When a teenage girl reports being raped

Why wait to report rape? All you have to do is report it, and then the bad guy will be punished, the good girl will be protected, and justice will be served. Here’s one American expressing a typical point of view on the topic this morning:

And here’s a short essay from the loving parent of a teenage girl who was raped — not thirty-five years ago, but last December. They did report it as soon as they possibly could, and now they are living through the very typical aftermath of what very often happens next. 

Spoiler: Justice was not served. The author is my friend of twenty years.

***

I spent the weekend sitting in the emergency room with my teenage daughter. I do mean the whole weekend, 48 hours of it. She was inching towards suicidal plans again, Googling ways to overdose.

She’s been an inpatient before, twice, after a previous suicide attempt. Her father and I confronted her about her plans and asked her if she needed to go back into a psychiatric hospital to be safe and get help. She asked if she could think about it. Two hours later she told us, yes, she felt like she needed to go back. So we went to the emergency room to wait for a bed on a unit somewhere. After the emergency room, she spent the next five days in an inpatient mental health facility.

Here is what led up to this day:

In December she was at an event with friends and started to feel sick. A male acquaintance of hers offered to take her home. But before he brought her home, he turned off into a dark parking lot and raped her.

She told him no. She did her best to physically resist. There was no confusion about consent there.

Then he brought her home where she began the dark spiral of self-blame. She had flirted with him in the past, they had texted. There may have even been some talk of “getting together.” So she did her best to just push it away and move on.

Trauma doesn’t work like that, though. Her body responded violently. Over the next two months, she would vomit multiple times a day, often going days at a time without holding down any substantial food. We sought every medical solution we could find to help her, but with only limited success. Because we were just putting a band-aid on a broken leg.

In June, we started observing her even more closely and discovered some concerning information about how she’d been spending her time. Together, her dad and I talked to her about it. She told us that on top of all we found, she had been raped back in December. There was a whirlwind of trying to get her every kind of help we could at this point, but that is not what this is about. My own self-doubt and distress having to think of my child going through this or memories of my own traumatic experiences are not what this is about either, but those were extreme too.

It took two more months before she felt like she was ready to make a police report. In August, she made the report. It took two more weeks for the detective to finally make an appointment for her to come in and make a statement.

I knew that would be hard for her. She would have to talk through the whole story, which she had only done with her therapist to this point.  But it was much worse than I imagined. It shattered her all over again.

The detective was a friendly, young guy. He talked to me first and asked me all about what I knew. He asked why we had waited so long to report this. I told him that we found out well after it had happened, and since there wasn’t any physical proof, our first priority was to get her some help and try to get her a little bit stabilized.

Then he talked to her. It took a very long time. He called me back in when she was trying to pull herself back together in the bathroom. He asked me if I knew about her other experiences with boys. I did. He asked me if I knew what kind of pictures and texts she had, at one point, had on her phone. I did. When she came back into the room he told us that he would interview the boy she was accusing, but if he asked for a lawyer, they would drop the case. Because it was her word against his.

The detective talked to him the next day. He asked for a lawyer. The police dropped the case.

So while this boy carried on with his senior year, playing football, hanging out with friends, my daughter ended up sitting in a locked room feeling violated all over again when she was told that for her own safety, she couldn’t have her bra. Or her sweatshirt. Or her journal or any writing utensil but crayons. For her safety.

While this family goes on with life as usual, we are buried under medical bills. His father gets to go watch his son’s games. I pick my daughter up from school after another major panic attack.

While he stayed at school with his friends, she switched schools so that she wouldn’t have to face the trauma of seeing him every day. While he gets by without having to say a word, she is questioned extensively and in graphic detail about what really happened and about her mental health and sexual history.

But it is just her word against his.

***

Related: If she was sexually assaulted, why didn’t she say something sooner?

Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

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30 thoughts on “When a teenage girl reports being raped”

  1. Charles I get where you are coming from. But there are circumstances where something did happen and no one believed you because you don’t have evidence or a witness to back you up. What do you do then? In an ideal world you would think that young people would exercise prudence in circumstances but too often they don’t. This girl is clearly affected by the incident and the truth needs to continue me out. Otherwise the girl suffers injustice and the boy gets away with it.

