“No wonder, considering what has happened since”. those were the words Washington Post columnist, Ruth Marcus, used to describe why a US Naval Academy alleged rape victim was reluctant to cooperate in the investigation of the incident. The scene described is all too typical of so many sexual assaults…a party gone bad with alcohol-fueled decisions, pervasive sexual license, social media drama, morning-after realizations, and life-changing consequences for all involved persons. This incident involved military recruits, but the same scenario gets played out every week with college students, high school students, athletes and business associates.

We weren’t present the night of the incident, so we don’t know if the victim was forcibly raped, too incapacitated to consent, or a willing participant. Those decisions require more detailed facts than the news reports offer. Journalists protect the identity of this rape victim by not releasing her name but, without question. we’ve already formed our opinions of her. Consider:

  • the court process itself is invasive, publicly humiliating and re-traumatizing  for the victim. Many victims have said, “On the stand, I felt like l was being raped again.” 
  • even before a verdict has been determined, there is often more judgment about the victim than the accused. 
From just the limited information in media coverage of the case, we’re already forming opinions about the alleged victim. Consider:
  • all news stories indicate the victim was drinking excessively and the next morning had limited recollection the night before
  • during the hearing she was asked  whether she was wearing a bra or underwear, how wide she opens her mouth during oral sex, and if she had consensual sexual relations the next morning with another Academy football player in the same house where the alleged assault took place
  • new reports indicate she is being disciplined for underage drinking 
  • her credibility has been cast as questionable as she initially was reticent to cooperate  fully with the investigation, then later testified that a medical exam did not result in any diagnosis, and
  •  that she has been pressured and harassed in person and via social media since making the allegations.

Contrast this with what we know about the men accused of gang raping this woman:

  • their identities are not protected, thus we know their names. This is embarrassing, will follow them throughout life and is unquestionably career changing. But it also humanizes them. We’ve even seen their photos, clean shaven men in military dress uniform
  • they are football players
  • all 3 accused men are older than the victim, thus not guilty of underage drinking. The question of whether they provided alcohol to the inebriated underage victim, a criminal activity, has not been addressed
  • one of them had a previous ‘casual sex’ relationship with the alleged victim in the past and asked her to lie to his current girlfriend denying a sexual encounter on the night of the alleged rape.
  • all three men have denied any wrongdoing.
When I look at media coverage of sexual assaults, it disturbs me how the focus right from the start is often more on the victim and her character and decisions than on the accused. Even when a guilty verdict is rendered, so often it’s the actions of victim that we recollect. It’s no wonder victims are reluctant to report and cooperate in the prosecution. No wonder they feel “raped again.”