‘Courtroom dog’ helps young rape victim testify

by FCM

new york and washington are among the states to have allowed “therapy dogs” into courtrooms to give comfort to and to gently encourage traumatized witnesses as they testify against their attackers.  this dog, rosie, recently sat in the witness box with a 15-year old girl as she testified against her father who had raped and impregnated her.  he was convicted, and his lawyers are appealing based on accusations that the dog unfairly swayed the jury, and complaining that there was no way to cross-examine the dog.  of course you cant cross-examine a dog, but isnt the issue really this: mens courtrooms and mens legal system as a whole, in requiring victims of sexual assault to testify in court, when sexual assault specifically is known to leave victims literally speechless, is specifically designed to let men who sexually abuse girls and women off the hook?

andrea dworkin has written about her own experience with literal speechlessness after she was sexually assaulted in a womens prison after being arrested at an anti-war protest.  two male prison doctors had assaulted her and injured her so brutally that her own gynecologist wept as he later examined her injuries: she reports that following the assault, she was literally left without words.  from her anthology “life and death”:

Speech depends on believing you can make yourself understood: that a community of people will recognize the experience in the words you use and they will care.  You also have to be able to understand what happened to you enough to convey it to other people.  I lost speech.  I was hurt past what I had words for.

and men, being the ones doing the assaulting *and* the ones making up the rules regarding what goes on in their own courts, must be fully aware of how likely this scenario in particular is to leave men who have sexually assaulted girls and women blameless when their victims are unable or unwilling to testify against them.  and this benefits all men, whether those individual men are sexual abusers themselves, or not, since women who have been sexually victimized are known to be more “sexually available” later on, and at younger ages, and are often left mentally and physically disabled and unable to compete in university and in the workplace too.

and feminists have been calling attention to this problem for over a hundred years.  as sheila jeffreys writes in “the spinster and her enemies,” there was a concerted effort by feminists since the 1860s to reform mens biased legal system and to protect girls and women from the sexual abuse of men, including obvious male bias of judges, one of which summed up a sexual abuse trial by saying “this is the sort of thing that might happen to any man,” and light sentencing amounting to “slaps on the wrist” where men were actually punished, much less than in cases of abuses against boys or even minor property crimes.  the police also covered up instances of sexual abuse of girls, and deliberately set out to discredit the girls account if she had been impregnated by her own father (for example) but the father was the breadwinner of the family or a “respectable artisan” where prosecuting him could “break up the home.”  (see pages 55-59).

specifically regarding the treatment of young abuse victims in the courts, in the 1880s feminists worked to institute a womens police force that would take statements from young victims, female doctors that would examine the victims (instead of allowing them to be examined and further traumatized by adult males immediately after they’d been assaulted by one) and women who would accompany the young victims to court, where the common practice at the time was actually to clear the court entirely of all women, including women jurors in cases of sexual abuse allegedly as to not offend the women.  (see pages 60-63).

interestingly, as all of these seem like good suggestions, here we are 150 years later, and none of them have been implemented with any force have they?  at least, to the extent that there are female police, jurors and judges now, nobody is suggesting that the reason we need them is because of the terrible bias in mens legal system against female sexual assault victims and in the obvious favor of their abusers, and that this sexual bias in these cases specifically has existed for a very long time.

now, when dealing with the problem of speechlessness of sexually abused girls, the courts in some states allow young victims to bring teddy bears with them, or in the recent case in new york, service animals, to help them along as they testify.  now we will have the rapists defenders crying about the mens constitutional right not to have the juries biased by a beautiful — yet unfortunately incommunicative — dog, and we will probably have animal rights activists upset too about yet another example of animals being used to help humans, where animals own “rights” to be free from abuse and neglect are far from secure.  and honestly, the animal rights activists  — and the rapists lawyers — would have decent points.

the feminist points, of course, having been lost to history apparently, buried beneath a hundred and fifty years of pro-male propaganda and sex-positivism, which has always, always privileged mens sexual access and entitlement to young girls and women over the rights of girls and women to be free from the sexual abuse and entitlements of men, including the abuse that occurs in mens courts of law as they disingenuously use their own biased rules to perpetuate the victimization of the rape class for the benefit of all men, and to the detriment of all women, as a sexual class.

and thats what we are, arent we?  but no one will ever say it, except for radical feminists.  and we have been saying it, and we will continue to say it.  women and girls comprise a sexual class, and we must be free from the sexual abuses of men, including the continued biased treatment of mens sexual crimes in mens courts of law, and including mens demonstrated determinedness to continually write and enforce legal rules where all men benefit from the predictable, trauma-induced-speechlessness of the victims of mens sexual assault.

