Less than a month ago, very few people had heard of Daisy Coleman. A now fifteen year old girl from Missouri who last January drank too much at an older boy’s house and was then left in near freezing temperatures on her porch. Taken to the hospital by her mother, her blood alcohol level was well above the legal limit and a rape kit confirmed sexual intercourse. The sheriff had confessions from two boys and a partial video of the assault on an iPhone. The prosecuting attorney decided not to pursue the case and it was dropped. Until the cyber hacker group Anonymous got involved and Daisy Coleman decided to go public with her story.
In showing her face on TV, in telling her story in XOJane’s “It Happened To Me”, in disregarding the protection afforded by rape shield laws, Daisy Coleman has given a face to that which makes us the most uncomfortable. She has acknowledged her own culpability in drinking underage, disregarding her brothers’ warnings, and sneaking out of her house too late at night. She has also put us in the position of asking what would we do different, how could we have protected our own daughters from this, and how can we separate ourselves from something like this?
The answer is: we cannot. In the last week, several well-meaning people have come forth to begin the process of dissecting all the nuances in this case that allow us to make Daisy an “other” and keep something like this from our own lives. If only we taught our kids about the dangers of alcohol, if only we created a buddy system for girls, if only we enforced curfew. And with these well-meaning discussions come the inevitable, “I’m not saying women deserved to be sexually victimized, but…” conversations. These then begin a domino effect that ultimately leads to “What did she expect when…” conversations.
The answer to every question with regards to “What did she expect” when it comes to sexual assault is “She expected not to be raped.” This should be a basic human right. There should never be a caveat on when someone deserves rape. They don’t. Ever.
And yet, we do everything we can to create a laundry list of reasons victims deserve what happened to them: drinking, wearing provocative clothes, out too late, with the wrong guy, in the wrong neighborhood, etc. But what happens when we run out of ways to separate ourselves from this reality? What happens when that really could be us or our daughters or sisters or wives? What happens when there’s no “but”? Because we are reaching a critical point where the only consistent thing about rape victims is that they were raped. There is no “profile” of what rape victims look like, dress like, act like. It’s become too much of an epidemic. There is no longer an other. We are all Daisy Coleman.
Every time we create laundry lists of things rape victims could have done differently, we are sending a message to survivors that it was their fault. We are implanting an “yeah, but” in their head and the heads of all potential victims that could keep them from coming forward. We are teaching them they must look at how they were responsible for the crime instead of holding perpetrators accountable. This leads to a culture of silence. A culture where no one speaks out and rapists are allowed to continue perpetuating sexual violence. Are we really okay with this? Is separating ourselves from the possibility of ever being Daisy Coleman worth risking the safety of all the girls who could later be victimized? This is no longer just a matter of individual justice. It has become an issue of public safety and sooner or later, if more people don’t start talking about this, we will all be left vulnerable.