In a world where sexual assault has been at the front of so many minds, the center of so many conversations and common in so many personal narratives, the assumption has been that there are authorities working to bring justice for victims of these violent acts.
The #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have aimed to notify the world of the magnitude and spread of this issue as well as provide support for women, and people in general, to come forward with their stories without fear of repercussions and retaliation. These causes began with the best intentions and have brought so much awareness to the world.
So why is it then that Lawrence is being exposed for handling student rape cases, one in particular, so blatantly wrong?
This week, information was released to the public about an alleged rape that occurred in Lawrence in 2018, which is horrific in and of itself. Arguably even more disturbing, however, was the revelation that the victim is now being charged with filing a felony crime report falsely.
Katie Bernard of The Kansas City Star points out that an incredibly small amount of rapes that are reported are false (2-8% to be exact.) The way that this report was handled by the Lawrence Police Department reveals to us that the victim was not treated with respect or dignity but with suspicion and disbelief.
You might be thinking: “That’s messed up, but why do I care? How does this affect me?” The answer to this lies in the prevalence of this type of crime. If everyone reading this asked their friends if they have ever had an encounter with sexual violence, whether that be themselves or someone they know, the number of people who would respond yes would be astounding.
Knowing that this is the case, we can also see how many people do not or have not ever reported their experiences. Take into consideration how this case would influence that decision even more for young victims, especially ones at the University of Kansas.
By looking at the victim’s text history before the bruises on her body and by investigating her claims for a measly two hours before deciding that she made a mistake rather than suffered a violent act, our law enforcement team and our community is sending the message to future and present victims that even if they follow the motions as they have been taught to, there is a good chance that their claims will hold no weight.
Further, the switch could be flipped against you at any moment. This student’s trauma coping strategies via text message were used against her before she was even given a physical examination, showing that officers saw her as a liar from the beginning. There was no respect for her in this investigation but plenty for her alleged assailant, her ex-boyfriend.
This victim potentially faces years in prison, and this is not only a massive injustice to her but also an enormous step back for assault victims. This will produce a ripple effect that discourages the report of other acts of sexual violence, and this, therefore, empowers attackers.
Ultimately, our online sexual assault prevention classes and SAPEC talks only go so far when we know that people in power are not working to bring real justice to victims. How do we reassure students that they are safe and trusted when students are being labelled as liars for speaking up? Where do we go from here?
Jerika Miller is a senior from Aurora, Colorado, studying English and secondary education.