The Courtroom Doesn’t Always Have the Final Say

“If a judge finds me innocent, then there should be no reason why the university should take any unfair or unjust action against me,” he said. 

A USC student who was arrested for sexual assault’s case was dismissed after a judge ruled video footage from earlier in the night as consent. The case was dismissed regardless of the fact that the victim was intoxicated and admitted to the hospital shortly after, where she was deemed “nearly unconscious when she arrived,”  and her roommate described her as “passed out” when she saw his naked body on top of hers. It was dismissed regardless of the fact that consent can be withdrawn at any time (the video footage was taken long before any sexual contact began) and footage of individuals interacting with each other does not equal consent to sexual activity.

The judge in this case may have ruled this encounter consensual, but USC’s Title IX Coordinator and office are continuing their investigation for a reason. And regardless of their ultimate decision, let’s get one thing clear: innocence is not guaranteed by way of case dismissal. Far too many cases of domestic abuse and sexual assault are thrown out, dismissed, or result in a not-guilty verdict, but that does not mean the abuse or assault did not occur. Yes, some individuals are falsely accused and are hopefully -rightfully- expunged of their accusation when such a case goes to trial. And it’s terrible when this happens. But this is rare. Very rare. As rare as mostly every other crime where false accusations are made. About 2-8% of cases.

In opposition to the disturbing lyrics of Robin Thicke, consent cannot be blurred. Consent is actually very simple. If someone is impaired, unconscious, passed out, or any other variation of the sort: consent is not possible. The judge ruling consent from the footage makes a lot of sense for someone who does not understand how consent works. Because they see a person flirting, making sexual gestures, and inviting someone over. Therefore, they are obviously consenting to sex, right? Wrong.

She is completely 100% entitled to not consent at any time. Even if she flirted all night. Even if she suggested she wanted to do something previously. Even if she invited him over. None of that gives him the right to do something sexually to her; only her enthusiastic, willing, and sober consent in that moment does and not a moment sooner.

As victim blaming is rampant in our culture, some might say, “she was asking for it” or, “she deserves it” or, “she shouldn’t have gotten that drunk”. Our society loves to slut-shame individuals who choose to engage in partying behaviors on their own time. Yes, there is more risk involved when there is alcohol/drug consumption. But that in no way means that someone ever deserves or asks to be sexually assaulted. There is something seriously wrong if our mindset when we see a drunk person is ‘have sex with this person’ instead of ‘help this person’. I would like to believe, and statistics show, that most of us fall into the latter category.

Then why is so much of our focus on how the victim was behaving, but no one stopped to think about why the perpetrator chose to engage in sexual activity with her when she was too drunk to stand up? Why didn’t her friend say, ‘let me make you sure get home safe’ instead of watching her drunkenly walk off with someone she just met? As bystanders, we have a responsibility to help others when we know something is not quite right. There are many, many ways to help and we always want to assure we are not putting ourselves at risk of danger or harm by doing so, either. But in reality, the accountability should be on the perpetrator alone, not the bystanders and certainly not the victims.

See What He Does With Passed-Out Girl

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All in all, there are systems in place that are sometimes flawed, sometimes broken and sometimes do not offer justice where it is needed. Whether you are convicted and found guilty or not, the courtroom is not the only place where justice lives. It’s on us to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions and support survivors.

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Taylor Swift, I Stand With You

Recently, the story of Taylor Swift’s sexual assault has come into light. To recap, at a meet-and-greet before one of her concerts in 2013, Taylor Swift was posing for a photo with a radio DJ, David Mueller, when he reached under her skirt and groped her. What happened next really doesn’t even matter, because whether she told anyone or not, it still happened and that cannot be invalidated. Period.

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She did, however, tell someone. She told her mother and other people on her team. That alone is brave and should be commended. It is not easy to disclose that you have been violated in any way, particularly when you live in such a public eye. Taylor wanted to keep this incident quiet, as many victims do, and therefore did not report it to the police. This is not an uncommon reaction. Many survivors of sexual assault do not report what happened to them to authorities. Some feel embarrassment, shame, fear, denial, or confusion. Some need time to cope with their experience before deciding if or how they wish to take action. It is a grueling process for many survivors to endure, so many often choose not to endure it at all.

But when Mueller sued Taylor for slander two years later, suggesting she fabricated the story with the intentions of getting him fired, Taylor stood her ground and counter-sued for assault. “Swift countersued Mueller for the symbolic amount of $1. The singer, who spoke to The Guardian in 2014 about embracing feminism, is seeking Mueller’s recognition of responsibility as ‘an example to other women who may resist publicly reliving similar outrageous and humiliating acts.’ She pledged to donate any financial reward from the trial to charities supporting survivors of sexual assault and gender-based violence.”

Unfortunately, many survivors face the blame and disbelief that Taylor is experiencing. Many do not have physical evidence to prove that their assault occurred, but that does not mean that it didn’t occur. It is so rare for someone to lie about being sexually assaulted. Yet, many victims are accused of fabricating or exaggerating, which only minimizes, denies, and invalidates their experience. And then we wonder why this crime is so under-reported.

So, thank you, Taylor. Thank you for having the courage to speak up about what happened to you, and for doing so with the intention of being the voice for the voiceless.

My hope during this trial is for the continuation of the outflow of support for Taylor with an added understanding of what some victims and survivors may experience. We still have many minimizing and demeaning beliefs about survivors of sexual assault; about how they are to blame, about how they should react, about how they should feel, about how they should report, and the list goes on. Hopefully, the more education we have about these issues, the more we will believe and support survivors.

As the trend on social media states, #StayStrongTaylor and all of the survivors out there. I stand with you.