Tag Archives: justice

And the Army Fails Another Victim of Sexual Violence

20 Mar

Seriously you guys, when are we going to get this right?  When are we going to figure out how to deal with sexual violence within the justice system, the military, colleges, our society?  Just now I was sitting at the computer, catching up on training videos for the upcoming Jesolo gymnastics meet when my phone made a little chirping noise.  I got all excited, thinking it was a text message or someone emailing me to offer me The Most Awesome Job Ever on the Face of the Planet but no.  It was neither of those things.  What it was was the following headline from The New York Times:

General Accused of Sexual Assault Receives Minor Punishment, No Jail.”

So here’s the deal.  Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair “pleaded guilty to charges that included mistreating his mistress, adultery and requesting explicit photographs from female Army officers” and instead of any sort of punishment he was ordered to pay $5,000 of his salary for the next four months.  That’s it.  He keeps his pension.  No jail time.  Just a measly $20,000.  What a bargain for assaulting someone.  Here is the meat of the article:

“The sentencing ends a two-year prosecution that highlighted sexual misconduct at even senior ranks of the military at a time when Congress was demanding that the Army crack down on the problem, but which came apart after military lawyers concluded that their chief witness may have lied at a hearing and the judge ruled that political considerations may have improperly influenced the case.”

In the words of my good friend Carrie: MUTHER FUCKING FUCK OF A FUCKING FUCK

So maybe some of you readers don’t think this is as big a deal as Carrie and I do.  Let’s just take a moment to learn a little bit more about this case, shall we?

According to a Los Angeles Times article published yesterday, General Sinclair “pleaded guilty Monday to mistreating the captain. He also pleaded guilty to twice misusing his government charge card to pursue the affair, disobeying an order not to contact his mistress, and making derogatory comments about other female officers.

“A week earlier, Sinclair pleaded guilty to adultery; impeding an investigation by deleting sexually explicit emails to and from a civilian woman; possessing pornography in a war zone; conducting inappropriate relationships with two other female officers; and improperly asking a female lieutenant for a date.”

I like how the article sort of glosses over the situation with the army captain as simple “mistreatment” but we will talk about what that word means in a minute.  What is interesting to me here is that you have this guy, a general, a man of power, who uses this power to ask women out on dates.  That is bad enough in and of itself.  The real problem arises when you realize that he is operating within a system that not only has a very well-defined power structure, but also has a very clear and documented history of not taking cases of sexual misconduct and instances of sexual violence seriously in the least bit.  He asked women out on a date within an environment in which they understandably could have felt that turning the general down could result in unfavorable treatment and that if such a thing occurred, they would have absolutely no recourse because the army does not give a shit about sexual misconduct and intimidation and violence within its ranks.  It is institutionalized.  Given this reality, and the fact that the military is claiming to make moves towards addressing its embarrassing record on punishing actions of sexual misconduct, the fact that his asking women out is not seen as hugely problematic and possibly symptomatic of a larger issue is insane to me.

The original charges, the “mistreatment,” were actually charges of sexual assault and making death threats against a woman with whom he had a three year affair as well as her family.  Sexual assault. Death threats.  All dropped.  And this guy has the nerve to break down in tears in front of a judge, talking about how his family shouldn’t be denied his military benefits because of his adulterous affair.  What about her family and what they endured?  Okay, if that were actually the case I would feel for his family. An entire family shouldn’t be punished because this dude can’t seem to keep it in his pants.  But in the same tearful outburst, he also apologized to his accuser and to the two officer’s whom he pressured to send nude photos of themselves.  Again, a man in power within the context of the US military abuses an army captain and also uses his power to pressure his subordinates into sending him nude photographs of themselves and all he gets is a $20,000 fine?! Give me a fucking break.  I mean, I know that’s some money.  I wouldn’t mind having an extra twenty grand lying around right about now.  But what kind of a deterrent is that?  He is one of a very small number of generals to be court marshaled and, given the information we have about the depth of sexual misconduct within the armed forces, it seems unlikely that that small number accurately reflects the real number of generals who have misused their power to coerce subordinates to perform sexual acts.  It seems like the risk of getting caught are simply not high enough to stop anyone from misusing power for sexual gain if that is what they’re into.