    1. Ezabelle,
      Sadly, but realistically, every single one of us will suffer wrongs and not be believed…at least once in our lifetime, but usually more. “What do you do then?” You speak the truth because Truth deserves that witness, and you enter into the Passion of Jesus Christ, Who was falsely accused, brutalized, abandoned, tortured…and not believed. You begin to understand the enormity of evil more clearly than ever before, and you begin to understand more clearly that some wounds only God can heal. Only He truly understands how violated this young girl has been.
      I hope this young lady and her family can keep trying to heal with God’s Grace.

  2. So. This is what we’ve come to. Hysteria.

    In this country the standard is that you’re innocent beyond a reasonable doubt. That means that you need corroborating evidence to support a criminal accusation. Period. No exceptions, ever.

    This means that in the absence of a confession, you either need clear physical evidence or else trustworthy supporting witnesses to convict someone of a felony.

    If you think a woman alone with a man by itself constitutes sufficient circumstantial evidence, well, that means a woman can never be alone with an unaffiliated man. If she happens to be, that makes her guilty of negligence.

    Imagine that someone accuses you of rape. Would you demand that the accuser support his or her claim?

    Imagine someone accuses someone you love – your son, brother, husband, father, friend. Would the accusation need to be supported by evidence? Or would you just hand your son over to prison solely on the testimony of a unstable teenager?

    This attitude that the accuser is automatically right is insane.

    What you are going to get is the re-institution of “Victorian” sexual mores. Women clearly need to be chaperoned, if they are so vulnerable. In the absence of a chaperone, a lady is clearly just asking for trouble.

    1. Not to mention that women can be and sometimes are accused of sexual assault or rape, by other women and by men. It’s not just men who might find themselves falsely accused.

      And about true accusations: I once saw a woman I used to know encourage a friend of hers to grab the privates of a mutual acquaintance (male) at a bar. She had always made a point of being a feminist, too. I’ve sometimes wondered whether she has the grace to remain very, very quiet when Donald Trump’s p***** speech is brought up in company.

      1. LFM,

        Two testimonies.

        First:

        My family moved the summer before my freshman year of high school. My father was a school administrator and army officer, we moved every two to three years when I was growing up. My 7th and 9th grade years we moved into rural Maine towns where I had no social support. The cliques were established, I was shy and a bit socially inept, both moves were brutalizing.

        Ninth grade, Earth Science class. The teacher was a very attractive woman in her 20’s who that next year married our cool and congenial vice principal (who divorced his Irish wife he’d met playing in a folk band in the bars of Boston to marry her, but never mind that) – We, students, sat in four pairs at tables arranged in two isles, three to a table. Part of the semester I sat second row to the back, the table behind me had three of the “most popular girls” in my class sitting at it. I naturally venerated them, because that’s how stupid adolescents are. We instinctively know the score, serve the caste hierarchy, worship our social pantheon.

        On multiple occasions throughout the semester – perhaps about a dozen – these girls would lean forward over their table and give me a wedgie. Pull my underwear out of my pants with me still in them. On I’d say three or four occasions they ripped my underwear. I was so socially inept and shy that I didn’t know how to react, couldn’t defend myself. Our teacher watched, laughed, and did nothing to defend me. I came home with ripped underwear, my mother remarked on it, but didn’t react further.

        It’s difficult for me to parse my reaction to all this, even now. On a basic level what they were doing was a compliment. I was defenseless, but (and) they found me cute enough to abuse. They didn’t tear any ugly guys’ underwear. One of those girls went on to become an executive at MTV these past couple decades. She used to post selfies of herself with teenie bopper male popstars half her age a while back, when I used to pay slight attention to her feed ten years or so ago. Often the boys were shirtless. She clearly enjoyed her intimate proximity. I find that pretty darkly amusing.

        Second:

        Second semester, freshman year at PC. Spring of 1990. Fennell Hall, first floor, just down the hall from Brother Kevin’s apartment. I think it was Thursday or Friday, the beginning of a weekend. Hank came to ask me if I wanted to hang out. He said that some guys on the second floor, who I did not know, had some whiskey they might share. I had no idea who they were, but I was willing to to see if they had whiskey.

        I know the time frame because of Hank transferred at the end of that year, we didn’t become friends until second semester, and every year at PC I had a different living arrangement.

        We went to the whiskey guys’ room, and met the guys. Hank asked if they had whiskey they wouldn’t mind sharing. There were three of them, two of us. In the middle of the conversation, one of the guys got up stood on his bed, and dropped his pants. I have absolutely no idea why. He stood there on his bed with a shit eating grin on his face, and told Hank to touch his penis.

        His friends, one standing by the bed, the other between Hank and I and the door, both dropped their pants, too.

