People often wonder why sexual assault survivors don't report their assaults to the police. Victims of crimes should want to tell authorities what happened, the logic goes, unless they have something to hide.
Despite the fact that this thinking fails to take into account the complex reasons survivors choose not to report, and also feeds into the tendency to doubt and discredit their stories, it stubbornly persists.
A new video seeks to expose the many cracks in this logic through the power of comparison. By using the robbery of a laptop as an euphemism for assault, the video brilliantly skewers the ways in which the police — and society — so often let down survivors, and shows how the same treatment would seem utterly ridiculous if applied to any other crime.
Written and directed by Cynthia Kao, the video addresses six common ways law enforcement, the media and society at large fails rape survivors:
1. Using survivors' behavior after trauma to discredit their stories.
"You seem pretty upbeat for somebody who just had their computer stolen," one officer observes at the beginning of the video. "I've just never been robbed before," the victim responds. "I'm just trying to be polite."
Though funny, the moment has clear relevance: Research has shown that survivors react in myriad ways to trauma, yet their behavior after the fact is still often questioned by authorities and used to doubt the validity of their claims.
2. Questioning "how bad" the situation "really" was.
"You sure it wasn't an unfortunate yard sale?" One officer asks about the stolen computer.
This tendency to doubt whether an act qualifies as assault, or if it was "bad" (or "legitimate") enough to merit an investigation, often dissuades survivors from reporting. As one distressing study by the U.S. Department of Justice showed, when college women with experiences that met the U.S. legal definition of sexually victimization were asked whether or not they considered the experience to be rape, 48.8% answered "no" and 4.7% answered that they "don't know," the Huffington Post reported.
3. Telling survivors they were "asking for it."
"Flashing your goods for all the world to see?" the officers note when the victim says his laptop was in front of a window. "Kinda sounds like you were asking for it." They go on to ask if the victim was drinking. If so, the courts will likely side with the "robber," they caution.
These are questions to which survivors are routinely subjected. Rather than questioning the perpetrator's motivations or scrutinizing their character, authorities often target the survivor's behavior prior to the act.
"Even if I was blackout drunk I still deserve the right to a safe home," the victim in the video says. It's a sentiment that seems inarguable in the context of a basic robbery, and yet is one viciously scrutinized in the context of assault.
4. Discouraging survivors filing a formal report.
The officers in the video note that the survivor will "bring a lot of negative attention to this neighborhood" if he files a formal report. It's a type of discouragement survivors — especially those on college campuses — know all too well. Although it's a Title IX violation to do so, plenty of colleges attempt to dissuade survivors from reporting out of fear of it reflecting badly on the institution.
5. Questioning the lack of physical evidence.
"No signs of forced entry, lock's in tact, no broken windows," the officers say while evaluating the scene of the crime. "We need physical evidence in order to prove that you were robbed and so far we don't have any."
In reality, many sexual assault cases lack physical evidence — but that hardly means they didn't happen. Even when survivors do attempt to obtain physical evidence via rape kits, the system remains stacked against them. "We could dust for finger prints, but there is a backlog of 400,000 fingerprint kits that have yet to be processed," the police officer in the video said, drawing a parallel to the backlog of rape tests that also go untested.
6. Telling survivors they need to be vigilant, rather than encouraging broader change.
At the end of the video, the police officers advise the victim to get an "alarm system, some security camera, keep blinds closed, hide valuables, buy gun, take self-defense classes, make sure get a big dog, make sure the house is never alone" — a list of external remedies not so different from the advice survivors are given in order to "prevent" rape. In reality, sexual assault is systemic, and the real solution is to teach perpetrators not to rape in the first place.
The victim ultimately sums up the problem with the way we handle sexual assault at the end of the video.
"This whole system is set up against the victims," he say. And after watching this video, hopefully viewers will agree — and feel compelled to advocate for change.