In the last few weeks I've learned a number of valuable lessons. Among them:
1) Apparently if you are poor, you should not expect to be taken seriously if you accuse someone who is not poor, of sexually assaulting you (or trying to).
2) Similarly, if you are powerless, you should not expect to be taken seriously if you accuse someone who is powerful of sexually assaulting you.
3) If you are intoxicated -- at all -- you should not expect the judicial system to take you seriously if you accuse someone of sexually assaulting you.
4) If you are worried that you are in a vulnerable state -- intoxicated or otherwise -- and therefore worried that you could find yourself in danger (of sexual assault or other bodily harm), don't call the police.
5) If you do call the police, and they take advantage of you, don't expect the judicial system to take your complaint seriously. (See numbers 1 through 4.)
I would like to thank the two (former) New York police officers who were supposed to be coming to the aid of an intoxicated woman, but instead admitted to "cuddling" with her in bed (but not "assaulting" her), for teaching me these valuable lessons. I'd also like to thank the jurors who acquitted them of the most serious charges they faced, stemming from that night. And lastly, I'd like to thank the defenders of Dominique Strauss-Kahn for driving these points home through their endless efforts to trash and -- and when that didn't seem to work -- buy off his accuser and her family (allegedly).
The treatment of both of these women -- in one case, by the legal system and in both cases, by the media wild west of cyberspace -- has left me with one question: Is there such a thing as a credible rape victim? Does she exist? Is there any woman on the planet whose word, reputation and behavior is considered beyond reproach enough that she can accuse someone in power of assaulting her and have a real shot at being taken seriously? Or should we just save ourselves some time and just make a rule right now, that only wealthy, tee-totaling nuns should be allowed to make sexual assault claims? Meaning the rest of us, should we find ourselves in harm's way, will just be out of luck? (Click here to see a list of celebrities convicted of sex crimes.)
Now before I get inundated with scolding e-mails, yes I know that there are women who make and have made false assault claims. I find anyone who would do such a thing appalling and believe she should face serious punishment (including jail time) for doing so. But statistically we know that the pendulum tends to swing much further in the opposite direction -- meaning many more sexual assaults go unreported than go over-reported, (despite the media frenzy that cases like the Duke Lacrosse scandal can generate.) The "cuddle cops" case is yet another reminder why so few survivors are willing to come forward.
The best-case scenario -- the scenario that the officers' own defense wants us to believe -- is that police officers that were called to get a vulnerable woman home safely engaged in "cuddling," groping and other inappropriate physical contact with her, while she was so intoxicated that she became sick. Despite the fact that one officer was caught on tape confirming to the accuser that he used a condom, he was acquitted of rape. I'm not exactly sure what he would have needed a condom for if he didn't engage in any sexual activity with her, but I guess I wasn't in the jury room to hear how this little detail was rationalized by those who acquitted him of the rape charge.
I can already hear the judgments of some. "No woman should be so intoxicated that she can't fend for herself." I will take this thought a step further and suggest that it's probably best that no human being, male or female, get so intoxicated that he or she can't fend for him or herself. Forget sexual assault. What about wandering into a street and getting hit by a car? And yet if a man were brutally beaten and mugged on his way out of a bar, why do I get the feeling that a jury wouldn't have a tough time convicting the guys who were eventually caught with his wallet, regardless of how many drinks the victim had before they took it?
But the demonization of the victim in this case is not its most disturbing legacy. The trust that these officers have destroyed between future victims, and the men and women all of us should be able to trust the most -- police officers -- is. While I applaud the NYPD for swiftly terminating Officers Kenneth Moreno and Franklin Mata for disgracing their uniforms, I fear the damage has already been done. I know I'm not the only woman who will now think twice the next time I'm alone, it's nighttime and I need help with anything, including getting home safely, and I see two male police officers.
After all, I'm not wealthy. I'm not powerful. I'm also not a nun. So chances are my word isn't worth very much.
This piece originally appeared on TheLoop21.com for which Goff is a Contributing Editor.
Follow Keli Goff on Twitter: www.twitter.com/keligoff