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   From: harelb@math.cornell.edu (harelb@math.cornell.edu)
   Subject: RAPE, "JUSTICE" and REVENGE (by Cynthia Hoffman)
   Newsgroups:   talk.politics.misc
   Date: 1997/06/13

Subject: RAPE, "JUSTICE" and REVENGE (by Cynthia Hoffman)

''When I started writing this piece, I thought I wanted to write about
revenge and how I didn't get it.

[...]

''If I agreed to press charges, the state would pay my medical bills, no
matter how large they got. Faced with this material, how can I say no
to them? I can't afford the hospital bills. So from minute one they
had me. You want your face sewn back together? Sign here.

[...]

''I still resent that I had no choice in whether to press charges. I
wonder at the people who on finding out that I was raped ask "was he
caught" before they ask any other questions, questions like "are you
okay?"

[...]

''Revenge is what the state wants because arresting, trying and
imprisoning the man who raped me would allow everyone the illusion
that things have returned to pre-rape normal

[...]

''The judicial system continues to support revenge based law that
ignores what those of us who have been raped know: it's the structure
of society that's the problem and imprisoning an individual rapist
only gets the rapist raped, it doesn't change the fact that the next
woman I meet might also have been raped and have a better idea what I
need than the justice system that's set up to meet my needs ever
dreamed of.

[...]

''What will help me is if we all put the kind of energy into changing
the world that we put into criminal justice. Changing the world and a
system which makes assaulting me seem like a good option in Perry's
mind is the kind of work that justice should be attempting, not
incarceration and eye for an eye illusionary punishment that solves
nothing.''

**********************************************************************
      A r t i c l e   F o l l o w s
**********************************************************************

Feminist anti-rape initiatives directed at the social contract
afforded a rich opportunity for law enforcement to rehabilitate
itself, to display its gentler role as protector of the beseiged
citizen's body. [...] In helping to redeem the police and the law,
rape sensitivity and legal reform demanded of the rape victim
herself that she take an active interest in "confessing" and
reporting the rape to the state authorities. "The victim support
program will be designed to guide and direct women through the
public or private agencies available to provide any counseling," the
Conference of Mayors concluded. "The purpose will be to reduce
trauma ... and to increase the likelihood of the victim's following
through with prosecution ... Encouraging women to report assaults to
the police should be a priority item for criminal justice agencies
and citizen's groups" (National League, 1974)
-- Pamela Haag, differences 8:2.

When they had sworn to this advised doom,
They did conclude to bear dead Lucrece thence,
To show her bleeding body thorough Rome,
And so to publish Tarquin's foul offense;
Which being done with speedy diligence,
The Romans plausibly did give consent
To Tarquin's everlasting banishment.
--Shakespeare, The Rape of Lucrece, lines 1849-55

We won't get fooled again.
--Pete Townsend

On October 24, 1991 I made a decision to defend my life by not
fighting back because the man who was assaulting me had a knife at
my throat and if I had fought back I'd be dead. I know this to be
true like I know my own name. By the time the police got to my
house, there was blood everywhere, I had a dislocated shoulder and a
dislocated hip and that's only part of what he did just because he
felt like it. I cooperated with him because he was crazy, a foot
taller than me and there is no question in my mind that when he left
me on the floor of my house, tied up in telephone wire and stereo
cords, he thought I was dead and that's exactly what he wanted me to
be. I have scars on my neck, shoulders, back and face from that man,
and I have scars inside that will never fully heal. But because I
chose not to fight back then, I am alive today and can fight back
now in the only way I know how: by using words and my truth to
educate people about what rape really means and how it affects lives
more than five years after the fact.

This particular experience of being raped was profoundly life
changing, not because I was assaulted -- I'd been assaulted before
-- but because in the course of that evening I came to understand
that I was not, in fact, the kind of pacifist I had always believed
myself to be and that if I had been given a secure opening (believe
me, I was looking for one), I would have taken that bastard's life
without a second thought. That was a hell of a discovery to make
about myself, that I was capable of killing a person. I didn't know
that until that night.

