i reported, and it sucks (part ii)

making a police report about my sexual assault

content warning: SEXUAL ASSAULT/RAPE

This is the second part of my story of reporting sexual assault to the police in the PNW United States in 2021. The first part of my story is here.

My first interview with the police wasn’t long after my assault. Broken and busted up inside, I sat on someone else’s bed and recounted my story into a shaky cell phone screen. My friend sat steadfast and promised she would be there throughout this terrifying process.

Since I insisted on being interviewed by a female officer, my mid-June rape wasn’t recounted in an in-person interview until mid-July. Like I mentioned in the first part of my story, my county had only three female officers at the time I made my report. And in the interim between my first and second interviews, one of those three women had tragically died.

I had weeks to percolate in my anxiety over the second interview. Days and days to think about all the criminal law cases I’ve read, to try my best not to sound hysterical. To try to dissect all the emotion from the facts so I might have even a chance of being listened to.

The reporting system isn’t built for victims. So, throughout this process, I planned to keep my supportive friend tightly by my side. Law enforcement had operated on the assumption that it would be acceptable to interview me in my home. Rather than asking, they informed me that they would be coming to my house, to my sacred space. When the police officer called me to schedule the interview, my friend arranged childcare so she could attend. I made the mistake of mentioning this to the officer on the phone on my way to meet her.

Usually we interview people alone, the police officer told me. It’s better that way. I would be more comfortable talking to you alone.

For a split second, I fought the docile fear that emerges in my heart in moments like these.

I would feel more comfortable with someone else there.

The officer bickered with me on the phone. She said that even minors in sexual abuse cases were interviewed without anyone else present. She insisted that to have anyone else there would necessarily be to influence my testimony.

When I pointed out that if the officer and I were alone, she would be the only influence on my testimony, she insisted on her own perfect objectivity, her existence in some impartial role as interviewer, as if the person asking questions hadn’t built herself a framework to learn how to ask them.

I’ll just be asking the questions…Does that make sense?

The majority of our discussion became a frustrating call and response: Does that make sense? No, it doesn’t.

As I continued to argue with the officer, I felt even more weary than when I had left work to go home for the interview. It was a sunny Sunday in July and I had to spend it telling the story of my rape again, again, again. Finally, I agreed.

Okay, I told her. I’ll talk to you alone.

I know that when I talk with police, they are attempting to use me as a source of fact. They are not approaching me as a human being with inherent value, as a person that they are sworn to serve and protect.

Police interviewing practices do not serve rape victims or protect us. They are not concerned with trauma-informed practices or the experience of rape. I am simply the container for the information they need to do their job—a job which is much more about enforcing processes that create an illusion of justice and safety than it is about serving or protecting anyone. The police officer is not there to protect me. She is certainly not there to serve me. She is there to extract information. She is not there to create space for my feelings. She is there to create some sort of accountability, and to be held accountable for what she ascertains to be fact.

I also know that no matter how impartial an officer thinks she is, her judgments of truth and interviewing approach will be tainted by her cultural background, her personality, her biases, the way she was trained, and so many more factors. This is more of a reality than it is a criticism. As humans we can strive virtuously toward impartiality but it has never been our essence. To think truth is composed only of fact is to ignore the beating heartbeat of human experience.

I knew that my conception of the truth would not match the officer’s. I could only hope that her reality would be close enough to mine to protect me.

With a gun on one hip and a taser on the other, a woman brave enough to choose life in the boys’ club sat out of place in my kitchen. Her bulletproof vest was juxtaposed violently against my yoga teacher training certificate as we talked above the hum of a barely functional air conditioner. She’d drawn an outline of her femininity in black kohl around her eyes, and my little orange cat climbed fearlessly towards her boots.

The police officer asked for a start to finish recollection of that night. My tiny square kitchen table didn’t feel big enough to hold the story I was about to set down. But I laid myself out for her anyway, put all the pieces of my soul on my own table for her observation and analysis.

I had promised myself I would be purely factual. I would pretend to be a criminal defense attorney. I would only say things I’d counsel an imaginary client to say.

I may have been the victim of the crime, but I had already prepared to defend myself.

But my preparation was for naught, eroded in a flash by feelings. I found myself staring glassy eyed out the window as I told the story again. My voice cracked and broke. I tried not to cry. I clenched my hands, felt my pelvic muscles tighten down even more than usual, rode the wave of tension assaulting my body. And I told the fucking story, again.

Because this time, there would be no more hiding in the shadows.

I have to ask, she looked at me nervously, why you waited to report?

My cynicism poured out through my feet.

I didn’t think anything would happen. And I’ve watched how we treat women who report rape in our society.

We don’t believe them.

I went on for a minute. I wanted to say more, but I didn’t.

So, you didn’t report because of…societal norms?

I wished I could scream at her. Her summation proved our truths’ divergence. Each moment, I lost faith in her ability to help me at all.

As the follow-up questions came, I felt myself dissociate quickly. I had been more alive during my story, but as I showed the officer the black cotton dress I had been wearing, I began to float away.