What this is is another example of how we simply do not take sexual violence seriously in this country.  This man is a predator.  Easy as that.  And why shouldn’t he be one?  I mean, take the morals and the ethics out of the equation here.  The existence of a legal framework to try and punish those who commit crimes of a sexual nature against others would be a deterrent if that system actually fucking existed.  And I am not even talking about within the context of the army here.  I am talking about in the wider context of everything.  We simply do not think of sexual violence as being a scourge on our society.  We do not see sexual violence for what it is.  We blame those who are the victims and we, as a society, put up every single possible road block in order to keep people from getting justice for their abuse.  You need look no further than the thousands upon thousands of untested rape kits sitting in storage units across the country.  There is evidence of serial rapists who have gone unpunished because the kits containing evidence of their crime sit in storage units gathering dust.  To think that women and men who are raped and then go to the police to then have an invasive evidence-gathering procedure conducted in hopes that their assailant will be caught and they will have some justice went through all of that for nothing is absolutely sickening.  Thousands of victims.  Thousands of assailants who are told that their crime is not actually a crime, who are essentially, through state inaction, given permission to attack again.  Oh yea, and then there’s the statute of limitations which is up on so many of these kits.  Victims who have to live with their attack for the rest of their lives with no hope of any sort of punishment for their attackers.  What the fuck is that.

And then there are the college campuses.  Read the story of Sasha Menu Courey.  Time and time again we hear about colleges trying to handle sexual assault cases themselves, resulting in the revictimization of the victim and a slap on the wrist for the attacker, if that.  That is if we read about these cases at all.  Most of the time when we hear anything about them it is because the victim comes forward to try and hold their university accountable for improper handling of cases, inaction, or the fostering of an environment that does not address the issue of rape culture.  It is everywhere.

It is everywhere and I think it starts in casual conversation.  This shit is so ingrained in our culture it is amazing.  The number of times I have tried to stand up for myself in public or at my work when someone has made an inappropriate comment to me and I have been told to “relax” is unreal.  I should not have to ignore poor behavior because me calling someone out might hurt their feelings.  You know what?  You calling me baby, telling me to smile, and whispering “God bless you” in my ear as you walk by didn’t exactly make me feel good.  We should be able to stand up for ourselves.  We should not be made to feel as though we are overreacting.  We should not have to justify our anger and hurt and fear.  This case with the general is so upsetting because it is simply another example of people not being held accountable for sexual misconduct.  It is another example of women being second guessed and doubted and told that their bodies are not protected.  Not on the streets, not in college and not in the armed forces.  It is fucked up and it simply has to stop.  When are we going to treat sexual violence, threats, assault, misconduct with the seriousness that it deserves?

This Week Sort of Felt Like the World was Ending

20 Apr

Important!  This piece is me working out some of my conflicting thoughts about what has transpired over the last week.  I hope in reading this, people understand that I feel relieved that the suspects have both been taken off the streets, although I do regret that one of them was killed.  I feel relieved, but I do not feel happy, or celebratory.  What they are accused of having done was undoubtedly horrific.  But I am worried that, once again, we as a society are going to miss a very crucial moment in political time to ask hard questions about why this has happened.  Please keep that in mind as you read.

This has been a really awful and confusing week and I feel, to put it simply, quite conflicted.  When those bombs went off in Boston on Monday I, along with everyone else, was totally shocked.  I had come home from a run to text messages from friends asking me if I knew and if I was alright – some people thought it possible that I was there.  I spent the next two hours in my sweaty running clothes glued to a live stream, hungering for any information at all that would give a clue of who could have done something so horrible, and why.  I know I was not alone.  This week has seen me scouring news sources, reading every single update about the explosion, the victims, the hunt for clues as to the identities of the perpetrators.  I knew that, in a busy shopping district dotted with high-end stores, there would undoubtedly be images captured on video, it was only a matter of time.  And then the time came.

To see the images of these men who were suspected to have out carried out this gruesome attack was mixed.  I was glad that some headway had been made, that there were suspects in mind but at the same time I was sad.  I knew that the attack had happened, I knew that nothing I could think or say could take us back to Monday morning, to a time when these men could have been thwarted or changed their minds.  But seeing them and knowing full well that if they were caught alive their lives would be ruined, along with the lives of so many that were ruined on Monday, made me think:  another two casualties.  Intellectually, I knew it was too late and they would face justice, as they should.  But as a human being, I couldn’t help but think about what it was that inspired them, and specifically, what flipped the younger brother who, by all accounts, had always seemed a good kid.  I felt sad that we, the inhabitants of the world, lost him to this evil.

Thursday was a particularly hard night for all of us, I think.  Information was coming out, but haltingly.  Barely anyone was covering the shooting at MIT.  No one was saying whether or not it was connected to the Monday bombing.  It really felt like, combined with the failure of the background check bill in the Senate and the plant explosion in Texas, the world was ending.  Nothing made any sense.  Everything, everywhere seemed completely out of control.  I waited with baited breath for the next thing to happen, for the next report to come out, for it to be in New York, or DC, for it to be something big.  Thankfully, the thing I was waiting for never happened, it never came.

