Barbara Johnson is a graduate student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She is involved with a newly formed group 49th Rising, a platform for victims of sexual violence to tell their stories and to organize and advocate for change.
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By Barbara Johnson
“He said you made it up because he told you he did not want a relationship”
It was so absurd I started laughing. It was a Friday, and I was sitting in the AST Fairbanks station, meeting with the investigator assigned to my case. My crutches were next to me. On the Monday I had fractured my heels when I jumped off my loft to get away. I had then run out of my house, naked, to the closest house and called 911 from there.
I had met the investigator at the hospital. I had told my story, had a rape kit done. I had been prodded and photographed everywhere I reported being violated. I had done everything asked of me. My laughter turned to tears as that realization sank in. I had done everything asked of me, and it did not matter. Not a single bit. It made no difference.
I was informed that he would not be arrested. In fact, he had never even been brought in for questioning. The evidence was not strong enough. The case would be forwarded to the DA’s office for a final decision, but in the meantime, he was free to go. As the tears flooded, the investigator tried to console me. They had the DNA from my rape kit, it would be entered in CODIS. They would catch him next time.
That sentence was burnt into my brain. Next time. So that meant my time was not enough. How many next times must there be for him to be brought in? 2? 5? 10? 30? Research suggests that repeat offenders commit an average of 26 assaults before they are caught. How many had come before me? How many have there been after me? Hopefully none, I thought, since his DNA would be in CODIS.
2017 rolled around. The DA’s office called to say they were declining to prosecute. The state catalogued its backlog of rape kits. I wondered if mine was among the untested kits. As I read through the Department of Public Safety’s report, I realized mine was probably untested, and likely would remain that way. The charges in my case were dropped, which implies that no crime was committed. My understanding is that makes my kit ineligible for processing.
I can see the temptation in disbelieving my story, wanting to believe that I must have left something out. That the system cannot be so broken, so indifferent. Except it is. My story is just one example of many of how the system fails survivors. A drop in an ocean of failures, of indifference. In the past six weeks a friend has been trying to track someone down at STAR to have her anonymously submitted rape kit processed, so her case can be linked to other reports.
Deidre Levi only received a call back from the Nome Police Department after she publicly posted her story. Another survivor friend attended a fun run. A Mat-Su group against sexual assault was there. A volunteer railed against survivors who do not report, implying they are cowards.
I can name a lot of people who have experienced sexual violence. I cannot name a single person who felt validated by the system. I lie. There is one. His name is Justin Scott Schneider. He kidnapped a woman, strangled her until she passed out and then ejaculated on her. He was sentenced to two years of jail time but will only have go to jail if he violates the conditions of his probation. At his sentencing, he said he was “grateful for the process.”
The “No More Free Passes” collective, which has now turned its focus to legislative advocacy, has done a fantastic job of deconstructing everything that is wrong with this case. Here is what stuck with me. The Assistant District Attorney (ADA) called Schneider a gentleman. Said that Schneider losing his job was a life sentence. The same ADA only contacted the survivor after the hearing, to let her know a plea deal had been reached and that was that.
This is one high profile example of how we are reminded daily of the indifference we faced. Want to know how much it affects us? Read most pieces written by survivors. There are more stories about how the system failed than stories about wanting revenge. We would love to move on and stop talking about our assaults, but we can’t.
As Grace Petersen said, “I have financial security, a robust emotional support system, and I have knowledge of and access to resources. I recognize my privilege and I’m here to tell you, I will help you carry your heaviness. I give you my support on your terms and your terms only. I encourage all survivors and allies to raise your middle fingers at the notion that our stories have to make us stronger. We are strong when we support each other, not because we were violated and lived to carry our grief.”
I went in and out of the system and I’m no better for it, and I am not alone. We need change and a system that works. To get there, 49th Rising is collecting stories, of everyday harassment, of survivors, of how sexual violence affects us in too many ways. Because each of these stories matters. We are calling Governor-elect Dunleavy’s attention to the issue of sexual violence, because addressing sexual violence can no longer be postponed.
Join us at 49rising.com.