It was like I wasn’t there as I slipped the dress over my shoulders, demonstrating how the wrap encircled my waist, how the fabric untied to unravel to my wide, unwilling hips.

It was like I wasn’t a real person as I went through a month of cans and bottles to find ten empty cans of Coors Light. I was dreaming when I placed them in an evidence bag and watched them leave in the police car.

It wasn’t real when the officer turned to me and asked,

Did you ever talk about having sex at all?

No. We didn’t.

But if I was jarred from an intoxicated, passed out state to find a man’s dick in my mouth, does it really matter?

That’s rape even if I had read him an entire book of erotica before he slipped something in my drink.

Why does it matter what we talked about? It should only matter what he did with his genitalia while I was insentient and incapable of consent.

The charges being investigated are sodomy in the first degree and rape in the first degree, crimes defined under ORS 163. Since I was incapacitated and have no recollection of what happened after this man shoved his penis in my sleeping mouth, I can’t definitively say that he penetrated my vagina. So, let’s talk about sodomy.

The Oregon sodomy statute specifies that someone who engages in oral sexual intercourse with another adult commits the crime of sodomy in the first degree when the victim is unable to consent because of “mental incapacitation” or “physical helplessness.” ORS 163.405

Let’s review: at the time the man sexually forced himself on me, I was passed out, alone, under a blanket. I had found myself asleep on this couch because I was physically incapable of standing up and walking. I was unconscious, limiting my mental capacity to that of a person who is asleep after being intoxicated.

As an able-bodied person, I don’t know how I could’ve been more physically helpless without being tied up or injured.

As someone with exceptional mental capacity, I don’t know how I could’ve been more incapacitated without being a coma.

So why does it matter what we talked about? A police officer investigates a crime defined by a statute.

The statute doesn’t say that a person commits the crime of sodomy when the victim is unable to consent to oral sexual intercourse due to mental incapacitation or physical helplessness unless the incapacitated, helpless person had talked about sex with the perpetrator. The statute simply says a person commits the crime of sodomy when the victim is unable to consent to oral sexual intercourse due to mental incapacitation or physical helplessness. No caveat.

There is no topic of conversation that this man and I might have had before he assaulted me that changes the fact that I was intoxicated and asleep when I was forced to have oral sex with him.

It doesn’t matter what we talked about. It’s not relevant to investigating the facts of the crime. It’s just part of the framework of judgment and social normalcy that the police officer isn’t even aware she has engaged with, over and over and over again. It’s part of our process of shaming women who were raped at a “nice” man’s house instead of in a dark alley by a social reject. It’s part of how we shame women just for the prospect that they might have wanted sex in any given situation. It’s part of how we gatekeep what sexual violence means so that our community doesn’t feel as dangerous as it really is.

It doesn’t matter what we talked about. It doesn’t matter if we met on social media. It doesn’t matter what color bra I was wearing. Nothing matters except the unwanted, obtrusive penis in my sleeping mouth.

But that’s not a comfortable image. So the officer and I talk about what I was drinking, what I was wearing, whether the word sex ever left either of our lips. She leads me in constructing a story that makes everyone feel better about the fact that rapists live peacefully among us.

The world of reporting your rape is a world of fielding unknown or number blocked calls at 6:59 am on weekdays and at 8:56 am on a random Saturday. When I reported, I gave someone else permission to remind me of my rape whenever they wanted more information about it.

Like so many writers have learned, when I told my story, I surrendered it to the world.

To report your rape is to choose to give up your pride, to show a weakness and vulnerability to the world. It is to subject your trauma to the throes of patriarchal bureaucracy.

To report your rape is to surrender to strangers; to hand them your privacy, your medical records, your intimate pain. It is to spend your own time, money, and emotional energy to clean up after another.

To report your rape is to cry in cars on phone calls with stand-in mothers, terrified of retaliation for telling the truth. It is to wince every time a car slows down in front of your house because your rapist might be inside waiting to punish you for not keeping your pretty little mouth shut.

To report your rape is brave. It is lonely.

As the interview waned, I asked the officer to alert me before the detectives confronted the man who raped me. When I got the call a few weeks later, it shredded my world for awhile. I spent nights in my friend’s bed and she spent nights in mine so I didn’t drown in the fear of darkness. I could still barely breathe.

It has been a couple of weeks since I got the call that the police planned to make contact. This morning, the police officer called me hoping for more video footage. I wondered what she wanted to see. None of the crime was on camera.

She was still stuck on our conversation. She wanted to hear more of what we had said throughout the night.

What did you talk about?

She checked again that my rapist and I do not have some secret relationship I am not disclosing to her.

You still haven’t had any contact with him lately?

I tried not to laugh with frustration as I responded. Lately? My entire knowing of this man is less than twelve hours.

Less than twelve hours.

I told her if there is ever contact between me and the man who assaulted me, she would be the first to know. The phone line was quiet. When the report was finished, the officer would take it to the DA. We’d “go from there.”

Unfortunately, the officer told me, there’s not a whole lot of evidence in this case.

As the line clicked dead, I wondered if my pain would ever be evident enough for this world to believe I was hurting.

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