I can’t help but be appalled after reading the story on Wednesday’s front page.
I’m not shocked by the story itself, as the depravity of humanity often reaches regrettably common lows. But despite the moral nadir rape represents, humanity usually has the sensibility to react to with understanding and reach out to victims in their hour of need. Even if the governmental services and welfare we provide fail to cushion the blows, we can at least offer a kind word and compassion to those affected by such a heinous crime.
But after reading the comments today, I am truly sickened.
While there were some offering anonymous solidarity with the victim and praising her for coming forward, others questioned the story. And that’s perfectly natural — the horrific nature of the victim’s situation seems so unbelievable, the missing information resonates that much more with those who want to dismiss such thoughts from their mind.
But the comments didn’t just doubt her — they were sometimes violently accusatory. She was called a liar, an attention-starved sorority girl who was making it up as she went along. Some comments could not be approved because of their unforgivably dehumanizing tone.
I don’t expect people to take the victim’s story at face value, but think about the situation — with the Madison Police Department confirming to a Herald reporter they are investigating the incident and that the university has been notified — and ask yourself whether you think someone would go to such lengths to implicate themselves in one of the most personally traumatizing crimes one human can do to another? There are people who cry wolf to get attention, certainly. But no one wants this kind of attention.
Which is mostly why it is so difficult for victims of sexual assault or rape to ever step forward. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, approximately 60 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to police.
For some reason, the doubting and vitriolic commenters assume rape is just as transparent as any other crime with an identifiable victim — you’re raped, you report it, the individual is arrested.
But I don’t think you can quite understand the feeling of rape until it hits you.
During my sophomore year, a freshman friend and I were having a long conversation in the late hours while overlooking Lake Mendota and the Lakeshore. The path was obscured from view in a pitch black night. After joking briefly about the path’s “Rapeshore” moniker, my female friend paused and looked over the lake and casually remarked she wouldn’t be phased if she was raped.
While it sounded to me like the words of a nihilist, she defended it with Christian faith. Her body meant nothing to her. They could have her body; they could treat her like a marionette, but they could not take her soul.
About a month or so later, she was date raped.
There was no soaring spirit left.
She became hard to talk to, distant and spiraled out of control for the next two years. She finally told me why she had lashed out at me in that time. By then, the damage was done and her life had been reduced to one question: “How have I lost the last two years?”
And I don’t think a good portion of this campus truly understands what an attack like that does to someone. I don’t know either, but I’ve had at least four close friends in my life raped. And all I can do is describe what I see in their faces — an absence of self.
It’s not just that their body has been violated or their dignity has been stripped of them — it’s that many victims believe they’ve lost their free will. In some cases they’ve lost their motivation to live. And when that happens, justice isn’t immediately on their minds. In fact, what may exist is sometimes no less than complete emotional paralysis. And when that happens, reporting a crime is extremely low on the list of priorities.
Now I’m not so gullible as to believe every claim of rape is the truth. I’m not asking you to believe Sigma Chi brothers are rapists. In fact, I’d rather we didn’t go searching for frat boys to lynch. I’m asking you to let the evidence prove who’s guilty and who’s innocent. Cases of sexual assault and rape have the potential to mangle the lives and psyches of everyone involved. If we start pointing fingers, the suspects we end up with could have their lives ruined immediately, regardless of whether they committed a crime or not.
But what I am asking is this — in the case of this alleged rape, understand it takes a monumental amount of courage for this girl to step forward and take back her life, especially in front of a college audience of 15,000. The police will verify her claims, UW will act appropriately, and we’ll hopefully get to the truth in this matter.
But we need to reach out to her and let her know her decision to step forward was the right one. If we discover this was all a ruse later on, then you can condemn her. But if we do that now, when she may indeed be telling the truth, then we have done far more damage to her as a community than the alleged perpetrators ever could.
Jason Smathers ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in journalism and history.