Thanks to an aggressive, well-paid defence lawyer, my attacker ended up walking free.
One of my cartoons that, apparently, make me a less credible witness to my own rape.
According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, one out of six American women has been the victim of rape or attempted rape. I am one of those women. I don’t think my story is particularly rare or special. It happens all the time – according to RAINN, a rape occurs in the US every two minutes. And just like 97 percent of rapists, my attacker walked free. I would like to share my personal account of what it is like to file a rape accusation, so if you haven’t gone through the process, you can learn about all the fun that comes with it. (I’m sure a lot of people, unfortunately, already have a pretty good idea of what it’s like.)
I’ll start at the very beginning: In early October of 2010, I went to meet my friends at a bar in Park Slope, Brooklyn. It was around 10 PM. There was a guy hanging out in my little cluster of people who I wrongly assumed was a friend of my friends. He was socialising pretty well with the group, as if he knew a few of us, and I didn’t give it a second thought. I was drunk. There was some cocaine use going on. While I was outside smoking a cigarette, the guy came out for a smoke too, so we talked. I didn't flirt with him – I don’t really know how to flirt, and anyway, I wasn’t attracted to this guy in the slightest. He was about five nine with a thin yet muscular build and looked like he might be of Hispanic or Italian descent. Later, I’d describe him to the cops that way.
There was a disconnected look in his eyes, and at first I figured he was just shy and trying to connect desperately to others through drugs, as many people do. He didn't flirt with me either, nor did he show any romantic or sexual interest in me. He did ask me if I wanted to do a bump of coke in his car, rather than waiting in line for the bathroom inside. His car was right in front of us, and even though I was nervous, I climbed in. As soon as the doors were shut, he locked the doors and started the car. I demanded to be let out, and as he started driving, I told him to turn back and that my friends were waiting for me. He said, “Don’t worry. I’m turning back,” with a stoic expression carved into his face. He didn’t turn back. I kept asking where he was taking me, and soon he stopped responding.
He brought me into his spotlessly clean and creepy apartment where porn was already playing on multiple monitors placed around the room. I told him repeatedly that I didn’t want to have sex with him and that I wanted to go back to my friends. There was no ambiguity about the situation at all. I spent a lot of time pushing him off me. He threatened to kill me. He punched me. He pulled my hair when I tried to get away. Every time I told him to stop, he slapped me in the face. He repeatedly called me a "bitch" and a "whore". He ordered me to shut the fuck up. I ended up begging for my life. I even offered him money if he would just please not hurt me. The worst part of the ordeal was having to look at the massive “666” tattoo on his lower abdomen. I ran away as soon as I felt I had the opportunity to do so. He chased after me.
I didn’t really know what to do about the whole thing. I was scared to go to the police because it’s common knowledge that rape victims are often treated like shit, especially if they aren’t as virtuous as the Virgin Mary. I knew I’d be made to feel guilty about my intoxication, I knew I'd be asked about my misguided decision to willingly get into the car and I already felt guilty and stupid about those things. A friend of mine convinced me that reporting it would be the right thing to do. Her advice was to look “as broken as possible. Don’t wear black eye makeup or dress stylish like you usually do.”
Now, I think I look like I’m about 12 years old without makeup, and it makes me feel naked, but I went to the police station looking sad and makeup-less about 24 hours later. The cops were nice and cool about the whole thing as I filed a report, then I went to the hospital and got a rape kit. Afterward, I was interviewed by a detective who kept asking me about what I was wearing at the time and who told me that this case would probably never make it anywhere because I was intoxicated. Instead of focusing on what was done to me, most of his questions focused on why I didn’t fight back harder and run away sooner. The answer to both was because I was afraid and operating on a kind of autopilot – I never imagined anyone would accuse me of failing to get away.
I went to see the same detective at the Special Victims Unit (the division that deals with rape) a few days later to look through pictures of convicts on their database. I spent hours scanning photo after photo of criminals to see if I could spot my guy. The detective was extremely discouraging about it, saying that it was a waste of time. He kept commenting to his buddies about how I looked like so-and-so from some other police unit – I couldn’t tell if it was a compliment or an insult but my intuition was telling me it was the latter. I was probably being sensitive, but I really wasn’t happy about having my looks talked about, since I was literally searching for my rapist. I could barely take care of basic hygiene needs at the time, let alone look nice for the cops and I told him to please stop talking about my looks. He replied that he was doing me a favour by humouring my iffy rape case, and that if I continued to give him attitude he would just drop it.
A few days later, I got a call from a much nicer detective who was taking over my case – it had become an investigation into multiple rape incidents. Through my description of my rapist’s tattoo, the SVU was able to not only figure out who he was, but also link him to two other women who had been sexually assaulted. Because each incident was months apart, my new detective was convinced that this man was a serial rapist. He seemed to have an m.o. that increased in viciousness and intensity each time. The perp was arrested, and I chose him in the police lineup. During this time, I talked a lot to one of the other girls, who looked like a dark-haired version of me. She even had the same mole above her lip as I do, and like me, she didn’t know his name, just knew that damn tattoo. She had a boyfriend at the time of her assault, and he broke up with her because he thought she had cheated and made up the whole rape claim out of guilt. That dark-haired girl and I testified before a grand jury, and they felt there was enough evidence to move forward with a trial. The third girl, who had filed a complaint months prior, just wanted to move on with her life and skipped the whole process.