And then Friday. I spent the day glancing at my Twitter feed, checking the New York Times website, looking up at CNN at work until the second brother, a 19-year-old kid, was found hiding in a boat in someones backyard.  The whole city had been shut down, militarized, and there he was, in a boat on the grass.  And now we’re safe.

But I wonder, are we really? When I wrote my thoughts about Boston on Tuesday, I wondered, among other things, about what sort of security implications the bombing would have for marathons, the spectators and the runners, going forward.  Now that one bother is dead and the other is in custody, now that the imminent threat is gone, I am more worried than ever before.  We have a moment right now where everyone is listening, both domestically and internationally.  We have a moment, right now, where we can have a really serious conversation about why this happened and I don’t just mean why the brothers decided to do what they did I mean why, in a bigger context, what sort of social, economic, political, racial, historical factors might have played a role.  President Obama, in his statement after the younger brother was captured, asked

“Why did young men who grew up and studied here, as part of our communities and our country, resort to such violence?”

It’s a good question.  It’s a big question, and important one.  Probably bigger and more important than most people think at first.  What is it that makes people like the Tsarnaev brothers, like Major Nidal Malik Hasan of Ford Hood, like Najibullah Zazi who planned the failed 2009 attack on the New York City subway system go from seemingly normal, adjusted people to not? At some point we have to stop pointing the finger at them, at Islam, at whatever.  At some point we have to turn the mirror on ourselves.

Think about Sunil Tripathi, the missing Brown student, who was at first thought to be one of the bombers, largely thanks to Reddit.  And then think of Salah Eddine Barhoum who was questioned soon after the bombings.  I can’t imagine the kind of impact it must have on a young person’s life to have their face wrongly associated with such an awful event.  And the impact it has on other young people of color who see this unfolding before their eyes and realize that could have been them, they could have been accused.  I doubt it makes a lot of people feel terribly American.  I doubt it makes them happy or feel safe.

And then there’s this increased use of the suspension of Miranda rights, thanks in large part to the Obama administration, that has been supported by many of the same senators who voted no on the background check bill.

So as I said, I feel conflicted.  I want to know why these brothers did what they did, too.  I want to have some answers.  But I also want to have some harder conversations and I’m really afraid that, once again, we will miss the boat.

Thinking About Jailing the Victim? Here’s Why Not.

20 Apr

This is a post I have been thinking about writing for about a week now.  The idea was to give my rage a little time to dissolve.  As any friends or frequent readers might have already guess, this was an exercise in futility.  On April 15th, the New York Times (belatedly) published an article about a 17-year-old rape victim who was detained in Sacramento County, California (either in violation of, or due to the existence of, Marsy’s Law) for failing to appear at the court case against the man who was accused of raping her.  She was, ultimately, held in juvenile detention for 25 days for failing to appear twice.  The judge on the case deemed that rather than continuing to hold her until her scheduled appearance on April 23rd (almost a full month after she was first placed in custody on March 27th) she would be tracked using GPS monitoring.  Apparently her appearance is necessary because her attacker has been deemed a threat to public safety.

I really don’t even know where to start with this one.  According to the Times article, prosecutors in the case believe this girl is the missing link to putting away her attacker, a man who has a long criminal record including one prior rape.  Fair enough.  But ultimately that decision, whether to go through the strains of a trial, should be in the hands of the victim and not the criminal justice system.  As my friend Carrie said in a recent conversation, it should not be about justice, it should be about her justice.  Having been the victim of assault myself, as many women have been and, unfortunately, will be, I can understand her apprehension about coming forward.  I never told anyone what happened because I was afraid it was my fault.  I felt embarrassed and ashamed.  I, also, was 17.  Now, 11 years later, looking back on it I wish I had come forward and said something.  Who knows what this person did later.  Who knows whether his actions escalated.  Who knows whether by my coming forward I could have helped save someone else from experiencing the same thing I did.  The thing is that when I was 17 I wasn’t the same person I am now, at 28.  I was more concerned with healing myself, moving forward with my life, my freshman year at college, than I was with holding him (offiicially) responsible for his actions.  Come to think of it, I don’t think I even fully recognized, or named, the assault for a long time after it occurred.  Sure, the thought of seeing that person again, with whom I had a lot of friends in common, made me really uneasy but I don’t think I truly knew why that was.  I blocked it out and it took a number of years before I had the courage to admit to myself what had happened.  And again, I felt a sense of shame.  I was a strong woman, an independent woman, I shouldn’t have allowed this to happen.  But the thing is, it had nothing to do with how strong or independent I was, and I certainly didn’t let it happen (or “ask for it” which seems the common vernacular).  It had nothing to do with me as a person at all, really.  It had to do with his power and my, simply by being born a woman, lack thereof. It had to do with the society in which he and I were both raised.  My point here is that I understand the desire the prosecutors have to put this man behind bars.  He is a reprehensible human being.  But putting the responsibility for the safety of an entire community, and the possible punishment of a career criminal, on the shoulders of a young woman who likely feels responsible for her own assault is just as reprehensible.  She needs to heal, in her time and in her way, she needs support, she needs to either speak out against him or not, she needs to do what she needs.  And, really, she is the only one who knows what that is.  But since they have jailed her, since that has happened, here are some reasons why I find it incredibly problematic.

