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.