I Was Sexually Assaulted: The Shocking Reasons My Attacker Didn't Get Prosecuted
I am not a victim of sexual assault.
At least, I am not a victim of sexual assault according to the commonwealth ofVirginia. Jesus Rivera, aka Vladamir Marroquin-Rivera, pleaded guilty to just two charges on 29 July 2008: one count of misdemeanor unlawful entry and one count of felony cocaine possession. He was released from the state’s custody four months to the day after the police rushed into my apartment and found this man as he masturbated into my underwear while I stood there, sobbing.
Do I have to tell you what preceded that injustice for you believe that I was sexually assaulted? Should I have to tell you about hearing something go bump –bump bump thump – in the night, about this man holding me up by my armpits and marching me around like a Raggedy Ann doll into my own bedroom until I cracked my shins on the bed frame? About saying no – no no no, over and over again – as I tried to squirm away, about trying to reason with my attacker to stop, or about how he looked right through me, like I wasn’t making any noise at all?
Do you need me to show you where the bad man touched me for you to believe my story?
I know – like most victims of sexual assault know – that it might not matter, that you still wouldn’t believe, even if I did tell you all of those terrible, terribly private and violating things and more (and maybe especially if I told you more). I told all of the things to the cops at my apartment and, heaving, wrote them down for two more cops in a dark, quiet room at Inova Fairfax Hospital while waiting for the nurse to come to perform my rape kit. I told them to a detective the following week at a long table in a bright conference room at the police department. I told the terrible things to two female prosecutors later that spring when I was 30 years old and, when I finished, they asked me, “How do you know you didn’t invite him in?”
The prosecutors explained to me that I wasn’t a very good victim: I had been drunk, I had been out with a group of male friends the night before, I had a “complicated” social life, I didn’t remember everything clearly enough. Rivera’s lawyer, they told me, would argue that I’d invited him in, even though the cops found his fingerprints on the screen pried off my kitchen window and on the windowsill inside my home. His lawyer, they said, would try to convince the jury that he’d just been a good Samaritan, helping a drunk woman get to bed.
What the prosecutors didn’t tell me was that the police who took my attacker into custody that night didn’t ask him a question about what he’d done, even though he didn’t invoke his right to an attorney. What they didn’t say is that I’d already answered more questions that night than my attacker had ever been asked or would ever be asked by law enforcement about that night. What they didn’t mention is that they’d already decided not to prosecute Jesus Rivera for what he did to me – for sexually assaulting me – and they were meeting with me – a victim of sexual assault – not to discuss how to proceed. They were there to break the news that they didn’t plan to proceed at all.
“We’re not here to get justice for you,” the blonde prosecutor said, as I tightened every muscle in my face to keep from crying. “We’re here to get justice for the people of Virginia.”
They eventually determined that justice for the people of Virginia – save at least one – was 123 days in the county jail, was dropping the charge of assault.
In the eyes of the law and the “people of Virginia”, then, I wasn’t sexually assaulted. I am, of course, not alone in that: of every 100 sexual assaults in the United States, only 40 are reported to the police, only 10 result in arrests, only eight get prosecuted and only four result in a felony conviction. There is, of course, another person in Virginia who is one of us – who says something happened to her, something terrible, who is some sort of victim, it seems, no matter what a magazine says, no matter if she didn’t report it directly and immediately to the cops herself. Forget Rolling Stone, or the University of Virginia, because too many women who are sexually assaulted are not considered sexual assault victims in the eyes of the law – and in the words of more than a few bloviating bystanders. Maybe it’s a sick sort of honor to even be nominated.
But I was sexually assaulted. The law is not the arbiter of the truth – and truth is more difficult than “justice”. Maybe you don’t want to know the truth. Maybe that’s why non-believers always want to talk about the law, like it’s some holy rite, when really the law can leave survivors of sexual assault right back where we started.
In our final, confrontational meeting, the lead attorney in my case asked me, “What do you want from us?” I wanted them to do their fucking jobs. I wanted them to give a shit about what happened to one of the citizens of their county. I wanted them to know that, when the blonde prosecutor implied I was a slut and that’s why she could never convict someone of sexually assaulting me, her shirt was so low-cut that her bra kept poking out. I wanted them to have at least tried to convict Rivera for what he did to me rather than inventing reasons not to.
I wanted to feel like those women of the law believed me – that they believed what happened to me actually mattered, mattered more than as just the story of a young woman in Virginia and one terrible man and my dirty underwear. I wanted the system to not be so fucked-up, after the cops get called on a sexual assault.
But life isn’t an episode of Law & Order: SVU, and Stabler and Benson don’t appear in the third act to save the day. In real life, sometimes you just sit stony-faced in a cheap office chair while three female lawyers condescendingly explain to you why your sexual assault isn’t really that important in the scheme of things, and the detective they made sit in on the meeting doesn’t say a word. Sometimes you refuse to shake anyone’s hand and walk all the way to your car without blinking and, when you’ve locked the door behind you, you let yourself cry.
“I guess even the best screw up sometimes,” said an investigator with the police department that investigated my case, when I emailed to ask if he remembered my case or knew what happened to Jesus. “If the screwups didn’t involve real people, that would be helpful. But this one case caused a really bad guy to be released and lost somewhere out there, doing bad stuff.”
In real life, bad things happen – terrible things. I couldn’t change what happened, or what the system didn’t do about it, but I could refuse to shut up about it. I told people. I wrote about it. I decided that Rivera’s silence and my untested rape kit and the dropped assault charge didn’t get to decide what happened that night. Survivors survive, even if justice ends when the bad guy goes missing. I don’t have to wait for you to say that you believe me to know what happened. I don’t need your permission to name what was done to me.
I was sexually assaulted. And I am a victim.
It feels important to say. Because we all know what the deniers say about sexual assault: “She wanted it.” We know that the answer to the first question – “Did you rape her?” – is almost always the same: “She asked for it.” We know the explanation for any injuries inflicted upon us: “She likes it rough.” And now you know, too, that the answer to the question law enforcement asked me – “Why was he in your apartment?” – is, apparently, just as unjust: “You invited him in.”
I didn’t. Lots of us didn’t. We don’t need trials and convictions and federal cases and Rolling Stone magazine articles to tell us that, to tell the truth.
Why do you?