Home CommentaryOpinions How the legal system has failed victims of sexual assault once again.

How the legal system has failed victims of sexual assault once again.

by Camila Caridad Rivas March 25, 2020
How the legal system has failed victims of sexual assault once again.

Warning: this piece deals with mentions of rape, sexual assault and abuse. 

It all began on Oct. 5, 2017, with an article in the New York Times which contained accusations agaisnt Harvey Weinstein, a revered movie producer, of sexual harassment and unwanted physical contact by Ashley Judd and Emily Nestor. They were the first women to publicly come forward and share their experiences with Weinstein.

Although the #Metoo movement has existed since 2006, and was started by Tarana Burke, following her own personal experience with sexual abuse, the movement became widely popular in 2017. The use of the hashtag by Alyssa Milano on October 15 of that year is what revived it.

Burke’s goal was to “build a community of advocates, driven by survivors, who will be at the forefront of creating solutions to interrupt sexual violence in their communities.” The #MeToo movement is an amazing medium that has encouraged women to come forward with their stories. It helped them to no longer be afraid of sharing what they’ve been through.

The fact that Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison instead of walking away free is a great victory, but why did it take over three years for him to be convicted? the legal system definitely has to become more tailored to these cases, as it can be traumatic having to tell time after time what these survivors went through, especially when they aren’t believed. It’s quite upsetting and unjust that these hearings take forever.

According to an article by CNBC, the maximum sentence for rape in New York is 29 years. This is yet another instance where the legal system continues to reduce the consequences of dire actions, especially when powerful people hire the best lawyers in the field. In order to keep this from happening again, the justice system has to change and become easier for victims to navigate. The stigma and discreditation of victims are some of the numerous reasons  why so many survivors are ashamed to come forward.

According to Beverly Engel, a psychologist at Psychology Today, three out four victims of sexual harassment decide against telling anyone in authority about the abuse. Instead, they choose to avoid the abuser, downplay the gravity of the situation or attempt to ignore what is going on. Feelings of shame, denial—especially when the victim blames themselves for  the abuse––and fear of consequences fuel the desire to stay silent. Combined with the fact that the legal system can be overwhelming to navigate without a lawyer, since some can’t possibly afford one, the system unconsciously grants privilege to the accused.

It’s honestly disheartening that we continue to live in a world where class and fame determine the chance of someone being taken seriously in a court of law.

If the legal system were to offer more options for victims to have proper representation, quicker court hearings and not have their stories questioned every second, we could make sure that more rapists and abusers end up behind bars.

As a society, people in positions of authority such as the police force and important players in the judicial system need to change their ways of viewing these survivors. Victim-blaming isn’t going to help anyone. Times have changed and the legal system needs to go through an enormous reformation for the better. 

 

 

Photo collage by Laurence B.D

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