In September 2018, I was raped. It’s an occurance that’s not out of the norm: According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), a United States resident is raped every 73 seconds, and 90 percent of adult rape victims are women.
But I was lucky. I wasn’t murdered.
Two and a half years later, with zero progress made on my case, I am not lucky. I am not particularly unlucky, either. My case remains within the majority of one of our criminal justice system’s many damning statistics: Out of every 1,000 sexual assault cases in the U.S., only 4.6 rapists are incarcerated. That is 0.46 percent.
So I was held in rapture by the Victim Impact Statement (VIS) published by The Temple News last month. In February 2020, former Temple University fraternity president Ari Goldstein was convicted of attempted sexual assault, attempted involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and indecent assault of a fellow Temple student. The survivor read her VIS at his sentencing hearing on Oct. 21, 2020. Goldstein was sentenced to 3.5 to 7 years in prison that day.
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A VIS is a survivor’s oral or written account of the crime, addressed to the judge as a way to provide information about “the physical, emotional, psychological, and financial effects that the crime has had on the victim’s life. … This statement is taken into account by the judge when determining the defendant’s sentence,” Philadelphia’s Office of the District Attorney states.
In that courtroom, a strong survivor bared it all. “Because of you, I lost everything,” she said. “I lost my friends, my home, my privacy, my confidence, and my control. I ended up being the person to shoulder the burden of what you did to me.”
I knew that sentiment well. The ugliness of realizing what has gripped you up and held you down. The shock that yes, it was you, it was your body, the one you still live and breathe in. That’s the one he crept inside. The anonymity of being a rape survivor that makes you want to walk into the middle of a crowded room and shriek. And the simultaneous urge to turn your back on the world for good.
I commend this survivor’s strength and brevity. But the statement’s publishing made me reflect on how much repair is needed for the official vehicles through which survivors are able to share their stories on the record.
And my appreciation of her statement was tainted by an ugly knot of envy in my belly. “She’s lucky,” I thought. “She’s lucky she got her day in court. She’s lucky he finally had to sit and listen to her, all because he refused to hear her ‘No.’”
“I am lucky,” the survivor wrote of the outcome of her case in the VIS—a nod to the sad reality that even someone whose case is resolved has to rely upon chance rather than trust in the justice system.
Why do we have to chalk up the institutions that are sworn to protect and serve to luck?
It is imperative to share survivors’ stories in any and every form so that we, as a society, can understand the vast spectrum of experiences that victims of the same crime may have.
To report being raped, I sat in a small room with harsh orange walls and orange and green chairs at the Philadelphia Sexual Assault Resource Center in North Philadelphia. I had been raped just hours before and had not showered. I was a good student who’d learned as a little girl that showering was one of the things you were supposed to avoid when you were raped.
The crumpled clothes I had been wearing when it happened were in a shoebox at my feet. It was the summer, the air conditioning was faulty in that box of a room, and I was wearing my favorite oversized flannel. I suppose I just wanted to feel held.
I sat there for six hours. It was balmy, and I ran out of water to drink while waiting. A friend had to drop a backpack full of water bottles off because we were unsure how much longer it would be. In a plastic green chair that dug into my thighs, I hugged my stomach and bent over my knees, staring at the scuffed linoleum floor. I had not slept in more than 24 hours. I had not eaten a meal in almost 48 hours. I waited to be jolted out of this horrifying nightmare.
I was told I had to wait so long because I came in to report on a Sunday—an “off” day.
Unfortunately, rapists do not adhere to the same schedule as the sexual assault crisis center I visited.
No one at the police station ever seemed to acknowledge the horror and trauma of what I went through. Not the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, who administered my rape kit. (“That’s healthy,” she scoffed when I told her I had only been able to take one bite of a bagel that morning for breakfast.) Not the detective who blankly typed up my report. Not the various receptionists at the police station whom I pleaded with over the following months, trying to learn if anyone would give my case file or the underwear I’d left behind in a paper bag a second look.
Yes, I’ve had the support of some truly amazing friends and family. I am deeply fortunate to see a wonderful therapist who continues to guide me through my recovery process. But I’ve always resented the silence of the authoritative institution that was designed to serve and protect Philadelphia citizens like me. I have not heard a word about my case from the authorities and, frankly, never expect to.
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It used to strike me how long I had to sit and wait to report. Now it’s unnerving to look back and realize how much time has passed with my rapist, whose name and address I provided, living freely. And that is why this system is not “lucky” for anyone—except for the predators who never face consequences. RAINN reports that 99.5 percent of sexual assault perpetrators walk free.
The survivor who read her VIS is not lucky. I am not lucky. Neither are the 75 percent of survivors who choose not to report. We did nothing to bring our situations upon ourselves; we were held down, disregarded, assaulted. We were raped.
A VIS is a flawed platform to broadcast survivors’ stories because of how many of us are never able to take the stand in a courtroom; because it exists within the confines of a system that regularly fails us; because it must be read under the gaze of the perpetrator who violated us.
Nevertheless, it is imperative to share survivors’ stories in any and every form so that we, as a society, can understand the vast spectrum of experiences that victims of the same crime may have. It is important to actively make space for those stories and to support their telling. And most of all, when survivors speak, it is important for society to listen.
TAKE ACTION ✊
DO SOMETHING: The Philadelphia Center Against Sexual Violence provides free counseling to victims of sexual violence, and offers education and awareness programs. Call the 24-hour hotline at 215-985-3333 if you are in need of support. You can also donate to support their critical work.
Grace Shallow is a 2020 Temple University journalism alumna. She works in communications and lives in Philadelphia.Header photo by Fibonacci Blue / Flickr