1.  According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) 54% of rapes and sexual assaults go unreported.  That’s a lot.  They even came up with this incredibly useful, and incredibly depressing, bar graph that pictorializes rape conviction rates.

Convictions

Source:  RAINN

  1. Justice Department, National Crime Victimization Survey: 2006-2010
  2. FBI, Uniform Crime Reports: 2006-2010
  3. National Center for Policy Analysis, Crime and Punishment in America, 1999
  4. Department of Justice, Felony Defendents in Large Urban Counties: average of 2002-2006

If one were to do a risk-reward analysis of the results of coming forward after a rape or assault, one would likely conclude that reliving a traumatic event in front of a group of strangers to most likely not succeed in putting someone behind bars is not really worth it.  It partially explains why so many rapes and assaults go unreported and also might explain why this specific victim decided against reporting to her court appearance the first two times she was required to do so.

2.  It is not, I repeat not, the responsibility of this 17-year-old girl, or any other rape or assault victim, to protect the community from his/her attacker.  Sure, it would be great if she felt compelled to do so and even better if it worked in her favor.  Clearly this man is a monster and shouldn’t be free, but to force a victim to face her attacker against her will is inhuman.  The prosecutors in this case can not know, even if they themselves have been assaulted in their lifetime, what this girl’s life has been like, how she might feel about her attack, the fear she might have of facing her attacker, the trust or distrust she might have towards law enforcement and the justice system.  No one but her knows how she is feeling and no one but her can make the decision as to how she would like to go forward.

3.  Back to the rape report statistics, why do people not have the ability to have a big picture understanding of things?  I get it, the prosecutors want to put this man in jail.  But how about the ways in which this story is going to impact other victims of rape and assault?  Do they really think that by putting this girl behind bars they are instilling any sort of trust in law enforcement and the justice system’s ability to handle cases such as this?  Do they really think that other victims are going to feel safe reporting their own attacks when the possibility they will be jailed for being afraid to appear in court is in the back of their minds?

4.  If you have ever followed a rape or sexual assault case that has garnered national, or international attention, then you will know that the woman is rarely portrayed as a hero for standing up to her attacker.  In our justice system, in media coverage, and in our society she is a slut until proven otherwise.  The victim-blaming runs rampant.  Press coverage, and casual conversation, is rife with questions and assumptions.  What was she wearing?  What was she doing out at that time of night in that area of town?  Where was her mother?  Had she ever lied on any document on public record because if she had, if she was capable of lying then, what’s to make us think she isn’t lying now?  How many sexual partners had she had previously?  Was she promiscuous, or perceived as being promiscuous, in her life?  How much had she had to drink?  You get the idea.  If the victim is not perceived as relatable and trust-worthy then the assault never happened.  She is forced to defend her past, her actions, and her personality as if she is the one on trial.  And then, as if that wasn’t enough, she has to look at examples like Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky in which he is respected and she is still, 17 years later, running away from the image of a semen-stained dress.  She is defined by her assault and he by his accomplishments.  With events like these to look to, who can blame a victim for not wanting to put herself through it?

Maybe it seems as if I have taken my analysis of this specific incident a little too far.  The point of the matter is that no unique rape or assault exists in a vacuum separate from all the rapes and assaults, and official responses to them, that came before.  Every single day women are in danger of becoming victims and, by jailing this young woman, Sacramento County has just taken, on behalf of the entire criminal justice system, a step backwards in terms of its openness to female victims of sexual violence.  We are further silenced, unprotected, disempowered, and victimized because of actions such as this.  And now this young girl has yet another trauma to overcome, the trauma of her own incarceration.