Sunday, September 27, 2009

Did She "Ask for It"? Does it Matter?

By Pat Brown

A victim is a housewife, college student, go-go dancer, model, teacher, nun, virgin, slut, whore, churchgoer, caretaker, drug user, pervert, cop, criminal, social worker, thief.

She may be sweet. She may be a bitch. She may not have deserved it. Then, again, maybe she sorta did.

What a victim is, and what a victim does, doesn't matter. Or, what a victim is, and what a victim does, makes all the difference.

Over and over, we hear that the behavior of the victim is not the issue. No one deserves to be murdered. No one deserves to be raped. Even the suggestion that the victim might have in some way contributed to her unfortunate demise is considered blasphemy. When pushed, it might be admitted, in a politically correct manner, that the victim "may have lived a high-risk life-style that increased her chance of becoming a victim." This is a nice way of saying the victim's personal decisions and behavior got her in trouble. Her unfortunate choices range from opening the door without knowing who is on the other side, jogging at dusk, or working the streets as a prostitute.

The continued white-washing of the victim's character, and the refusal to examine her actions, can make it harder to find, profile and try attackers. We think we are doing women a favor when we refuse to acknowledge that their behavior helped make them victims. We are, in fact, clouding the thinking of investigators and jurors in their abilities to identify and convict the perpetrators of rape and sexual homicide.

Let's examine how this political viewpoint of women's responsibility has affected these areas.

The investigation of a sexual homicide depends heavily on accurate information about the victim. Victimology includes the past history of the victim, the personality and habits of the victim in the recent months prior to the crime, and the activities and relationships the victim was involved with in the minutes, hours, and days before the murder.

The desire to believe that a totally crazy bogeyman appeared out of nowhere and, for no reason, murdered this totally innocent person, keeps many relatives and friends from informing the police investigators of dangerous activities and habits that could have set up the victim as the target in the killer's crime. Since the victim didn't deserve to be killed, then nothing she could have done should be relevant to her death.

This belief wastes valuable time and leads that could have led them rapidly to the perpetrator. The longer it takes for truthful information to reach the police, the more time the offender has to move or eliminate evidence, create alibis and generally disappear under the radar. When investigators accept this bogeyman theory, they too can overlook important information.

Still, investigators mustn't carelessly attribute risky behaviors as factors leading to a rape or murder. A prostitute is not necessarily murdered by a john, nor is a drug dealer always killed over drugs. Hitchhikers aren't necessarily murdered by the people who pick them up. It's entirely possible that none of the victim's less-than-desirable behaviors contributed in any way to her death. A drug-using prostitute with a real mean streak could be hit over the head and dragged into the bushes on her way home from church. The perpetrator may have no clue to her personality or lifestyle. She was just there; a victim of opportunity.

Wonderful traits can make someone a target as well. Take the horrific case of Annie Le (left with her fiancé), Yale student killed by a worker in the lab. She was beautiful, brilliant, sweet and friendly ... maybe too sweet and too friendly. Maybe she was overly polite to someone she should have avoided or maybe she was just so perfect and successful that her killer resented her existence. Good traits can get you killed, too.

Investigators must analyze all elements of victimology before making any conclusions. Even after a theory is developed, room must be left for the other possibilities, regardless of how unlikely. Paying close attention to all aspects of the victim's life as quickly as possible increases investigative leads and brings to police attention suspects who might  otherwise have gone undiscovered. 

In the courtroom, the defense often focuses on the victim's character. In a strange twist of reasoning, the politically correct refusal to make the victim responsible in any way for her fate allows the defense to assassinate her character.  

Because no one deserves to be killed, and no one contributes to the killer's choice of victim or decision to kill, then the victim must be totally innocent and the perpetrator must be totally guilty -- a hard case to prove. 