12 Comments to “‘Courtroom dog’ helps young rape victim testify”

  1. the 2007 story of a teenaged boy who was kidnapped and held for 4 years by a man who repeatedly raped and tortured him was just re-run on 48 hours

    http://articles.cnn.com/2007-01-15/us/missouri.boys_1_michael-devlin-shawn-hornbeck-kidnapping?_s=PM:US

    the defendant plead guilty after “sex tapes” emerged showing him raping the boy, and the boy said he was glad about that because it meant that he wouldnt have to testify. my immediate thought was that nobody is going to expect this kid to grow up having intercourse with men for the rest of his life, and that everyone would be completely understanding if he never wanted to be penetrated by a man again, as long as he lived. not so with female victims is it? UGH.

    not to derail my own thread or anything. but this entire INDUSTRY of female sexual victimization (and the ways it benefits men) is so sickening. and it *is* an industry, including the way its dealt with in court. and this is ONLY true for female victims of male sexual abusers. its infuriating.

  2. Great post!

    the feminist points, of course, having been lost to history apparently, buried beneath a hundred and fifty years of pro-male propaganda and sex-positivism, which has always, always privileged mens sexual access and entitlement to young girls and women over the rights of girls and women to be free from the sexual abuse and entitlements of men

    Absolutely spot on. I think we discussed this point before but I was watching a news report of a local crime where a woman was brutally beaten and raped in an upscale neighborhood. All the reporting headlines across all stations read “sexual assault”, not rape. In fact the word seems to have been eliminated from public discourse obviously to protect the all-mighty patently false male image of the happy-go-lucky, harmless, jovial male. I’m so sick to death of it I just want to fly away.

  3. What you have said about women being speechless after being raped is an interesting complement to Betty McLellan’s post here entitled “Unspeakable” and about free speech. The concept of free speech allows males to vicitimize females. But when it comes to a way to facilitate a traumatized victim to enable her to speak, that is not allowed. Betty says we need fair speech, and certainly to allow a girl of 15 something that helps mitigate her trauma would be very fair as well.

  4. yes! what a terrific connection youve made here katie. thanks!

  5. Yes, cutting out the tongue of a rape victim. There is a Greek myth, as so often, about this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philomela_(princess_of_Athens). The desire to silence the rape victim is ancient and pervasive in so many ways. Learning the word “glossectomy” and studying the literature about cutting out tongues of women literally and figuratively has given me some deeper insight into one particular tentacle of the monsta.

  6. As someone who has been on the witness stand to testify against my own father when I was a teenager, this makes me want to cry. I have a beautiful, warm, gentle, loving labrador and I wish she had been there with me when the barrister was yelling at me and twisting my words to make it sound like it was my fault. The ONLY thing that got me through was my gift for language: the ability to articulate myself calmly and coldly despite the yelling and slippery words. Had I not been able to shut myself off and just use words, I would not have coped with the trauma of the courtroom. And it is a secondary trauma. The adversarial legal system is a disaster for females. Thank goodness for Sheila Jeffrey’s historical research. Let’s revive the work of those early feminists and see this happen in our lifetime.

  7. Your comment is very touching, sea. I know that women who have been abused often found comfort and healing in animals. I’m glad that you were so good with words and got through it with some “success.” A mixed success because of the secondary trauma.

  8. yes sea i am touched by your comment as well. i frankly am not hopeful that these things will be implemented ever due to the “this is what a feminist looks like!” gender-blender bullshit thats probably made it impossible for anyone to understand why a WOMAN should serve these functions and not men, even self-identified feminist men. but its completely obvious why this is the case, is it not? its completely obvious. men should have NOTHING to do with the legal or medical treatment of sexually vicitmized women, or of prosecuting other men for it when they ALL benefit from women being disbelieved and men being set free. its MENS options that are broadened here: all men and all their options, including their option to take full advantage of the resulting pool of sexually available raped women, all of whom have a credibility problem when it comes to accusing men of rape.

    perhaps a volunteer position could be created though, to accompany girls and women along the way? am i too cynical? maybe!

  9. I think that allowing courtroom dogs is a step forward or at least in the right direction. The reason I never reported or tried to press charges against my rapists when I was a teen is simply because I was speechless, paralyzed. Now that I have looked up how legal proceedings usually go with rape and sexual abuse cases, though, I know that I would not have stood a chance in Hell had I tried to take them to trial for their disgusting crimes.

