The Times West Virginian

April 19, 2013

Sexual assault victims face more humiliation after the horrific crime

Times West Virginian

— According to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network, nearly 100,000 children under the age of 18 are sexually assaulted each year. And of those assaults, 57 percent are never reported to a law-enforcement agency, and 97 percent of accused rapists never spend a day in prison for their crimes.

We have heard the gruesome details of the 16-year-old girl who was raped by two all-star football players in Steubenville, Ohio. The two teens were found guilty of rape through Ohio’s juvenile court system and will spend a year or more in a juvenile detention center.

The case against the two athletes was certainly aided by their own posts on social media sites about what took place during that drunken party, as well as others who witnessed it.

The girl, who has never been identified by the media, pieced together what happened herself through Twitter, Instagram photos, a YouTube video, text messages and speaking to witnesses.

But there are other names that we know.

Audrie Pott, 15.

Audrie attended a Labor Day party in Santa Cruz last year. At some point in the night, law-enforcement officials believe three 16-year-old boys took her to a room upstairs while she was passed out after drinking vodka and Gatorade, performed sexual acts on her, wrote on her body and took pictures and videos.

Eight days later, when some of the photos were being shared throughout the high school she attended, Audrie hung herself. Before committing suicide, her last post on Facebook was, “The whole school is talking about it. My life is over.”

The three boys have been charged with sexual assault, battery and distribution of child pornography.

Rehtaeh Parsons, 17.

In 2011, at the age of just 15, Rehtaeh was also the victim of an alleged gang rape where photographs were taken and sent to classmates via text messages and email. Her family pursued charges against those accused in the sexual assault, but Rehtaeh was sent into a spiraling depression when Nova Scotia officials ended the investigation without pressing any charges. Her mother says that since the attack, Rehtaeh was constantly harassed by classmates and that images of her from that night never stopped circulating.

Earlier this month, it all became too much for her to bear. She attempted suicide by hanging herself. Three days after family members found her, they had to make the tough choice to remove their daughter from life support.

“Rehtaeh is gone today because of the four boys that thought that raping a 15-year-old girl was OK and to distribute a photo to ruin her spirit and reputation would be fun,” her mother wrote on Facebook. “All the bullying and messaging and harassment that never let up are also to blame. Lastly, the justice system failed her. Those are the people that took the life of my beautiful girl.”

These are just three of the cases that have received national media attention, but the same horrific events are probably echoed in many of the cases that aren’t getting publicized for one reason or the other. Our hearts are heavy for the ones who believed there was nothing left to live for after being assaulted and publicly humiliated.

But our hearts are heavy for another reason, too. Have the youth of our society been so desensitized to sex and violence that they fail to understand the gravity of such attacks? With social media and texting becoming the primary way to communicate — or gossip or harass — do teens not understand that anything sent or posted is permanent? Do those who are engaged in or at least silent witnesses to a crime understand that documenting it for personal amusement or to share within their circle will exponentially impact the victim?

We have said it before, but it bears repeating. Rape is rape. It doesn’t matter your past sexual history, what you were drinking, whether you were using drugs, what you were wearing. No means no.

Victims internalize so much guilt and shame following sexual attacks. They ultimately blame themselves for being in a bad situation or making bad decisions. Having to face your attacker in the hallways of a high school on a day-to-day basis has to be one of the most difficult thing a teen will ever go through.

We cannot even imagine what it’s like to deal with being victimized while your classmates laugh and share pictures and videos of the horrific crime.

This is more than cyber bullying. This is worse than name calling or pulling pranks on the unpopular kid. This is a malicious assault that humiliates and violates someone who has already been victimized in one of the worst ways possible. And in many cases, we believe they should be held just as accountable as the attacker.