Dear Ms. Kaminer,
I read your article, What to Make of the Rape Accusations at Amherst College, today, and I feel it necessary to express how disappointed I am. If there’s a subcategory in rape culture that angers me most, it’s victim blaming. The harm that comes from blaming a survivor of sexual assault is so substantial, that it often is as traumatic as the assault itself. The blatant mocking of Epifano that occurs throughout your article is simply unacceptable:
“Put aside questions about the accuracy of Epifano’s recollections and the soundness or gross insensitivity of the counselor’s advice. Never mind the absence of discussion about reporting the alleged attack to law enforcement; rape is, after all, a felony, which courts are better equipped to address than colleges. Focus instead on Epifano’s reaction to the prospect of a disciplinary hearing:
Hours locked in a room with him and being called a liar about being raped? No, thank you. I could barely handle seeing him from the opposite end of campus; I knew I couldn’t handle that level of negativity.”
You see, Ms. Kaminer, Epifano denied even the thought of going through a trial in order to protect herself. Maybe that seems ridiculous to you, but sometimes after going through a terrible trauma, one cannot possibly bear the thought of recounting that trauma over and over. Also, Epifano may or may not have known this, but out of every 100 rapes, 46 get reported to the police, 12 lead to an arrest, 9 are prosecuted, 5 lead to a felony conviction, and 3 rapists will spend a single day in prison*. The long and frustrating battle to hope that your rapist is not one of the 97% who walk takes a toll on survivors that Epifano didn’t want to subject herself to.
And that’s okay. What you need to realize is that it’s okay for Epifano to put herself first. If she didn’t feel like she could handle an entire trial, then let’s applaud her honesty and willingness to listen to her own needs, instead of criticizing her because you or someone else would’ve “done differently.” In reality no one knows, not even another survivor, of what she’s endured.
You then go on to question the trauma she felt from her rape:
“Is rape necessarily this traumatic? Are all rapes equal in the damage they inflict? Yes, according to some popular feminist wisdom. No, according to the diverse experiences of rape victims I’ve known — including women who’ve been raped while hitchhiking and by strangers who broke in to their apartments, as well as women raped by dates or acquaintances…
I’m not criticizing or judging Epifano for being acutely frightened and depressed. I’m not presuming to tell women how they should or shouldn’t react to being raped. Quite the opposite. I’m simply suggesting that different women react differently, according to their different circumstances, strengths and vulnerabilities. I’m not denying the horrors of rape and the outrage, shame, or fear it can engender, but I am questioning the assumption that it naturally and inevitably breaks women down. I’m wondering if that assumption isn’t sometimes self-fulfilling.”
First, I’d be willing to bet that the source you have for that “popular feminist wisdom” is incorrect. The feminist approach to rape crisis intervention is letting the survivor know their options and empowering them to make those decisions themselves, in order to put control back in their lives. Secondly, every person reacts entirely differently from any other person who’s been raped. You say you understand this, just to go ahead and question the assumption that rape “naturally and inevitably breaks women down.” For some, yes, it breaks them down. For others, they can go on with their daily lives as if a rape never happened. One can never assume any reaction from any survivor.
Epifano, no matter her decisions or reactions from her rape, did what she could in order to survive. Maybe you don’t agree with how she went about it, but she knows herself better than you do, so stop judging her. She is strong and brave and an inspiration. Angie Epifano is a survivor.
Chelcie Laggis, founder of endrapeculture.com