The following was written by a friend of mine, in response to a comment about how to assist a relative following a date rape attack. It's reposted here with permission. Names have been removed, but the content remains as it was written. It was too perfectly, tragically true to be changed any further.
I would put the rape victim's chance at legal resolution at less than one half of one percent if she chose to attempt prosecution. Why?
The huge majority of reported cases don't result in charges.
The huge majority of charges don't result in prosecution.
The huge majority of prosecutions result in suspended or very short sentences.
The further the victim gets before failing, the more likely the rapist is to retaliate.
The single biggest factor in prosecution isn't evidence. It's the "moral uprightness" of the woman who is prosecuting. This bodes poorly for the victim.
Allow me to explain how this works.
Proving that the rapist had sex with the victim isn't enough. His lawyer will convince him to say it was consensual, and then it's a matter of one person's word against another. Our innocent-unless-proven-guilty system ensures that the rapist's word will be taken over the victim's. Never mind his huge incentive to lie, and her relative lack of incentive.
Testimony by a trauma expert can usually be defeated by counter testimony by one of the so-called rape experts who do nothing but testify for money. These guys will argue that the victim's trauma comes from elsewhere in her life, rather than rape. They will argue alternative possibilities for where her injuries (if any) came from -- including a clumsy accident, another assaulter, or self-infliction.
If the victim has had an unstable life history, this may sound convincing. The rapist will be portrayed as a somewhat unethical man unable to refuse a sexual offer from a messed up underage girl. He will be able to plea bargain for statutory rape, and would probably receive a suspended sentence due to jail overcrowding.
The victim would have to show serious bruising/abrasions in her genital region to make it look like rape "beyond a reasonable doubt" after these arguments. If she was trying to be quiet and/or he was threatening her life at the time, she probably doesn't have them.
Ironically, if the victim's very lucky, complete strangers will be viewing photos of her violently abused privates. And this will not be enough humiliation. If she allows the jury to view her photos, the rapist's lawyer will say that she likes rough sex. He may even insinuate that she wants the jury to look at dirty photos of her. This argument works more than half the time, because juries want to distance themselves from the victim.
In addition to the social trauma that results from public awareness of one's victim status coupled with an unsuccessful attempt to prosecute, the victim would be subjected to moral questioning on the stand. In an attempt to convince the jury to dismiss her testimony, the lawyer would paint her as unreliable, untrustworthy, and morally corrupt.
She will be forced to admit on the stand if she had previous consensual sex with the defendant. If she has a history of underage drug, alcohol, or tobacco use, she will be asked to testify about it. If she has skipped class, done poorly in school, or dropped out, this will be noted also.
She will be painted as living outside the law, and the unstated assumption will be that she is therefore unworthy of its protection. Any contradictions in behavior or testimony will be taken as further proof that her testimony against the rapist isn't worth taking seriously.
Character witnesses could also be brought forth to testify to the victim's dereliction. Teachers. Former foster parents or case workers. "Friends" from the same background. After questioning them, the lawyer will accuse the victim of using the rapist as a convenient object on which to blame all of her personal problems. Obviously, the rapist did not make the victim a bad person.
Her parents or guardians will most certainly be asked to testify. They will be asked probing questions about her behavior, her integrity, her reliability, her trustworthiness. Any frustration or anger in either of them will be pointed out by the defending lawyer. Again, the unspoken conclusion will be that if ordinary citizens taking care of the victim don't trust her, the jury shouldn't either.
If the victim breaks down on stand, this will be taken as a proof that she's mentally unstable and an unreliable witness. If she doesn't break down on the stand, it will be taken as proof that she is without trauma, and that therefore what occurred that night wasn't rape.
By the time the prosecuting lawyer is done, the victim might easily want to commit suicide. That's a very common response. The silent jury, disapproving faces, shame tactics...combined, they're usually enough to make rape victims feel that the events really were their fault. The victim may worry that anything that allowed the rape to take place amounted to "consent."
Our society doesn't take rape seriously. Our legal system expects rape cases to follow traditional rules of prosecution, when that's clearly impractical and problematic. We put the victim in the defendant's place, and we don't seriously prosecute in the majority of cases.
This isn't the victim's fault. It's ours.
If I were her, I wouldn't try to prosecute either.