Groups like “Men Against Sexism” and “mencanstoprape.org” understand the important role of men in prevention and are being embraced as leaders in the fight against sexual violence.
Each April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I like to use this column to give a shout out to people who are making a difference.
This year, kudos to the guys.
Faced with near daily reminders in news stories that we live in a society so ineffective at punishing sex offenders, in which law abiding citizens have to live in fear, men are finally as fed up as women -- and they’re getting involved.
More on the guys later.
The criminal justice system deserves a lot of the blame for why criminals enjoy more liberty than do victims. The vast majority of victims either don’t report sex crimes or resist testifying in court because the burdens of the system are too often unbearable.
For example, aside from a pittance of a “witness fee,” the system demands that victims and family members spend money out of their own pockets to achieve justice. From buying lunch and paying for parking during trial to losing a day’s pay waiting to be called as a witness or footing the bill to travel back and forth from home to the location of the trial, the literal cost of participating in the legal process is painful.
Emotional costs can be even worse.
Child victims are often made to testify without their parents in the courtroom because defense attorneys put mom and dad on the witness list, then file motions to “sequester” all witnesses. They never actually call the victim’s parents to testify, but making sure they get booted out of the courtroom means the traumatized child will be forced to take the stand to confront her attacker, alone.
Testifying without a support person in the room is often so frightening, the victim will either refuse to testify or her testimony will come across as timid and hesitant, which can undermine credibility.
I’ll put a Murphy’s Law spin on an old saying to emphasize the point: It’s a good thing Lady Justice is blind because she would not like what she sees happening to victims in our nation’s courtrooms.
Tom and Stacey Branchini certainly didn’t like what they saw after daughter Alexa was raped at knifepoint by a man who broke into her freshman dorm. The guy was captured and will spend most of his life behind bars, but because the trial process was nearly as harmful as the crime itself, Alexa’s family started the It Happened to Alexa Foundation to protect other victims from the same fate. The foundation gives money to victims and support persons to defray the costs of their participation in criminal trials.
It’s bad enough that a woman or child has suffered what the Supreme Court has called “the ultimate violation of self, short of homicide.”
A civilized legal system should comfort victims, not add to their suffering. The rights of the accused are important, but the noble cause of protecting liberty is not furthered by the gratuitous infliction of additional pain on the innocent.
The way justice is done matters even to those who will never step foot in a criminal courtroom because the integrity of the process is a measure of how much we value civility in larger society. If the system treats victims with fairness, the public will respect the process and honor its results. But if victims are mistreated, even fair results will be viewed through a cynical lens – spawning contempt for law and incivility in human relations.
Most of us can understand what’s at stake, but few take the time to get involved. Those who do get involved tend to be women, because sexual violence disproportionately affects females. For a crime committed mostly by men, there’s little hope things will get better unless men actively become part of the solution.
Groups like “Men Against Sexism” and “mencanstoprape.org” understand the important role of males in prevention and are being embraced as leaders in the fight against sexual violence.
And men were very much in charge recently at Donald Trump’s Mar-A-Lago estate in Palm Beach where hundreds of well-heeled guys stepped up to support the Alexa Foundation.
One of the most influential names in news – Bill O’Reilly – sat alongside one of the wealthiest guys in the nation – Donald Trump. Even an athletic giant from the Super Bowl-winning New Orleans Saints – Heath Evans – showed up.
And they didn’t just make an appearance. They came to a cocktail reception and stayed for dinner. O’Reilly donated his time to give a speech – and both Trump and O’Reilly gave big personal cash donations to the foundation.
It was like a fancy golf game where, between shots on an award-winning course, influential guys talk about working together to broker a new business deal – only this time, it was influential guys talking about working together to prevent sexual violence.
Wendy Murphy is a leading victims rights advocate and nationally recognized television legal analyst. She is an adjunct professor at New England Law in Boston. She can be reached at email@example.com. Read more of her columns at The Daily Beast .