Early in my career, I was witness to a court case in Charleston, South Carolina, that told me how sexual assault on a woman was viewed then, and seems to be still today by some.
I worked in the legal system in several positions during that time, but this case confirmed to me one of the reasons a woman would not want to come forward if sexual assault occurred. I was present in the courtroom for these proceedings and it really struck me hard.
Four young men from upper income families in Charleston were charged with assaulting a young woman and it was a case where “everyone knew” they were guilty—they were known to be party boys who drank and partied hard regularly, and they admitted to that description.
They were acquitted. The case was decided in favor of the four young men after their attorney proved that the girl that claimed the attack happened was not a virgin. They brought a witness who had had consensual sex with the girl and that was the determining factor along with the claim by all four young men that they did not attack the young woman just because they “wouldn’t do something like that.” There were no witnesses, or at least none that came forward or were willing to testify and the girl was villified publicly.
After the trial, in the legal community at the time, the talk was mostly laughing about the whole incident and especially about the “trial.” I heard the opinion often: “well, boys will be boys” and “the girl probably wanted it anyway” and, since the boys were the rich, attractive group, “the girl should count herself lucky that they even looked at her.”
I saw then the power of money and position and class. It seemed obvious that some were above the law just by virtue of birth family and/or money.
Ut-oh—since I remembered the city, but I cannot remember the exact year for sure, I guess this account is not true!
Well, I got the “message” from this event and, when I was in a “situation” some years later at my workplace, I simply quit without reporting what had happened because a person in a position of power (my supervisor) would probably be believed and not me. And then, there was the shame and the guilt . . .
However, in my case, I was called in by HR for an exit interview and asked to tell specifically why I had abruptly quit my job with them when I seemed to be enjoying my position and had advanced from typing pool to Secretary to the Department Supervisor in 30 days. I broke down in tears and told them that my supervisor had attempted to sexually assault me and had told me that to keep my job I had to have sex with him. They were angry that this had occurred and told me that it was important to report his type of activity to keep it from happening to others and that they would have believed me—this was an unusual attitude at the time, so I was surprised!
The man was fired soon after that and I was glad. He had used guilt to try to keep me from telling anyone by accusing me of flirting with him which justified his advances to me, so it was my fault, not his. And that was a part of why I didn’t tell anyone until I was forced to do so by repeated questioning.
Interestingly, I can remember the name of the city, the general timeframe and the name of the man even though this happened in the 1960s, 50+ years ago, but many other details are not there!
Messages are important . . . what we teach our children, boys and girls, matters and what they see lived out tells them what is “acceptable” and, in the case of sexual assault, the message right now is mixed:
“me,too” movement says “you are important and you will be given respect if you speak up and your story checked out”
our current administration seems to be sending the message that says “the power of money and position and class determines guilt and innocence” . . .
what price will we pay for this LIE . . .
how many broken lives will it take . . .
how much suffering,
how many tears shed in silence surrounded by darkness
WE NEED EACH OTHER to face our challenges: compassion—a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.