Final Thoughts On Amanda Marcotte’s Piece

[CN: sexual assault, domestic violence]

A thoughtful and well-executed response to Amanda Marcotte’s Slate piece, by Angus Johnston, was published today. My open letter is mentioned in it and as such, I was notified when the article went up. I’d been keeping an eye on Twitter for reaction and came across Marcotte’s back and forth with Johnston. I was immediately disappointed and frustrated. Statements like this one tell me she is missing many points her critics have made:

Marcotte claims she didn’t advocate for “broad policy,” something I’ve seen her tweet once or twice this week (to the small handful of criticisms she actually replied to). I’m not sure how Marcotte defines “broad policy,” but a few key points from her Slate article would easily lead someone to believe she is promoting, something at the very least near to, broad policy. Never once does she clarify “not in all cases” or “this may work only for certain circumstances,” but rather alludes to abusers and rapists who will attack again when victims don’t testify. A tough-love attitude throughout, Marcotte never states this is something she feels should not be available or used in all cases. Without clarification, one would inference she is okay with such a policy whenever the law deems necessary. What an awful idea! This not only puts the blame on the victim, but also promotes the idea that if we report and if we testify, that justice will be served; not to mention the false notion that our doing so will prevent an attacker from ever assaulting another person.

In her Slate piece, Marcotte states, “The victim’s refusal to cooperate is a problem endemic to the prosecution of domestic violence.” I cannot stomach victim-blaming, in whatever form and whoever the messenger is. Marcotte explains that domestic violence victims often recant their statements, and they choose not to testify for reasons other than the trauma they are experiencing. She points specifically to victims who don’t come forward or testify due to the relationships they have with their abuser. In these statements, Marcotte ignores what many domestic violence victims express: their inability to safely break free. Abusers manipulate. It often goes something like this–abuser is abusive, victim tries to leave, abuser reminds victim she has no money of her own or says he will take the kids, or worse, threatens to kill her, her children, her family… When you are mentally and physically torn down, it can seem impossible to see past what your abuser is telling you. Being unable to leave your abuser or to testify against them isn’t about being blinded by love.

Disregarding the threats attackers make and the fear felt by victims erases what many experience. Simplifying it as a victim unwilling to testify against someone they love is unfair. The statistics on domestic violence are terrifying. How often do we read in the headlines that a restraining order proved useless? Until our system is more inclined to help -instead of criminalize- victims, we cannot hold up “greater-good” arguments. Forcing a victim to testify is not a minor inconvenience to them. The issues that could arise from the mental trauma of arresting, jailing, and forcing a victim to testify is something I don’t think any judge or lawyer would want on their conscience. From the police station to the courtroom, victims are harassed and ignored, what gall for anyone to insist victims face that, whatever the cost. When law enforcement and the courts respect a victim’s rights and ensure their safety, and when our system supports victims, then we can have a discussion about healthy and supportive ways to encourage victims to come forward. Our current system is incapable of meeting even the most basic needs of victims, who are we to even contemplate forcing them to testify? Ending domestic violence and sexual assault is a burden our legal system should carry, not victims.

Johnston points much of this out in his piece, as well as the issues surrounding those, “with reason to fear the criminal justice system—the poor, the homeless, the undocumented, the addicted, sex workers, LGBT people, people with disabilities, and so on.” Marcotte fails to bring up the challenges and needs, and long history among these groups with regard to the legal and justice system. Whether intentional or not, she has dismissed them entirely. If you are going to write a story in support of forcing victims of domestic violence and rape to testify, it is the journalist’s responsibility to consider the people their statements affect. What may be one’s experience in the legal system, may not reflect that of every other person’s. Arresting and placing a victim in jail only further violates them. Claiming such a violation is worth it if -and that is a huge if- it prevents further crime, tells the victim their psychological and physical well-being is not a priority.

Marcotte ends her piece with a damning and, quite frankly, irresponsible conclusion:

The sad, unavoidable truth is that we have to decide what’s more important to us: putting abusive men in jail or letting their victims opt out of cooperating with the prosecution as they see fit. Always erring on the side of victim sensitivity means putting some very bad men back out on the streets, where they will likely attack someone else. If that’s the price that you feel is worth paying, OK, but it’s also understandable that prosecutors might try to do everything within their power to convict a guy who likes tying women to chairs and assaulting them.

Tell me again how this is not suggesting a broad policy here? I’m not tangling her words. I’m not taking them out of context. I’m not making this piece what it isn’t. Marcotte continually claims that people haven’t read the piece, but are simply reacting to a headline. Yet, everyone I’ve discussed this with, particularly those of us victims who have found this piece extremely harmful, have read it. She refuses to engage. I’m sorry, but you cannot put a piece like this out there and then walk away without addressing the hurt and misinformation it has caused. Those last two sentences have haunted me all week. I’ve heard her argue that her piece wasn’t about reporting, but about testifying. Now she claims she in no way feels this should be broad policy, but rather for some cases. Let me clarify: forcing a victim to do anything should not be advocated. Full stop.

(Previously posted on Nerd Grrrl Island.)