Yesterday, prosecutors decided that they won’t press charges against Greg Kelly, son of police commissioner Ray Kelly. He was accused of raping a woman—I wrote about it here. I sounded pretty sure I believed he was guilty. As far as the courts are concerned, there wasn’t enough evidence to indict him. Am I sorry? No.
And I’m not sorry about calling Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who was found not guilty of rape in a court of law, a rapist. And the next time someone comes forward saying he or she was raped by another someone, whether that person is a powerful government official or a friend, I will always, ALWAYS believe the accuser. I will always support him or her even before I know all of the “facts” of the situation, or, more likely, have heard the two sides, and probably after. Why? Because we live in a culture so permissive to rapists and so punishing to rape survivors that to do anything else would be monstrous.
The Post published a picture of Kelly’s accuser yesterday, identifying her by name. They did the same to the woman who accused two cops of raping her. They called Nafi Diallo, or, as you may know her “the maid,” of being a liar, a sex worker, a gold digger, a drug dealer. They have, in the words of Intel’s Joe Coscarelli, engaged in “a bullying tactic that could prevent women from reporting sexual abuse crimes.” This is not the exception. This is the norm.
Greg Kelly, by the way, was deemed unchargable not because he didn’t rape his accuser, but because it would be impossible to prove that she was, as she claimed, too intoxicated to consent. This is what rape culture is. And what it means to the women who live in it is that they live with the very real possibility—a one in five chance—that they too will face the same impossible choice: stay quiet, live with what happened, watch your rapist walk around free, or accuse him or her, and have your entire life dragged through the mud. Have every single choice you’ve ever made examined publicly to see if maybe it’s your “fault” that this happened. Be put on trial—publicly—in a way your rapist will never, ever will be.
Let me tell you about two of my friends who had terrible things happen to them. The first is a man. He was falsely accused of rape by a woman he was friends with. He had never slept with her. She later recanted and told everyone the truth of what (hadn’t) happened. He is still living with the consequences of that action today: it made it very hard for him to trust women, to be sexually open. It really fucked him up. He did nothing wrong.
The second friend is a woman. In college, she was raped by a man she was on a date with. The man’s older brother was very important in the ROTC of that college. On this campus, the ROTC was very powerful, and had a strong reputation for honor and excellence. When she came forward about what happened to her, she was called a liar and a slut. The ROTC members embarked on a campaign of harassment that forced her to drop out of college. Nothing happened to the man. The administration of the college refused to get involved. She also did nothing wrong.
I am truly, deeply sad for both of these friends. I really do understand the harm a false rape accusation can do to a person. It can ruin someone’s life. But it still does not compare to the damage that rape can do. And unfortunately, rape is more common by a factor of hundreds. If you think you don’t know someone who was raped, you are probably wrong. Many rape victims are never able to come forward about what happened to them.
When the Post goes out of its way to punish women who speak up about rape, women everywhere hear and understand the message: stay in line. Be quiet. It’ll be easier for you if you just lie back and take it. Here is another story that I happened to come across yesterday, just in the normal course of reading the internet.
I was, as a teenager, locked in a room with my rapist by school administrators and told, “Don’t come out until you’ve worked out your differences.” He spent the entire time threatening to kill me, my family, and my dogs, if I ever reported anything he ever did to me again. When the head counselor eventually came back to that room, I was asked if we’d managed to work things out, and I confirmed that we had.
Because I would have said anything to get the fuck out of that room.
He raped me again and again over the next three years.
Again, this is not the exception. It is the rule. If you go looking, you can find hundreds, thousands of variations on this story. I understand why people don’t want to accept this truth: it’s horrible. Nobody wants to think it is their mom, their sister, their friend who things like this happen to. Better and easier to think that she’s lying or that she somehow deserved what she got. For women, it’s a way of warding off evil. Maybe if I can figure out what she did “wrong” I can avoid her fate. Did she dress slutty? Get drunk? Go home with a stranger? Wear headphones? It is tempting to think that if you are a good girl and do everything “right,” you’ll be safe. The truth is that in this culture, nobody is safe.
Even so, we look for reasons to excuse the rapist, to mitigate the horror. Even in the most cut-and-dried “honest rape” cases, and even in the New York Times, the blame is shifted.
Roxane Gay, in her amazing essay The Careless Language of Sexual Violence, examines the case of an eleven-year-old girl gang raped by 18 men:
The Times article was entitled, “Vicious Assault Shakes Texas Town,” as if the victim in question was the town itself. James McKinley Jr., the article’s author, focused on how the men’s lives would be changed forever, how the town was being ripped apart, how those poor boys might never be able to return to school. There was discussion of how the eleven-year-old girl, the child, dressed like a twenty-year-old, implying that there is a realm of possibility where a woman can “ask for it” and that it’s somehow understandable that eighteen men would rape a child. There were even questions about the whereabouts of the mother, given, as we all know, that a mother must be with her child at all times or whatever ill may befall the child is clearly the mother’s fault. Strangely, there were no questions about the whereabouts of the father while this rape was taking place.
The overall tone of the article was what a shame it all was, how so many lives were affected by this one terrible event. Little addressed the girl, the child. It was an eleven-year-old girl whose body was ripped apart, not a town. It was an eleven-year-old girl whose life was ripped apart, not the lives of the men who raped her. It is difficult for me to make sense of how anyone could lose sight of that and yet it isn’t.
These little things, these seemingly unimportant things like tone and word choice, like hate rags publishing pictures of rape victims, like all of the tiny ways that we, every day, as culture, signal to potential rapists to go ahead, it’s not so bad, she probably wants it anyway, wink wink. That is rape culture. There’s no neutral ground. You are either fighting hard against it—speaking up to defend rape victims, not laughing at rape jokes, refusing to accept the excuses people make for rapists—or you are part of it. Silence abets rapists. And THAT is why I will always take the side of the person making a rape accusation, and why you should too. When the playing field is level, I will wait to be vocal. I’ll listen to both sides, or just stay out of it altogether. But in a world where trying to bring your rapist to justice puts you in line for something that might be more difficult to endure than the rape itself, victims need all the support they can get.