When the issue is seen so black and white, the jury is emotionally prepared to love the victim and hate the perpetrator. Then the defense presents their well-dressed, humble, intelligent, well -loved family man defendant. And then it proceeds to chip away at the victim's character (Jasmine Fiore, right, the model killed by her quickie-Las Vegas-marriage hubby) by, say, noting that she had numerous sexual relationships over the recent months (one of the other boyfriends could have done it), she frequented bars (oh, yeah, she could have picked up a freak), she did drugs (a low-life drug dealer probably offed her), she was a real flirt and wore provocative clothing (she asked for it ... oops ... not politically correct, but, hey, maybe she was into freaky sex and s/m), and she was not very nice sometimes (geez, maybe she really upset this guy and he lost it). 

Now that the victim has been so degraded in the eyes of the jury, they feel guilty if they put Mr. Nice Guy Defendant away for a crime, well, gee, for a crime that seems like any of the victim's acquaintances could have committed or that the victim herself encouraged. 

The truth gets lost in the jury's emotional response -- disappointment that the victim wasn't perfect. Oddly enough, it is easier to convict a murderer who killed during a drug deal, because character isn't an issue for either the prosecution or defense. The killer and the victim are both criminals. The only issue is the fact that the victim was killed. The trial then focuses on the evidence, not personality. (I am not saying this is cut and dried. Certainly defense attorneys still play the-defendant-is-a-nice-guy game, but the jury is not so conflicted over what to focus on to reach its verdict.) 

The issue in court should not be whether the girl was "easy," but whether she was easy prey, a vulnerable target for the offender. It should be stressed to the courts that these easy catches are often practice runs an offender uses to hone his skills before he goes after more difficult game --people with less risky behavior. When the concept of "good versus evil" raises its head in a court of law, the jury loses the gray area in between. If the defendant is "evil," then the victim must be "good." If the victim is not "good," then the defendant is not "evil" -- and neither gets justice.

A good example of this was the OJ Simpson case. When Nicole Simpson's character was raked over the coals, she went from being the innocent party to being the guilty party. This in turn made OJ the innocent party, unjustly accused. Anyone less than totally evil could not have committed such a heinous act; therefore, OJ couldn't have done it because he is no longer totally evil (as Nicole Simpson is no longer totally innocent). 

The focus of the argument in court is skewed. We should not be concerned about innocence or guilt of the perpetrator in relation to the victim. Nor should we focus on the innocence or guilt of the victim in relation to the perpetrator. We should simply be convicting the defendant if he has committed the crime, regardless of the relationship between them, and in spite of any behavior of the victim that rendered her the status of victim.

Did he commit the crime?
Let's take two examples of rape occurring at the same location. Both victims claim they were raped at a party. Both victims are college students. Both victims are deaf. Everyone at the party was deaf (Gallaudet University, the only university for the deaf in the world, pictured left). The perpetrators were both deaf. Both victims and both perpetrators were drinking. Victim One said she entered a back bedroom willingly with the suspect. The suspect started kissing her, which she allowed. The suspect pulled her onto a bed and started removing her underpants from under her skirt. The room was dark, and though she signed "no" to him repeatedly, he continued and then attempted sexual intercourse. She tried to push him off, but as she was drunk, she had little success. The suspect ejaculated quickly, got up, pulled on his pants and staggered out of the room. Did he commit a rape? 

Victim Two was on her way to the bathroom when the suspect came up behind her and shoved her into a back room. He pushed her to the floor and started pulling off her clothes. She struggled, but as she was very inebriated had little strength. Each time she tried to push him off, he shoved her back on the floor. He had sexual intercourse with her, ejaculated, got up, spit on her and left the room. Did he rape her?

Both victims came to the hospital. Both had semen evidence in the vagina. Neither showed any other injuries. The district attorney refuses to take either case to court because he claims to have no proof of rape. While both cases fit the societal definition of rape (the male is supposed to have asked and received permission for the sexual act in question), the legal definition of rape is another matter, and proving it is another matter still. 