In the aftermath of being raped, it didn't occur to me not to call
911. I was bleeding and I was scared and I needed help. It certainly
never occurred to me that silence was an option because I no longer
know how to stay silent and because I knew I hadn't done anything
wrong. In fact, I could articulate that truth more clearly in the
first days following the rape than I could even a month following
it. "Tell everyone" I said to a professor who wanted to know who she
could share the news with, "I've got nothing to be ashamed of." Who
or what taught me that I was wrong? that I was responsible? that
somehow what I knew instinctively in the moment was something I had
to go through hell to relearn months later? That's what confronted
me as a result of both the rape and my decision to call 911 that was
unexpected to me because that night, I simply assumed that justice
as well as help was available to me. I made that assumption because
I'd been told for years through women's centers and rape crisis
handouts and through everything that I had learned over years of
feminist activity that the justice system had changed and that it
now served me in ways that it might not have 20 years earlier. I had
forgotten that the work of the justice system was revenge and it
never occurred to me that no one had ever inquired of me what I
thought justice looked like.

In the movie Billy Jack, there's a sequence where Jean Roberts, the
heroine and founder of the Freedom School, is sexually assaulted by
the town bully's son Bernard. Bernard ties her down and rapes her
while his buddy watches, all the while commenting that in spite of
his bragging, he has never made it with a woman because he has
trouble getting an erection. This time, however, he assures himself,
will be different; and it is. When Jean is rescued by one of her
students, she insists that the rape is a test of her commitment to
pacifism and that her student can't tell either Billy Jack or anyone
else what Bernard has done to her: she must "turn the other cheek"
and learn to live with and accept what has been done to her. Her
determination is to no avail and as anyone who has ever seen the
movie can assure you, Bernard is finally killed by Billy Jack, while
in the midst of having sex with a child. But there is no question
that it's Billy Jack's revenge; the movie makes it quite clear in
scenes leading up to Billy Jack's killing of Bernard, that Jean's
priority would have been taking care of the thirteen year old girl.

Billy Jack was released in the early 1970's and contains what I
believe is the first on-screen depiction of a rape from a woman's
point of view. What interests me in this particular sequence of
events is two-fold. First, it's a statement about the distance women
have come since 1971 that a so-called progressive film would insist
that a woman's best recourse is silence and pacifist acceptance; but
second, and perhaps more importantly, it's a statement about revenge
and its value in our society that I would rewatch this movie from a
distance of 25 years and be angered by a scene which moved me to no
end as a teenager. And yet still, this scene which moved me as a
teenager now challenges all of my deeply held beliefs about what it
means to be a victim of sexual assault as well as pointing up what
society thinks being a victim means. For Jean, revenge is apparently
of secondary importance and upon rewatching the movie last fall, I
found myself asking questions I hadn't let myself ask myself in a
very long time: Why did I report the rape and agree to press charges
when I don't believe in revenge? And when did my right to speak out
turn into the expectation and finally the demand that I report and
press charges?

I need to make it abundantly clear here that I make a distinction
between telling and reporting. I'm not challenging telling; in fact,
I advocate screaming from roof-tops. What I am challenging are
reporting laws, laws which make it impossible to get medical care or
therapeutic care if one isn't interested in pressing charges, laws
which benefit the justice system at the expense of those that same
system purports to represent.

Six months after I was raped, the State of California executed
Robert Alton Harris. He was the first person executed by the state
in decades, and while today executions seem to generate little or no
notice in the news, his execution was a big deal and everyone was
talking about it, had a theory about it, was demonstrating against
it or otherwise had an opinion that they were sharing vociferously.
I'm not proud; I had an opinion too and I didn't hesitate to share
it. Capital punishment offends me. When asked how I felt, my
standard line was "how dare the state execute someone in my name. I
do not give them permission to do that." The state, however, didn't
ask my opinion, and Alton Harris was executed as planned.

