Monday, April 19, 2010

Rape Victims: Who Cares?

As an advocate and activist, I find myself constantly reminding people that people choose not to report rape/sexual assaults (and may even change their mind down the road) for a number of reasons. While crime dramas can sometimes do a great job portraying how things maybemightsometimes go down, there are a lot of situations that aren't necessarily as "ideal" as TV makes them to be. I'm not going to jump on my "the police aren't your friends" soapbox because I have a confused relationship with the law: I've disclosed being a Detective's kid, and I've also butt heads with several police officers (that know him!). I've read about tensions between Black people and the police, and I've even seen police in my current city go overboard (leave it to me to relocate to South Central, lol). I mean, even my Detective father instructed me on dealing with the local police upon moving because of their heavy-handed reputation. With that said, I have also found myself having to remind all people of this fact: the images that you see on television are for entertainment - they are not real. In other words, the smart, witty, passionate, hardworking detectives you see on Law and Order: SVU are not real people; not every police officer you encounter will have the same caring-"we're-gonna-get-the-bad-guy"-attitude. I am not completely of the opinion that, as a member of the Black community, the support of the police is always lesser. Yet, the Black community minimizes contact with police on a number of issues and a main issue is sexual assault. Sexual Assault Awareness Month fact: 60% of rapes go unreported. With the knowledge that Black women are compounded with the tension of race and the police, can you imagine the statistic for Black women who are sexually assault?

I've had the pleasure of collaborating with the police in combating sexual assault and advocating for victims. I've met SVU detectives that I felt should be in a different line of work. On one occasion, I was advocating for an 18 year old Black lady that had been sexually assault by a way older family friend. She told me that the investigating detective, a white woman, told her that it was her fault she was raped. Ideally, the police would work together with advocates and, maybe sometimes, they do; yet, it is difficult to bridge the gap when there are few Black women advocating (because of the inherited silence on the matter) and when young Black women are being told by the police that there would be no investigation on their attack - proof or not - because of something they did to perpetuate the attack.

I browsed this article on Alternet a couple of days ago, and my attention was redirected to it last night by my good friend Rippa (check out his blog: The Intersection of Madness and Reality). The story is, unfortunately in my experience, not uncommon: young woman drugged and date raped, goes to police, is given the run around, and ultimately, not believed by the authorities. Further, the authorities try convincing her that she was drunk (when she was drugged!). This happened to a student of an HBCU, so if you assumed she was a young white girl by default, figure race into the equation. Now, read on, The Story of the Night Hannah Was Not "Officially" Raped:

April 17, 2010

On Saturday, Dec. 9, 2006, Hannah* woke up in her Howard University dorm room with a piece of her life missing. Hannah, a 19-year-old sophomore, had unexplained pain in her rectum and hip. Her panty liner, which she had worn the night before, was missing. Vomit dotted her gloves and coat. Her friend Kerston lay beside her in the skinny dorm room bed. Kerston told Hannah not to shower -- they had to go back to the hospital to secure a rape kit. That weekend, Hannah claims that she was provided the following excuses for why she could not receive a sexual assault medical forensic examination: She was drunk; she ate a sandwich; she was a liar; she didn't know her attacker's last name; the police had to authorize the exam; she was outside the hospital's jurisdiction; she wasn't reporting a real crime; she was blacked out; she changed her story; her case was already closed.

The article continues:

"We think she's been raped," Kerston and Sade informed an orderly as they dragged her into the hospital. Hospital officials handed Sade some paperwork to fill out on Hannah's behalf. In the box indicating the reason for the ER visit, Sade testifies that she wrote, "raped, possibly drugged." A nurse sat Hannah down and took her blood pressure. Hannah threw up on the floor. Kerston and Sade helped to clean it up off of the ground. The nurse put a vomit bag in Hannah's hands. She was incoherent and barely conscious. She threw up into the bag. According to the girls' testimony, when a doctor finally saw Hannah, she determined that she was too incoherent to consent to receive a rape kit, because she couldn't verbally confirm that she had been raped. According to the girls, the doctor told them to take Hannah home, let her sleep it off, make sure she didn't shower, and then return to Howard University Hospital for a rape kit the next day. When the girls begged the doctor to treat Hannah's symptoms of sexual assault and drugging, the girls claim that the doctor told them to leave the ER. (The doctor testified that she informed Hannah's friends that they would have to wait six to eight hours before Hannah was treated, and that the girls chose to leave the hospital without treatment). When Kerston and Sade took Hannah back to her dorm, she threw up again.

This incident is also in my new location, and I have to catch myself from saying what should have happened since I am a newbie to the area. However, where I used to live, this is what, ideally, would have happened: immediately taken to triage based on the symptoms, an advocate from the local sexual assault agency called, and then, if the victim indicates, the police will be called. It should happen in that order (if the victim is over 18 years old) because of (new) blind reporting legislation that allows the victim, as long as there are no sustained injuries, to decide whether or not she would like to press charges. The advocate should arrive before a rape kit is done to ensure procedure is followed, the support the victim, and to serve as a liaison between the hospital and the victim. I am of the opinion that if any of these links are missed, if any part of the protocol is skipped, then it falls apart at the interest of the victim.

There are so many organizations in this area that advocate for victims and, from what I've heard, they do a wonderful job. What happened to "Hannah" this night was a complete disaster on so many fronts beyond the physical and mental trauma associated with being sexually assaulted; "Hannah" faced every rape victims fear: not being believed or treated fairly and, ultimately, being punished for her victimization.

Be Righteous.

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