Melanie Sheppard.

Is it any Wonder not all Survivors Report their Assault

Is it any Wonder not all Survivors Report their Assault

 

Watching the highlight reel from the Emmy awards, I froze when it was announced that the next presenter was “Four time Emmy award winner Dr. Bill Cosby”. After a couple of tense moments it was realised that the announcement was a joke which was met with shrieks of nervous laughter from those in the crowd.

I couldn’t help but wonder if any of the 46 women that he drugged and sexually assaulted were laughing? A crime for which to date he has evaded charges because of the statute of limitations in the American legal system. A crime that changed the lives of these women and exposed the true side of the predator once deemed “TV’s most beloved Dad.”

In Australia we have no such statute of limitations but we have plenty of predators. In Australia the criminal offences are prosecuted on behalf of the Crown, and there is a legal maxim "nullum tempus occurrit regi" (time does not run against the Crown). Therefor, the Crown can initiate a criminal prosecution against anyone for such crimes at any time they wish.

There are many well-known examples of abusers being charged years after the event in this country. There are the endless numbers of priests within the Catholic Church who are currently incarcerated for raping children under their care. Entertainer Rolf Harris was sentenced to a five-year, nine-month jail term in 2014 after being convicted of sexually assaulting four young girls. And our very own Bill Cosby equivalent, Robert Hughes, star of 80’s sitcom Hey Dad! was sentenced in 2014 to a maximum of more than 10 years prison for two counts of sexual assault, seven counts of indecent assault and one count of committing an indecent act.

I know numerous women that have been raped or sexually assaulted and have chosen to not report the crime. This is often met with suspicion or doubt from outsiders. “If he raped her, he would be charged and jailed” are expressions I have heard time and time again, mostly from men. Some anti-rape campaigns go so far as to insinuate that a victim’s silence is their complicity with rape culture.

Survivors have already been robbed of their freedom and security, so why would we further rob them of their choices?

Australia is ranked as one of the highest countries in the world to report on sexual assault. In fact the rate of sexual assaults in Australia is more than double the global average. However, only about 17% of reported sexual offences in Australia result in a conviction. In fact some feel that the criminal justice system re-victimizes them in its process.

Sarah Monohan who was the key witness in the case against Robert Hughes said that she found the court proceedings at times more traumatic than the abuse she suffered and admitted there were times she struggled to cope.

American sex offender Brock Turner served only half of a 6-month sentence after brutally assaulting an unconscious girl on a school campus, an assault prosecutors say that he never took responsibility for.  The sentence and his lack of remorse sharply contrasted with the compelling and haunting description by the victim of her experience that has been read millions of times online .

And then there was the case of Frances Andrade, the music student who committed suicide after giving testimony against her former music teacher at one of UK’s most prestigious music schools. In a text to a friend in the days before she took her life she wrote that she felt that she had been “raped all over again” as her rapists barrister attempted to undermine her testimony. Incidentally, her attacker was eventually found guilty of five counts of indecent assault and jailed for six years.

Is it any wonder not all survivors report their assault?

In Australia, 93% of rapists are male, yet it seems that the onus to stop rape falls directly to women. Women shouldn’t flirt, women shouldn’t get drunk, women shouldn’t wear short skirts, or another argument I have heard recently is that women need to “clearly communicate consent,” suggesting that a simple ‘no’ is not enough.

It is not the responsibility of women to stop rape, it is the responsibility of every member of society to stop the misogyny that drives it. We need to stop dictating to survivors how they must respond to sexual assault and focus our efforts on supporting them, whatever path they choose.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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