Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Survivors: Guilty Until Proven Innocent?
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Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Survivors: Guilty Until Proven Innocent?

Exploring one of the double standards of the Presumption of Innocence.

Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Survivors: Guilty Until Proven Innocent?

This is a trigger warning. This article may bring up feelings of discomfort or panic for sexual assault and domestic violence survivors. If you need someone to talk to you can always call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at (800) 656-HOPE (4673). To learn more about the hotline, or to get involved click here. If you are in a domestic abusive situation and you need confidential help please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1.800.799.SAFE (7233), click here to get involved. If you are in immediate danger please call 911.

In light of the recent events of the trial against convicted rapist Brock Turner and his extremely lenient sentence for raping an unconscious woman on Stanford University Campus, the public has been reminded of male privilege and how it is portrayed in the media. Almost a week after Judge Aaron Persky sentenced Brock Turner to a more than offensive six months in county jail, his reasoning being that anything more would have a "severe impact on his life", the internet has naturally gone into an uproar and all of our pitchforks are up and raging with fire.

The instinctive response to this is what about the severe impact it has already had and will continue to have on the victim for the rest of her life? What about the impact it has on everyone that are closely watching. What kind of message does this send to the rest of the country? What does this show to our daughters and sons? The reality is that one in six women will experience rape in their life while one in 71 men will experience rape in their lifetime. These alarmingly high numbers remind us that many rape cases go unreported. When these high profile rape trials result in an extremely lame sentence such as the six months that Brock Turner has received, we can relate to the depletion that survivors feel and their personal choice not to report to the police. It feels as though there is nothing that we can do and that even if we try, that nothing will happen.

All though I can identify with this helpless feeling, there is also the notion that we have to keep trying and keep fighting against these sick predators for the respect and justice of survivors and that huge portion of America that will experience rape and sexual assault in their life.

The other story that has been circling the media in the last couple weeks is the divorce of celebrities Amber Heard and Johnny Depp. Heard filed for divorce and domestic violence charges against Depp last month. One in three women and one in five men in America will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. It is disappointing but still no surprise that instead of sympathy for Amber Heard all over the internet, the majority of the initial media coverage was questioning her story's legitimacy, claiming she simply wants attention and money. There are even articles accusing her of domestic violence towards her ex years ago. However Heard's ex-girlfriend Tasya van Ree has dismissed the story in a statement of her own that clarifies that Heard's arrest was against van Ree's wishes and it was a very small dispute that happened to be in public so it was misinterpreted and blown out of proportion.

While the general public on the internet seems to be standing in solidarity with the Stanford rape survivor, who remains anonymous because she says "I am every woman", law enforcement and the judicial system clearly do not. On the other end, the media and internet are aggressively questioning Amber Heard's intentions and not believing the domestic abuse accusations against Johnny Depp, despite photo evidence of the aftermath of one of his attacks on Heard's face. Here is my question, which is disturbing that it has to be a question, if we treat every attacker on trial with the same notion of "innocent until proven guilty", why can we not give the victims the same merit?

Lets talk about the lasting impact that domestic and sexual abuse can have on a survivor. Three in 10 women and one in 10 men in the United States who experienced rape, physical violence by an intimate partner reported at least one measured impact or effect related to forms of violent behavior in that relationship. 81 percent of female rape survivors report to have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and 35 percent of male rape victims report to have PTSD. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has endless varying side effects, and often they are all unpredictable in both form and timing. While PTSD is manageable with the right resources, many people are not blessed with these resources, which can result in truly awful, lasting effects. Many cases of PTSD that go untreated, the most common side effects include but are not limited to anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and actions, eating disorders, alcoholism, drug abuse and addiction and many physical effects. Some individuals with PTSD go untreated because they do not know where to go for help, and many feel ashamed to seek help or even admit there is a problem. This could be anyone around you. Some symptoms to look out for are dissociative reactions or flashbacks, as if the person is reliving the trauma, involuntary and persistent memories of the trauma, and prolonged powerful emotional distress. The facts go on, but any reader now has enough reason to fathom why anyone who has experienced domestic or sexual abuse would have PTSD, and how that would affect them in some way for every day of the rest of their lives.

In the case of the Stanford Rape Survivor, two men caught Brock Turner in the act of rape of an unconscious woman and yes he was convicted but conviction was no victory in this situation. Instead the victim was pulled through a painful process of a trial trying to prove his innocence. And not only that, but instead of justice she got a stab in her chest from Judge Aaron Persky. When he sentenced Brock Turner to six months in county jail, it was because Persky decided Brock Turner may be guilty, but innocent enough that he did not deserve a "heavy impact" on the rest of his life based on purely his own testimony, character witnesses, and his athletic achievements. However the evidence, the eye witness accounts, and the Survivor's harrowing testimony was not enough for her to deserve true justice in Judge Persky's eyes.

Domestic Violence is happening in a varying amount of ways at an alarming rate. Amber Heard's divorce from Johnny Depp is another disturbing case of victim shaming, amplified by the media. It is easier for people to believe the media when they say that Amber Heard is lying about Johnny Depp's physical abuse to her because she wants attention in the media and money from the divorce. They prefer that story than to believe that an actor they looked up to turned out to be a horrible human being. Why though? If you are reading this article, I can pretty much guarantee that you do not personally know Johnny Depp, you have seen him play parts in movies and speak in interviews. Somehow that is enough for you to believe he is innocent despite the fact that there has been various family and friends that have come out and said that Depp had been abusing Amber Heard for years and she herself has come out with proof in photos.

Yes it is horrible to decide that some is an abuser based on your own assumptions, but is it not as horrible to have the audacity to assume that someone who has survived through assault and abuse is lying? 656 out of every 1,000 Sexual Assault cases in the United States go unreported, maybe if the double standard of the Presumption of Innocence did not exist then people would have enough confidence in the Justice System and the humanity of their communities to say something. Even better maybe no one would learn to become a predator.

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