What I was asked, which stunned and confused me, was whether the
experience of having been raped had somehow had an effect on my
opinion of capital punishment. At the time, I didn't understand why
people made this connection and I absolutely didn't understand their
certainty that being raped had to have affected my thoughts on state
sanctioned murder. Rape, after all, is not a capital offense. I
think now that the people asking me those questions on the eve of
the first execution were asking if somehow the experience of being a
victim of a violent crime had helped me get comfortable with the
idea of capital punishment as just revenge. The answer is most
adamantly no. But it's still not so simple as all that. For me, it's
become a question of whether revenge works at all.

And make no mistake about it, the work of the justice system is
revenge. It is punitive, mosaic law, eye for an eye activity that to
me works only in the moment, but afterward is worthless. Once the
act is done, nothing can undo it. We don't ever, for example,
question someone's choice not to report a robbery; why is choosing
not to report a rape such a no-no? In 1994 my car was broken into
somewhere in the realm of 10 times; I only ever reported it once,
and then only because the video store needed a report number to
generate an insurance payment. No one ever asked me why I didn't
report these break-ins. That question simply never came up. When I
say I've been raped, "did they catch him" is almost invariably the
first question I'm asked. What's the difference? Why is it that I'm
allowed choice about my car and not allowed the same when it's my
body that's been violated? Why is my car accorded more respect than
I am?

Again, I'm not talking about silence here; I'm talking about
contacting the justice system and reporting. In my mind these are
two very different things. I may never report again, but I will
never be silent. Where did rape crisis go wrong in getting in bed
with the criminal justice system? Did a choice to go with the money
divorce us from fulfilling our needs?

The night I was assaulted, I was put in a private room in the
hospital, the one reserved by law for assault victims ostensibly so
they will feel safe. As near as I can tell the major gift of my
private room is that I can smoke here without going outside in my
shift; my clothing has been confiscated as evidence. In fact, there
is no "I" in this room: what I have become is evidence, of no
intrinsic value at the moment beyond my body's ability to tell an
evidentiary story that will lead to the arrest of the person who did
this to me. The court case, should there be one, will be called The
People of the State of California v. John Doe. I am only evidence.
It is not my case. It is theirs.

Case in point: I have a series of bruises on my thighs and as those
bruises age and become colorful the police want photographs of them
as physical evidence and the investigator wants to know what gave me
bruises in such an odd place. The police photographer gets his
pictures; the investigator gets to discover that Perry was wearing
501's. I, however, still have ugly and painful bruises and can't sit
down.

This is only problematic to me. I am not by myself an advocate of
victims' rights. I've been criminalised before and being victimised
does not impugn new status to me. The system doesn't care who I am
or how I feel. That's my job. But my victim status makes it more
difficult to do that job and that makes it my business; the system
which is ostensibly responsible for taking care of me has
requirements and one of those requirements is that I have to agree
to press charges. Jean's option of staying quiet is not available to
me if I also need the financial assistance that the state offers
through victim's assistance.

For instance, at the time I was assaulted, I had only minimal health
insurance. I needed major medical assistance. My choice was simple,
and was presented to me materially in the hospital in the form of a
hospital bill coupled with a police report with an agreement
attached to it stating that if this man were caught, I would press
charges and this admonition: if I agreed to press charges, the state
would pay my medical bills, no matter how large they got. Faced with
this material, how can I say no to them? I can't afford the hospital
bills. So from minute one they had me: you want your face sewn back
together? Sign here. It isn't enough for me to report the rape; I
must agree to press charges.

In eighteen more months, I won't have to worry about Perry any
longer. Of course, in 18 more months, he doesn't have to worry about
me either since the statute of limitations will have run. In the
interim, however, my life is circumscribed by police reports, victim
assistance disability counseling, district attorney questioning
sessions, HIV testing and SSI testing. I lose my job so we can add
to this list SDI. My life is mine but my body and my experience are
held hostage to the legal system. I am evidence.

cabinets.gif - 1.43 K I still resent that I had no choice in whether
to press charges. I wonder at the people who on finding out that I
was raped ask "was he caught" before they ask any other questions,
questions like "are you okay?" The assumptions have certainly
changed in the last 25 years; pacifism is no longer the only option.
Now it's not even an option at all.

