Dear Officers: Tell rapists not to rape instead of telling survivors that they have to report.

Dear Officer ,

I don’t know anything about you, your reputation in town, your previous efforts towards changing the way officers advocate in their work with survivors of sexual assault. I want to assume your best intentions. Your presence at this event makes me sure you are an ally to our community and I sincerely thank you for all that you do, each and every day. Your sincere acknowledgement of the survivors’ stories was respectful and admirable.

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However, in the same breath that you said “Officers don’t blame survivors for being sexually assaulted”, you sympathetically stated: “I just wish you had come to us.” A survivor on the panel responded emphatically that she had no interest, at the time, in being in the same room as her perpetrator, just the thought made her physically ill. We need to question our reporting systems — not survivors’ decisions to engage with them.

I want you to know that despite what you think justice, accountability, or healing look like, each survivor has her own needs and wants and to suggest that reporting to the police after a survivor speaks out is a reflection of our society’s narrow view of justice after sexual violence: sending the perpetrator to prison. To suggest that a survivor should have done something differently can be re-traumatizing. Survivors are inundated with messages of blame from family, friends, and the media; survivors have to deal with an incredible level of scrutiny of their actions. Your well-intentioned comment suggests that the survivor did something wrong, could have “survived” better, or perhaps that she did not “get justice” for herself.

When “even survivors who do report to the police are often abandoned by the system. Only a quarter of all reported rapes lead to an arrest, only a fifth lead to prosecution, and only half of those prosecutions result in felony conviction,” it’s understandable why survivors might decide not to go to the police.

I’m confident you want what’s best for every survivor. Next time you have the opportunity to hear a survivor volunteer to share her story to educate allies and police officers, remember: your words are powerful. The language and sensitivity the police department adopts when working with survivors of sexual assault matters. Both in terms of your overall effectiveness in demonstrating compassion, as well as impacting survivors who might someday decide to come to the police for help. Lastly, as a leader in your department, please ensure that next time there’s an “Empowerment Victims” event, there are more than 2 men in the room.

In her article on Feministing, Wagatwe Wanjuki concludes: “What I am saying is that we need to respect individual survivors and their decisions in this very personal, difficult process. Just as pro-choice advocates call on legislators to “trust women,” I advocate for us to trust survivors of violence. Why can’t we trust women (and survivors of all identities) to know what is the best way for them to heal?”

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With appreciation,

Jocelyn

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter…in the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

http://america.aljazeera.com/watch/shows/america-tonight/articles/2014/5/19/why-college-rapevictimsdonatgotothepolice.html

http://feministing.com/2014/04/11/stop-telling-survivors-they-must-report-to-the-police/

http://knowyourix.org/why-schools-handle-sexual-violence-reports/

http://www.vox.com/2014/12/10/7368829/rape-statistics

http://mic.com/articles/115366/we-have-to-stop-telling-survivors-it-s-their-duty-to-report-sexual-assault

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“Stop Sexualizing Us.”

Today I met with my teenaged female client for our third to last session. We are wrapping up a project (Dear Me Campaign) we’ve been working on for the past several weeks. I was already tearing up because she wrote the most inspiring letter to her future self. The themes were: remembering how loved she is, the importance of being herself, recognizing her resiliency, and a declaration of her strength and power without a man. I nearly balled my eyes out-I am so proud of her and in awe of her wisdom and perspective at such a young age AND in the midst of incredibly difficult circumstances.

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Just this week she returned to her middle school after almost two months at another school and hospitalizations. Bored in the library with her best friend, she decided to finally make the flyers about dress code that she’d been talking about for months. The poster is of an image of a girl’s body with marker writing: Stop censoring my body. 

Stop Sexualizing Us!

We want the freedom to wear what we want! Tank tops, shorts, etc. should be allowed! Stop sexualizing us women for what we wear. I will fight for my women! I don’t care if I get detention or not, I will stick up for our rights. And if you have a problem with that, then so be it!

She went on to tell me that when she showed her older sister, she gave her a high five and was proud of her. However, when she showed her mom (who is from Pakistan) she gave her a “mean look.” My client said she didn’t care and wasn’t going to let that stop her. We went on to talk about her plan of action and she mentioned she knows the counselor at the school is into feminism and perhaps could be an advisor to a club she might start.

I hope as I reflect on my last few sessions that I find the words to describe how much I’ve learned from her. I know that her Dear Me video WILL change lives and I am so grateful to have had the privilege to work with her these past 9 months. About a year ago she courageously sought support by creating a video about how bullying was making her feel suicidal. Now, she’s on mission to inspire others to accept themselves.