How Police And Hospitals Shut Down Rape Victims

I always thought if I was a victim of sexual assault, I would report it. It wasn't so easy.

I always thought that if I ever became a victim of sexual assault, I'd say something. I'd be the girl reporting it, sitting on a witness stand and pointing a defiant finger, just like the actresses on SVU. There wouldn't be a second thought or a deliberate pause; I'd simply speak up because that's, of course, what you do.

And then I became a victim of sexual assault.

When the police officer was standing in front of me, a pad of paper in one hand and an overworked pen in the other, and asked me if I wanted to file charges, I paused. Tears were running down my cheeks and my legs wouldn't stop shaking and my best friend's hand, honorable in its intentions, failed to comfort me. The officer had already asked me how many drinks I had consumed. In fact, he asked me on three separate occasions. He had already asked what I could have possibly said or unintentionally inferred, prior to being forced onto a bed. He had already raised his eyebrows and tightened his lips and wrinkled his brow.

And a part of me already knew.

So, I said no. I just wanted it over. I wanted the judgmental police officer gone and I wanted the flashing lights outside the house gone and I wanted this feeling of disgusting inadequacy gone. I wanted to hide under the covers, away from the monster my mother and father had warned me about since grade school.

I said no.

The police officer nodded, almost thankful that I saved him the extra paperwork. He told me I could change my mind at any time. He gave me a case number and a patronizing pat on the back and said he was sorry. I told him I was sorry too.

That night I cried myself to sleep. The covers provided no comfort. Not from the monsters. Not from myself.

The next morning brought clarity and strength. I called the police department and regurgitated the case number and explained that I had changed my mind. I wanted to do my younger, albeit naive, self proud. I wanted to be that prideful, strong, courageous woman pointing the finger and uncovering the monsters that hide in the darkness, for one had found me and I didn't want him to find anyone else.

I went to the emergency room. I handed over my driver's license and told the nurse with the exhausted face why I was there. She turned her head to the side, her eyes trailing to the floor as the words "report" and "assault" left my dry, cracked lips. She called the S.A.N.E. nurse and ushered me to an empty room.

It was there that I was violated again. Only this time, it was on my own accord. I nodded my head and verbally committed and intentionally signed pieces of myself away. I agreed to have body parts examined and photographed and catalogued, transforming my flesh into evidence. I cried as a stranger asked me to show the marks on my left breast. I closed my eyes as the nurse performed the internal exam.

A week passed. I was due to meet with a detective who had already combed over statements and the police report. Once again, I was ushered into a small room. A victim's advocate sat on the couch across from me. I sat next to the detective, who had kind, weathered eyes. He explained his past history with the department, the number of years he had worked with women just like me. At first this comforted me. He knew what he was doing.

And then the questions started.

And then I knew.

I was asked how many drinks I had. I answered honestly. I was asked about any conversations we had shared previously. What did I say? Did I give him an idea that it would be OK? I was asked what I was wearing. Was I inciting? Was I inviting? Was it really my fault?

Was I even telling the truth?

The detective explained to me that women get "confused" rather regularly. He explained that many a woman sat in my chair, defiantly lying until they couldn't lie anymore. He told me that drinking and judgment and embarrassment, even boyfriends, can contribute to a woman continuing to cry wolf. He asked me if this was what I was doing. Was I confused? Was I ashamed? After all, I had been drinking.

I said no.

The detective nodded, almost annoyed that I didn't save him the extra paperwork. He told me he would do what he could, but often times the "he said/she said" cases don't go anywhere. He assured me that even if it didn't, a report would be on record. I guess he thought that would be comforting.

That was almost two years ago. Nothing has happened. The evidence is backlogged and the detective is out of contact and the monster is still hiding.

I ended up becoming a victim of sexual assault, and I did say something. I was the girl who reported it, but I didn't sit on a witness stand or point a defiant finger or act like the strong SVU actresses. I did have a second thought and I did deliberately pause. But, in the end, I did say something.

I said no.

And now, I'm saying no again. I say no to being afraid of a detective behind a desk actually believing you. I say no to a woman being questioned when pieces of her body sit catalogued, collecting dust and indifference. I say no to judgmental eyebrows and dismissive lips and neglectful brows. I say not to the blame resting on the girl sitting on the edge of an examination table. I say no to the burden of innocence falling on the girl with the bruises.

No more.


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