The offender must have committed an act in which the victim is forced or coerced into participating. Victim One entered the room willingly with the suspect. She made no effort to turn on the light which would have enhanced her ability to communicate with the male. The male pulled (not pushed) her onto the bed and although she claims she pushed on his chest to get him off, she did so ineffectively; the suspect did not receive a clear indication of her refusal to have intercourse. During intercourse she did not attempt to cause him any kind of pain such as biting or stabbing him with her fingernails. She says she did not want to hurt him. She claims she was not particularly scared. His actions, although not welcomed, were not threatening. 

Because she could have taken precautions upon entering the room to ensure communication and she could have inflicted some sort of pain as an indication of objection, this victim clearly did not take action to prevent the event from occurring. The suspect may well have had no clue he was committing a sexual act against her will.

Victim Two did not enter into the back room of her own free will. She gave no indication of a desire to have sexual relations with the suspect. By shoving her into the room and pushing her to the floor, his aggression put the victim in a state of fear. When she tried to push him off, she made it clear she didn't want to have sex with him. She said she was afraid to try to hurt him because he might react violently. At a party with no hearing guests, screaming would have brought no help. At the end of the sexual activity, the perpetrator spit on her, clearly indicating his contempt for her and his awareness that she had not been a willing partner. 

There is sufficient circumstantial evidence here to prove a forcible sexual act.

Suppose both these cases actual were tried in a court of law. The jury learns that Victim One is a virgin and rarely drinks. Victim Two is rather promiscuous and is on the pill. Victim Two also hits up a party every week. In this profiler's opinion, both of victims' characters and behaviors could have led the perpetrators to the choices they made. The victims' choices of response to each suspect's acts established or negated the legal definition of forcible sexual activity. 

When Victim One went willingly into the room, virgin or not, she negated that she was being forced. By not attempting to turn on the light, she negated her desire for clear communication. By not attempting to inflict any kind of injury to the suspect that would make him question her desire for the sexual act, she negated that he was forcing her.

Victim Two, however, was forced into the room. That clearly establishes that the activity was forced. If Victim Two at that point turned and signed "Hey, Big Boy, let's do it!" she would have established consent and negated any forcible issue. Instead, his actions showed he was forcing sexual activity on her. If, in court, the jury feels sorry for the virginal Victim One and doesn't think one more round of sex is a big deal to the more sexually experienced Victim Two, then no one receives justice. 

All victims of crime are indeed victims, but we mustn't ignore victim behaviors that can help us identify the offender; we mustn't over-focus on their behaviors and characters in court, and we should learn from those victims just how certain behaviors can make us victims as well.


Rj said...

This was a very interesting read.

Cheryl said...

Yes it was - and a long one at that. I think you covered it all Pat and I couldn't agree with you more. Well done!

Rose said...

I completely agree, well written and well said.

Leah said...

Excellent post Pat!

Pat Brown said...

Thanks, guys! Victimology is so important to investigation and understanding of how criminals operate. It is also interesting how few people really know their loved ones, what they would do in certain situations and what risks they would take. Emotions also play a good part of victimology because we all know how stupid we get if we are in love or in hate, super happy or super pissed off. We can also be distracted, tired, confused...and these conditions can also affect how we behave and how we react. So complicated!

Jan said...

I've met the families of many murder victims. Each and every one of them has had people immediately ask, "What did he/she do? The victim must have done SOMETHING or they wouldn't have been murdered." Sometimes the parents of the victim are even blamed- "Why didn't you take better care, or stop them from going to that party?" Just had a long argument on a blog with someone who insisted that loving parents would live in a neighborhood where murder never happens and their child would have been safe.

Pat Brown said...

Well, Jan, sometimes we DO "do something" but not necessariy anything awful or even "wrong." Annie Le was probably just being a great person; that got her killed by a psychopath. Opening the door to strangers at night (I am guilty of that one) can do you in. Hiring certain people to work on your home or at the workplace can do you in. So can jumping into relationships or walking a bit on the wild side. We don't deserve to be murdered or such actions, but we may put ourselves in harm's way. We may even purposefully take higher risk just to have fun in life (been there, done that..after all, last year I vacationed in Kashmir, not a place known for placidness). We need to be able to view what victims do with a critical eye, critical in the sense of understanding victimology, not being critical of them (unless they marry felons and get their kids killed).

