How Sexism Influences the Sexual Assault Justice System


“Becoming a victim is not a choice, becoming a survivor is,” (Unknown). You hear the stories all the time, the horror and the injustice of sexual assault and violence. The horrible truth about sexual assault is that it’s easy to get away with, it’s easy to commit, and it is one of the most traumatic experiences that happens in the lives of millions. 1 in 6 women in America has been the victim of attempted rape or rape. That number doesn’t include those who have been sexually assaulted. Every 73 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted and about every nine minutes, it’s happening to a child. There clearly is a problem in America, and the solution hasn’t been found yet. The sexual assault justice system has been proven to be affected by sexism and bias against women and that simple fact encourages this crime and allows people to get away with it. The first step to solving this situation is to become familiar with it and know just how sexism affects justice.


Sexual assault is such an abstract and difficult subject when it comes to the justice system mostly because prosecution is so difficult. There often is no witness and the case has to determine whether or not the accused is guilty based on the victim’s statement and their own. The law tends to have a big gray area when it comes to bringing the perpetrators to justice as there are many forms and degrees of sexual assault. Then there is the issue of bias and sexism in the courts. Misinformation, inaccurate stereotypes, and biases about sexual assault and it’s survivors impact trials and prosecution. There are many biases and inaccurate stereotypes about sexual assault survivors and they are often the reason for the increasing rate of withdrawing claims by victims. “They have found evidence of judges, court officers, prosecutors, and juries who displayed stereotypical views, insensitivity to, and ignorance about sex crime victims, and disbelieved and blamed victims, most frequently when the victim knew the perpetrator—a circumstance that is true of the vast majority of sex crimes,” (Rape and Sexual Assault, 11). When you look at the facts it’s clear that there is a bias against women when reporting their sexual assault. There is this idea that women are lying about their assault and are seeking attention. This is even prevalent in daily life when women are shamed for wearing a “revealing” outfit. You’ve probably heard something along the line of, “Well did you see what she was wearing? She was asking for it!” Sexism shows itself in that statement. Why can’t women wear an outfit simply because she wants to? Why is she shamed for it? Why are women held to this other standard? Why can’t women have a choice?


If we again think of this idea that the women reporting these crimes are lying, we reach a problem. In the United States you are innocent until proven guilty. And there are false claims made. So what happens if there is simply not enough evidence to prove without question that the crime was committed? Courts can’t just jump to conclusions and simply trust the word of one person over another. The tricky part is determining why the number of productions are so low. Is it because there isn’t enough evidence? Is it just the circumstance? Or is it because of the deep rooted bias against women and overall sexism and stereotypes? The answer might have been found. “The New York Task Force on Women in the Courts found that: The gender bias against women is an immense problem with grave consequences. The cultural stereotypes of women’s role in marriage and society distorts the courts’ application of law on a daily basis. Women uniquely, disproportionately, and with unacceptable frequency, endure condescension, inference and hostility,” (Gender Bias in Sexual Assault, 42). Maryland Special Joint Committee on Gender Bias in the Courts found that: Judges and court employees deny the victims experiences, accuse the victim of lying about her injuries, treat the cases as unimportant, blame the victim for getting beater, and even badger the victim for not leaving the abuser. “Gender bias may, therefore, explain the widely-held belief that sexual assault reports are often false. This belief, in turn, can affect the responses of professionals both inside and outside the criminal justice system. Responding professionals will inevitably make unconscious determinations about the veracity of a report – but if these judgments are wrong, they can fail to take appropriate action or draw inaccurate conclusions,” (Gender Bias in Sexual Assault, 42).


While men can, and will, face issues pertaining to sexual assault not only does it happen less often but it is often also due to the violence of other men. The experience of males who have been sexually assaulted is just as important as females, however using that as an excuse is not valid and does not erase the experience of females who have been sexually assaulted. You may be thinking that men will have a harder time speaking out about their assault because it makes them “seem weak.” But here’s what’s important: this stigma is due to toxic masculinity that is caused by sexism. Toxic masculinity is when men feel as though they can’t show emotions, can’t cry, can’t do “girl things” because it makes them seem weak. But why is it that crying, showing emotion and being weak associated with females? The answer is pure and simple: sexism. Toxic masculinity embraces this idea that being a woman means you are beneath all men for no other reason than your sex. At the end of the day it all comes back to a millennia of patriarchy and sexism, a millennia of women being seen as less than men.


Sexism and toxic masculinity is what leads to the current day rape culture “Rape culture: A society or environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault or abuse,” (Navini). It’s “normal” to be catcalled, to be sexually hartases and abused and even raped. The numbers are so high that it’s seen as normal and girls just need to deal with it. Girls need to change their behavior so they don’t get sexually abused. The focus isn’t on stoping sexual assault, it’s on women “not asking for it.” It’s up to the victim not to get raped, not on the perpetrator.


“Rape is the easiest violent crime to get away with in the United States,” (Anderson). The Justice Department reports that between 20% and 40% of sexual assaults are reported and only 0.8% of sexual assaults lead to a conviction. So now I leave you with a question. We are the next generation and the ones that will soon be responsible for finding the answer. How do we stop sexual assault and how do we end gender bias and sexism?


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Sources


Anderson, Liza. "Why are we so bad at prosecuting sexual assault?"

Dallasnews.com, Dallas News, 15 Sept. 2019, www.dallasnews.com/opinion

/commentary/2019/09/15/why-are-we-so-bad-at-prosecuting-sexual-assault/.

Accessed 26 Mar. 2021.


Huhtanen, Heather, et al. Gender Bias in Sexual Assault Response and Investigation. Oct. 2020. Evawintl.org, evawintl.org/wp-content/uploads/TB-Gender-Bias-1-4-Combined.pdf. Accessed 24 Mar. 2021.


Navini, Reesa. "Gender and Feminism Influencing Violence and Rape Cluture."

YouTube, 8 Apr. 2019, youtu.be/4E2KbvDxeBo. Accessed 25 Mar. 2021.

Lecture.


Tracy, Carol E., et al. RAPE AND SEXUAL ASSAULT IN THE LEGAL SYSTEM Presented to the National Research Council of the National Academies Panel on Measuring Rape and Sexual Assault in the Bureau of Justice Statistics Household Surveys Committee on National Statistics June 5, 2012. 5 June 2012. Womenslawproject.org, www.womenslawproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Rape-and-Sexual-Assault-in-the-Legal-System-FINAL.pdf. Accessed 23 Mar. 2021.



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