FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

How to Rape Get Away With It

by CAROL NORRIS

Dear Connecticut Supreme Court Judges:

As they say in my birth state of Texas: bless your hearts.*

In case you’ve expunged your recent ruling from your memory, here’s a recap:  You overturned a sexual assault conviction because the survivor, a woman with severe cerebral palsy, did not, in your estimation, clearly communicate her non-consent during the assault because even though she is unable to speak and is capable of very little body movement, she could still “bite, kick, scream, and gesture” her lack of consent, and purportedly she did not.  In your opinion you state you were not “persuaded that the state produced any credible evidence that the [victim] was either unconscious or so uncommunicative that she was physically incapable of manifesting to the defendant her lack of consent to sexual intercourse at the time of the alleged sexual assault,” which Connecticut law requires.

Wow.  Okay.

First, I do not want to injure this woman further by stereotyping those with disabilities as being unable to function.  I don’t know her, so I don’t know her abilities.  But what I do know is that regardless of her abilities, your honors and those who crafted the Connecticut law clearly don’t know squat about sexual assault.  Or trauma.  In fact, I’m wondering if the lot of you took a weekend assessment workshop at The Todd Akins School of Legitimate Rape.

As deeply and importantly qualified as Mr. Akin is to speak on behalf of women and the sexual assault community, I think it might not hurt if you had some additional schooling.  Good news!  I’m a psychotherapist who not only works with sexual assault survivors, but I do trainings on trauma.  So, pull up some chairs – er, a bench – and listen up.

As I said, it’s been my great privilege to work with sexual assault survivors for many years in my private practice. (I’ve also worked with a few perpetrators.) I’ve trained folks who volunteer to work with sexual assault survivors, many survivors themselves, and I’ve been a consultant at a rape crisis center.  I’ve worked the phones on rape crisis hotlines, and I’ve also worked as a crisis advocate, meeting a person in the ER who has just been sexually assaulted to provide support and advocacy, if s/he wishes.

I’ve heard countless stories – brave, horrific, heart-wrenching, inspiring, humbling, outraging stories.  Stories of all kinds of women and how they coped and survived during and after their assault. (Yes, as it turns out, it’s been mostly women, but I’ve worked with survivors and perpetrators of varying genders and sexual orientations.  For the sake of brevity and as it is in the Connecticut case, I’ll assign “she” to survivors and “he” to perpetrators.)

There are many survival skills that kick in during an acutely traumatic experience, but generally we’ve heard of “fight or flight.”  Most of us can imagine what fighting our way out of a traumatic incident might look like.  And, flight is also easy to imagine – getting the hell out of the situation if you physically can.  But, if you physically can’t leave, fleeing can also look like dissociation, which is “checking out” or “leaving your body.”  It can happen unconsciously or consciously.  Thank goodness we all have the ability to do it, whether we have or not.  It’s our brain working to protect us from trauma.  It saved the sanity of many people who physically survived the atrocities of the Nazi concentration camps.  Some folks created whole worlds to live in while their bodies endured sheer hell.  Go brain!  (Ever been driving in your car and realize you’re five exits farther than when you were last aware.  Congrats.  You’ve dissociated.)   Folks can sometimes lie immobile and physically unreactive during this very helpful survival mechanism.  Because they dissociated rather than fought, does this mean these trauma survivors consented to their atrocities?  Please.

There are also the skills of freeze and appease.  I’ll touch on freezing, as it also seems like the opposite of the fighting you judges and CT lawmakers are looking for, but, again, it’s not.  Remember how a mouse plays dead when a cat attacks?  That’s freezing.  Because the mouse doesn’t fight back, does this mean the mouse wants to be cat food?  Uh no.  Does its motionlessness mean the mouse isn’t actively doing something to save its life.  Hardly.  It means it instinctively knows how to use a survival strategy to reduce the cat’s stimulation, and therefore, hopefully, make the cat less interested in maintaining the attack.  There is more than one way to skin a cat.  And a perpetrator.

Fight, flight, freeze, appease, whatever – there is no right or wrong or better or worse or healthy or unhealthy or more adaptive or less adaptive method.  All these survival strategies can work.  Or not work.  They’re spontaneous approaches or unconscious in-the-moment reactions, not evidence of pathology or consent.  (Read that last sentence again.)  And they’re not fixed or prescriptive.  Each assailant is an individual and each survivor is an individual.  It’s a tricky combination.  And nobody, Connecticut Supreme Court dudes, not me, not you, not your daughters or sisters or neighbors – nobody knows how they’ll react to a sexual assault until it happens.  Nobody.  And to think the only way to respond to sexual assault is to fight shows your ignorance of the range of these survival strategies and of the human psyche.  Same goes with those Connecticut lawmakers who created the law you’re interpreting.  This makes all of you, in my opinion, ill-equipped to comment or rule on this issue with any authority.