    “The adversarial legal system is a disaster for females.”

    Agreed.

  10. I think it’s really positive that dogs are allowed into the courtroom for this reason.Mary Daly taught that animals can point women in the right direction, and lead to answers.
    It makes me think of witches surrounded by their “familiars”, usually a cat.
    “Witches and their familiars” were probably just wise women in the community who happened to have animals around them, because they loved them, and found that they centred them when they were making decisions,. Being around animals can help give you some perspective. They are very soothing and can lower blood pressure. Pet therapy is also used in nursing homes
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/15/health/15brody-animals.html?_r=1

  11. As a dog lover, a feminist, and an ARA, I have conflicting feelings about this. From the ARA POV, I think that animals shouldn’t be used as a means to an ends to benefit humans any more than women should be for men, or POC for whites. As a feminist, I believe almost any means necessary should be utilized to help a rape victim testify against her rapist. And as a dog-lover, I know that dogs love people and love to do jobs. I think it’s a tricky issue, because I definitely don’t believe dogs (or any animal) should be experimented on or used as a police dog. But I think maybe if dogs are rescued (rather than bred) and then trained to do the job and they get to have lives outside of their work, that’s probably fine.

    I’m always enraged when I see rape victims torn apart on the stand. They’re already so vulnerable and then they’re torn down to the extent that they no longer feel the courage to testify. Whenever I hear some attorney asking the rape victim what she was wearing, about her sexual history, BLAMING her for what happened, as though the fact that she’s had sex before means she ALWAYS wants it ALL THE TIME, I want to barge into the courtroom, and scream at the rapist, “Why weren’t you wearing pants that made it impossible for your penis to come out? Why did you look so normal? Why did you walk down that street alone if you knew you couldn’t control yourself? HOW MANY TIMES HAVE YOU DONE THIS?!” But of course, rapists can’t control themselves, so women need to protect themselves, which is goddamned impossible on account of the fact that we live in a patriarchy that socializes every male on earth to be a rapist.

    I had this huge, endlessly frustrating and enraging argument with a couple of rapesick boys in my class this past year. I’m always saying how serious rape is, and they’re also “joking” with me that they’re going to start a website in my honor called Rape Is Serious and then fill it with rape jokes. So I told them, You would take rape more seriously if you were a woman. And they said, “You make no sense. And you’re sexist. Men get raped too. And they don’t get the sympathy that chicks do when they’re raped, even though half the time it’s the cunt’s own fault. Men hardly ever report it when they’re raped because there’s too much shame. And it’s worse for them because they weren’t made for penetration, they aren’t used to it.”

    That says it all, truly. Men really think we’re human fuckholes, that we’re ready for penetration at all times, even when we aren’t wet, that it’s okay whenever because it’s supposed to happen to us, we’re supposed to want to be little sluts for men and we’re supposed to like it, and apparently little girls are supposed to be “used to” penetration. But men, no. Can’t subvert the status quo like that — women are the rapables, men are supposed to be safe from that, and the ones having fun doing it!

    So much disgust.

    A few months ago, I read about this rape case a few years ago in which I father started raping his daughter. She was three, I believe. And he and his lawyer had the AUDACITY to claim that she was asking for it. Because she would sleep with her head in his lap, and hug and kiss him, and she liked it when he gave her baths. He had to pervert girlhood and steal her innocence. I’m sure I did the same things with my father as a little girl — but he didn’t mean I wanted to be raped. And he never raped me. It’s his responsibility not to rape her. I know I wasn’t aware that that stuff could be sexual with the wrong person. So, so sickening.

    I always hate the way in the news, it says “forced her to have sex with him”. If “sex” is forced, it isn’t “sex” — it’s RAPE. I wish people would stop shying away from the reality of that word.

    Sorry for the long comment!

  12. I think it’s sad to exploit even more vulnerable and speechless beings than us so to reduce our vulnerability and speechlessness in court.
    Obviously it’s a complicated issue.
    Animal’s company is very soothing, and whenever I feel completely sick of patriarchy the cats in my house do help a bit. While it would be less controversial to be allowed to bring one own’s companion dog to the court, having a dog at women’s disposition does make me cringe.
    A way fairer option would definitely be that radical feminist women take charge of the rape court alltogether. In some countries, such things are actually already happening, where women actually stage a court in the central place of the town, and collectively and publicly shame the rapist guy, while making sure the women is safe and has somewhere to stay. I’ve heard of such stories in Guatemala, India.

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