Safety for Survivors

[Content Note: Rape culture.]

Yesterday, Amanda Marcotte wrote a piece for Slate (DoNotLink used to avoid rewarding click-bait) in which she argued in defense of Cowlitz County, Washington, prosecutors who issued a material witness warrant for a 43-year-old woman who was refusing to cooperate in the case against her ex-boyfriend, who has been charged with "first-degree attempted rape, indecent liberties with forcible compulsion, first-degree kidnapping, and second-degree assault with sexual motivation" after he made her perform oral sex on another man to settle a debt. She spent one night in jail, to compel her to testify.

Writes Marcotte:
The sad, unavoidable truth is that we have to decide what's more important to us: putting abusive men in jail or letting their victims opt out of cooperating with the prosecution as they see fit. Always erring on the side of victim sensitivity means putting some very bad men back out on the streets, where they will likely attack someone else. If that's the price that you feel is worth paying, OK, but it's also understandable that prosecutors might try to do everything within their power to convict a guy who likes tying women to chairs and assaulting them.
I couldn't disagree more vehemently with this position. I genuinely understand why people want to compel victims to testify, but nope.

First and foremost: It is not any survivor's responsibility to stop a predator from raping. Predators are responsible for not raping—and tasking a survivor with the accountability for stopping a predator after zie's been victimized is no different than tasking potential victims with the accountability to prevent rape. That rapists hold the exclusive responsibility for rape is anti-rape advocacy 101.

Secondly: Forcing survivors to participate in prosecutions against their wills is revictimization and potentially a profound secondary trauma. As the local coverage of this story notes: "In this case, [using the material witness warrant] had the added irony of using a warrant to hold the woman against her will so she can help convict someone else of holding her against her will." This is reprehensible decision-making.

Third: It's contemptible that, across the nation, police departments systematically refuse to cooperate with victims, but now a victim is held by police for refusing to cooperate with them. So lots of people ostensibly tasked with protecting the community from predators and abusers routinely fail survivors with virtual impunity, but one survivor declines to assist them, and a warrant is issued for her to force her to engage. That's rich.

Which, of course, is to say nothing about the fact that women from marginalized classes may have all kinds of reasons to be reluctant to work with police and prosecutors, even above and beyond any potential reluctance to participate in the prosecution of one's own abuser.

Finally: The primary defense for holding this woman and compelling her to testify is that if she doesn't participate and her abuser walks, he'll harm more women. But if we're really concerned about preventing future assaults, then we have to foremostly make it safe for multiple survivors to report—and publicly revictimizing one survivor in this way stands to discourage multiple victims from reporting. That is bigger than even this one rapist.

So even if one's primary concern is prevention of future assaults, this policy still doesn't make any goddamn sense.

In fact, if one is concerned at all about successfully identifying and convicting predators, a policy that stands to scare victims into not reporting is pretty much the worst possible policy to support.

Safety for survivors. That must always be our priority.

[See also: Ana Mardoll.]

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