        I started to laugh, because it was so ridiculous. Hank didn’t think it was funny. He responded by telling them all to get the f**k out of his way, our else they’d all be sorry. I just leaned against the far wall, and laughed. I suspect my reaction helped lighten the tension a bit, and after a minute or two, they let us leave.

        I remember one of them swinging without his pants from the heating pipes along the hallway ceiling as we went down the hall to the stairwell. Like an ape.

  3. She should not have accepted this inexperienced and lazy police officers advice. As a parent I would have asked to see his superior, and kept going higher up the chain until charges were laid. It’s not like she reported it years after- she reported it two months after. And the fact that there is no physical evidence does not mean it cannot be proven. The fact she is psychologically unstable following the incident is an indicator of proof it occurred. That girl needs her mother and father to battle for her because she clearly is unwell to do so. Phone an advocacy group in your area, connect with others in the same situation- keep fighting for this girl. Again, it’s not too late to exhaust every avenue until this girl has the incident validated so she can begin healing. Otherwise this boy will do it again and think nothing of it and continue to create a line of victims.

  4. Thank You so much for spreading awareness and sharing this. This proves that the world needs to start being humane and sane. The world is progressing an developing every second but still inhumane and insane acts like these continue to dwell globally. It is time we try to bring a change. It is time we speak up against rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse.

  5. I am so so sorry.
    The “Mike Pence” rule does not prevent rape.
    Self defense does not prevent rape.
    Talking to your kids can do a lot, but does not prevent rape.
    Having rapists run free is just wrong.
    This is something this young woman will live with all her life.
    She is suffering, and we are thinking of solutions to her suffering, and it’s all just so much more difficult, unimaginable.
    God bless her, and God bless her family. May she find peace in this life…

  6. Awful, poor girl. My husband and I have talked about self-defense classes for our girls. We really need to follow through. One idea I return to over and over again, especially with the rampant abuse of vulnerable people in our society nowadays–children, women, etc.–is what is now known as the Mike Pence rule, but used to be common sense, societal convention, simple propriety for centuries. Men and women, boys and girls, priests and a child, teacher and student should never be alone together in a private setting. It may seem inconvenient to our modern minds, but we need to teach and enforce this with our children. I know it’s not politically correct to place this burden upon women, but it also protects men from false accusations, avoids even consensual near occasions of sin for those trying to live a chaste life, it teaches young people mutual respect, helps prevent trusting people from becoming victims. It will not stop all rape, but might make it more difficult for awful people like this boy to get away with it.

    1. But the “Mike Pence rule” prohibits him even doing things like grabbing lunch in a crowded cafeteria with a woman, right? That makes professional working relationships pretty difficult to maintain.
      But in general I think good teachers and priests are pretty aware that they should not be alone with a child in a private space, and we should probably all keep that rule in mind. There’s the old joke about “why do women always go to the bathroom in groups” and really, the most basic reason is safety.

    2. And it punishes women for the crimes of men. Women will be locked out of most important and well-paying jobs because men can’t control their evil impulses.

  7. It’s so easy and intuitive to cuddle our little daughters. We invite them into our maternal beds when they have nightmares.

    Invite them into your maternal bed on a weekend morning when they are not so cute and little. Put your heads on pillows and look at each other.

  8. Thank you for telling this horrible story. I sit with my 12 year old daughter behind me and I weep for this other girl and her family. I am as sorry as I can be. I am as angry as I can be. This is about all of us.
    This is not an answer, but in Seattle we have a wonderful place for girls and women of all ages to learn how to defend themselves in different situations.
    https://www.strategicliving.org/

  9. We can try cases of murder – cases clearly not marred by he said/she said. (Because victims of murder can’t speak for themselves, see?)

    But rape?

    Nah.

    It’s he said/she said.

    I’m so sorry for your daughter. I will practice tonglen for her.

    1. Murder victims can’t talk, but they are obvious evidence that something very wrong has happened. Very often in rape cases there is no such evidence. It is horrible and unfair but do you really think you would feel safe changing the law so that there is no presumption of innocence and no proof required to convict rapists?

      Remember To Kill a Mockingbird? The whole story was about a false rape allegation. And as a matter of fact, I always felt a little uneasy about that aspect of it, although the racial angle – the alleged rapist was of course black – was thought more morally significant by readers and viewers then, than the perpetuation of the idea that women lie about rape.

