08 July 2018

Rapists are Criminals: Why do they live among us?

by Mary Fernando, MD

This is my second interview with the Clinical Forensic Medical Examiner, Dr. Kari Sampsel, the only Canadian physician with a fellowship in Clinical Forensic Sciences. She is a Staff Emergency Physician and the Medical Director of the Sexual Assault and Partner Abuse Care Program at The Ottawa Hospital. 

When victims of  sexual violence come into the emergency room, she is in charge of the rape kit, assessments of sexually transmitted disease and pregnancy. She is also responsible for setting up long-term physical and mental health care for these victims.

In the last interview, she stated that one in three women will be assaulted in their lifetime, but less than 20% of victims report the rape immediately. Many suffer with increasing symptoms and then are seen. Some never speak up at all.

There is no other crime that I can think of where the victims are so reluctant to report the crime. Further, a society that believes in the rule of law is poorly served when so many criminals are allowed to commit a serious crime and yet are not held accountable. Imagine, for example, how emboldened car thieves would feel if they knew less than 20% of the thefts would be reported. 

Rape is rarely a crime committed in dark alleyways by strangers. In fact, 85% of rapes are committed by people who know the victim. This suggests that the poor reporting of rape emboldens rapists to assault women they know, largely without fear of any legal consequences. While children are most commonly raped by family members or friends of the family, adult are most often raped by current or past partners, or acquaintances and friends. 

One of the rapes with a great deal of stigma is the rapes by present partners. Many don't see how a present partner can be a rapist. To explain, Dr Sampsel says: “Think of cake. You like cake. But if someone shoves it in your mouth and forces you to keep eating until you feel sick, that would not be OK.” 

The other way to look at this is that rape is assault. If a partner, past or present, or a friend beat a person till they were bloody, breaking their nose and perhaps a few limbs, this would be considered unacceptable in civil society. Assault that is physical, but not sexual, is viewed as unacceptable. Sexual assault should be equally unacceptable. 
When a victim reports a rape, or a series of rapes, the response they encounter can make them walk away and not finish the report. Dr. Sampsel explains that there is often a stereotype of how a rape victim should behave: upset and crying.  

However, the reality is that victims display many behaviours. Some are so upset that they are closed off, unable to make eye contact or articulate what happened. Others, will be angry and in ‘protester’ mode, trying to get justice. Some can even look fairly normal, reporting as factually as they can about the incident or multiple incidents.

Add to this the fact that trauma can make victim forget details, the report itself can appear incoherent and less trustworthy. 

Dr. Sampsel points out that, “People are pretty savvy about when they are not believed. If you give someone the ‘I don't believe you vibe’ then they can be done with the process.”
Which brings us to the process itself. It is long and difficult. Completing the evidence kit takes about 2-4 hours. Every sample must be labeled, dated and gathered in a way that maintains the chain of evidence. Also, many of the samples are gathered from places that we think of as private and, if there are lacerations, this can also be painful.

After the history is taken and the samples are gathered, the victim is often faced with the reality that it isn’t safe to return home. If the rapist was a present partner or past partner with access to the victim’s home, either going to a shelter or staying with family or friends helps. Even if the rapist is a friend or acquaintance, their knowledge of where the victim lives could make it unsafe for them to return home. 

Many cities have a victim service, which provides everything from cell phones to volunteers - who will drive victims to their own home to pick up personal belongings, and help them get to a shelter.

If charges against a rapist are laid, they often get 12-18 months in jail. If a weapon was used or there was an attempt to murder the victim, the jail term could be longer. When the rapist is released from jail, the victim is vulnerable to retaliation from the rapist and may get a restraining order.

Does the punishment for rape fit the crime? Jail is certainly punishment. And the rapist must register as a sex offender and this limits the jobs they can get. Perhaps the biggest part of all this is that the rapist learns that they cannot rape with impunity. Rape is a crime. Punishing criminals is not merely about each individual criminal, it is also about deterring future criminals. If every rapist truly feared jail time, the stigma of being a registered sex offender and limited employment opportunities, perhaps one third of women wouldn't face the ordeal of being raped in the first place. 

5 comments:

Eve Fisher said...

Well, I'm one of the 1 in 3; but personally, I think the stats are higher than that. I think I only know 2 women who have not been sexually assaulted, molested, or had the attempt made on them.

The thing is, we live in a truly patriarchal, misogynistic, hierarchical culture, which we've inherited and still maintain, in which women and children are still considered property in the eyes of the law. The conservative world simply doesn't believe in rape: think of all the GOP politicians mouthing off about how all you need to do is keep your legs crossed, etc. (And that, if you are raped, you won't get pregnant because "the body has a way to shut that down". BULLSHIT) They "know" that rape only happens to sluts, who were asking for it anyway.

And, yes, trying to report a rape is hideous; and to add insult to injury, the thousands of rape kits which have never yet been actually tested are sitting in police stations all across the land.

I have no idea when/how rapists will be held to the same accountability as any other criminal, but I hope it's soon. Enough is enough.

Elizabeth said...

I am also one of the three. I make the following comment knowing it may be unpopular.

I've known at least three people who have killed somebody. Two of them were released, one is locked up probably forever. Not to diminish anything but people are so afraid of the sex offender living in their zipcode when they are oblivious to the murderer or other confrontational criminal living next door who doesn't have to register anywhere.

Eve Fisher said...

True, Elizabeth.

mary fernando said...

Eve: "I have no idea when/how rapists will be held to the same accountability as any other criminal, but I hope it's soon. Enough is enough." No one could have said it better. Thank you
Elizabeth: Intersting and fair point.

Thomas Pluck said...

I wish more of our resources were committed to keeping rapists imprisoned. We have 2.3 million prisoners, but sex offenders walk free?