In Washington, DC, Sexual Assault is No More Than Trespassing
September 4, 2012 by Katherine Dudley Hoehn
The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and not necessarily those of The New Agenda.
Recently many in Washington, DC were surprised and perplexed by a sexual assault on a young woman who was walking on the sidewalk in a safe part of Washington, DC. A man on a bike came up behind her, put his hand under her skirt and penetrated her vagina with his fingers. Sexual Assault!
She wrote about it in a blog and ended by saying “I was simply walking while female. I guess I didn’t realize what a battle it still is out there and how much work we still have to do.”
In the few weeks following the incident, at least four women reported similar attacks, each describing the same man. You will be glad to know that the man was caught. He admitted not only sexually assaulting the woman who reported it, but numerous other similar offenses.
Petula Dvorak, in her column in The Washington Post, wrote about this and interviewed several people who work with these crimes. She found that the violator was charged with “misdemeanor sexual abuse (with aggravating circumstances).” This crime is punished with the same severity as “attending a cockfight, impersonating a police officer, trespassing on someone’s lawn or selling a fake Gucci purse.” No more than 180 days of jail time and a fine may be imposed of up to $1,000.
Dvorak interviewed a lawyer who specializes in this type of crime and speculated that the criminal wouldn’t get any jail time. he commended the police for pursuing the case, but was also dismayed that sentencing guidelines “won’t provide justice.”
I’m outraged by this. Coming on the heels of the buffoonish Akin comments about “legitimate rape,” it makes me wonder what the people we live and work with every day really think about sexual assault. Because it wasn’t a “legitimate” penetration or that he presumably didn’t intend to do the real nasty then it’s ok? He is not really being treated like a criminal. Does it have to be rape for people to take it seriously that victims have been violated?
I would say that a sexual predator like this man is a whole lot more criminal than someone who goes to a cockfight. Watching roosters fight to the death with human-made razor claws is disgusting and sick; but sexual assault is far worse and the perpetrator is more in need of adjustment.
When I was 18 and in Paris, I was told that men pinch bottoms and not to be bothered by it. My reaction was “of course I will be bothered by it. Nobody has a right to touch me there if I don’t want them to.” Well sure enough it happened and I saw the man walking away laughing. I humiliated and angry and am still appalled, many years later, even though the offense was not severe.
According to Military.com, the award-winning documentary “The Invisible War,” has launched sexual assault in the military “into the national spotlight.” The film claims that one-in-five U.S. female veterans “have sustained some form of sexual assault.” The military services have “ramped up awareness programs and encouraged female troops to report sexual harassment and assaults.”
Michael Waddington, a military defense lawyer and former judge advocate in the Army, said this about earning convictions for sexual assault, “There’s almost a presumption that the girl is a liar. The juries want to see some physical evidence. The guys in three of my past four [sexual assault] cases have been found not guilty.”
The victim of the DC assault wrote her account of the incident in a blog, Crime Scene. Some of the comments by women readers included someone who thought that this kind of behavior would disappear because women were “raised to be helpless” but that is changing. That felt like she was putting too much on the women. We don’t ask for it and men who behave that way cross a line that they don’t have the right to erase. Another woman commented that when she read the article she thought the setting was in the Middle East, not the United States. Others offered suggestions of torture for the criminal. The two comments that made the most sense to me called it “casual harassment,” and claimed that the act “wasn’t about sex but power.”
I’m not sure that I believe the motivation of the victim is particularly important in this incidence. He violated her body. Once his fingers were inside of her, he committed a serious crime. Her radar is forever altered, as are her thoughts and dreams. It’s beyond wrong and the crime deserved a harsher punishment.
We need to work with our state legislators to ensure that punishments for such crimes are appropriately defined and in line with the severity of the crime. As more women come forward, as these women did in Washington, DC, the criminals will be punished; we just need to make sure the punishment fits the crime. In Washington, DC, it does not.
If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual assault, please report it and get/seek help for the victim or yourself. The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) offers the National Sexual Assault Hotline – 800-656-HOPE and online hotline for victims. They also have a variety of information about how to reduce your risk of sexual assault, and how to report the crime.