Friday, September 7, 2012

an open letter to judge jacqueline hatch (tw: rape, victim blaming)

To the Honorable Jacqueline Hatch:

It was with dismay and disgust that I read today about your ruling in the case of the sexual assault committed by Arizona police officer Robb Gary Evans and your remarks to his victim.

Unfortunately, I was not surprised.

You see, I am a survivor of multiple sexual assaults. One happened when I was 13; I reported it, with the help of a school counselor, to the local police. No charges were filed, even though I knew the names of the people who raped me. The clothing I had on the day I went to the police station was questioned. My behavior was questioned. My prior relationships with the boys who raped me were questioned. I do not believe the boys themselves were ever questioned.

When I was 18, I was raped by someone I was dating and an associate of theirs. Not wanting to deal with the police again, and far from home during my first year of college, I reported my rape - and subsequent pregnancy - to the school I was attending. I was forced to attend "mediation" with the two people involved, deprived of choices about what to do with the resultant child (I miscarried), and dropping classes I had with those two people was an incredible chore that dragged on forever. It was a small campus. I saw them everywhere. I was not safe. (I transferred as soon as I could.)

I have been very public about my status as a survivor and the way that I was treated by police, college administration, therapists - institutions that are ostensibly set up to help victims of a violent crime or at least refer them to the correct other institutions, institutions that have the ability to mete out one form of justice/aid or another - because very little has changed, and I want other people, other survivors, to be able to receive support and understanding when they come forward. I received that kind of support from some places in my life (and I am thankful for it), but not from institutions who I was told that I was supposed to trust with my well-being.

I would imagine Evans' victim may have felt similarly as I did when she heard your words and saw your ruling.

We hear these messages EVERY DAY, we women. We can't drink, we can't wear certain outfits, we can't flirt, we can't change our minds: we led him on. We can't go outside. We deserved it. Some women - women of color, trans women - get this message more intensely and it manifests in different ways from the mainstream message - some women's bodies are deemed more worthy of protection, justice and autonomy than others. There is a wealth of literature, research and survivor testimonials out there on all of this, and one thing is clear from all of it - there is nothing we could ever do that would make rape justifiable. Someone who understands consent, who is not a rapist, backs off when there is any sign that a woman does not welcome his attentions - even if she did before. It has nothing to do with the victim's actions and everything to do with the rapist's.

I see that you have apologized to the victim; that's a good start. I really do hope that you apply what you've learned from the public response to your callous remarks to future cases, and that there is some way for  Evans to be punished for his crime - losing his job would be a good beginning. Sending the message that behavior like his is completely unacceptable is crucial. I hope you understand the fact that your ruling was unjust - a civilian would have been menacing enough, but a police officer who abused his authority in order to assault a woman? Evans is not the first or last, and it is an especially heinous abuse of power. I hope you truly understand the force your remarks had and how truly traumatic it is hearing a system reinforce the idea that you did something to bring your assault upon yourself.

Perhaps you can take this opportunity to work with a rape crisis center or another advocacy organization of that sort to educate fellow members of the judicial community. I can only hope. All of us survivors can only hope. Your voice as a member of the bar, as someone who sits on the Coconino County Superior Court, has more political weight than mine. Please use it for true justice, for true change.


Jessica Skolnik
Chicago, IL

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