By Julie DiCaro–
(CBS) I was in law school when the verdict came down in the O.J. Simpson criminal trial. I remember a sea of students, crammed into the lounge outside classrooms, sitting on the floor, window sills, tables, in front of the TV that the faculty had wheeled in for us on a cart.
I remember the silence in the room as the verdict was read. And I remember the explosion that followed: shock and dismay from the white students, cheering and elation from the black students. Most of all, I remember complete bewilderment as to how two groups of people who sat in the same classrooms together each day could see the evidence in the trial so differently.
The answer, I would come to much later, was that white and black students had very different experiences with the police and criminal justice system.
When the verdict was handed down in the civil sexual assault trial against Derrick Rose and two other men on Wednesday, I witnessed the same divide on social media, sports talk radio and TV, but this time, it was between men and women.
Given what was said on Twitter in the immediate aftermath of the jury’s “not liable” finding, it was clear that a significant faction of men — mostly young men — saw the trial, in which Rose and two co-defendants were accused of gang-raping a woman while she was too intoxicated to consent, as an obvious money-grab. She was just another woman going after a high-profile athlete in the hopes of an easy payday. They dismissed the verdict as justice having been served and quickly turned the discussion to how soon Rose could rejoin the Knicks.
For women though, the trial was something different. It was symbolic of the way they feel mistreated by the justice system, criminal and civil, in cases of violence against women, particularly when rich and powerful men are involved. For many victims, the trial was Exhibit A in why they never came forward with their own sexual assault, confirming that, even in 2016, society has yet to grasp that a sexually active woman can be assaulted and that consent, freely given, doesn’t mean “open season” until explicitly revoked. That the federal jury that found in Rose’s favor was comprised of six women and two men cut especially deep, especially when several jurors were seen posting for photos with Rose after the fact.
Like the Simpson trial, the reaction the Rose case is less about a specific fact pattern and more about the different experiences with sexual assault the two groups bring to the table. For some men, it’s impossible to believe that a sports hero would (or “has to”) rape anyone. Men often see pro athletes as guys who can “get” any woman they want.
But for women, one in five of whom will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime, rape and the threat of rape is ever present. It’s the reason women go everywhere in groups, it’s the reason we walk quickly through parking garages with our keys protruding from our knuckles and it’s the reason we teach our daughters how to fight off an attacker at an early age.
And yet, the rape most women will experience will be very different. Most rape victims won’t be grabbed in a dark alley or dim parking lot. The rape most women will experience will come from someone they know, maybe even someone they’re in a relationship with.
That kind of rape is almost impossible to prove, as the case comes down to consent, a true he-said, she-said, where even DNA evidence provides no real answers. And when there’s evidence of flirtation, consent on previous occasions or explicit communications between the parties, the victim is nearly always fighting a losing battle. As a society, our definition of “rape” hasn’t evolved enough to consider rape within the confines of a romantic relationship.
So while men may look at Rose case and see an outlier, a celebrity targeted for his money, women can look at the same case and see an accuser stripped of her anonymity, slut-shamed before a jury of her peers and disregarded by a smiling, star-struck jury while she sobbed over the verdict. What’s more, women see all the reasons they were right in keeping silent about their own rape: mainly that no one would believe them.
The two different views of the case make all the arguing on social media about the verdict pointless. The two camps don’t see anything the same. They’re arguing past each other about two completely different trials.
No matter the right take on the Rose case, some facts aren’t up for debate. Rape is the most under-reported crime in the nation, with only 63 percent of sexual assaults reported to police. Rape suspects are less likely than other crime suspects to be sentenced to rape or prison. Meanwhile, the rate of false reports of rape fall somewhere between 2 and 10 percent of reported cases.
Yet, when women try to raise the issue of sexual assault with men, they’re often met with “What about women who cry rape falsely?” and “What about the Duke lacrosse team?” This kind of defensive response equates unreported rapes and false reports, which is unfair and contrary to decades of research in sexual violence. The fear of being disbelieved or called a liar is the main reason most rape victims remain silent.
The Rose case, no matter one’s opinion of the verdict, offers an opportunity for a meaningful conversation about date rape and the importance of explicit consent between the parties. It’s a conversation, frankly, that’s long overdue.
It’s a chance to talk to our sons and daughters about sexual assault and how men and women can better understand each other, even within the confines of a romantic relationship. Every celebrity rape trial that we reduce to arguing about testimony and the ultimate outcome is a lost opportunity to for the next generation of women to escape the fate of too many of the women who came before them.