In Alabama you must prove you “earnestly” resisted. In North Carolina, once you start having sex you don’t have the right to stop. And in all 50 states, if your rapist is powerful, wealthy, popular, or famous it’s going to be an uphill battle to get a prosecutor to expend the time and resources to bring charges against him.
Most people don’t realize that when you’re raped, you become a witness to the crime. The district attorney is the one who brings the case against the rapist. If they decide not to prosecute, the only other recourse for a victim of sexual assault is to bring a civil suit. But, watch out ladies, because if you can afford to go the civil route you’ll be deemed a gold digging liar.*
The Bill Cosby case is a magnified example of what’s wrong with the criminal justice system as it pertains to sexual violence. Multiple women made police reports against Cosby over the years but no charges were ever brought against him until just recently. That’s because it falls to the District Attorney to weight the evidence and make a determination if they think they can prosecute. The mantra with sexual assault cases is that they are hard to prosecute because they typically happen with no witnesses, so it’s a “he said, she said.” Sure, I guess, but that fact is also compounded by cultural biases and antiquated laws that make women entirely responsible for stopping men from raping them.
Only in this most recent case against Cosby did the District Attorney decide to prosecute and many argue that she did so because the District Attorney in that jurisdiction is an elected position (not all district attorneys are elected positions) and she made the Cosby case a campaign promise in her election. And even then, as we saw earlier this week, his case ended in a mistrial. Bill Cosby answered yes to the question: “When you got the Quaaludes, was it in your mind that you were going to use these Quaaludes for young women that you wanted to have sex with?” And still, not guilty.
We have a serious problem in this country with how we handle sexual violence–culturally, in our laws, and in our justice system. According to the Women’s Law Project, in the majority of jurisdictions, the absence of force may preclude a sex crime charge. In addition to Alabama; Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, West Virginia, and the Virgin Islands all require a woman to prove she resisted for the act to be legally considered a sexual assault. We know that the majority of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows, and yet our definitions of what sexual assault is and how it is committed remain outdated and is impeding justice for women who are raped and leaving rapists free to commit future assaults on multiple women.
This week started with a mistrial in Bill Cosby’s rape case and ended with an announcement that he will be speaking to audiences of men and women about how to avoid being accused of sexual assault. Besides this being completely offensive and hateful toward all those who accused Cosby and have been victims of sexual assault, it is also unnecessary. Bill Cosby knows perfectly well how to get away with sexual assault, as do the thousands of men like him…maintain the current status quo.
I call on each of us to protest his “talks.” I also challenge you to contact your state elected officials and ask them to take a look at the current sexual assault laws in your state. Is force required? Do women have to resist in order for it to be sexual assault? I’m sick and tired of women being sexually assaulted and men getting away with it.
The next time a conversation about sexual assault comes up and someone inevitably says, ‘that some women do lie and some men are unfairly accused’, tell them sure, there is always the exception to the rule, but in America, men rape women and get away with it. Now… what are we going to do about it.
*In a civil case a victim must retain their own lawyer. Most civil cases are settled with a financial agreement.
For more information on updating state laws pertaining to sexual assault, see the American Law Institute. They have been working to revise the Model Penal Code as it pertains to sexual violence to include consent. This can be handy when trying to change state laws.