Trigger warning : Sexual assault & Harassment.
The threat of sexual harassment and assault seems to be constant in women’s lives. Many times women put up with harassment or address it at the source. Rarely do we go as far as holding the culprits accountable in front of society’s eyes. We have all heard about the stigma and questioning around it, “What were you wearing?”, “Were you drinking?”, “Did you lead them on?”, which justly would deter any female from pursuing the issue any further. But what happens when you do report it? And why, so often, do the charges get dropped?
In my own personal experience, a strong-willed friend convinced me to report the incident. What many people do not realize is that for the victim, it is not over after you phone the police. You do not get to walk away from it and heal. It is of course of no fault of the authorities, but sadly an unfortunate truth of what victims must deal with.
Very recently I experienced such an event. When I called to report it, I endured the explanation of how that police station was not able to handle my case because they did not have authority over that area of the city. The next day I took the time out of my working day to go down to, what I was told was, the correct police station. I then underwent a three hour tedious delivery of a statement where I recalled each second of the incident for about 10 minutes. Somehow, each time they told me how wrong the culprit was and how I had done the right thing for myself and for women that come after me, the more it felt wrong.
After this intense engagement, I was informed that this station was also not the correct authority and that my statement and details would be sent to the appropriate office. I was mishandled and passed around like a hot potato, it seemed as though everyone wanted to help me but no one would.
It really started to feel as if the things I learned in my criminal law lectures were starting to take place in real life. The Garda escorted me back to the scene of the crime where we collected a wine bottle which had belonged to the wrongdoer, as it was in our interest to obtain DNA. I also had to hand over the clothes I wore that night for further DNA evidence.
It became especially overwhelming once it became more than just me involved. The garda needed to get in contact with the first person I told and then with my roommates (of one week) for statements. The process has a strange way of making the victim feel like the criminal.
We must acknowledge that sexual assault and harassment cases are on a spectrum ranging from quite extreme to lesser; all equally culpable and so very frequent. However, the process for reporting such incidents is overly complex and seems to rarely achieve the aim. The aim is to bring about justice or awareness for the safety of others like you. In the aftermath of the UCD sexual harassment incident that has recently had light shed upon it, I am fed up with the tolerance of sexual assault and harassment and you should be too.
As a law student, I learned very early on about the significance of presumptions and how the burden shifts. Therefore, the legal process is easier and harder depending on the presence of a presumption. Just maybe we should consider that due to the frequency of these events, that women are owed a presumption in their favor. Whether you support this statement or not, the conversation needs to be had.
So, why don’t we report it? Because the system and society have failed us.