Monday, September 21, 2009

Alternate Perspectives

Update on Sexual Assault at Hofstra’s Campus

In order to blog about the updates of this case, I had to take a moment and reflect on the various responses I personally had to this case and what I was hearing from individuals. The first distinction I want to draw is the language used to frame the topic. The initial article had presented the gang rape that occurred as a sexual assault. However, in the article where the female who alleged the attacks stated the encounter was consensual, the article is titled, “Hofstra Student Recants Claim of Gang Rape.” I draw attention to these titles because language is a powerful tool on how we frame a topic. When the assumption was that the case was true, the language framed a brutal gang rape as a sexual assault, which dilutes the act for readers. However, in an article where the female stated the encounter was consensual, it took a harsher tone and actually stated what the female had alleged, which adds to the myth that females allege things like gang rape, for it is such a rare occurrence that they never really happen. In addition, the article painted the female as a criminal where the prosecutor has decided to launch a criminal investigation on her. And for the purpose of the media and press attention, the case has been closed.

Let us look at this case through two different angles and what it means for our policy. Primarily it is a horrible incident for any individual to go through a gang rape. It is also horrible to be falsely accused of being a rapist, for in our society that comes with a lifetime stigma, if one is caught and prosecuted. This is important to point out for we know that only 6% of rapists will ever spend a single day in jail (RAINN.ORG). If one is prosecuted, and is wrongfully put in prison and jail, they are categorized as among the most sensitive populations and are in need of protective custody. If and when these individuals are released, they are placed on sex offender registry for the rest of their life. In New York, a debate is raging on whether to civilly commit sex offenders. What this means is that once sex offenders are finishing up their prison or jail sentences, because they may be deemed to be a danger to society, they can be placed in hospitals and facilities for the mentally ill for as long as the psychologists deem it necessary. Therefore, the result of someone living with the label of a sex offender while they did not commit the crime is very serious. Therefore, any policy dealing with sexual assault must include provisions and mechanisms for handling false accusations of sexual assault, and the rights of the accused. However, this is just one way of processing the Hofstra Case.

Another way of looking at the Hofstra Case is by trying to look at this situation from the eyes of the eighteen year old who stated she had been gang raped. One is a sophomore at college, went out to a party, and is gang raped on a campus with thousands of students. One is still trying to process the events that happened in one’s safe space. And we as students do consider our schools as places where we are more comfortable than we are walking on the street, and do consider it part of our more safe areas to be in. Since Hofstra is a dorm, then one feels a sense of safety, as they may feel around their own neighborhood, or areas one is not constantly looking over their shoulder. One is a student and has been violated in their safe space, not to mention being tied up and then begging five men to let one go, and yet they still assault. The next thing one knows is the media is all over it, the police and the prosecutor are involved and arrests are being made. Police officers and the prosecutor are asking you to repeat the same traumatic story over and over again. They are asking you every single detail. Why were you here? Why did you run after him and not call security? Did you scream for help? Where are the bruises on your arm? How did the men look like? Are you honestly telling is no one was around.

Just imagine being gang raped, and then having to prove to different people that you were actually gang raped. When we go through something very traumatic, are we systematically asked why?who?when?where? Yet, if a victim of sexual assault, whether it is gang rape, stranger rape, incest, marital rape, has to prove to police officers, detectives, and a prosecutor that she or he went through the incident. Maybe the reason she said it was consensual was because she didn’t want to go through the billions of questions. This point is important to note because in any sexual assault policy we have a victim should have the right to drop a complaint if they do not want to go through the process, even if they have initiated it, without the fear that dropping the complaint will equate to being criminally investigated for lying or being categorized as a liar and criminal; for, then we have only continued the same cycle of blaming the victim rather than empowering them.

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