Friday, May 13, 2011

Institutionalised rapists

I'm not talking about the kind of rapists - all too few - who are put in jail for their crimes. I'm talking about the rapists who are protected by institutions at the expense of their victims.

Most people with a sense of fair play might imagine that an institution with a duty of care would try to make sure no one is harmed while inside its walls. And if someone was harmed by another person, surely the institution would do everything possible to help the victim and punish the perpetrator?

In the case of rape, that approach is far from a given.

Take the case of Liz Seccuro, who was raped while at a fraternity party held at a US university in the 1980s. She was left horribly injured after the attack and had to be treated in hospital.

When Liz reported what had happened to the dean of the institution his first response was to ask: "Are you sure you didn't have sex with this man and you don't want to admit that you aren't a 'good girl'?"
He then claimed the university didn't fall under police jurisdiction (a lie) and that the university authorities would investigate.

The "investigation" involved asking the rapist, William Beebe, for his side of the story and accepting his claim that sex was "consensual". No action was taken. It was only many years later, after the rapist contacted her, that Liz was finally able to pursue some sort of justice. Although the sentence Beebe was given was laughably short.

Have things improved since the 1980s? It would seem not, as the recent case of a Texas cheerleader who was punished for refusing to cheer her 'rapist' demonstrates. I've placed inverted commas around the word rapist as a nod towards the law, because Rakheem Bolton was actually convicted of sexually assaulting the sixteen year-old under a plea bargain whereby the rape charge was dropped. Make of that what you will, I know what I think about it.

The cheerleader's protest against her attacker was greeted with expulsion from the cheer leading squad. Her parents, already irate about the way their daughter had been treated, both by Bolton and his friends and many others in the local community, decided to pursue a court action fighting for the teenager's right to free expression.

They lost. Two separate courts ruled against her, deciding that a cheerleader freely agrees to act as a "mouthpiece" for a institution and therefore surrenders her constitutional right to free speech. The teenager's football star assailant, meanwhile, continued to enjoy his heroic status on the school team.

To pour salt into the wound, the teenager's family was then told to pay the school's legal costs - an amount which the school would likely have made from ticket sales to a single one of its home football games, according to one commentator.

When it comes to rapist v. rape victim, it seems the rapist is offered a chance to either escape justice or be dealt with leniently at every step of the process. From the tittle-tattle of those close by, through to the "caring" institutions they belong to and right up to the criminal courts.

In both the cases mentioned above I applaud the victims who ultimately refused to just sit back and accept defeat. They fought. They may not have received the justice they deserved, but at least they tried. Perhaps the next victim who tries will be more successful.

For those victims who don't try - I don't blame you.

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