Moreover, even if a survivor doesn’t fight, not because of a survival strategy, but because she had absolutely no clue what the hell to do in the frenzy of those unspeakably horrifying, surreal moments, and was rendered motionless or voiceless, what’s your point?  That it means she wasn’t raped?  Are you serious?   Come with me to the ER bedside of someone who was just sexually assaulted and didn’t fight her assailant in the ways you deem significant and tell her you aren’t sure she was just raped.  I dare you.

I’d say your ruling adds horrific insult to indescribable injury.  But, what it truly does is add assault to assault – you’ve unleashed your damaging power on someone less powerful than you (or someone you’re trying to make less powerful than you), which is what sexual assault is.  It’s about power, not sex.  I can say pretty confidently that your ruling has greatly injured this woman and those who love her.  And you’ve injured all sexual assault survivors, regardless of how they responded in the moment to their attacker.  I’ve heard from many of these folks since your ruling.  Some are re-triggered.  Some are flabbergasted.  Some are feeling devalued (again).  All are furious.

Rulings such as this, the “whore/Madonna” mixed messages women receive on a daily basis, the thinly-veiled “boys will be boys” ethos, and the seemingly off-the-wall comments said in all-seriousness by folks like Akin and Chuck “Women Can’t Tell for Themselves What Rape is or What is Part of ‘Normal Relations in a Marriage’” Winder evidence the unsurprising fact that patriarchy is alive and well in our culture and in many of our institutions, including our courts.

If you’re about to jump on the “feminist as man-hater” soapbox, I say, enough with the subterfuge.  Seriously.  Women can detest inequity and not hate men.  Welcome to the nuances of the vast, complex worlds of the psyche and our society.

Thanks for letting me approach the bench, your honors.  Speaking of approaching you, if folks want to be sure to clearly communicate to you that they don’t consent to your offensive, clueless, patriarchical BS, do they need to bite, kick, scream, or gesture, or would an email be sufficient?  Let me know.  I’ll pass it on.

Thanks,

Carol Norris

*So the deal is, when you say, “bless your/their heart” to or about someone you can say whatever you want and still remain your lovable self because, well, you’ve just blessed them.  An example: “They’re complete misogynist jackasses, bless their hearts.”  See how well that works?

Carol Norris is a longtime political organizer, activist, freelance writer, psychotherapist, and one of the millions and millions upon millions of women and men who know what consent is.  And what it isn’t.

If you have been sexually assaulted, get support! Call RAINN, a confidential national sexual assault hotline that will connect you with local support 1.800.656.HOPE.  (This writer is not affiliated with them in any way.)

 

 

 

 

Carol Norris is a psychotherapist, freelance writer, and longtime political activist.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
Stavros Mavroudeas
Blatant Hypocrisy: the Latest Late-Night Bailout of Greece
Arun Gupta
A War of All Against All
Dan Kovalik
NPR, Yemen & the Downplaying of U.S. War Crimes
Randy Blazak
Thugs, Bullies, and Donald J. Trump: The Perils of Wounded Masculinity
Murray Dobbin
Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of Globalization?
Daniel Falcone
Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, an Interview with David Hilfiker
Gloria Jimenez
In Honduras, USAID Was in Bed with Berta Cáceres’ Accused Killers
Kent Paterson
The Old Braceros Fight On
Lawrence Reichard
The Seemingly Endless Indignities of Air Travel: Report from the Losing Side of Class Warfare
Peter Berllios
Bernie and Utopia
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
Indonesia’s Unnatural Mud Disaster Turns Ten
Linda Pentz Gunter
Obama in Hiroshima: Time to Say “Sorry” and “Ban the Bomb”
George Souvlis
How the West Came to Rule: an Interview with Alexander Anievas
Julian Vigo
The Government and Your i-Phone: the Latest Threat to Privacy
Stratos Ramoglou
Why the Greek Economic Crisis Won’t be Ending Anytime Soon
David Price
The 2016 Tour of California: Notes on a Big Pharma Bike Race
Dmitry Mickiewicz
Barbarous Deforestation in Western Ukraine
Rev. William Alberts
The United Methodist Church Up to Its Old Trick: Kicking the Can of Real Inclusion Down the Road
Patrick Bond
Imperialism’s Junior Partners
Mark Hand
The Trouble with Fracking Fiction
Priti Gulati Cox
Broken Green: Two Years of Modi
Marc Levy
Sitrep: Hometown Unwelcomes Vietnam Vets
Lorenzo Raymond
Why Nonviolent Civil Resistance Doesn’t Work (Unless You Have Lots of Bombs)
Ed Kemmick
New Book Full of Amazing Montana Women
Michael Dickinson
Bye Bye Legal High in Backwards Britain
Missy Comley Beattie
Wanted: Daddy or Mommy in Chief
Ed Meek
The Republic of Fear
Charles R. Larson
Russian Women, Then and Now
David Yearsley
Elgar’s Hegemony: the Pomp of Empire
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail