Steady Progress

TRIGGER WARNING:

The following discussion includes the recounting of a rape and an analysis of the events surrounding it.

The other day a good friend of mine posted this story on his social networking page, expressing disgust about the events described. I remember feeling unsettled as I read it. I wanted to feel the outrage that many commenters expressed about the sick injustice of a sex criminal continuing to work at ‘the happiest place on earth,’  but I couldn’t. It wasn’t because I don’t think sex crimes are serious, but because ultimately, the only evidence that a rape occurred was the testimony of one woman.

There was no police report, no rape kit, no conversations with friends immediately after the fact, no obvious social tension between the woman and the man she says perpetrated the attack. Nothing. In fact, her own testimony revealed behavior that seemed to belie her claim of assault. I said as much in my comments (edited for this blog):

Let’s review the facts: She goes home with a guy after a party, reports that she ‘had a good time’ the next day. Subsequently tries to further her friendship with the guy she went home with (to no avail), starts avoiding him, then about two months after the initial party says, “You know that guy who I went home with from that party a couple months back? Well, we actually didn’t have a good time. In fact, he raped me.”

Let me preface this by saying that I am aware that rape, and trauma in general, does crazy things to the brain. Some people repress, others try to bargain (befriending their attacker(s) or changing their behavior to make the event seem less real), some survivors have violent emotional breakdowns and others never lose composure. I acknowledge that there is no “right” way to respond to rape. Perhaps, however, there are more effective ways.

If I were a member of a jury, or even one of this woman’s friends, I would have a hard time ‘taking her word for it’ that she had indeed been assaulted. Her testimony resembles a jealousy accusation. i.e. She slept with a guy, he didn’t want anything more, so she got upset. I find myself wondering if there isn’t a way to teach survivors to respond to sexual assault in ways that make their cases easier to pursue in court, withOUT putting any responsibility for the assault on the survivor.

As long as we believe people are innocent until proven guilty, the word of one person cannot be enough to convict or discipline an individual for any crime. Justice must be driven by evidence, not accusation, and in the case of this woman, her accusations are all Disney, and everyone else, have.

English: A teal ribbon, which is an awareness ...

Teal ribbon, an awareness ribbon for ovarian cancer and sexual assault (Credit: Wikipedia)

Let me be clear, I am not making a judgment about the truth of the author’s claims. In fact, I am inclined to believe her given her decision to go public. I want to see rapists and molesters prosecuted and held accountable for their crimes, but those who call for blood every time a rape accusation is made may actually hurt the very people for whom they advocate. Just as false accusations damage the credibility of future accusations bearing any similarity, knee-jerk assumptions of suspect guilt give those with patriarchal, sex-negative attitudes the ammunition they need to dismiss or downplay the severity of sex crimes. “See?” they could rightly say, “[Insert group] doesn’t care about the evidence. They just want to label people as rapists. [Insert ill-informed argument utilizing the word ‘agenda.’]”

American sex culture is rife with victim shaming, victim blaming, and patriarchal attitudes which make it nearly impossible for women to feel secure in any physically or socially vulnerable situation, and denies the existence of adult male rape victims almost entirely. It is important that in the struggle against these aspects of our culture we maintain credibility. The victims[i] of assault don’t need our blind anger, they need and deserve our levelheadedness and critical advocacy.

***

There are legitimate reasons to be upset with Disney. Assuming authorial accuracy, Disney displayed an all too common absence of concern for survivors of assault through their lack of properly trained counselors (the advice of the on-site counselor was beyond unprofessional), crisis team, or other infrastructure equipped to handle sex-related trauma. To me, this indicates an assumption on Disney’s part that sex crimes simply do not happen often enough to warrant their attention. Or, it is possible that Disney simply does not prioritize the sexual and emotional safety of its employees. Either way, in the words of my friend Ismael, the original poster of the article, “to have no clear person to go to is a problem. To have more than one person respond to an accusation of rape with skepticism with no proof to the contrary, much less making any judgment at all since it’s not their job, is a problem.”

Disney’s ill-treatment of an employee is symptomatic of more than corporate negligence. Disney isn’t a particularly immoral company, but simply amoral–concerned not with right or wrong but with profit. The problem isn’t primarily with Disney, but with the cultural climate that allows Disney’s policies to persist. As consumers, voters, family members, students, and workers,  responsibility for that cultural climate lies with us.


[i] Let’s not forget that that many of us, our friends, and our family members are among those who have survived sexual assault. It’s not something that happens ‘out there.’ According to statistics published in 2008 by the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, if you know more than six women or thirty-three men, you know someone who has experienced an attempted or completed rape.

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