An Appeal Against Silence for Sexual Assault Victims
In 2007, there were 248,300 sexual assault victims, and according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, 60% of those assaults went unreported. The numbers are that 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, and only 6% of rapists will ever spend a day in jail. The only way to stop the abuse from happening again is to put the abusers behind bars, but in most cases, that is easier said than done for the sheer fact that most victims simply do not come forward.
"Rape" is defined in California Penal Code Section 261-269. Felony rape is when penetration, regardless of how slight, occurs against someone's will, or in a situation where they were unable to say "no," such as being intoxicated or threatened. Both males and females can be raped by either sex, and there is no difference in statues. Individuals can therefore be raped by their spouses. The penalty for felony rape is very dependent on the situation, but generally results in 3-8 years in prison and registration as a sex-offender. However, felony rape is not the only sexual offense covered under the California Penal Code.
Statutory rape, sexual misconduct, sexual battery, and unlawful sexual intercourse are covered in California Law Sections 261-289, and child molestation is covered in Section 647.6. The age of consent in California is 18, period. Anyone over the age of 18 who has sex with anyone under the age of 18 is guilty of statutory rape. Anyone over the age of 18 who has sex with a minor under the age of 14 is guilty of child molestation. Anyone over the age of 18 who touches a minor in a sexual manner under the age of 18 could be guilty of sexual battery, or any multitude of offenses that fall under statutory rape. A police officer will be able to place an incident in a crime definition depending on the situation. Depending on the severity of the incident, the crimes can be either felonies or misdemeanors, and registration as a sex offender may not even be required as a penalty.
On a note aside from the law, public schools in California fire teachers who touch students under the age of 18, and most have a policy against student-teacher relations with 18 year olds anyway. If you or someone you know was touched by a teacher any amount of time ago, contact the principal of that school or the school district's legal representative, who can be reached through the school district's main office. You can remain anonymous.
There is no statute of limitations for sexual offenses in California, which means there is no time limit for when they must be reported in order to be prosecuted. There is much fluidity in prosecuting sex crimes in California, but chances are that if you expressed unwillingness in any way, verbally or physically, or you were under 18, you are the victim of a sexual offense. Reporting a sex crime is not as daunting as the news media paints it to be, and there are no repercussions for reporting something you are not sure is a sex crime. I am going to break the process down as simply as I can:
Go to the police station in the city where the crime occurred. Ask to speak to the "watch commander." If the front desk insists on a reason and you are uncomfortable describing the exact nature of your situation, say "reporting a code 261," this is the police code for rape. This will avoid nosey or scrutinizing gazes from a crowded waiting room. Remember, you can always walk away, there is no law that says once you are in a police station you can't leave, since you haven't done anything wrong.
The watch commander will take you back to the interrogation room and ask you some questions. Don't worry, you are not being interrogated. He'll ask you to describe what happened and ask for dates. Be as specific as you can. No one will yell at you or tell you that you are wasting anyone's time, they will be grateful that you came forward. You will have the complete, undivided attention of one or two officers. They will take down a report of the incident, they will not record you and write down every single thing you say. You can ask them not to write certain things down, you may even remain anonymous if you were not the victim. The police will give you a confidentiality form to sign, sign it! If they do not give you one, ask for one anyway, this will keep your name from going into the public record. Give the police your cell phone number if you live with your parents. Law Enforcement Agencies will not contact your family, no one will ever have to know except you. Important: there are no repercussions for coming forward. Your biggest problem is not law enforcement agencies, it is the Press.
California Penal Code 293 expressly forbids law enforcement officials from releasing victims' names to news outlets. Yet the press may still report like vultures as if the victim and the incident are not organically intertwined. Journalists do not receive sensitivity training, and that is arguably one of the main reasons victims refuse to come forward. Though law and conventions will keep the Press from naming the victim, little exists to stop them from naming everything else; the time, the location, the nature, witnesses, anyone who jumps in front of a camera and yells "hi mom," specific details, any and all evidence, and namely the perpetrator. 75% of victims know their assailants, and if the Press names the assailants, the list of possible victims grows smaller. This presents problems in that everything the law does to protect the identity of the victim, the Press chips away at. The law conceals clues about the victim's identity, and the Press infers them in bold letters. The law quiets incidents in an attempt to help everyone get back to their normal lives, the Press blows them up in the gossip columns to sell advertising. But the most damaging power the Press has in the case of a crime as heinous as rape is the power to hide behind the First Amendment and print their opinion.
For instance, last week, the Corsair printed a public viewpoint box that served to let the public comment on an incident that did not belong to us; the incident ultimately belongs and will always belong to the victim. The student viewpoint box in Issue 8 (last week), though some argue was not unethical, was at the very least insensitive and not any bit supportive to victims of similar crimes. Public scrutiny is the last thing that will encourage victims of any crime to come forward. If there is even the slightest inkling of a possibility that something the news media prints could be hurting a rape victim, then the news media shouldn't be printing it. If the color blue in our newspaper photos offended a fellow student who was hurt in a violent crime, then we should print all of our photographs in black and white for a reasonable amount of time that does not amount to the very next issue. At least I would have. The Press should not be publicly flogging a victim to raise awareness about a problem the public is already very well aware of, the greater good is supporting the victim, especially in the case of a fellow student. In regards to the lack of sensitivity shown in the case of the viewpoints box in last week's issue, no apology has been issued, so in its place, I personally apologize. If anything I have ever written has hurt a fellow student, they have my sincerest apologies, and if anything this paper has ever written has contributed in any conceivable way to the humiliation of anyone at this school-student, staff, teacher, janitor-you have my humblest regrets.
The only thing that will make campuses safer is locking up the people who are committing the crimes, not gossiping about crimes already committed. However, the good news for some is that the majority of sex offenses the news media covers are the most graphic felony rape cases, anyone who suffered some lesser form of sexual assault will most likely be passed over by the nosey newspapers and be able to rest assuredly.
As for me, before I was a student-reporter, I was a firefighter. I was trained not to leave a victim in a worse state than when I found them, and if my actions are doing more harm than good, I am to stop. I feel that by being a staff writer as part of an organization that prints unsympathetic comments regarding victims, I have done more harm than good. A last and final note I will give is an appeal for every student on campus who thinks they may have been the victim of a violent crime to come forward, and at least go to the Police Station on campus for advice, nothing bad will happen, no one will ridicule you, you're doing the right thing. Santa Monica College and the Santa Monica Corsair can consider this my letter of resignation.