Here's What Happens To Survivors When Rapists Go Free

by Michele Pliner
Originally Published: 

*content warning: rape and sexual assault

When you’re walking down the street and someone steals your wallet, you call the cops. No one questions your judgment.

When you come home to find that someone broke into your house, you call the cops. No one questions your judgment.

When you’re out for a walk and someone flashes you, you call the cops. No one questions your judgment.

When you’re walking home after a fun night out with friends and someone rapes you, you call the cops.

And you’re flooded with questions and accusations…

Why are you out this late? Are you drunk? Why are you wearing that? What did you think was going to happen? You were asking for it.

When you’re out on a date at a fancy restaurant and you go back to his place and he decides that no means yes…

You don’t even bother calling the cops.

Why? Because the cops won’t believe you. It’s not that important. You don’t want to get your “date” in trouble. Or, you’re worried that your “date” will retaliate and things could get a whole lot worse for you.

So, why bother?

According to Rape Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), 80% of survivors know their attacker, making it even more difficult and potentially dangerous for them to disclose. Up to 15% of survivors believe that the cops either cannot or will not help. 8% of survivors believe that the assault wasn’t important enough to report and 7% don’t want to get their attacker in trouble.

And get this: for every 1000 sexual assaults that are reported, only 25 perpetrators will go to jail. That’s 2.5%. Since less than 30% of sexual assaults are even reported in the first place, there are far too many abusers walking around who will never face consequences.

The icing on the cake is that, even when a survivor does disclose right after the assault (which is not as common as you think) and even if they do go through the invasive process of having a rape kit done, the rape kit backlog is so significant that there are likely hundreds of thousands of untested kits across the country at any given moment.

This is why survivors don’t come forward.

So your date thinks you owe him sex because he paid for dinner. A guy on the street thinks you owe him sex because you were wearing a fancy dress and how could he resist that temptation? Your husband thinks you owe him sex because you’re married. Your prom date thinks you owe him sex because everyone knows that’s what prom night is really about.

There are countless different scenarios, but they all end the same way. Someone raped you and you’ll never get the justice you deserve.

I mean, what does “justice” even look like?

Justice is defined as “the quality of being just, impartial, or fair.” But is there anything in the world that would balance the scales to justify what happened to you? To make things “fair”?

Think about it. When you’re raped…

YOU are the one who has to live in your body — the body that isn’t yours anymore. The body that didn’t keep you safe. The body that’s just a shadow of what it used to be. The body that you wish you could tear apart because maybe then you can get the rapist out of it.

YOU are the one who wakes up from nightmares only to realize they weren’t nightmares at all. This is your life now.

YOU are the one who sleeps fully clothed with the lights on and five locks on the door. Who jumps across the room in terror when the house creaks. Who sleeps with a baseball bat under your bed.

YOU are the one who needs to find a way to numb the pain, but no matter how many drinks you have or pills you take or drugs you try, the pain doesn’t subside. Not even a little.

YOU are the one who can’t eat because the consistency of food reminds you of his penis in your mouth. And you’re choking… again.

YOU are the one who can’t focus on work or school or reading or watching TV because you can’t get him out of your head.

YOU are the one who takes 2+ showers each day because you can’t get clean. You’ll never be clean.

YOU are the one who writhes in pain because your body can’t stop remembering.

YOU are the one who replays what happened over and over again as you shame yourself into believing you should have done something differently.

YOU are the one who lives with a lump in your throat, a heavy chest, and a pit in your stomach. Permanently.

And the rapist? Well, they own you. Forever. Is there any justice in the world for that?

So what would make this a “fair” exchange? If they go to jail, is “justice” really served?

More often than not, the rapist will go free, either because you don’t press charges or because the legal system will fail you.

If you don’t press charges, you wait. You wait and hope that time will heal you. You wait to feel better — one millisecond at a time. You wait as years go by and your trauma response changes but never disappears. You wait and hope that one day you’ll stop being terrified.

But for the survivors who do press charges, can justice really be served?

In a matter of “fairness” — no, it can’t. But sending your rapist to jail is the closest you’ll get to validation, accountability, and closure, which at this point is all you can ask for.

But what if, after making the courageous choice to press charges against your rapist, they walk free? Or what if they serve a short sentence and are released on a technicality?

That is the ultimate betrayal. Not just to you, but to every single survivor sharing this planet with you.

Because that solidifies survivors’ fears that they will never truly be safe, that they will never truly be heard, and that perpetrators will never be held accountable. If the justice system isn’t looking out for you, where are you supposed to turn? If you put your reputation on the line and it’s tarnished, was it worth it? If no one will be held accountable, why even bother in the first place?

If you’re thinking to yourself, “Survivors don’t deserve this. They didn’t do anything wrong. How can I help?” You’re absolutely right. And I’m glad you asked…

The next time you hear someone defend a rapist, SPEAK UP.

The next time you hear someone joke about rape, SPEAK UP.

The next time you hear someone second-guess a survivor, SPEAK UP.

Now that you understand how rape affects survivors, you’re in a much better position to initiate change. It’s your responsibility to believe survivors, support survivors, and stand by survivors.

It may not sound like much, but it’s everything to your friend, neighbor, child, grandparent, or coworker.

Because if you truly stand in solidarity with survivors, perpetrators will begin to be held accountable. And you never know — that may ignite the fundamental change needed to tip the scales so that “justice” will never have to be served in the first place.

If you’ve been sexually assaulted… I believe you. And I’m so sorry that happened to you.

Please, please, please connect with someone who can help: a therapist, RAINN’s 24/7 confidential hotline, or your local rape crisis center.

And remember — you don’t deserve this. It’s not your fault. You can, and will, get through this.

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