      1. Exactly this. I’m a mother of three kids all five and under, 2 girls and 1 boy. I’m terrified of the teen years. It would kill me if anyone ever inappropriately touched my children. But, I also think with these types of cases you do need physical evidence to prosecute. I would hate it if my son was accused of anything falsely. And also, for this specific account it sounds like the victim was very emotionally pained by the act of having to recount the story to the police. If they did prosecute, the evidence would be her word and she’d have to testify. I don’t think any jury would convict without physical evidence. The end result would put her in likely more vulnerable state. Also with sexual assault cases, a victim can still sue in civil court regardless of whether state procescures criminally. It’s not the same remedy, but the burden of proof is lower and still can provide some sense of justice.

      2. I think “TKAM” is more subtle than just “bitches be lyin.” Mayella is clearly abused by her monster of a father, and as much as helpless victim as Tom is, although not with the same horrifying results. (Harper Lee makes it pretty clear that Bob Euell beat Mayella into saying Tom Robinson assaulted her.)

  10. When a child is abused, or a teen by another teen, one should not expect an adult response. Even as adults, we don’t always know how best to respond. As an adult, I was groped a couple of times by priests who thought they were making friendly advances, and I had no idea how to respond at first. Do I ruin their careers? I confronted them both individually and for one of them I told the religious superior, whom I knew, about it. I was not sure what to do and at first I worried that maybe I was making too big a deal of it. Later on, I sometimes thought I should have done more. These were comparatively very minor offenses and I was an adult but in my shock I did not know how to respond.

    1. Robert, I think your responses were perfect. I sympathize with your confusion as to how to respond. I think a lot of people don’t take into account the embarrassment factor in all of this. There is a hurdle many victims of inappropriate behavior have to clear, which is confronting the other person or revealing the “secret”. It’s hard to imagine that there are people that behave this way and sexual sins are many times embarrassing sins to expose. In addition, people who abuse in this way can be very manipulative and hard to confront because they are so overconfident in there behavior and feelings of entitlement that they make you second guess what you think you felt or experienced, even doing it in front of others sometimes.

      In my own experience, there was a member of the waitstaff at my parents’ country club that I never had a good “gut” feeling about. He was always very over-friendly with my kids and I would get goosebumps when he approached our table. On one occasion when we were all there for brunch, seated in the outdoor patio section, the children were playing a few yards from the table when this particular waiter squatted down next to my six and four-year old and had them reach into his pants pockets to feel around and retrieve a piece of candy. It really shocked me. I kept replaying the incident in my mind…How long were their hands in his pants? Did he REALLY just have my kids stick their hands in his pants pocket to get candy? Could he really be that innocent and naive that he thought this was an acceptable thing to do? I thought about this for a day and realized that there is no way I was mistaken about the inappropriateness of the incident. I told my parents about it and that I planned to report the behavior to the police. I did not wish to file charges, just report the behavior. My parents were very upset at me and didn’t want me to make it an issue. I did what I thought was right and called the police department and filed a report. I didn’t know the waiter’s name but gave a description of the incident so that they could do whatever they felt appropriate with the information. My hope is that if this is a pattern of behavior and other people have similar experiences then there would then be a record that this is not just an isolated incident. If it was an innocent lapse of judgement then no harm is done.

      1. Ick. A volunteer at a horse show once unbuttoned my son’s shirt with some comment about real men showing some chest hair (my son was 8 at the time). It was in the middle of a crowded arena, but my son was so embarrassed. We did report it to the person in charge of the volunteers and they dismissed him immediately, escorting him out. We and they knew it wasn’t criminal, but it was sure inappropriate and I thought it was important to my kids to see that even something “just weird” should be reported and dealt with directly so it doesn’t escalate (whether with that person, in this case someone we would never see again, or in any other situation they might encounter.)

  11. I’m so sorry this happened to this young lady. Unfortunately, I understand the outcome too. With months of delay in reporting, all physical evidence would be gone. Was their any texts or other evidence to corroborate the rape?

        1. Immediately giving up because the accused asked for a lawyer seems ridiculous. “We only prosecute when the accused confesses” should not be usual law enforcement practice.

          1. James- this isn’t usual practice. Since months have passed, the physical evidence from rape isn’t there. If there was something else to corroborate- maybe if he had sent some texts confirming or if someone else saw the rape or aftermath, they might be able to do more. But the story doesn’t provide whether that existed here, my guess, it did not.

          2. I don’t necessarily disagree with that. But the stated reason given by the police was “We give up once we see a lawyer.” Let this lawyer actually do his work and get his client off if he can – don’t be intimidated by his mere presence.

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