Credible Witnesses: ‘The Problem Victims of Sexual Assault Face When Reporting’

WordPress3During a groundbreaking Oscars performance, Lady Gaga gave an emotional rendition of her Oscar-nominated song “Til It Happens To You,” co-written with Diane Warren. This performance spoke out against the rise in campus sexual assault and the troubles that victims constantly face when reporting.

In the midst of a prolonged battle, victims are expected to behave a certain way; act a certain way that makes them the “ideal victim” so their credibility isn’t questioned. According to an academic article written by Melanie Randall, “[t]hese assessments of credibility remain deeply influenced by myths and stereotypes surrounding ‘ideal,’ ‘real,’ or ‘genuine’ victims of sexual assault.”

But, the big problem with the association between credibility and the image of “ideal victims” is that every victim and every case of sexual assault is different.

In a recent Rolling Stone article, Kate Harding, author of “Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture—and What We Can Do About It,” discusses rape culture and how it has defined the way our society responds to victims and their abusers.

Questions and comments such as “What were you wearing?” and “She was asking for it” contribute to rape culture, according to Harding.

“When someone reports a rape, we immediately start investigating that person – the presumption is that the person is probably lying – before we even think to investigate the person being accused,” she said.

One case currently in the media is that of pop star Kesha, who is suing her musical producer, Dr. Luke, for his sexual misconduct towards her. Kesha is facing an uphill battle in trying to break her exclusive contract with Dr. Luke, her alleged abuser. Detailed in her contract, Kesha is obligated to complete a designated amount of albums with his company before being released.

According to many news sources, including BuzzFeed, Dr. Luke’s lawyers are countering Kesha’s claims of abuse by saying that she wants out of Dr. Luke’s contract so that she can sign with another company for a better contract.

Erin Campbell, an associate attorney with Raymond, Coleman, Heinold & Norman law offices who works closely with victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, says that victims like Kesha face challenges everyday in court and in society.

“When you’re in court, you have to use what’s admissible,” Campbell said.

Campbell also says that there is a power imbalance between Kesha and Dr. Luke, which plays into Dr. Luke’s favor. When signing contracts, younger stars often only look at the bigger picture, and that’s where that power imbalance comes in to play. Campbell says that power could make or break a victim’s credibility, especially if the abuser is someone in a position of authority.

Similarly, Chrysanthi Leon, a professor of the department of sociology & criminal justice, provides a historical background into the criminal justice system and its treatment of sexual assault victims.

“What we do in the U.S. comes from what we inherited and brought with us from England and that is the common law tradition of criminal justice of law,” she said.

Leon says that prior to the establishment of the United States, rape wasn’t a crime that could be proven unless there was a third party present; that kind of idea continues to be apart of our culture.

Despite this flawed thinking, Leon said there are things society can do to change the way sexual assault is handled nationwide.

For example, there needs to be more prevention work done on the front end (pre-punishment) of the legal system instead of the back end (after punishment), she said.

Instead of looking for reasons why a victim’s story is believable, there needs to be a focus on how we can re-evaluate the way sexual assault cases are looked at. Maybe then there will be a progressive change towards sexual assault prevention.


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