Jan said...

My son's wife is awaiting trial for murdering him and both of their little boys, ages 7 and 3. I suppose you could criticize him for his choice of spouse, even though she had no history of any kind of violent behavior. Was that shot aimed or a coincidence? (No offense taken in any case).

My personal and unscientific point of view from the victim's side of the room: Violent crime makes people uncomfortable, and people like to have an explaination even for the inexplicable. If they can find a reason, however false or farfetched, for any otherwise unreasonable action, their world is once again a safe place. It isn't. It never has been. But, perhaps that's just too much of a stress to live with day in and day out.

Pat Brown said...

Wow, so very sorry to hear that, Jan. ::sigh::I find a lot of truly sweet people are victims of psychopaths because they don't recognize the signs. One problem we do have in this country is that we move too quickly into emotional relationships. I really like the old style courting and requirement to have parental approval, etc. It had the effect of at least giving you time to see what the other person was like and having to have other people's input as well.

Sadly, too, we might be wiser in life if we had enough experience behind us but how much do we know at a young age? I remember a fine man's words, a police chief who was murdered in the line of duty. He said of the young boys in town, "I do my best to counsel these young teens, especially the boys, because I know if only they can get through these years without doing horribly damage to themselves, they will be fine adult men." I think we all wish we could guide our loved ones through the minefields and get them to a place that is safe. We try but we can't control everything, especially predators and psychopaths who swoop down and take them away.

Melissa Soalt said...

This is an extremely important article and ALL women and the men who love them should read this-- it so clearly illustrates the law and what constitutes "forcible rape" in the courts and in the people's court of opinion.

Also Pats informed statment: "The issue in court should not be whether the girl was "easy" but whether she was easy prey, a vulnerable target for the offender. It should be stressed to the courts that these easy catches are often practice runs an offender uses to hone his skills before he goes after more difficult game --people with less risky behavior."

This is a briliant point that must be fully understood and it can help to predict a perp's behavoir and be extremely relevant in a court of law.

We don't like to talk about these issues of behvaior and realites of events and our actual laws and requirements, but we must. Otherwise more women / victims will NOT get the justice they deserve and more perps will get away with violating women. Or worse.

Thank you for putting the focus where it belongs. If I weren't so tired I'd say more....also as to how this pertains to self defense -my speciality- and the laws and tha govern "proof of resistance." which often puts women in a double bind. On one hand mamy women are STILL told to NOT resist attack, or not make a scene, yet in a court of law one is faced with the question of how or IF said woman showed clear resistance - did she fight back? Without which she can be found co-complicit. No crime committed. This all goes to questions of compliance and or consensuality.

It's complicated... and the realites of what gets examined, the felt-fear and the force factors needs to be commonly understood.

Cheryl said...

Hi Jan, I'm way behind on the reading in here but I wanted to tell you how very sorry I am for your loss. I can't begin to imagine what you are going through. My thoughts and prayers are with you.


Pat Brown said...

Thank you for your nice comments, Melissa, and your great points as well (I think you were wrote quite well in your sleepy state!).

The issue of whether a woman has any physical evidence of rape is always a nightmare. For example, a woman can have vaginal bruising and tearing FROM consensual sex and none from nonconsensual sex. Athough some nurse claims that the "human sexual response" always causes lubrication enabling a woman to have damage free sex, I cannot agree. Some women sleep with men they aren't attracted to, or sleep with really well-endowed guys that they aren't ready for, and some guys don't wait for women to be ready. On the other hand, a girl can be raped by a guy with a miniscule tool and not even feel a thing.

Some girls bite and claw during consensual sex and some girls who are raped just freeze and lie there.

What a nightmare! I warn both my daughter and sons about getting into situations where he said/she said is going to end up badly.