In our “rape culture” (a culture in which rape is common, almost encouraged by our attitudes about sexuality and gendered behavior and more often than not, unpunished), rape victims are often vicitimized repeatedly: by the initial assault, by blame and accusations that they may face if and when they report the crime and when attempting to discuss the attack with loved ones and, for many, during the trial. This can create lasting damage that is worse than the original rape. The most damning revicitimization may occur, however, when a rapist is acquitted.
With the news that former Denver Broncos cornerback Perrish Cox was acquitted of sexual assault charges last week , another case popped into my mind: the acquittal of two NYPD cops for rape just last year. In both cases, the alleged rapists were acquitted; And in both cases, justice for the victims (who have remain adimant about the validity of their charges) seems impossible.
In Cox’s case, the alleged victim became pregnant. A DNA test confirmed that he was the father of the alleged victim’s unborn child. Yet, during the trial Cox’s defense team claimed he never had sex with the victim. His defense also argued the DNA test had been tampered with and the results couldn’t be trusted. The jury returned a verdict of “not guilty.” As with many of these cases, it’s hard to understand what the jury was thinking especially when there appears to be a lot of evidence pointing to the defendant’s guilt. Evidence such as a pregnancy. With the alleged rapist as the father. Despite the fact that he argued in court that he never had sex with the alleged victim. And claimed that the DNA test was invalid…this sounds like the plot to a bad movie, doesn’t it?
Our system of justice requires more than just a victim’s allegation and some evidence pointing to a defendant’s guilt. We require the prosecution prove that guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Unfortunately, in cases of sexual assault, doubt is inherent as soon as a victim opens their mouth.
In last year’s case against NYPD officers Kenneth Moreno and Franklin Matta, the alleged victim passed out drunk in a cab. The driver called the police and officers Moreno and Matta escorted her to her apartment; she claims that one of the officers then raped her. Unfortunately, the victim went in and out of consciousness during her alleged attack and as a result the jury concluded that her “memory” of the event was not enough to establish the defendant’s guilt. Even though Officer Moreno admitted to cuddling with the barely conscious victim when she was only wearing a bra, an admission that still to this day seems completely ridiculous. And yet this admission didn’t lead to a verdict of guilty.
Facts in both the Cox and NYPD cases looked particularly bad for the alleged rapists and still a jury chose to acquit the defendants. Both victims had been drinking and testified that their memories of the alleged assaults were vague. It’s extremely rare for victims to report their rapes to law enforcement. Most fear they won’t be believed. But it’s even rarer for a rape to be reported, make it all the way to the trial stage and the defendant be convicted. Some 60% of sexual assaults are never reported to the police. An estimated 6% of rapists ever set a foot in a jail. Even those victims who are considered “proper” (you know, the ones who weren’t drinking, weren’t dressed “provocatively”, weren’t willingly sexually active unless it was with their own husbands, weren’t out late at night…) find justice in the wake of an attack to be elusive.
When these highly publicized rape trials result in acquittals despite significant evidence to the contrary, it is likely that other victims bypass reporting their attack or going to court for fear of being dragged through the mud only to see their attackers walk free. That’s how our justice system does victims and so long as there is little public outcry about the failure to properly punish rapists, this won’t likely change.