Vance has more opportunities to change the rape conversation

August 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

This is a guest post by Sam, who will return to the University of Chicago this fall as a sophomore. Thanks Sam!

Just as rape charges were dropped against Dominique Strauss-Kahn earlier this week, an off duty NYPD officer was arrested for allegedly raping a woman in Upper Manhattan. The case is the third high profile rape incident to confront Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., following the Strauss-Kahn case and the trial of two police officers that were acquitted of charges that they raped a drunk East Village woman in her home.

Vance, who is just over a year and a half into his four-year term, has faced intense public scrutiny for failing to earn a conviction in both previous cases. While these criticisms and frustrations are understandable, energy spent criticizing Vance can be better used to draw attention to the thousands of rape victims in New York City and across the world who will never have the opportunity to face their attacker in a court of law.

While convicting a powerful man of rape would have made a strong statement that rape is wrong, a guilty verdict would not have made rape unacceptable. Even though we live under a system of justice that assumes innocence until proven guilty, it remains disturbing to see how much more credible a denial of rape is seen than an accusation. Public fascination with the backgrounds of victims reflects a culture that is more interested in seeing a drama play out in the courtroom than in having a responsible conversation about rape.

While both previous rape cases collapsed because of a lack of credible evidence, the newest accusation is the first case in which a witness other than the victim supports the rape accusation. Paul J. Browne, the NYPD’s chief spokesperson, has acknowledged that the officer was drunk and that he used his licensed weapon to intimidate his victim. Vance must use this evidence to vigorously prosecute the officer, while activists must elevate a conversation about rape.

Just as Vance must use this moment to ensure that women across New York are safe, activists must ensure that the voices of the women brave enough to speak out against their attackers inspire other women to do the same. To do so would be to do true justice for all women.

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