Metropolitan Digital

The Conversation

  • Written by Alesha Durfee, Associate Professor of Women and Gender Studies, Arizona State University

Virginia’s Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax is refusing to resign[1] after denying charges by two women who have said that he sexually assaulted them.

The first woman to come forward was Vanessa Tyson, a politics professor at Scripps College. She initially contacted The Washington Post[2] after Fairfax’s election in December 2017, alleging that Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex in 2004.

The Post stated it did not publish a story[3] at that time because it “could not corroborate Tyson’s account or find similar complaints of sexual misconduct.”

So Tyson’s story did not make national headlines until this week, when it was first published by the conservative blog Big League Politics[4].

The second woman to come forward is Meredith Watson, who alleges Fairfax raped her while they were both students at Duke University in 2000. According to a statement[5] written by her attorneys, Watson told a dean at the school about the rape, and the dean “discouraged her from pursuing the claim further.”

On Feb. 9, Fairfax asked the FBI to investigate their allegations. While it’s not clear that the FBI will investigate, the controversy raises important questions about how the legal system deals with cases of sexual assault.

I am a scholar of domestic and sexual violence[6], and my work has focused on analyzing the stories survivors share when they seek safety and hold perpetrators accountable for abuse. I’ve also studied what happens when the legal system encounters and processes these stories.

What I’ve found is a fundamental mismatch between what survivors disclose and what legal systems need to hear to take action.

Survivors and systems unaligned

Survivors of sexual assault expect to be able to share what they have experienced in a way that reflects how they have made sense of the event and its aftermath.

In contrast, courts want a report that is linear, providing an almost objective, dispassionate accounting of abuse with specific names, dates and “facts.” They want independent evidence of the abuse.

Latest allegations of sexual assault show how the legal system discourage victims from coming forward Activists demonstrate as the Senate Judiciary Committee hears from both Ford and Kavanaugh. AP//J. Scott Applewhite[7]

The problem is, acts of sexual and domestic violence rarely occur in front of other people, and survivors of sexual and domestic violence often have little external evidence of their assault other than their story.

The end result is that systems that are supposed to help are, in general, unable to adequately assess and respond to survivors’ stories.

For example, officers responding to cases of domestic violence often do not make arrests, especially in cases of sexual violence.

In an analysis of FBI data[8], my colleague Matthew Fetzer and I found that only 26 percent of cases of sexual domestic violence reported to the police resulted in an arrest (in comparison to 52 percent of cases of physical domestic violence).

This may be due to the intimate nature of sexual violence and the difficulty of proving sexual assault. As one woman who experienced sexual violence told researchers[9]: “I was raped by my husband. There was no evidence except for bruises on the inside of my legs or the pain on my breasts, and you just can’t prove it.”

Many institutions and organizations make decisions based on stereotypes about survivors that rarely reflect their actual circumstances[10]. That’s especially true with survivors who are not “good victims,” who are not white, middle-class women[11], and who do not have external documentation of their abuse.

For many survivors – especially women of color, women reporting violence committed by perpetrators who hold power or women who experience sexual violence – it’s easier and safer to not report the abuse and pretend that the resulting trauma never happened.

To an outsider, the choice not to report an assault in the moment, or even years later, does not make sense.

They do not understand[12] how survivors compartmentalize in order to survive or even thrive.

Many legal options for reporting sexual assault – such as calling the police – aren’t designed with survivors’ goals, needs and motivations in mind. So survivors do not see reporting as an option, and do not see the legal system as a resource.

Latest allegations of sexual assault show how the legal system discourage victims from coming forward Many survivors of assault are afraid to make reports to the police. Jacek Wojnarowski/Shutterstock[13]

Expecting a survivor to disclose their abuse to someone in the moment does not reflect current knowledge and theory about sexual and domestic assault.

Rethinking responses to violence

The Fairfax story is an opportunity to rethink how to help survivors of violence and how to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions.

In the right environment and with the right support, survivors will want to come forward, share their stories, and gain strength from doing so.

However, the legal system is an adversarial system with confusing and complex bureaucratic procedures and often untrained staff. As trauma scholar Dr. Judith Herman[14] explains, “If one set out intentionally to design a system for provoking symptoms of traumatic stress, it might look very much like a court of law[15].”

Survivors are asked to recall specific details about their victimization that they have repressed in order to survive. As one advocate said to me in an interview, “They’re trying to forget what happened and here I am, asking them to write down, with as many details as they can, what they went through[16].”

How might we create a more responsive system?

First: Stop requiring survivors to narrate their abuse. It’s more detrimental than helpful, especially if we simply discount it as a “story” afterward.

If there is some form of external documentation, survivors should be able to provide that instead. If there is no external documentation, then the narrative should be elicited in a supportive environment of the survivor’s choosing, with trained staff available to help them better understand the kinds of information that judges and law enforcement need.

Second: People charged with listening and responding to survivors need to be educated about the dynamics of domestic and sexual violence. While some are, many do not fully understand the ways in which domestic and sexual violence affect survivors. It is impossible for them to hear and respond appropriately unless they understand those dynamics.

Finally: Explore what believing and supporting a survivor means.

While the words “I believe” and “I support” are critically important, they should not become buzzwords that replace actions. When you believe a survivor and decide to support that survivor, you must act. You must make hard, even unpopular, decisions.