Meanwhile I had to deal with the ramifications of my rape that didn’t have anything to do with the cops or the courts. I initially only told a few people I trusted about what happened – I wanted to keep the situation on the down-low, since I was worried people would react in all kinds of ways that would make me uncomfortable. Well, that didn’t work out. Within a few days 60 or 70 people knew, and nobody wanted to hang out with me, out of fear that as a “rape victim” I’d burst into tears unpredictably or whatever. One of my best friends at the time told me she couldn’t be my friend anymore and wouldn’t even listen to me when I told her details about the assault. She said it was too heavy to hear, and claimed that what happened to me had given her post-traumatic stress disorder.
A few family members told me that they were grieving over me, because rape is a “fate worse than death”. Another told me that they were not shocked this happened to me because I was a victim by nature. “Some people are victims and some are predators,” they said. “You are a victim.” Some people actually seemed straight-up jealous because apparently I now had a “valid reason” to be depressed. These were acquaintances who were generally unhappy and they probably felt insecure that they only had minor relationship hassles and shitty bosses to blame their ennui on.
The rapist turned out to be well-off financially, and this was a problem. He got, as my new nice detective put it, a very good defense attorney, who appealed the grand jury’s decision and claimed his client didn’t have enough time to prepare to appear before the grand jury. I was told to prepare to speak again before a new grand jury, and the case kept getting delayed. I called the assistant district attorney handling the case over and over only to get vague answers about why it was taking so long. I lived with this thing looming above my head for a long, long time. It wasn’t until March of 2012 that I was asked to come in and speak again. The dark-haired girl had given up at this point, and no longer wanted to deal with the situation.
It was just me now, and the sexual assault claims of the other women were not allowed to be brought up in court. When I arrived at the ADA’s office the day I testified, the ADA, who was a woman, had a folder waiting for me. It contained “incriminating evidence” about my character that the rapist’s defense attorney had “dug up on me”: cartoons I had posted on the internet, “racy” articles I had published and photographs of me.
One of the black marks on my record was a cartoon blog called Slutclock. The name is a vague homage to the 90s video game White Men Can’t Jump, which was filled with bizarre slang phrases like, “Catch you on the flip-flop, timepants!” According to the ADA, this would be used during a trial to insinuate that I referred to myself as a slut. Other things that were apparently relevant included a cartoon of a blob choking another blob captioned “Happy Violence Day,” photos of me at a shooting range and a picture of my roommate holding a toy gun to my head. All of this, apparently, proved that I enjoyed rough sex. The toy-gun photo I had posted to Facebook because my roommate was making a joke about forcing me to write a summary about an art show that he was curating, and I didn't think there was anything sexual about the image, but the ADA told me that she found that one “particularly unsettling”. Also included were photographs of me in skimpy outfits at the Mermaid Parade and at Halloween, both occasions when nearly everyone in attendance is dressed sexily.
I was forced to defend what I consider to be pretty normal stuff that had nothing to do with that night. It’s not like I wrote a sadomasochism sex column – and even if I did, it shouldn't matter. I’d have preferred to be berated about my drug use, which was at least somewhat relevant. By way of prepping me for the trial we’d thought we’d get, the ADA also commented on my platinum-coloured rocker hair and told me that I should have probably worn a wig or dyed my hair a tamer colour. Then she added, “You do have a good job right now, so that will help give you credibility.”
As it turned out, after being grilled about this stuff by the ADA, it was ruled that the defense attorney couldn’t bring up the photos and drawings in front of the grand jury. It didn’t matter – they threw the case out anyway. They apparently thought I hadn’t fought back enough and I wasn’t bruised enough and I didn’t go to the police soon enough. I wasn’t particularly surprised by the result, but it left me feeling like the judicial system and society as a whole had let me down. I am a human being who wants to experience all that life has to offer and I feel I have the right to do so, as does any man or woman. I shouldn’t have to feel guilty about expressing myself artistically or through clothing. I especially shouldn’t have those expressions of myself thrown back in my face as an argument for why I deserve to be violated. Sure, I put myself in a stupid situation. I get that. But let's say someone was stupid enough to pass out on my doorstep and I decided to stab them to death, just because I had the primal urge to and they were there – I’d be convicted of murder, and rightly so. The victim’s lifestyle wouldn’t come into play at all.
I refuse to feel marked as damaged goods because of this ordeal. I think that attitude towards sexual assault is archaic and absurd. I think many people who have been raped are afraid to talk about what happened to them, but rape shouldn’t be a taboo topic. Some people have accused me of being borderline sociopathic about the whole thing and say I speak of it like someone might talk about eating a sandwich. But I can’t think of it as a catastrophic event. It’s something that happened to me, and I had to numb down the intensity of its effects to make it more manageable – that’s an effect of PTSD. I’m sorry if this is disturbing to read about, but a lot of people have to go through this. To pretend that these kinds of things aren’t happening is a lot more disturbing to me than talking about it.
Gina Tron is the features editor for Ladygunn Magazine and the creative director for Williamsburg Fashion Weekend. She is currently in the process of completing a book. Follow her on Twitter: @_GinaTron
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