Should A Rape Victim Be Obligated To Report Her Attacker?

One of the sites I read quite frequently is Jezebel. I wrote for them for a little while before I launched The Frisky and really respect them as a cool and smart site for women. Many of their posts I find to be laugh-out-loud funny and others make me think deeply about and even reconsider positions I have taken on issues. But lately there’s been some controversy on the site in regards to the issue of rape and I thought I would bring them up here to see what Frisky readers think. In particular, I wanted to discuss the question of whether a rape victim has a moral obligation to report her attack(er) to authorities.

I had no idea what having sex would feel like and besides, I had told him I didn’t want to! And it was dark! And I was drunk!

A few of the Jezebel bloggers have shared the experience of date rape in which they didn’t go to the authorities and maintain that they had no moral obligation to do so. One of these bloggers also has discussed the issue of “gray rape”, a term used in a Cosmopolitan article some months back, describing rapes in which the victim doesn’t say “no” but also doesn’t say “yes”. While I think the term is a bogus one, and one I don’t think should make its way into the lexicon, it has made me recall an experience of my own which has kind of shaped my own opinions on the subject.

When I was in college, and still a virgin (hush, I was a late bloomer), I went out on a date with a guy that I met at the coffee shop I worked at. We went to sushi, drank quite a lot of beer, then went back to his place to make out. Sometime mid-make out session I dropped the virginity bomb, as I had become accustomed to doing. I was definitely super over being a virgin and had no intention of remaining a member of the club for much longer, but I didn’t really think I wanted to give it up on a first date with this dude. Which I explained, which he heard, which he said he respected. We kept making out and somewhere down the line we progressed to more, um, unclothed activities, but didn’t go all the way. Or so I thought.

A couple dates later, we had sex. I was so giddy afterwards and couldn’t help expressing my glee. “I can’t believe I finally had sex,” I said in naive wonderment.

“Uh…” the guy stuttered. “We had sex the other day.”

You see, it turns out the dude pulled what I have since called “the switcheroo” — exchanging his hands/fingers for his penis briefly, and without my knowledge. How, you may wonder, is it possible for a person to be conscious and not realize she was having sex? I liken it to doing a blind taste test of a totally new food and being unable to identify it. I mean,

I had no idea what having sex would feel like and besides, I had told him I didn’t want to! And it was dark! And I was drunk!

“I told you I didn’t want to,” I said said to the guy, who was looking at me kind of incredulously.

“I couldn’t help myself,” he said, by way of explanation. I could tell he was offended that I couldn’t tell. Oh, and by the way, he didn’t use a condom. Real winner, obviously.

Despite the fact that the experience of losing my virginity kind of falls into that “gray rape” category (didn’t say no, exactly, but didn’t say yes, either, and certainly didn’t know it was happening, and he was pretty sneaky about the whole thing), I went out on a few more dates with him and had sex with him willingly a few more times. Honestly, I think I kept seeing him because then, inside, it made me feel like what happened wasn’t bad and therefore I didn’t have to deal with the emotional issues associated with it. I broke it off with him because we disagreed on politics and I kind of found him revolting. But I never said to him, “What you did was unacceptable” and I certainly never reported him. I don’t think what he did was out of malice, but I do think it was without regard for my expressed desires and I’ve often wondered whether he’s done that same thing again to another woman. I can’t say that the experience hugely scarred me, but I do think the biggest damage that came out of it was that it contributed to my mistrust of men’s motives. Still, do I wish I had reported him? No. Because what would I have said? But I definitely wish I had told him exactly what I thought of him and his inability to help himself.

But what about in cases where the sexual assault is less…up for debate? Where the attacker doesn’t just “take advantage” or “fail to ask permission” but shows a complete disregard for the victim’s safety, emotions, well-being, and rights? Certainly deciding what to do should be up to the person being victimized. But should she think of the repercussions of not reporting her assault, like the fact that the attacker could act again? Or does being a victim herself wipe away all responsibility as a witness as well? It’s a tough question to answer in my opinion, especially since it’s very difficult to get a rape case prosecuted, especially resulting in a conviction. But what do you all think?