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Rape Culture: Aiding And Abetting

April 8, 2010

If you read this story at Feministing years ago, you may have wondered what happened. A young woman was refused a rape kit after what was obviously an alcohol- and/or drug-assisted rape. In fact, it fits perfectly within the Predator Theory. If you wondered what happened, the answer is available to you, perhaps at the cost of a night’s sleep, or even basic faith in humanity. [Trigger Warning from here down]
Amanda Hess did some exceptional digging to write a complete narrative of the events from the sworn deposition testimony in the case. It is not an easy read. It’s as bad as you might think, with all the details filled in.

I can’t match Amanda’s storytelling. I do want to point out two things, which are really the same thing: that rapists operate within social structures that allow them to get away with it, the “social license to operate.”

First, the rapist’s friends aided and abetted him. The bouncer at the party, who knew the target and was friendly with the survivor, prevented her friends from getting upstairs to help her, when he clearly either knew or suspected what was happening. He actually provided cover for the rapist while the rape was happening:

“So I go to the steps,” Sade testified in a deposition. “I move [the barricade],” she said. “I’m walking up the steps, and Tito like just comes behind me. He grabs my arm…and he literally like brings me back down the steps.…And I’m like get off me, what are you talking about?” The three girls gathered around Tito and told them they were just looking for their friend; Tito explained that he’d been hired to keep people from reaching the second floor…

After five minutes of yelling, the girls insisted that Tito go up the stairs to look for her himself. Tito testified that he climbed the stairs, saw an empty bathroom and some locked bedroom doors—but no Hannah—and reoccupied his post at the foot of the stairs. When he returned, “he was sweating,” Kerston testified. “I remember him taking off his hat and rubbing, like wiping his forehead and he was just like shaking his head.…Just sitting there, sweating.” In her deposition, Sade testified, “Tito looked nervous, like he knew that something was going on that shouldn’t have been going on,” she said. “I know Tito knew her before this, so maybe his conscience was getting to him or something.…Why are you acting this funny about a bathroom?”

The girls started screaming again…Then, Brandon came running down the stairs swearing at them to leave his house. “He came past Tito and he was like in our, like close to our faces, yelling at us,” Kerston testified. “He was telling us to get out of his house, and we were like, ‘No, we’re not leaving without our friend,’ so we didn’t leave.” In a deposition taken two years later, Brandon testified that he couldn’t recall the specifics of the interaction.

According to the testimony of the three girls, Tito then changed his story. “He said, ‘Oh, she’s coming,’” Amanda said. “Well, first he told me she wasn’t up there. I knew he was lying.” …

Finally, Hannah appeared at the top of the staircase. “She looked drunk, like her eyes were closed,” Amanda testified. “She couldn’t really walk…”

There’s nothing I can add to that. It speaks for itself.

But the rapist’s friends are not the only ones who helped him. Howard University Hospital’s openly hostile personnel and the since-changed rule that rape kits could only be done with police approval helped him. Other hospitals’ reluctance to do a rape kit so that she couldn’t immediately have it done somewhere else helped him. But most of all the DC police helped him. (I’ve spent some time in DC. It would be hard to find a sorrier excuse for a police department.) Whether because they are under pressure to keep the crime statistics down, or because they just prefer to disbelieve and discourage survivors from reporting, the DC police engaged in conduct clearly designed to silence this woman:

Later, D.C. police officer Michael Minor reported to the hospital to take a report from Hannah. In a notebook, he recorded Kerston’s information as a witness, noted the location of the party, and sketched a description of the suspect. Then, he called the Sexual Assault Unit, where he was patched into Spriggs. Minor told Spriggs he had a victim complaining of sexual assault and needed a rape kit authorized. Though D.C. police policy requires detectives to report to the scene to interview the victim in person, Spriggs decided to do this one by phone. Spriggs told Minor to put Hannah on the line. Spriggs, sitting in the SAU office, determined that Hannah hadn’t been the victim of a crime. “She told me that she was at a party. And she remembered kissing a guy,” Spriggs testified. “I repeated back to her what she said to me. And there was a pause,” he said. Back on the phone with Minor, “I said, this young lady, she’s not reporting anything, she’s not reporting a crime to me. I’m not bringing a sex kit up here.” Spriggs then testified as to why he didn’t press Hannah to explain why she needed a kit: “I’m not going to feed you any information to give you an opportunity to embellish you story,” Spriggs testified. “If you are reporting something to me, then you should be able to tell me what that is. And she did not report any crime to me.”

