Trigger Warning for descriptions of rape and discussions of rape apologism within the legal system.
On this blog, I talk an awful lot about how poorly victims of rape are routinely treated by police officers throughout the process of reporting their assaults. Sadly, they’re not the only ones who engage in rape apologism and victim-blaming, or decide that a case is not worth pursuing either because the accused perpetrator is such a nice guy or because the alleged victim so clearly wanted it.
Indeed, sometimes police officers do their jobs and properly investigate a rape case, even getting an interview with an alleged perpetrator that corroborates much of the accuser’s story. Sometimes, they do their jobs and recommend prosecution — only to have the prosecutors be the ones to decide that rape really isn’t such a big deal. That’s what seems to have recently happened when two Michigan State University basketball players were accused of raping a woman in a dorm room. The Michigan Messenger reports:
Documents obtained by Michigan Messenger show two high-profile Michigan State University basketball players have been accused of committing sexual assault on campus in August. Despite the allegations, prosecutors have declined to take up the case, and the victim disputes the reasons offered for not bringing charges.
The heavily redacted police report released by Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III alleges the two team members took turns assaulting an unidentified woman for nearly an hour in their Wonders Hall dormitory room late on Aug. 29 and into Aug. 30.
The police report indicates that one of the two players corroborated the victim’s story in his statement to police. Although the MSU Police Department forwarded the report to the prosecutor’s office with a recommendation that the men be charged with Criminal Sexual Conduct 1 — the most serious level of sexual assault under state law — Dunnings has declined to prosecute the case.
In a statement dated Sept. 14 and released on Friday, Dunnings says charging a criminal sexual conduct case “requires the element of force and/or coercion.” He said numerous prosecutors of both genders reviewed the case report and “none could find any of these necessary elements.” The police report and statements by the victim suggest otherwise.
The article goes on to recount the victim’s version of the alleged rape in detail, before noting:
During his interview with detectives, the one player who volunteered a statement corroborated much of the victim’s statement, the report shows. He told investigators that when it was clear from the victim’s statements that she did not want to have sex, he stopped. However, the other player continued “despite her reluctance and statements that she did not want to continue.” The victim confirms that player’s account.
The player told detectives he was concerned “over the girl’s reaction to the circumstances,” noting she was “timid” and “not aggressive.” The player then admitted to detectives that he understood how the woman believed she was not welcome to leave the room, in part because she kept referencing that the two were “bigger” than her.
The player then said a second time that he stopped when she said to, but the other player “coaxed” her into continuing the sexual activity.
The player told detectives that he and the other player should apologize because he felt the two had “disrespected” the woman.
This, folks, would be your lack of an element of force and/or coercion.
Believing that prosecutors could not find these elements requires believing that they do not see suddenly and unexpectedly undressing, blocking the door, and pinning a woman down and penetrating without her consent her as either forceful or coercive. It requires believing that they do not see one alleged perpetrator only stopping when the alleged victim’s protests became “clear” enough and the other alleged perpetrator refusing to stop at all as either forceful or coercive. It requires believing that prosecutors think that force and coercion require something more than clear force and coercion. Even when one of the alleged perpetrators corroborates the story.
Prosecutors maintain that the victim was a part of the decision to not file charges. This would be a legitimate reason for making the call — it’s an accuser’s right to decide to not to go forward with a case, one which I don’t think anyone should try to overturn — if it were true. But the victim has a very different story to tell:
The woman, who spoke exclusively to Messenger on the condition of her anonymity, said that she met with Bouck two days after the assault. The meeting occurred at Bouck’s downtown Lansing office. The victim says the two MSU detectives who investigated her case accompanied her to the meeting, but Bouck asked them not to come in the room for the discussion.
“It’s really hard to actually get a case to go through because there are twelve jurors and to get them all to see it from my point of view is hard,” the victim says Bouck told her. “Then she said she was going to take a defense approach, she started asking me all these questions.”
The victim says Bouck grilled her about whether or not it was possible the perpetrators thought the activity was consensual, why she didn’t yell and scream and why she didn’t run or try and fight her way out of the room. The victim was reduced to tears by the hypothetical interrogation.
“She just kept going, and I was crying,” the victim said. “I really don’t think she asked me if I wanted to (prosecute).”
Yes, that sounds both like the ethical way to prepare a witness for cross-examination, and the ethical way to determine whether or not an accuser would like to go forward with charges.
It makes no logical sense that a victim would discuss the situation with a prosecutor and decline to file charges, only to then go to the media lambasting said prosecutor for not continuing with the case. The number one reason that alleged victims choose not to press charges is because they want the case out of the media, because they just want it to be over. And victims who just want it to be over don’t talk to the press about how badly they want justice. From her statements, it sounds like the accuser is somewhat ambivalent and frightened about the prospect of her case going to court. It also sounds like she’s even more angry that the assault against her was not taken seriously.
In declining to present a plausible reason for failing to take the two alleged rapists to court — the police documents show clear evidence of force and coercion, and the victim strongly refutes claims that the decision was in part hers — the prosecutor has essentially opened the floor to the rest of us to draw our own conclusions. And to me, the most obvious conclusion to draw is that prosecution will not go forward because the accused rapists are basketball stars, and everyone knows that male sports starts get to do whatever the fuck they want to women. To me, the obvious conclusion is that they don’t want to ruin the “good name” of two athletes, all over the apparent rape of a woman who wasn’t even a good enough rape victim to scream.
To me, the obvious conclusion is that the prosecutors think that some things are more important than women having the legal right to not be raped — namely, school spirit and support for the local team.
In other words, it all comes down to the same old victim-blaming, rape apologist bullshit that has been making the rounds since long before I was born.
Decisions about whether or not to prosecute should be based on evidence and facts. And in most cases, getting an alleged perpetrator who is willing to agree with the victim about what happened is as close as you can get to a sure thing. Surely, upon moving the case forward, prosecutors would have had to deal with apologism and victim-blaming from the defense and the jury, anyway. There is no doubt that all prejudice would not be lost, or that no one would feel it was just all a “misunderstanding” or a case of “mixed signals.” But it’s a prosecutor’s job to stand up to those myths, not to lie down and give into them.
In a better world, prosecutors would be among those fighting rape culture on the front lines. In this one, they’re too frequently among those most responsible for reinforcing it.
Thanks to Whitney for the link.