There's an attempt to make us all complicit in this shift. As a
victim, I'm supposed to assume that things like victim's rights are
different and better than my regular rights and I'm supposed to
ignore that to have "victim's rights" my regular rights get
disappeared. Even the local rape crisis center wants me to revel in
my victim status, and its support system is based on that
assumption. Only by embracing my status as a victim am I able to be
empowered. It's an insidious system that's designed to keep me in
line and in control under uncontrollable circumstances. The final
and largest way they make me complicit is by insisting that it is
somehow my responsibility if he should choose to do it again. "Press
charges" we are told, "so he won't hurt another woman." As if by
pressing charges we have somehow actually done something to change
the fact of rape in the first place.

When I started writing this piece, I thought I wanted to write about
revenge and how I didn't get it. What I've ended up with instead is
the quite frightening conclusion that if this happens to me again,
I'm not going to report it. How did I get here? And what does it
mean that I, a self-identified radical lesbian feminist, have
diverged so far from the expected feminist norm that I would
advocate not reporting as a viable and even empowering option in the
case of rape?

Revenge is what the state wants because arresting, trying and
imprisoning the man who raped me would allow everyone the illusion
that things have returned to pre-rape normal. I can never have that;
no matter what happens to him. I have been raped and putting him in
jail doesn't change that. Andrea Dworkin would say that the problem
is that we have to stop rape altogether (and I'm certainly not going
to argue against her) but what about the rape crisis system has
allowed itself to be subsumed into the justice system -- a system
that supports itself at my expense?

Last fall I met someone in the flesh with whom I had only ever
corresponded virtually. She's an artist of some burgeoning
reputation and my partner and I met her for sushi dinner in the
Mission and in the course of the evening discussed life, NYC, punk
and art as well as things like impending marriage (hers), and
dealing with worker's compensation (me). On the walk back to her
studio I mentioned in passing that I had once been sexually
assaulted. Without missing a beat, she said "me too" and proceded to
tell me about it.

Sexual assault is becoming a universal language for women, not in
the "we're victims, take care of us" sense but in the sense that no
matter how little we know of each other, we have a common
experience. The judicial system continues to support revenge based
law that ignores what those of us who have been raped know: it's the
structure of society that's the problem and imprisoning an
individual rapist only gets the rapist raped, it doesn't change the
fact that the next woman I meet might also have been raped and have
a better idea what I need than the justice system that's set up to
meet my needs ever dreamed of.

First I was raped by a man; then I was raped by the system; some
people get raped by the press; but I continue to be raped by a
social structure that insists that my rape is their property. My
rape is my property and I'm taking it back. I'm taking it back by
stating that putting someone in jail won't help me; it will only
hurt him. Hurting him does nothing for me. The idea that it should
is an illusion I now flatly refuse to accept. What will help me is
if we all put the kind of energy into changing the world that we put
into criminal justice. Changing the world and a system which makes
assaulting me seem like a good option in Perry's mind is the kind of
work that justice should be attempting, not incarceration and eye
for an eye illusionary punishment that solves nothing.

After more than five years, all I have left is a scar on my chin.
It's a small scar; the physician's assistant who stitched my face
back together was quite good and unless I've been in the sun it's
rather difficult to find. My partner barely notices it. I see it
every day in the bathroom mirror. I like my scar. When the state
offered to pay for surgery to remove it, I declined. I want this
small talisman; it reminds me that my past is real.

       _______________________________________________________________

     Cynthia Hoffman is a graduate student in the English Department at
     the University of California at Berkeley. The week she was raped the
     Oakland Hills burned, the Grateful Dead played four shows in honor
     of Halloween and Bill Graham died. It is also the week that she
     finally understood Dante. Cynthia can be reached via email at
     choff@socrates.berkeley.edu.
       _______________________________________________________________

     Copyright (c) 1997 by Cynthia Hoffman. All rights reserved.

     This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use
     provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and
     redistributed in electronic form, provided that the editors are
     notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving,
     redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any
     medium, requires the consent of the author and the notification of
     Bad Subjects.

**********************************************************************
Posted with permission. Poster, misc.activism.progressive co-founder
Harel Barzilai, does not regularly read all newsgroups this is posted
to, but can be reached by email.
     _________________________________________________________________

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