(TW: Discussion of rape, confronting rapists, and law enforcement)
Deciding on how I was going to deal with my rapist has made me feel like an adult in a way nothing ever has.
It was a cold night when we walked to his house to a planned, sit-down monologue of sorts. I had my friends with me; he had his roommate standing off in the corner of the room with him. I told him, only occasionally meeting his eyes, of the absolute pain and destruction he caused when he violently took advantage of me. I told him I hated him. He agreed not to contact me or speak to me in public. I felt simultaneously shaken and firm, clear and disoriented, sitting mere feet away from the man who had become the abstract evil of the earth that ruined part of me forever.
I didn’t have a model guiding me or a book to read with instructions or anything else that would suggest this was a good idea (although now I know that I am not alone in accomplishing this feat). Some friends and my family shook their heads in worry, or suggested that what I was doing was really “nothing at all” and that if I cared about myself or others, I’d report to the police/bash his skull in/make a public mockery of him for as long as we lived in the same town. I had mulled over what would be effective and get me the closure I needed to move on. When I made my decision to confront him directly, and got the support to do so, I accomplished something more profound than I can grasp at this moment. I held him personally accountable.
While this worked for me in my situation and given my personality and history, I come to this knowing that respect for a diversity of tactics is vital when creating communities of support and justice for victims and survivors. These are hard lessons to learn. When I first started out as a rape crisis advocate I did not think there was any hope for justice beyond reporting to the police, and even though I could criticize them as an institution for evils like violence and corruption, I figured they would still help a victim in need. I was proven horribly wrong enough times that I had to change my position. My rage and disappointment and disgust required me to change my position.
The police, in general, fail victims and survivors who experience sexual violence. In my experience as an advocate, I have seen patrol officers and detectives harshly question and interrogate survivors, imply that they were at fault or are making it all up, not follow up on leads in the course of their investigation, dismiss or refuse to collect certain evidence, and say, “it was a he said/she said” more times than I can count. Some victims and survivors don't "qualify" in the minds of patrol officers or detectives because they're not white, or they were drunk, or they're queer, or use drugs, or live in Section 8. District Attorney’s can also choose not to pursue certain (most) cases, and various bureaucratic and administrative red tape and loopholes along the way make it very hard for victims of violent sexual crimes to receive the justice they’ve been taught to pursue in the criminal justice system.
I hope this description does a few things: it can help explain why some survivors choose NOT to consent to evidence collection kits, or seek help from authorities, or “report his ass to the police”. When I made the choice to not report this crime to law enforcement, I did so knowing the system and its players inside and out. I made the best call for my situation according to my experience. There are many people seeking some kind of response to the awful violence they have endured who DO NOT know how the police work, or how Law and Order: SVU has sold them an impossible reality, and may be pressured by others around them to let “the authorities take care of it”. Some others still may KNOW the horrible failings and corruptions within the criminal justice system and still seek redress in those ways, because those choices make sense for them. It is never helpful to pressure victims out of seeking answers from law enforcement because of our political commitments in criticizing the police state. It is horrifying and insulting to call survivors "sellouts" or "sympathizers" because they might consider or cooperate with law enforcement after sexual assault. Remember that some do not even get the choice; this process is initiated for them and without their control.
Attempting to help people after this shift in how I viewed the police required me to learn yet another, harder lesson: that I should respect what others need in times of crisis and inform, but not attempt to persuade. It takes respect that accountability and revenge might be what some survivors need immediately or publicly, but that some go through these processes for different reasons. Some may feel comfortable or uncomfortable with violent solutions suggested by their peers and loved ones, and some pursue violent redress on their own. Some might begin the criminal justice process or some other arbitration process and decide to opt out, because god knows the stress and pressure from months of pursuing some unlikely goal of justice through these confusing and hostile systems is enough to make anyone reconsider. Some might pursue communal responses, or initiate a social ostracization process, or may continue on through life seeking no outward punishment or atonement from their attacker. These are each valid and difficult choices, and best left up to those making them.
As advocates we can educate others about the traps within the criminal justice process, help our communities build better and more responsible alternatives, but should ultimately respect that there are reasons people care for themselves in ways that might not make sense (and may never make sense) to you and me. As an advocate and survivor, making connections between what I know professionally and what I’ve experienced personally is surreal and insightful. I share this with you now in hopes that it helps survivors across communities, and especially those in radical ones, and those who support their efforts to seek justice and healing.