Tuesday , April 16 2024
Our societal barometer is broken.

What To Do, What To Do: The Crime of Sexual Assault

Person X sexually assaulted six different people in the exact same way. Oddly, it wasn’t what X did, but rather the differences between X’s victims that determined what charges X would eventually be convicted of. A separate and unrelated legal matter involving X sheds more light on how we as a society view the severity of X’s crimes.

It’s no wonder we as a society have such a hard time defining and understanding sexual assault. Hell, even the phrase “sexual assault” is considered too vague a term. We prefer to label the assault of every sexualized body part with its own appellation. Even then, our willingness to accept the reality of sexual assault and our understanding of it is so tainted by our collective prejudices that the ways in which we deal with it morphs from criminal to criminal and victim to victim.

BljSZ4kCcAApcqTOur trouble seems to begin with acknowledging a crime has even taken place. We’d rather not think about sexual assault. If we see a dead body with a knife sticking out of it, it’s easy enough to suggest a murder has occurred before turning away. What we don’t suggest is that there’s no dead body. When we see a frightened person donning blood, sweat and tears who may or may not be willing or able to say more than “Someone did this,” establishing whether a crime took place is made more difficult. And some people simply aren’t up to the task.

We prefer to live our lives thinking sexual assault is what happens to other people, where “other” can mean anything from “ugly,” “poor,” and “immoral” to “available,” “intoxicated,” and even “ethnic.” If we don’t acknowledge the possibility of a crime, then no crime has been committed, so no need to drag law enforcement into it and certainly no need to drag family, friends, neighborhoods, livelihoods, and reputations through the court system and front page news.

Our trouble escalates when we’re forced to see that a crime was in fact committed because now we struggle with how big of a deal to make of it. We the people used the differences between X’s victims to determine the degree of “big” we were willing to make, even as the deal was X stood accused of sexually assaulting six people the same way.

For many of us, sexual assault of any kind is on par with vandalism, joy-riding, and petty theft. We see it as someone blowing off steam and something got out of hand. Conversely, we equate murder with crazed, godless, lawless, big, mean, ugly people, so of course murder is real. Hell, look at that torn up dead body; what more proof do you need that a crazed, godless, lawless, big, mean, ugly person did that? But sexual assault is “different” – unless the victim is also murdered, which can be a huge game-changer … well, depending on the victim’s characteristics.

The majority of sexual assaults are committed by those who are known to the victim; and when the accused is someone in good standing with the community, the possibility of guilt is made difficult to entertain because we regard the suspect as a sane, God-fearing, law-abiding person of average height, weight, and demeanor who would never do such a thing. A murder case with no suspect is filed under “unsolved crimes.” But when an ugly ogre from the armpit of society can’t be held up as the perpetrator of a sexual assault, we too often conclude a crime didn’t even happen.

Perpetrators of sexual assault heavily rely on the silence of their victims. It’s often easier to groom those around the victim than it is to groom the victim because society already has a distaste for acknowledging crimes of a sexual nature. And if a victim waits long enough to break their silence, the law is willing to give the perpetrator a pass that in turn confirms the biases of others that essentially boils down to “Get over it already. That was a long time ago.” As long as everyone agrees (tacitly, legally, or by force) to keep it under wraps, it’s a win-win-lose with the only loser being the victim. The majority of us get to enjoy our bliss.

So what were the differences between X’s six victims that would influence the determination of charges? Their genders; ages; proximity and relationship to X before the assaults; sexual orientations; ethnicities; occupations; socio-economic statuses; clothes worn; levels of intoxication; viability of or the absence of reproductive organs; when and in which States the assaults took place. X’s occupation at the time of the assaults was also a factor in determining what charges would be brought.

The differences between X’s victims are as relevant to the charges brought against X as X’s preferred brand of toothpaste. Yet I can hear it from here: Whether X committed sexual assaults on anyone and the nature of those assaults “all depends,” and the differing characteristics of each victim “matter.”

I’m not going to tell you, dear reader, who X is or the details about X’s victims. I would ask you to ask yourself what difference any of that makes. If you think it makes a difference and that the differences matter, you’re in the majority. When it comes to sexual assault, the majority’s barometer is broken and in dire need of fixing. This is best illustrated by what we the people did with X.

It was ultimately determined by the evidence that there had been no consent and/or could not have been consent on the part of the victims and that X did in fact sexually assault each of the six victims the same way. It was also found, however, that the statute of limitations had run out before two of the victims came forward (in both cases, three years). For six violations of the law, X was charged with four different crimes, received four different sentences, and was released from prison seven years after the first conviction. X is currently awaiting trial on two new charges for sexual assaults X allegedly committed less than six months after release. X is separately being sued by a credit card company for unpaid debt, the company having filed just before the statute of limitations ran out; in this case, 10 years.

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About Diana Hartman

Diana is a USMC (ret.) spouse, mother of three and a Wichita, Kansas native. She is back in the United States after 10 years in Germany. She is a contributing author to Holiday Writes. She hates liver & motivational speakers. She loves science & naps.

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