Roy Moore Rape Scandal Exposes System Flaws For Sexual Assault Victims [Opinion]

There were times when a year would go by without a sexual assault scandal involving someone of power coming to the surface. But we know the crime itself happens more frequently than is reported, as the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) says that a sexual assault happens every 98 seconds in America, and every eight minutes one of those victims is a child. This week, the Washington Post broke the story of the Roy Moore scandal, a scandal that would turn an alleged victim of the crime of rape in the second degree into the subject of a political debate.

In so doing, the Roy Moore scandal exposed system flaws on the topic of sexual assault.

This week, the silence was broken for alleged sexual assault victims all over America, as allegations levied against high-powered men came out in a tri-fecta that included A-list Hollywood actor Kevin Spacey, comedian Louis CK, and Senatorial candidate Roy Moore.

The Harvey Weinstein scandal is just in the rear view mirror, but still very much under the microscope. The Harvey Weinstein story had barely settled its dust when another zeitgeist of allegations hit the main stream this week. Kevin Spacey, comic Louis C.K., and now Alabama conservative politician and Senatorial candidate Roy Moore all came under the spotlight this week.

They are all being accused of serious sexual misconduct or inappropriate behavior.

Roy Moore is accused of relations with a 14-year-old girl. According to Justia Law and Section 13 A-6-62 of the Alabama Criminal Code, that means he is being accused of rape in the second degree.

Kevin Spacey has apologized to at least one of his accusers. Louis C.K. has apologized and admitted his inappropriate behavior. Some politicians from Roy Moore’s party have spoken out against the behavior in question.

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By contrast, Roy Moore has said that the 30 people corroborating his accusers’ claims are politically motivated. He also said claims are fake news and defamation of character. None of his accusers have benefitted politically or financially by reporting their stories.

After the Roy Moore scandal came to light, the Washington Examiner reported that some members of Roy Moore’s political party did not call the accuser a liar, but rather made arguments that in Bible times, Mary was a teenager when she became the parent of Jesus.

This response suggests that some politicians think it’s okay for children to be picked up outside of child custody court by a stranger, and be taken elsewhere to be touched inappropriately, by a stranger, because Joseph allegedly touched Mary when she was barely a child herself.

A Jesuit priest took to Twitter to correct the misrepresentation.

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But still, those same political members, some of whom are lawmakers, did not acknowledge that in 2017 in Alabama, touching a child under the age of 16 is a crime.

It’s called rape in the second degree in Alabama. It is a crime.

The Joseph and Mary faith-based defense would not work in the United States evidence-based criminal justice system. In the United States, the 30 sources that corroborated the stories of the Roy Moore accusers would be admissible for the witness list, and their testimony would be entered as evidence.

Whether or not Roy Moore actually committed the crime is not the subject of this debate. Society and legislative responses when accusers shine the Sun on the most mortifying day of their life is the problem. No accuser wants to breathe these words out loud, that something this intimately awful actually happened to them.

But at least one accuser this week was made to feel politically motivated for coming forward, on an incident that she and her mother say happened when she was a child.

[Image by Chris So/Toronto Star/Getty Images]

It is responses such as these that both expose the flaws in the system, and hinder progress when it comes to sexual assault reporting. A wide body of literature and case evidence supports the notion that an increase in sexual assault reporting is a deterrent in itself, and in turn would lead to a decrease in the incidence of the crime of sexual assault.

An agency that provides support to survivors, RAINN, uses data from the Department of Justice to show that every 98 seconds in America, someone is sexually assaulted, and every eight minutes the victim is a child. Between 2009 and 2013, Child Protective Services reportedly substantiated over 63,000 child incident reports of sexual abuse.

But only six out of every 1,000 perpetrators in America is convicted. A large reason for that is failure to report. RAINN says that two out of three victims of sexual abuse do not report, for a variety of reasons.

A very common reason that victims don’t report is that they fear they will not be believed, and that is because society has taught them they will not be believed. RAINN reports that 20 percent of victims fear retaliation from the abuser.

This is what has happened in the Roy Moore scandal, when the accusers were retaliated against publicly. Worse, in the Roy Moore scandal, even when the accuser was believed, the accuser was made to feel as if what happened should be okay because Joseph allegedly touched Mary when she was barely a woman.

Even worse, what we learned this week was that some Alabama politicians not only believe that Roy Moore committed the crime of rape in the second degree, but made the accuser feel like they were in the wrong for discussing it.

The only way more abusers will go to jail and be held accountable for their crimes is through increased reporting. The Roy Moore scandal exposes such flaws.

The accusers continue to speak out anyway. One woman that reportedly had relationships with Roy Moore when she was 18 has come forward since the Washington Post story broke. Gloria Deason, then 18 when she enjoyed wine with Roy Moore, was one of the sources in the Washington Post story. Her lawyer Paula Cobia told Channel 9 WTVM News in Alabama the following.

