If you’ve found yourself asking what exactly rape culture looks like, the Wisconsin state courts may have painted another picture for you.
This July, in State v. Patrick L. Lynch, the state of Wisconsin rejected the chance to rid of a case law known as Shiffra/Green. Dating back to 1993, this law permits the defense in a sexual assault case — the alleged rapist — to explore the mental health records of the victim.
Further still, if the victim refuses to give consent to this abhorrent shattering of their privacy, they are stripped of the opportunity to testify in court — a sick and twisted response when in the majority of sexual assault cases, the victim is the lone witness. So barring them from the stand effectively ensures the trial cannot move forward.
This is why out of every 1,000 sexual assaults, only six perpetrators end up in prison. This is legalized oppression and systematic injustice.
Rejecting silence: Student survivors take control, speak out on sexual violenceEditor’s note: Trigger warning for sexual assault. Waking up on Valentine’s Day freshman year, the night before was vague. Puzzled, I looked Read…
In a word, while the rapist is innocent until proven guilty, the victim is deluded until proven sane.
Though not specific to any sort of trial, Shiffra/Green surfaces most often in sexual assault trials. Here, it looms at the intersection between two glaring societal injustices: rape culture and the trivialization of mental illness — invalidating the lived experiences of sexual assault victims while simultaneously suggesting mental illness causes instability and dementia. Effectively, Shiffra/Green drowns the cries of a victim by suffocating them with the burden of proof.
The case of State v. Shiffra, which gave birth to this law, involved a woman who had suffered immense PTSD in the wake of her assault and as a result could not recount details of the incident in court.
I imagine proponents of this case law will make the same argument. The word of a delusional victim, unable to discern truth from lie, must not be taken without appropriate context before hastily imprisoning someone who is innocent.
But mental illness is not delusion.
Shiffra/Green may be warranted in extreme circumstances, if the victim suffers a serious psychotic disorder such as schizophrenia, but this should be the exception, not the rule. As it stands, victims with bipolar disorder, depression or anxiety are trapped in the same net, forced to watch as their condition, an inescapable piece of their person, is bastardized, vilified and used as a weapon against their own body.
Report: More than one in four women sexually assaulted at UWUniversity of Wisconsin released data Monday, Sept. 21, showing nearly 28 percent of undergraduate females reported experiencing sexual assault involving force or Read…
Jill Karofsky, director of the Office of Victim Crime Services at the Wisconsin Department of Justice, explained one of the many rights of the defendant is the right to exculpatory evidence, which absolves them from blame. The state is mandated to turn over this evidence in trial.
But the problem, she said, is that mental health records are not the property of the state, rather they belong to the victim and their mental health providers. While this may seem comforting, Karofsky reports the threshold for gaining access to these records is so low that in the majority of recent cases, the defendant has simply resorted to using the victim’s PTSD as some sort of hint at a longer history with mental illness.
The fact that the emotional response of a victim can be used in court to prove delusion and pry into personal history, means the Wisconsin state courts have an limited and warped idea of mental illness. I humbly suggest they refrain from passing laws on the subject until they’ve taken an introductory psychology course.
Karofsky said the use of Shiffra/Green in sexual assault cases is not unusual, but more interesting still is we don’t see it in other cases. Yet when a victim speaks out on their assault, there comes a knee-jerk reaction to prove they must be mistaken. If they have a mental illness, they must be crazy.
As it stands, nearly 50 percent of mental illnesses go undiagnosed, and many people resist seeking help because we have made it something to be ashamed of. But when patients do obtain psychiatric therapy or medication, they do so under with the assurance that any documentation will remain confidential. This law peels that away.
Rape culture is present, violent and persistent — it does not shout in encouragement, but croons a silent tolerance. As if the list of excuses used to shift blame away from the perpetrator didn’t already stretch miles — her bold hemline, her Blood Alcohol Content, her sultry smile — Shiffra/Green tacks on mental illness. Until this law is modified it speaks volumes about the way Wisconsin courts view mental illness and sexual assault, and this view should concern each one of us.
Yusra Murad ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in psychology and business.