July 6, 2011 / Law & Justice, Safety

The Public Face of Rape


The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and not necessarily those of The New Agenda.

Image and statistics provided by RAINN

In an article published by The Daily Beast titled The Problem with Rape Prosecutions, Alan Dershowitz, a writer and law professor at Brooklyn College suggests that one of the ways the Dominique Strauss-Kahn rape case went wrong was that the woman allegedly raped by him was not publicly outed. If she had, then those who knew her — neighbors, friends, family — could have revealed personal information about her that the prosecutors and defense attorneys did not discover until it was too late. According to Dershowitz,

It is absolutely critical that rape be treated like any other crime of violence, that the names of the alleged victims be published along with the names of the alleged perpetrators, so that people who know the victim or know her reputation can come forward to provide relevant information … By withholding the name of the alleged victim while publishing perp photos of the alleged assailant, the press conveys a presumption of guilt.

In this way, the faces of both the assailant and victim should be publicized. It’s only fair, right? Wrong.

Dershowitz’s voice is not only a man’s voice articulating his position that women allegedly raped must prove their veracity by publicly exposing their faces and their stories, but also the antiquated voice of male privilege that denies the claims of women over the claims of men. Grant it, some men are falsely accused of sexual assault by women who are out for money, vengeance, or shame, but this does not mean that all women who cry rape do so out of vindictiveness or greed, or any other self-serving reason. According to Bruce Gross‘ article on false rape accusations, the FBI has reported that only 8% of rape accusations are either false or unfounded. But as he also points out, because rape is such a complex issue and 60% of actual rapes go unreported (RAINN), not enough research has been conducted on the subject.

The point is, we cannot condemn and crucify every rape victim for the falsehoods of a few. The ¬†justice system is already set up to favor the alleged perpetrator; proof of rape is the victim’s burden. She is guilty of falsely accusing her rapist from the moment she claims, “He raped me.” A rape victim must sit in court and have her dress, her face, her walk, her sexual history, and her proclivities, if any, to alcohol, flirtation, lingerie, and dating patterns exposed as if she were the criminal being judged, not the victim whose body was violated. To then plaster her pictures and bio and history on television shows and news, as Dershowitz recommends, ¬†is a double assault. Reminiscent to George Orwell’s 1984, he proposes inviting Big Brother into the private lives of women who were actually attacked.

What he suggests is that a raped woman should be publicly as well as privately raped. Not only does she have to bear the assault of a rapist upon her body, feeling the powerlessness and shame that this act enforces, that this perpetrator forces upon her, but she also has to become the public face of rape. She not only has to speak of the atrocities committed against her to strangers — police officers, lawyers, judges, and jurors in a closed court room — but then, like Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne, she has to also stand on an open and public platform with the scarlet “R” stitched to her dress, a symbol, a cautionary tale for other women to know exactly what will happen to them if they dare point the finger at a man who raped her unless she had his DNA preserved and ready for the forensic criminologists to confirm her story.

With Professor Alan Dershowitz at the helm of his law courses, teaching this kind of male-privileged and short-sighted ideologies on rape and rape victims to the younger generation of lawyers, and then writing about it for public consumption, it is no wonder that only 60% of rapes are ever reported. It is no wonder that women and children and 10% of men who apparently do not report sexual crimes committed against them remain silent. They don’t feel safe. They know they will be accused and stand trial for the crimes committed against them.

There is no justice for raped victims with this approach. No justice at all.

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