by Lara-Ashley Monroe
Content Warning: This op-ed discusses rape and sexual assault.
I was raped.
It happened several years ago. I had befriended an elderly man from my gym in West Seattle. He was new to the country and had few acquaintances here, so when he invited me to join him for lunch so he could have someone to talk to, I naturally said yes. After many friendly lunches together, he decided to change things.
He raped me.
He pinned me down on the couch, climbed on top of me and put a needle to my neck. I said, “Stop.” I said, “No.” He didn’t stop. When I was finally able to push him off, he crashed into the glass coffee table. I ran for my shoes and the door.
Many people have stories like this — or worse. We all know the stats. Many women choose never to come forward. Many never tell a single person. But with all of the work around #MeToo and a general better awareness of consent, I wanted to speak out.
I went to the police. They took a statement and gave me the contact information for King County Sexual Assault Resource Center (KCSARC). They told me I could get help with therapy while my case made its way through the legal process. But that didn’t happen.
In fact, nothing happened.
For years I had to call, email, and write to get any update on my cases, which was invariably nothing. I had so many prosecutors, I couldn’t remember their names. I had a case advocate at KCSARC who would never respond to me. The only clear communication I received was when prosecutors told me that this was not my case but that it belonged to the State. I was a witness — nothing more.
While I waited for the case to play out — without word of what was happening — I lived with nightmares, panic attacks, and a desperate fear of being touched and the dark. I lost my boyfriend, several close friends, my church, my volunteer position, and couldn’t work. My boss did suggest that he should let me work for free painting for him as “a form of therapy.” One day while taking a shower, the power went out. Instead of checking to see if the problem was widespread, I sat down in the tub, in the pure black room, and knew without a doubt that I was going to be killed. I truly believed I would not live through the hour. That was how deeply scarred I was. But I was denied therapy. I was denied meeting after meeting with prosecutors or my case advocate.
For my rapist, things were different. He never went to jail. He never had to answer any questions. He continued to go to the gym as usual and maintain his daily routines.
Today, three years and 10 months after the assault, and after multiple broken promises, I learned the district attorney has agreed to accept a misdemeanor charge for what my rapist did. He will serve no jail time, pay no monetary penalties, and he will not register as a sex offender. He will experience no consequences for taking so much of my life. My life was worth a misdemeanor and nothing more.
We hear so much about rape kits that have gone untested. Politicians use them to levy votes, as though they represent just how many cases should be going to court, just how many bad guys are still on the streets that we can lock up. But the rape kits never mattered, just like our cases never mattered. To me it felt like the only time someone was interested in my case was when it would look good on their CV.
“You have to report what happened,” they say. “You won’t be able to move forward unless you share your story,” they say. “You have to make sure this criminal never hurts anyone again,” they say. But that’s not the truth. We don’t have to report it because time and time again, reporting rape only hurts the person who came forward. We don’t have to share our story because time and time again we lose more every time we share. And it is not on us to make sure that a criminal is locked up, because the only one who decides if a case is ever heard is the D.A. and they only care about cases they know they can win. So stop talking about the rape kits, stop talking about how much we need to put these criminals behind bars and instead, start talking about what it would truly look like to support victims of assault and not to let prosecutors be just another in a long line trying to make a buck off of those who need help.
We need to move forward by centering victims. KCSARC is supposed to be there to support victims of sexual crimes but they are left powerless and ineffective. They often have dozens of cases with limited time to invest in the victims, becoming reduced to acting as middlemen for prosecutors who want to avoid speaking directly with victims. Unable to give legal advice or push prosecutors or resources to hear the victims, there is little they can do to help. The citizens of King County deserve to have an organization that is here to be an advocate and a strong voice for victims, and if that organization is not able to perform at that level through understaffing, through lack of training, or lack of competency, it needs to be reformed.
At the prosecutor level, we need to ensure the victim is the driving force. If a person is strong enough to speak out, the prosecutors need to take time to listen and do their best to follow the preferences of the victims. If there is a plea offer on the table and the victim is vehemently opposed, the prosecutors should have to defend their decision to go against the wishes of the survivor. We need to ensure that the person behind the case, the victim, is at the heart of the matter and have prosecutors who are prepared to stay with the case for the years that it may take to see it through. In the end it isn’t the untested rape kits that are preventing us from getting justice, it is the lack of care offered by those who have the power to help. If our cases aren’t important enough to prosecute, then the fact that our test kits sit untested on evidence-room shelves for decades clearly doesn’t matter, either.
But before we even get to any of that, before we look at a plea or go to a resource center, all of us have to take a moment and look at who we want to be. It’s easy to say that we care about assault victims, but as many who have survived a sexual crime can tell you, a large percentage of friends won’t stick around. So we need to start there. We need to ask ourselves why it matters to speak out about rape — why we want to see these cases closed. Maybe it’s because it makes us feel safer. Perhaps some people care about the statistics they can use to get elected to a public office. It might be that it is the societal expectation to say we care about rape victims. But, in the future, I hope it comes to be that we simply care about getting justice for those who need a voice.
The South Seattle Emerald is committed to holding space for a variety of viewpoints within our community, with the understanding that differing perspectives do not negate mutual respect amongst community members.
The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.
📸 Featured Image: Photo via TravellingNepal/Shutterstock.com, edited by the Emerald team.
Before you move on to the next story … The South Seattle Emerald is brought to you by Rainmakers. Rainmakers give recurring gifts at any amount. With over 1,000 Rainmakers, the Emerald is truly community-driven local media. Help us keep BIPOC-led media free and accessible. If just half of our readers signed up to give $6 a month, we wouldn't have to fundraise for the rest of the year. Small amounts make a difference. We cannot do this work without you. Become a Rainmaker today!