You must work to adapt the system in order to uphold justice.

I believe. Period. I believe.

Editor’s note: This is an updated version of a story originally published on Oct. 12, 2018[17].

References

  1. ^ refusing to resign (www.nytimes.com)
  2. ^ contacted The Washington Post (www.washingtonpost.com)
  3. ^ publish a story (www.washingtonpost.com)
  4. ^ Big League Politics (bigleaguepolitics.com)
  5. ^ a statement (time.com)
  6. ^ I am a scholar of domestic and sexual violence (scholar.google.com)
  7. ^ AP//J. Scott Applewhite (www.apimages.com)
  8. ^ analysis of FBI data (journals.sagepub.com)
  9. ^ told researchers (link.springer.com)
  10. ^ reflect their actual circumstances (www.jstor.org)
  11. ^ white, middle-class women (doi.org)
  12. ^ They do not understand (www.psychologytoday.com)
  13. ^ Jacek Wojnarowski/Shutterstock (www.shutterstock.com)
  14. ^ Dr. Judith Herman (us.macmillan.com)
  15. ^ like a court of law (www.goodreads.com)
  16. ^ what they went through (repository.law.miami.edu)
  17. ^ Oct. 12, 2018 (theconversation.com)

Authors: Alesha Durfee, Associate Professor of Women and Gender Studies, Arizona State University

Read more http://theconversation.com/latest-allegations-of-sexual-assault-show-how-the-legal-system-discourage-victims-from-coming-forward-111406

Metropolitan republishes selected articles from The Conversation USA with permission

Visit The Conversation to see more

Entertainment News

Phish’s 2018 Fall Tour to Conclude with Four Performances at MGM Grand Garden Arena

LAS VEGAS (May 15, 2018) – Phish, the American rock band known worldwide for its dedicated fan base, recently announced a 14-date Fall tour which will conclude in Las Vegas with four performances at...

Blane Ferguson - avatar Blane Ferguson

Dave Damiani and The No Vacancy Orchestra are “Bending The Standard”

Tina Sinatra, Dave Damiani & Landau Murphy Jr. celebrate 100 years of Frank Sinatra in Los Angeles There have been stories about independent filmmakers, but how about the independent big band...

Tom Estey - avatar Tom Estey

Billboard Chart-Topping Saxophonist VANDELL ANDREW Returns With New Single

From the vantage point of 30, his age and the name of his infectious, sensually grooving new full length album, Vandell continues to be fueled by the impressive roar of accolades and achievements th...

Metropolitan Digital - avatar Metropolitan Digital

Metropolitan Business News

How much can you afford to spend on car finance?

So, you’ve made the decision to buy a new car using car finance? This is a really exciting time and you’ll be filled with questions about the best car finance for you as well as how much of your inc...

News Company - avatar News Company

Marketing Impact of Having Online Product Reviews

Whether they are searching online for a service or a specific product, in many cases customers tend to look for online product reviews. They often want to make a comparison to other products or simply...

News Company - avatar News Company

NYC-BASED PUBLIC TELECOM GIANT TCC TELEPLEX LAUNCHES

“TOMORROW’S HIGH TECH DIGITAL NETWORK TODAY” WITH ITS REVOLUTIONARY, MULT-MEDIA AND SERVICES DRIVEN IAP “EVERYTHING” KIOSK The TCC Teleplex IAP Kiosks Include a High-Res 360-Degree Webcam, a 22-...

Thomas Estey - avatar Thomas Estey

HOW TO PREPARE FOR RETIREMENT: Finding and Living Your “It”

The name of my Woburn, MA financial services firm is Summit Financial Partners for a very good reason – because the clients I work with have either reached their retirement summit (i.e. they’re ready ...

Ryan Skinner, Founder and Principal, Summit Financial Partners - avatar Ryan Skinner, Founder and Principal, Summit Financial Partners

How to build a distinctive Brand Voice

Nearly four decades ago, I made a presentation that captured considerable attention in the marketing community. The subject was ‘Brand Voice.’ The concept is widely used today by branding profess...

Alan Siegel Founder and President Siegelvision - avatar Alan Siegel Founder and President Siegelvision

ADROLL RELAUNCHES BRAND WITH NEW COMPANY VISION

AdRoll, the growth platform for ambitious commerce businesses, has today announced an exciting new phase in the evolution of the AdRoll brand for its 37,000 customers worldwide. Recognising its uniq...

Anahid Basmajian - avatar Anahid Basmajian

Holidays

Maya Beach Opens to Tourists

Despite recent reports that Southern Thailand's famous Maya Beach will close for three months this year, in fact no decision to this effect has been made by Thai authorities. Phi Phi Nati...

Maevadi Rosenfeldt - avatar Maevadi Rosenfeldt

SKYN LAUNCHES GUIDE TO THE BEST PLACES TO GET INTIMATE

SKYN®, Australia’s best-selling condom*, today launches its very first SKYN® Places of Intimacy Guide.   Curated in partnership with GQ Magazine and Conde Nast, the Guide features 30 lux...

SKYN - avatar SKYN

Under the Stars with Grand American Adventures

Small group adventure specialist Grand American Adventures offers a comprehensive range of thrilling tours across the Americas, but what really sets their tours apart is the unique accom...

Louise Woodruff - avatar Louise Woodruff