“She just wanted to tell the truth. There was nothing in this that would enhance their lives. This was not an easy thing to do, but she wanted to tell the truth.”

Roy Moore is just the latest name dropped by accusers in the sexual assault zeitgeist currently playing out. Every time a new scandal crops up, a personal crisis for a victim somewhere in America is being hashed out.

On the day that the Roy Moore scandal broke, 68-year-old Olympic swimmer Diana Nyad released a column in the New York Times titled, “My life after sexual assault.” In that column Nyad released raw details on incidents that happened to her when she was 14, that still impact her to this day.

Diana hopes that by telling her story again, she will encourage victims across the nation to do the same. She said after she first told her story at the age of 21, “the sense of power it gave me was immediate.”

“For me, being silenced was a punishment equal to the molestation. Legal prosecution proved time and time again to be futile, but I could at least regain my own dignity each time I uttered my truth. I’ve been speaking out, loud and strong, for nearly five decades now. It has been crucial to my own health. It has energized others to speak out too. And I will continue to tell y story until all girls and women find their own voice.”

Diana suffered for years after the first incident, and became the victim of future incidents. When years later, she finally told her best friend what was happening to her, her best friend said, “Me too.” It was then when the future championship swimmer would realize the power of breaking her silence on sexual assault.

Now, Diana says, “with age 70 in clear view” she still has “the trauma lodged in an obscure corner” of her soul. She’s not sure if she will entirely heal, but she knows that she heals a little bit more every time she tells her story. Her message to other women is just that.

“Tell your story. Let us never again be silenced.”

Most victims won’t be in the public spotlight when they share their story. But in this day and age, the public spotlight is an interesting tool that can be used to reverse damages from scandals such as Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Bill Cosby, or now Roy Moore. So when these allegations come out against celebrities, accusers that come forward are not doing so to get famous.

They are doing so because they share that “tormented corner of a soul” that Diana Nyad describes. And they too fear the Sun shining on their most mortifying day, but know that by stepping forward, they could inspire other women to do the same.

The goal is not to “take down celebrities” or politicians, but rather, to increase the rate of sexual assault reporting, increase the rate of convictions, and increase healing in those victims with a part of their soul healing.

For Diana Nyad, telling her story helps that healing. It’s why Ashley Judd came forward about Harvey Weinstein.

Lucy DeCoutere After Jian Ghomeshi Trial
[Image by Chris So/Toronto Star/Getty Images]

It’s also why Lucy DeCoutere, a Canadian actress, came forward and waived her privacy rights when she reported sexual assault by former CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi. In Canada, victims of sexual assault are protected by a publication ban, unless they waive that right.

By shining that Sun on that “tormented corner” in her soul, Lucy sent the message to other victims to come forward. In the end, over 20 women went public in the media with some horror story of Jian Ghomeshi, a man that women were warned about.

Today, Lucy DeCoutere is living a very satisfied and public life. Nobody knows what Jian Ghomeshi is doing, as he has not crawled out from under his shame since his trials.

While he was acquitted of the crimes that Lucy DeCoutere, and others, accused him of, the judge in his trial ruled that he believed the events happened but he did not have enough evidence for a conviction. But the efforts of Lucy DeCoutere and her fellow accusers against Jian Ghomeshi spawned the #IBelieveSurvivors movement in Canada, a land with a system as flawed as the United States.

As the Huffington Post reported, it takes “sacrificial lambs” like Lucy DeCoutere, Ashley Judd, Roy Moore accusers, and now, Diana Nyad, to “start this forward motion after being silent for so long.”

“These women are the heroes in these stories and should be celebrated as such. When change happens, remember them. When they speak out, believe them. It’s the least we can do.”

The reality is that with an assault happening every 98 seconds in America, one Op-Ed in the New York Times every now and then is not an accurate reflection of the rate of this crime. Even hearing of one scandal a week is not an accurate reflection of the rate of this crime.

At a rate of one victim every 98 seconds, that means that there are hundreds of new victims in America every single day. If it takes three minutes to read this article in its entirety, that’s two brand new victims with this tormented corner in their soul.

If this article is shared with eight people, and they each take three minutes to read it, in 24 minutes of space and time that’s 14 more victims, with three of them being children. By the end of the day there will be over 800 new victims, 180 of them children, and fewer than six abusers will be brought to justice.

There is no guarantee that the child victims will see justice. The sad reality is that the odds are stacked against them, and they probably won’t.

The system is flawed. The laws are in place. But they can’t be enforced without reporting. How society responds to scandals like the Roy Moore scandal, and to victims, is the first actionable thing that humans can do to decrease the incidence of these crimes.

[Feature Image by Brynn Anderson/AP Images]