properly collect any physical evidence that she might have been drugged and raped. The article draws on depositions in a civil suit she subsequently filed against city authorities. If you believed that years of women agitating and "No means No" campaigns had done much to get authorities to treat sexual assault as a serious crime, this account will disabuse your confidence. We've got a ways to go before rape victims get the support they need.

But something additional struck me reading this article: the woman victim, and her college women friends, seem to have had a practice of taking sensible precautions against sexual assault before and during the party.
  • "They pre-gamed in Hannah’s friend Sade’s room..."
  • "They all obeyed the Howard boys’ house rule: Nobody goes upstairs. ..."
  • "...the housemates had erected a furniture barricade at the foot of stairs—a few chairs stacked together to prevent partygoers from sneaking up to the second floor."
  • "As the party wound down, Kerston, Sade, and Amanda briefly left the room to retrieve the crew's coats. When they returned to the living room, the girls testified that Hannah and Bilal were gone. They called her cell phone. She didn't pick up."
  • "They looked for her around the first floor of the house, on the stoop, in the back alley. She wasn't there. They asked other students at the party if they had seen her. They hadn't. They start calling her name. No response."
  • "'So I go to the steps,' Sade testified in a deposition. 'I move [the barricade],' she said. 'I'm walking up the steps, and Tito like just comes behind me. He grabs my arm…and he literally like brings me back down the steps.…And I’m like get off me, what are you talking about?' The three girls gathered around Tito and told them they were just looking for their friend; Tito explained that he'd been hired to keep people from reaching the second floor. At first, the girls had suspected that Hannah had just gone upstairs to use the restroom, but after a few minutes of arguing with Tito, they grew more concerned. 'So at this point like I’m mad,' Sade testified. 'At this point we’re yelling. I don't know what I’m saying exactly, but I’m yelling.' The girls began screaming Hannah's name up the stairs, hoping she'd hear them and come down. She didn't."
  • "Then, Brandon came running down the stairs swearing at them to leave his house. 'He came past Tito and he was like in our, like close to our faces, yelling at us,' Kerston testified. 'He was telling us to get out of his house, and we were like, 'No, we’re not leaving without our friend,' so we didn't leave.' In a deposition taken two years later, Brandon testified that he couldn't recall the specifics of the interaction."
What stands out in this account is that these young women knew what they needed to do to protect each other from sexual assault and they did it. They were brave and persistent and didn't leave until they got their (sick and apparently drugged) friend out of there. Apparently these were necessary and even ordinary survival skills in their college community.

Heterosexuality must be a mighty powerful attraction if it normalizes living like this. This old lesbian wouldn't put up with having to negotiate such a threatening social environment. At the age of these young women, I found out there was -- for me anyway -- a safer possibility.


Damon said...

Wow, not a pretty story. The stuff that's been released to the press regarding the Rothlisberger (sp.?) case is pretty damning as well, yet he gets to walk. I do know from being a guy that testosterone is a powerful hormone, but I guess I'll never understand how guys can cross that line. As a father, I think the best thing I can teach my almost 17 year old son is to respect all people, and that includes the simple concept that no means no.

Nance said...

I know you already know this, Jan: rape has nothing to do with sexuality. Planned rape (with rohypnol and GHB, it's always a premeditated rape) has even less to do with sex. This was group vengeance for some real or imagined insult. And I am suspicious of everyone at this party, including the female friends. All those precautions sound a little too pat to me. That comes from having done some work in Rape Crisis settings, probably.

janinsanfran said...

Damon: I bet you have a good son! I'm sure you try, as most parents do.

Nance: thanks for your comment. This is not an arena in which I'm very knowledgeable as I indicated. Your interpretation of the same precautions that brought me up short in reading about this may well be right!

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