Monday, July 23, 2007

Victim censored in Rape Trial

You cannot say "rape" and you cannot say "sexual assault", but you can call it "sex" or "intercourse". This is what Judge Cheuvront told Tory Bowen before she had to testify against her rapist, Pamir Safi. During the first trial Ms. Bowen conformed to this silencing rule and spent 13 hours on the stand carefully qualifying her testimony in order to make sure the defendant, not herself, had a fair trial.

Rape trials do not simply determine whether a defendant is guilty of sexually harming the victim, they often are truly trials of the victim to determine if he/she really was harmed at all. Sexual assault law results in such framings at trial since sexual assault revolves around whether the victim "consented" or not to sexual contact (as opposed to scrutinizing a defendant's actions employed to dimish consent), and this often boils down to a classic "he said, she said". This is difficult enough to successfully prosecute without censoring what "she" has to say regarding the violence her body suffered.

The first trial ended in a hung jury and upon the eve of the second trial Tory Bowen decided to speak out by refusing to sign away her right to use the word 'rape', meaning she faced jail time if she testified using those words at trial. Through the organization PAVE (Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment) she drew national attention to this travesty of justice:

(This is but a slice of the media coverage in this case, visit for all news coverage and updates on this on going legal issue)

The judge's decision to silence the victim on stand was justified as protecting the defendant's right to a fair trial, but what about a victim's rights? The purpose of censored words in trial is to make sure the jury is not biased against the defendant so that he or she can have a fair trial, but what about the bias using consensual words like "sex" will create in the jury against the victim? Jury's need to know that the defendant faces charges of "sexual assault", that the victim went to receive medical treatment from a "sexual assault nurse" and had evidence collected by a "rape kit". None of these things can be known at trial with the censorship, nor most importantly can Ms. Bowen adequately testify to what was done to her.

This struggle for victim's rights is necessary to ensure that future victims may be able to speak the truth on stand and shatter the silence that surrounds sexual violence. For a 10 Step Action Plan to petition to ensure free speech for victim's on the stand visit:

Monday, July 2, 2007

Victim to Survivor: A Voice of Courage

I joined the PAVE media team, because I knew I had a lot to express that only I could communicate. I had been silenced my whole life and have lived as a victim. Even as recent as few months ago, as a grown woman living on my own, I was not taking control of my life. The first step was to become conscious of it, and the second step was to do something about it. Since I was not yet comfortable talking about my past, I decided I must express myself through writing. There is no one else who knows exactly what I have survived, and people need to hear the truth.

For quite some time, I knew I wanted my life to change, but I did not know how to go about making my life better. I finally committed to writing an article in my hometown newspaper one night in April while lying in bed unable to sleep. I grew up in Eau Claire, Wisconsin which is a very conservative city. I knew if I wrote anything about abuse it would shake the city up a little bit. I also knew that if I attached my name to my abuse the city might not believe me, and would deny everything to protect my family of origin. My mother was well-liked a fifth grade teacher at the elementary school I attended, so she had taught most of my high school friends. My father was a huge sports fan, who had always been present at my siblings and my athletic events. My family was also very active in church: my mom led worship in the band with her vocals, my sister and I worked in the nursery, and one of my brothers led youth groups.

I started writing because I was angry. I'm angry because my family made me suffer alone for so long. I'm angry because even though I don't live in Eau Claire anymore, I'm still suffering. I'm angry because no one knew how strong I had to be just to live. I'm angry because I know other children are abused too. Then I realized that if I, someone who was well-liked and well-known in the community, could reveal her pain that it would be empowering for others who are silently struggling. I wanted to help others, because no one helped me in Eau Claire. I added statistics and a website with more statistics and information to engrain in peoples’ minds that I am not suffering alone (; there are a lot of people who are still suffering in silence. Even if people choose not to believe my story, the stats are scientifically proven.

I had a lot of adrenaline to push me through the first draft. I liked writing the names of those who wronged me, because it validated my feelings. I knew I would not be able to print the names because of legal reasons. The system is set up to protect the perpetrators rather than the victims. I have learned that shame thrives in silence, and not being able to print names makes my story less personal. I also knew I would not be able to write about the details of what happened to me. After all, this is a family newspaper. Even though I was such a little girl when the abuse started, it is still not appropriate to read about.

Another legal problem that came up was having one of my offenders underage when he sexually and physically abused me. I petitioned to judges at Eau Claire’s County Courthouse with no luck of gaining a copy of the police report, even though I was the victim, the perpetrator was again being protected. I later found out there was no court record for my brother. Contrary to my mother’s stories, he was never charged. There was a little paperwork that had been filled out with a social worker, and he did some community service at my church, and his record is clean. His record is clean and I have a speeding ticket from when I was sixteen.

So I re-drafted my article. I re-drafted it so many times that I lost count. I removed those people who had been mentioned without a police record, because it was “just accusatory.” When you’re ten years old and you depend on your mother for food and a bed, how are you supposed to know that you should call the police on her for neglect and emotional abuse? That’s ridiculous, because if I grew up living in denial, there’s no way I am going to know that is wrong and I have the right to do something about it. Only now do I see that I deserve justice.

I also ran into some personal issues with the editor. He has a daughter my age who had my mom for a fifth-grade teacher. He just ran a little blurb in the newspaper announcing the engagement of one of my brothers. He did not want to print the article because he did not want it to embarrass my family. He sent me an email on a Friday asking me if I could prove the sibling abuse. If I could prove it, he would print the article. I wrote him back saying how the article states that I cannot prove anything, because I was nine at the time, and the emergency room staff did not ask any questions, as long as they knew it was not my father who caused it. The whole point of one of my paragraphs was that sibling abuse was overlooked. To put his mind at ease, I told him my family knew I was a very realistic person who did not make up stories. He called me on Monday morning saying he had thought about the article all weekend, and decided he couldn’t print it. There were legal issues that he was not comfortable with.

He rejected numerous drafts, saying pieces were still accusatory and I should re-write the whole article. I refused to do this, and I continued to pick out detail by detail what he would not print. This became exhausting, because no draft fit his standards. I asked him to work with me and give me more feedback. He sent me a draft of his that he would print. I eagerly opened one of my drafts and compared them side-by-side on my computer. I grew sick to my stomach as I realized he had destroyed my story. What he wrote back barely resembled what I had submitted to him. I asked a friend to read it to make sure I wasn’t overreacting. She concurred that I could not put my name on that. He removed not only any potential legal concerns, but also all of my emotion and voice.

That evening, I wrote him an email that explained what I needed. I told him that I needed to get something published soon, because until I do, my trips to Eau Claire that were supposed to be relaxing were horrific. Instead of enjoying time with friends, I was always at the courthouse talking with family services or researching victim rights. This would send me onto an emotional roller coaster, and I did not have the coping mechanisms to handle this, especially in Eau Claire. I tried to explain that I’m a very passionate person, and I because of the sensitivity of the topic, I need my concern to be accurately portrayed. It must have finally gotten through to him, because a week later, I started getting emails from people in Eau Claire saying how much they appreciated reading my article.

The feedback has all been positive. I heard from past teachers and old friends’ parents. It feels really good to read about how strong they think I am. I really needed to hear these encouraging words fifteen years ago, but better late than never.

Read Libbie’s article at: