I mentioned a few weeks ago that my current work in progress (the novel I’m currently working on) was inspired by the issue surrounding sexual assault, specifically as it relates to our young people in academic environments. Everywhere I look, it seems I’m being slapped in the face by another story about a young male who has escaped any real penalty or accountability for sexual violence; and I’m trying to wrap my head around it all.
Today’s story comes to me out of Palmer, Massachusetts where an 18 year old high school athlete, David Becker, was convicted of sexually assaulting two teenage girls after a party they’d all attended. Becker and the two girls had fallen asleep after the party on the same bed and, during the night, Becker assaulted his victims. For more on the story, here’s a link from Oklahoma City News Station KFOR-TV.
For his offense, Becker receives two years of probation and — if he completes it without violating the conditions of his probation during those two years — he walks away as though the incidents never ever occurred. In fact, even during his probation, his life doesn’t really change. He’s even still allowed to participate in the sport he loves.
His attorney, Thomas Rooke, argued that a jail sentence would have “destroyed” Becker’s life, saying, “We all made mistakes when we were 17, 18, 19 years old, and we shouldn’t be branded for life with a felony offense.”
Really? So what he’s saying here, in my own interpretation, is that destroying the life of another doesn’t signify as important, especially when that crime was only rape.
Oh, and there’s more: with the probation sentence handed down by the judge, a relieved Rooke explain that Becker can now move on to college in Ohio and a “productive life without being burdened with the stigma” of being classified forever as a sex offender.
Great. So Massachusetts sends their rapists to Ohio colleges now so that they can perpetrate new crimes? What’s wrong with this picture.
Why does our legal system put so much concern into whether the perpetrator’s life is “ruined” by a felony sentence when the crime he’s committed is that of sexual assault? Once again, our young women are proven less important in the eyes of justice than their male counterparts. If this same 18 year old young man was using or selling drugs, committing burglaries or robberies, or actually killed someone, we wouldn’t be asking about how his sentence might affect him emotionally. But for some reason, the crime of rape is considered less significant — less “damaging” to the victim — than other act of felony. Why is that?
Why doesn’t anyone care about the victims? Why is the emotional well-being of the convicted more important than the long-term emotional effects from the crime that the victims will forever carry with them?
All acts of violence have a long-term impact on victims. but let me share with you a little bit about what those long-term effects are for victims of sexual violence. Many of the items on the below list were taken from a combination of RAINN (Rape Abuse & Insest National Network and the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress.
As you consider this information, keep in mind that the current estimate is that as many as 1 in 4 college women are victims of sexual violence. It is extremely likely that you know at least one victim of sexual assault, even if it hasn’t been brought to your attenition. They are your mothers, grandmothers, sisters, daughters, granddaughters, nieces, and best friends. They are the future mothers of our next generation, and 1 in 4 of them have or will be sexually assaulted and will live with many of the following emotional responses for many years to come.
- Persistent Anxiety, often including full-out anxiety/panic attacks
- Mood swings — maybe laughing one moment and crying/freaking out the next
- Pervasive fears and/or phobia
- Depression (not simple sadness)
- Rage – not just against the perpetrator, but against herself and those around her
- Sleep issues due to nightmares or insomnia. Frequently, the victim has recurring dreams that won’t go away.
- Changes in eating patterns, up to and including the evolution of eating disorders such as bulimia, anorexia, or even chronic overreacting that leads to obesity.
- Reluctance to leave house and/or go places alone
- Sexual problems – both in the form of avoiding normal sexual relations and developing hyper-sexual behaviors.
- Difficulty concentrating on simple tasks
- Many survivors turn to alcohol and/or substance abuse to cope
- Many will turn to self-harm techniques to cope
- Some will commit suicide.
- Except in the case of suppressed memories, the survivor will never forget that the assault took place. Never.
So tell me again why our legal system is concerned about the long-term emotional impact of a convicted rapist serving time for the crime he has committed. Until our criminal justice system — our judges — acknowledges the severity of the crime of sexual assault, our young women will never see true justice.