Dreams of Justice

LaFayette County Courthouse

Lafayette County, Wisconsin Courthouse. Photo by Callen Harty.


Last night I had a disturbing dream. I was at a restaurant. In a booth near me sat a man and a boy. I overheard the boy tell their waiter that he and the man were “together”. He mentioned that he was 15. The man looked to be in his 30s or early 40s. I knew that I needed to do something to protect the boy and bring the man to justice. After they left I found evidence in a bag that was left behind that the man had put ads in the paper looking for someone to be with in that way. I called the police and asked them to come to the restaurant.

I saw two officers in the restaurant, but when I went up to them they wouldn’t acknowledge me because they were there to investigate another issue. Two other officers responding to my call showed up and said they had to wait to talk to me as it was too busy. It was closing time and a huge line of people was leaving the restaurant. By the time it quieted down the officers were nowhere to be found. I desperately wanted to get them back to the restaurant but was unable to get my phone to work to try calling them back. I asked a cook to help and she said she had to leave in a few minutes. Another friend tried to help me but couldn’t get her phone to work either. As time passed I got more and more frustrated and was never able to report the incident before I woke up.

Shortly before going to bed last night two articles had caught my interest. One was the story of Bill Cosby’s mistrial. A jury of twelve could not reach a consensus about the case and was unable to reach a verdict. For now, at least, he remains free. I believe Andrea Constand and the nearly 60 other women who have accused Cosby of assaulting them. Their stories are too similar and there are too many of them. However, hers was the only one within the statute of limitations, so the court case was not about the other five dozen women. Believing them and seeing justice done are two different things. In a court case sexual assault often comes down to whose version of the story is believed and sexual assault can be very difficult to prove, particularly when years have passed and there is no physical evidence. Also, sex assault victims sometimes do things that make no sense to those who have not suffered sexual abuse. The behavior is interpreted through a different lens. So for now, Cosby has escaped a guilty verdict and sentencing.

The other story was about a school police officer in Texas who fondled a 14 year old girl and got her to perform oral sex on him in a bathroom at the school. While he pleaded guilty his attorneys also arranged a sweet plea deal in which he only got five years of probation. If he follows the orders in the probation agreement he will not serve any time and he will not even be required to register as a sex offender. His only real punishment was losing his ability to serve as a police officer.

These kinds of results are all too common in sexual assault cases. The victim is victimized again by having to recount the horrid details of the assault repeatedly (to whomever they entrusted with it first, to the police, to attorneys, to the court) and then are revictimized when they aren’t believed or when the perpetrators are let go with a slap on the wrist and a warning to be a better person.

This is the kind of frustration often felt by victims of sexual assault. People don’t pay attention. Authorities don’t take it seriously. Cases fall through the cracks. Sentences are too lenient. And on and on. This is what played into my dream last night, the realization that of all the possible crimes the ones that most horrify our society besides murder are sexual crimes such as child sex abuse, rape, and sexual assault. But while we gnash our teeth at the horror of it and in a very generalized way feel sorry for the victims we don’t consistently deal with the perpetrators and we don’t believe the victims when it gets down to specific cases.

Cosby may be found guilty in a retrial and the cop in Texas may violate his probation and go to prison at a later date, but I wouldn’t count on it, any more than I could count on the police and the citizens in my dream last night. In another dream world those who commit crimes against children and who rape others would have to answer to society. In reality, the justice system is a nightmare for victims of sexual assault. We need to wake up.


About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on Amazon.com (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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