Sara Taylor (’11, University of Michigan Law School)
*trigger warning for discussion of sexual assault
I managed to go to a bar the other weekend without being molested. Pure luck, apparently. I ran out to the grocery store late last night, too, and missed the unwanted groping. I am having a great week! Ooooh, maybe it’s because I was in loose-fitting pajamas, unwashed hair in a bun, glasses, slippers – on both occasions. But what about the dozen or so years I, a woman, have been engaged in the risky behavior of going to bars and grocery stores? What insight can I offer so other women can understand and possibly emulate my incredible assault-free hot streak? Take it away, Judge Hatch!
Several days ago, Arizona Superior Court Judge Hatch sentenced an ex-law enforcement officer who sexually assaulted a woman at a bar this past July. After having a bit to drink, the then off-duty officer came up behind the woman, a friend of friends, put his hand up her skirt and fingered her. He got tossed from the bar and the woman naturally participated in his subsequent prosecution (though let’s have a moment for her courage to do this, as it will become patently clear just how stacked the deck is against her). Judge Hatch suspended jail time and sentenced him to probation, community service, treatment, and also decided this was the appropriate forum to admonish the victim for being a victim. Said Judge Hatch, “You learned a lesson about friendship and you learned a lesson about vulnerability” and “if you wouldn’t have been there that night, none of this would have happened to you.”
Well, I suppose that stands to reason, but how, exactly, does proximity become proximate cause?
Going forward, in furtherance of the common law, this is simply too vague. I feel like I, too, must learn a lesson about friendship and vulnerability, even though I have narrowly escaped groping all these years. If sexual assault survivors who venture out after dark and forget to leave their vaginas at home is a mitigating factor, what are the guidelines? Any hemline limits? Pants only? What percentage of cleavage clears the threshold? Can one be friends of friends of cops? Have a drink? Can a woman wield any sexual power at all, or would that be inciting dominance? Let’s be clear, for heaven’s sake, this is a lesson. What behavior needs to be demonstrated to believably point fingers at the fingerer?
Tell you what, I did learn something here. The judge also provided some sage wisdom from her mother…when you blame others, you give up your power to change.
Well, your honor, mom was right. When you blamed others, you gave up your power to change this tired, archaic, degrading narrative. That duty of vigilance to avoid victimization was yours.