Stop me if you've heard this one. A drunk cop walks into a bar. There's a cover charge but he flashes his badge instead. He sees some women in the bar. The first one he pinches on the ass. The second is a friend of a friend. He walks up behind her, sticks his hand up her skirt and fondles her private parts. The woman doesn't care for it so she complains. When the bouncers throw him out of the bar he tells them he's a cop and they'll be arrested. Later, a jury of his peers finds him guilty of sexual abuse. It's a class 5 felony, so he's facing up to 2 1/2 years in prison. But the judge thinks he's a pretty swell guy and lets him off with probation. He doesn't have to register as a sex offender, says the judge. Then the judge turns to the victim of the assault and gives her, wait for it... a very stern lecture about how young ladies shouldn't be hanging out in bars. The punchline? That judge is a woman.
Said Judge Jacqueline Hatch:
"If you wouldn't have been there that night, none of this would have happened to you," Hatch said.
. . .
"I hope you look at what you've been through and try to take something positive out of it," Hatch said to the victim in court. "You learned a lesson about friendship and you learned a lesson about vulnerability."
Hatch said that the victim was not to blame in the case, but that all women must be vigilant against becoming victims.
"When you blame others, you give up your power to change," Hatch said that her mother used to say.
But there are a couple of elements that elevate Judge Hatch's sentencing and remarks above your typical, misogynistic, "she had it coming" miscarriage of justice. One is that there is a level of expectation that a woman would be a tad less mind-meltingly sexist. The other is that her comments smack of that special brand of blame the victim idiocy one expects to hear from devotees of The Secret. I don't think those two things are unrelated.
It is commonly assumed that a woman would be more sympathetic to female victims of sexual assault than a man in a similar position. But people in the business of prosecuting rapists know otherwise. In fact, they will generally attempt to stack juries with men because female jurors are more likely to blame the victim. It seems counter-intuitive.
However, female jurors frequently do not side with the female complainant. Indeed, according to a Newsday article, “The most sympathetic juror a rape victim can hope for… is not a well-dressed, educated working woman, but a stocky, conservative, middle-aged Italian man. The Italian man, the researchers reason, regards women as fragile and in need of defense and will usually side with the accuser” (Tyre, 1991, p. 10). The article also quotes Barbara Eganhauser, a lead sex crimes prosecutor in Westchester County, who believes “women, even young women with contemporary lifestyles and values, often reject another woman’s accusation or rape and sex abuse out of their own fear” (Tyre, 1991, p. 10).
Several other authors also note that female jurors often do not accept as true the testimony of complainants. Attorney Julie Wright (1995) argues that these jurors distrust the complainants because they do not want to believe that something horrible could happen to “good people”. Such women subscribe to the “just world hypothesis,” that bad things do not happen at random, but rather everything in the world occurs for a reason. According to this theory, misfortune strikes only those worthy of hardship (Wright, 1995). Wright cites Elaine Walster’s research study, in which undergraduates were told of increasingly horrible things that happened to another person. The worse the event, the more likely the subject assigned blame to the other person, as it was “reassuring if the person [could] somehow blame the victim, taking the loss out of the realm of the uncontrollable” (Wright, 1995, p. 20). Using this logic, female jurors do not wish to imagine that rape could happen to them, and therefore the more they identify with the complainant, and the more hideous the crime, the more they need to deny the complainant’s claim. Wright notes that “Linda Fairstein, Chief of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Sex Crimes Unit, has observed that ‘for many women, the need to shield themselves from their own vulnerability to sexual assault is paramount. If they can insist that the victim engaged in behavior that they would never engage in, such as visiting a bar or going to a man’s apartment, they can convince themselves they are not at risk’” (Wright, 1995, p. 22). Thus, it is so frightening for the female juror to identify with the complainant that she needs to deny the complainant’s testimony, in order for the juror to feel safe in the world.