Hannah testified that she did tell Spriggs she had been raped, but that he informed her “I would not be able to receive a sex kit because I do not know the person or whoever it was last name,” she said. “I didn’t know the last name. So I could not receive the sex kit.” Minor left without filling out a police report documenting Hannah’s sexual assault allegation.

When Hannah’s sister arrived at the hospital—having been notified of the crisis over the phone—she couldn’t understand why no report was taken. So she called 911 and was told that officers would respond to the scene. After a significant wait, she called the police again, and two more officers showed up—Officer Green and Officer Ginette Leveque. When they arrived, Green and Leveque called SAU’s Detective Wheeler to see if the SAU would authorize a kit; Wheeler then posed the rape kit question to his supervisor, Sergeant Kevin Rice. Rice determined no investigation would be opened, and no rape kit authorized, because Spriggs had already spoken to the victim and determined that she didn’t have a case. Rice later supported Spriggs’ determination that no crime had occurred, testifying that “blacking out is not a crime.”

[Emphasis supplied.]

If the police decide that they are going to stonewall rape reports, there will be no convictions. I’ve discussed before the idea that the criminal justice system — any criminal justice system, whether formal process or community accountability process or vigilante action — is operated by people. There is not a self-executing system. If the people in that process hold attitudes that cause them to defeat the reporting of rape, some or even all survivors will be turned away without justice.

In this post about legal reform, one of the ideas that got lost in the vitriolic trainwreck of a comment thread was one that I ultimately disagreed with, but that is serious food for thought. Professor Donald Dripp recommended using B misdemeanors that can be tried before a judge, because juries are, basically, antediluvian pro-rape bigots who punish women for stepping outside arbitrary and restrictive patriarchal sex role constraints. He’s not wrong about the problem, though I criticized his solution. He reaches that conclusion because he thinks that the police and prosecutors are doing their jobs for the most part, and that it’s the juries that are helping the rapists. But what if he’s wrong? In this case, he’s wrong. The police were helping the rapist, too.

There is no simple solution. There is no narrow solution. There is no technical solution. Everything else is a stopgap. The rapists cannot be changed, though their behavior can. The only change that matters is whether the environment that they operate in offers them the promise of support for their conduct, or threatens the likelihood of consequences. If they didn’t care about consequences, they wouldn’t so reliably use the methods that avoid them. Consequences stop rapists.

Consequences stop rape.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. April 19, 2010 2:50 am

    That’s disgusting. I really feel sorry for Hannah.

  2. Alex permalink
    June 23, 2010 1:28 pm

    Goddess, this one nearly made me cry. I am so angry! Just…in the twenty-first century, how this shit can still happen is absolutely appalling! Everything was there! They had witnesses, they had physical evidence, they had a prime suspect, and they just threw it out! I hope that she remembers and gets some counseling because that experience is going to reside in her subconscious a while.

  3. February 21, 2012 6:42 pm

    Im sobbing reading this, I can sympathise with Hannah. Ive been put in a similar situation myself, Ive just tried to report to the police after 5 years of being traumatised and the hardest part being everyone knew. Im so upset at this, Its killing me knowing. I really hope Hannah manages to get through this with some good support. My support has just been taken from me. I’ve so upset. The hardest part is not knowing the outcome and what to do from here. Hope everything works out ok for Hannah and she finds a way to move forward and have a happy life again, turning it around from being a survivor to living again is hard but with strength and faith and loving yourself hannah you will. I promise to try too.

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