Finally, Harvey Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison. Although many welcomed this ruling, announced on March 11, the trial that led to that decision demonstrated how terribly difficult it is for women to obtain justice in cases of sexual abuse.
As a rape survivor, and as someone who has supported other surviving friends through poorly done court cases and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I can't help but think of Weinstein as a prosecuted rapist of thousands who walk free in the Street. I wrote this story using a pseudonym to protect my identity since I have not fully recovered.
Weinstein was found guilty of raping two women. Six women testified about their actions and gave heartbreaking testimonies of abuse and rape. Overall, 15 women accused him of rape, while several dozen more accused him of sexual harassment over the course of more than two decades. The fact that he will eventually serve a prison sentence will not return the careers he destroyed, nor alleviate the wounds he left on the bodies and minds of women.
According to statistical data from the US organization National Network Against Rape, Abuse and Incest (RAINN), less than a quarter of cases of sexual abuse are reported to the police (230 thousand, to be more exact). The reasons for this are multiple. These include the inability of many victims to name what happened to them, the fear of retaliation from the rapist or the desire to protect him, which was the situation in my case.
Like most survivors, I knew who the man who raped me was: my partner. He loved poetry and literature. He came from an abusive family but seemed to have overcome his trauma. He studied a college career, liked to go out for spirits with his friends, and force me to have unprotected sex with him, no matter how many times I refused. And although I considered myself a person well versed in the problem of gender violence, the idea that my partner could abuse me was too inconsistent that it took me nine months to distinguish that what he did was considered rape.
Still, I didn't want to report him because it would be his word against mine. Furthermore, she often thought that he “had enough to deal with” due to his difficult childhood.
The obstacles for rape survivors do not end when deciding whether or not to proceed with the complaint – out of a thousand reported cases, only 46 lead to a trial. Why? Part of the answer lies in how inexperienced police officers handle rape cases. Among my friends and activist circles I have heard too many times that the Police improperly handles cases or misplaces evidence.
In addition, there is the attitude that the incompetent officers demonstrate towards the victims, which discourages them from talking about it. Survivors complain that police officers ask them “how they were dressed” or blame them for “going out late at night.” Fear of similar treatment discourages me from filing a complaint.
Within the judicial procedure, the survivors are ordered to recount their torment over and over again, a deeply traumatic and also ineffective experience. When post-traumatic amnesia begins to take effect, many people are unable to recall details very vividly and this creates slight inconsistencies that end up weighing against them. The mental impact can also cause victims to dissociate the emotions of the events, which makes them seem indifferent. This contradicts the image of the “grieving victim who was abused by a stranger in a dark alley,” which is why many police officers do not record the complaints as they do not consider the victim to be credible enough. This particular example was well exemplified in the case of the Marie Adler trial, the story of a poorly done sexual abuse investigation that was adapted for a Netflix series.
Back to RAINN statistical data: a prosecutor will handle nine out of every thousand cases. Of those, only five will go to trial. And of those, 4.6 rapists will serve a prison sentence.
Even when the trials take place, they are not easy: they scrutinize every detail of the plaintiff's life. His “moral”, his sex life, his mental health, his body.
In France, what happened to Sarah, an 11-year-old girl who was abused by a 28-year-old man, was not considered rape because she appeared to be “older than her actual age” and seemed calm. Therefore, the judgment against her abuser was based on whether or not she had given her consent.
Recently, in a trial in Western Europe of a friend of mine, the lawyer defending the accused of raping her said that “since she did not want to tell her boyfriend that she had had sex with another man, she accused her client of rape.” The sarcastic comments by defense attorneys deeply hurt the plaintiffs. For example, Chanel Miller, a plaintiff in a 2016 case involving students from California Stanford University, was accused by defendant's defense attorney Brock Turner of being a heavy drinker and mocked her to the point that he had to leave the courtroom. of court.
Although fewer than five thousand cases of sexual abuse end in a conviction, one in six women in the United States has been a victim of rape at least once in her life. In France, this figure is one in 10; and in Belgium, one in five.
Speculating on these statistics while reviewing your Facebook friends list is a horrible calculation to make. However, a statistical exercise that I have found that people are even more reluctant to do is wondering how many of their friends and family have committed acts of rape. If one in six women has been abused at least once, we likely have at least one rapist among our loved ones. How many have been charged, prosecuted, and convicted?
The idea that rapists are undoubtedly calculating perverts is wrong at best, and at worst very damaging. It is an idea that prevents us from imagining that any talented, kind and generous person we meet could have abused someone in their life.
Meanwhile, the road to recovery is a difficult one. It includes everything from PTSD to depression and eating disorders. The healing process is full of nervous breakdowns, but also of resilience. As for me, and for many of my friends, you don't forget – you just learn to move on and live with your surviving self.
For more information and resources on dealing with sexual violence, visit the RAINN website.