Furthermore, Gloria Cowan (2000) contends that women often disbelieve other women’s tales of sexual violence out of their own internalized oppression. She writes that many women are hostile to their own sex, and internalize negative female stereotypes. These women are more likely to “blame the victim” in the case of rape or sexual harassment. Cowan’s research study, using questionnaire responses from 155 college women, found a correlation between women’s hostility towards other women and women’s toleration of men mistreating women. While Cowan’s article does not specifically apply to jurors in rape cases, it does provide a persuasive argument as to why females may be disinclined to believe the victim of sexual abuse.
Yes. Women are more likely to blame other women for getting raped, not in spite of the fact that they identify with them, but because they do. It's all part of that reflexive need to create emotional distance from misfortune and convince yourself that you can make yourself immune. It's the same type of "over there" thinking that permeates the new thought movement, as discussed here and here. If you believe that other people are solely responsible for their own misfortune, you can convince yourself that it won't happen to you. This is a) demonstrably false, and b) cruel to victims of adversity.
This "just world" thinking was also evident in the James Ray fiasco. The dead, the injured, and those who were immobilized by physical incapacity and Ray's psychological tyranny were repeatedly blamed by Ray apologists. How could Ray possibly be at fault just for subjecting people to inconceivably high temperatures and berating them if they tried to crawl to the exit? Surely it was their own fault for not leaving. And that molestation victim in Judge Hatch's court? What was she doing leaving her house like that? Women go outside, they just bring rape on themselves. Bad things just don't happen to good people!
One of my favorite examples during the sweat lodge trial was the Ray defender whose words of wisdom were to be found in the strange pile of letters pleading with the court for leniency. I wrote it up here:
The support letters run the gamut. I haven't read them all but what I've read raises considerable concern. One, for instance, contains the following paragraph:
I've had a personal saying that I've shared with both of my children throughout their lifetime and it is exactly as follows:
"If you come home dead, I don't care who's fault it was!"
and what I use as an example to each of them is this: If you are walking down the street and you stop at a intersection, when the light turns green do you walk? NO! You wait, You look around, When it's clear you then walk! Then I remind them how many people see a green light and they start walking (with absolutely no regard for cars or buses). When I am out driving my own car with my children and we are sitting at a light, I'll often point out a stranger and we will make a game of it as we each take a guess ahead of time if a given person will look or walk. Can you guess what happens in most cases? They walk! (without looking). To me personally, it seems like such a common sense thing to do (to look around to make sure it is safe to walk.) I can hardly believe myself that people don't feel the need to do this.
Get it? If some driver runs a red light and hits you, it's your fault, kiddo, because you trusted that they'd be law abiding and pay attention to traffic signals. "Walk on the green, not in between," just isn't gonna cut it. Driving and walking defensively is certainly good advice, in and of itself, but Charlene D of Toronto, Ontario takes it about ten steps further. If her children fail to take responsibility, not only for their own behavior, but for irresponsible, drunk, or otherwise errant drivers, it's their own damn fault if they get hit. And she won't be bothering to seek justice for the vehicular homicide of her own children. So don't expect it.
That a sitting judge said virtually the same thing to a molestation survivor is, well... terrifying.
Does Judge Hatch's new-agey belief in the personal responsibility of crime victims only pertain to women who are sexually assaulted? Or is it more general? Taken at face value, Judge Hatch's statement about how blaming others is giving up personal power -- if we give her the benefit of the doubt that she's not just a sexist dirtbag -- makes her thoroughly unqualified to be a judge. By that logic no one is guilty of any crime, ever. Why bother with a criminal justice system? All crimes are just, in their own way.
Responding to outrage and a petition for her removal, Judge Hatch issued an apology which the crime victim has graciously accepted. Judge Hatch claimed her comments were "poorly communicated." They weren't. She made her opinions quite clear. Women shouldn't be in bars and if they put themselves in harm's way like that, they shouldn't blame their assailants. It was the ideas that sucked, not the wording.