Everyone has an opinion about what it would take to stop rape. Feminists talk about undermining rape culture by making it taboo to minimize rape through rape jokes and the like. Anti-feminists like to shift the prevention responsibility onto women (don’t wear those short skirts; don’t get drunk). But regardless of where you fall on this blame spectrum, one thing is certain: The way that the justice system puts victims on trial instead of rapists means that far too many rapists go free. Gina Tron’s incredibly honest piece for Vice about trying to press charges against an alleged serial rapist in Brooklyn, N.Y., demonstrates how serious this problem is.
Here’s what happened: The rapist pretended to be part of Tron’s group at a Brooklyn bar—she didn’t recognize him but just assumed that he was a friend of a friend—and then kidnapped Tron by luring her into his car to do a bump of cocaine. Once she was in his car, he locked the doors and drove off. As most women would do under the circumstances, she tried playing nice in the car, coaxing him to return her to her friends. By the time she realized running was the only real option, it was too late: He took her to his apartment, beat her up and raped her, and then chased her when she did escape.
It turns out that this guy had targeted multiple women. Tron was able to identify him by his distinctive tattoo, as were two other victims, but only one was willing to press charges along with Tron. “The third girl, who had filed a complaint months prior,” writes Tron, “just wanted to move on with her life and skipped the whole process.”
It’s not hard to understand why. After Tron filed charges, a detective interviewed her, and this is how it went:
Afterward, I was interviewed by a detective who kept asking me about what I was wearing at the time and who told me that this case would probably never make it anywhere because I was intoxicated. Instead of focusing on what was done to me, most of his questions focused on why I didn’t fight back harder and run away sooner. The answer to both was because I was afraid and operating on a kind of autopilot—I never imagined anyone would accuse me of failing to get away.
Tron understandably worried that her drug use would be the thing that derailed the case, but instead it ended up being the same old slut-shaming that all rape victims worry about, because there is probably not a woman over 12 years old who is so utterly chaste of mind and body that she can provide an airtight defense against the trial that is only technically the rapist’s. Tron reports:
When I arrived at the ADA’s office the day I testified, the ADA, who was a woman, had a folder waiting for me. It contained “incriminating evidence” about my character that the rapist’s defense attorney had “dug up on me”: cartoons I had posted on the internet, “racy” articles I had published, and photographs of me.
One of the black marks on my record was a cartoon blog called Slutclock. The name is a vague homage to the 90s video game White Men Can’t Jump, which was filled with bizarre slang phrases like, “Catch you on the flip-flop, timepants!” According to the ADA, this would be used during a trial to insinuate that I referred to myself as a slut. Other things that were apparently relevant included a cartoon of a blob choking another blob captioned “Happy Violence Day,” photos of me at a shooting range, and a picture of my roommate holding a toy gun to my head. All of this, apparently, proved that I enjoyed rough sex. The toy-gun photo I had posted to Facebook because my roommate was making a joke about forcing me to write a summary about an art show that he was curating, and I didn’t think there was anything sexual about the image, but the ADA told me that she found that one “particularly unsettling.” Also included were photographs of me in skimpy outfits at the Mermaid Parade and at Halloween, both occasions when nearly everyone in attendance is dressed sexily.
Eventually, a lot of that stuff was thrown out, but this sort of thing was enough to scare the other victim into dropping out of the case. Even though Tron hung in, they ended up throwing her case out: “They apparently thought I hadn’t fought back enough and I wasn’t bruised enough and I didn’t go to the police soon enough.” Women, it turns out, are in a perpetual state of consent unless they bring weapons to bars and are able to wield those weapons against rapists who have made it clear that they are willing to beat you into submission.
Because of this, there’s probably a rapist still wandering around Brooklyn, hanging around groups of people in bars, and picking off women to kidnap and rape. And now he knows that the system is built for him to keep right on going.