All right, San Luis Obispo County. It’s time for a serious talk.
According to last week’s cover story—“The Silenced: Sexual assaults rarely result in convictions, and victims know it”—people living in this county are, statistically speaking, more likely to report being raped than robbed.
No, I’m not joking. Yes, I wish I were—even if that made me the kind of disconnected gasbag who thinks rape is a punchline.
So let’s establish some boundaries for this—gulp—unprecedented but absolutely necessary serious discussion. I promise not to allow my fear of no-nonsense conversation to drive me to fall back on jokes about swilling Pixy Stix and Pabst at McCarthy’s. In return, you will promise not to behave like Fred Hayward from Sacramento.
The self-proclaimed “men’s rights activist” wrote a letter, the first line of which perfectly sums up why victims are afraid to report their crimes to the police. He says, “The thrust of ‘Life After Rape’ is predicated on the dubious assumption that females never lie and, if handed a weapon, will never use it except for the purest of motives … .” Setting aside the gross insensitivity of employing the word “thrust” in a conversation about rape, you have to wonder what goes on in the mind of a man whose sympathies automatically align to the person accused of one of the most violent, horrific, and invasive crimes in existence, to the extent that he bullies and disparages the victims of these horrific crimes by assuming they’re liars.
During this conversation, if you find your mind drifting to what rape victims could or should have done differently, it’s time to disembark that train of thought and really think about what rape means: the violence of it, the implication that your body is not your own, a violation exponentially worse than having your house broken into and your possessions removed. Sometimes we try to sanitize what it really means to be raped. We call it “sexual assault,” never allowing our minds to linger on the graphic reality of what that term really means. God knows it’s unpleasant, but maybe we should linger on the details. Maybe we should force ourselves to be just the slightest bit uncomfortable if it means our response to the victim is more humane.
Maybe we’d be better prepared to deal with the problem of sexual assault if our law enforcement agencies were better equipped as frontline responders. When Christine Adams reported feeling threatened and harassed by someone, she says the responding officer from the San Luis Obispo Police Department pinned the responsibility for her discomfort on her own behavior. In a letter of complaint Adams wrote to Police Chief Steve Gesell on Sept. 29 of last year, she accused the officer of saying all the following: “[So-and-so] was only being playful.” “You shouldn’t hang out with people in their rooms if they once liked you.” “The DA is going to look at this, laugh at it, and throw it out.” “What were you wearing?” And, the whipped cream topping on the patronizing pie: “You’re old enough to know better.”
The department dismissed the officer’s behavior by insisting that he was confused about the nature of the call he had received, but this sort of behavior undermines the “Start by Believing” link on the Police Department’s website. Especially when it’s a known fact that reports to police rarely result in an arrest.
Of course, one part of the offending officer’s statements in the complaint, at least, was correct: The District Attorney has a history of failing to pursue cases of sexual assault or harassment with anything less than a slam-dunk case. According to Dan Dow, who is currently running for the position of district attorney, it would be irresponsible to prosecute in cases in which they don’t believe they have enough evidence to obtain a verdict. It’s hard not to question how much of that hesitation is tied to prosecutors’ obsession with keeping their prosecution rates high.
When you start to compare the office’s lackluster record in pursuing sexual assault cases with its aggressive approach to anything even remotely related to drug charges, it’s difficult not to question priorities. To his credit, Dow pointed out that the DA’s office has twice as many prosecutors assigned to drug cases as it does to sexual assault cases, a distribution of resources that seems utterly ludicrous when you consider which is more threatening: a kid smoking weed or a rapist? But the reality is you’re probably a lot more likely to see jail time in this county if you get caught doing drugs than you are if someone accuses you of rape. And there’s just no excuse for any of it.
Compounding the challenge of dealing with misogynists like Hayward, who seem to think all women are liars, and officers who are purportedly more interested in asking a victim what she was wearing and lecturing her that she’s old enough to know better, is the fact that many law enforcement agencies don’t make any effort to track sexual assault numbers, at least not publically. When the District Attorney’s Office was formally asked about the number of sexual assault cases the office handled, representatives tried to saddle New Times with a bill for $4,418 in order to compile that information. Which means that no one at the District Attorney’s Office is bothering to keep track of sexual assault cases.
And why would they want to? What possible good could come from assembling and analyzing the numbers? What if someone tried to gather these numbers to paint a comprehensive picture of sexual assault in San Luis Obispo County and discovered that it happens far more often than we want to acknowledge and that very few rapists in San Luis Obispo County ever face trial, much less jail time? That would be a shitty thing to discover, right?
Shredder doesn’t like serious talks. Send knock knock jokes as a palate cleanser to firstname.lastname@example.org.