This weekend I read a column in the Billings Gazette written by a local judge. In it he discusses a recent case involving the alleged rape of a young woman in Billings. In the end the jury acquitted the defendant, which Judge Fagg says was “the right decision.” I am not writing about the outcome of this case – I have absolutely no knowledge of it or the evidence that was presented to the jury. I cannot comment in any way whether or not the jury made “the right decision”. But I feel compelled to comment about the tone of Judge Fagg’s column, titled “Nothing Good Happens After 10 p.m.”.
In writing about the circumstances of the case, Judge Fagg focuses on the atmosphere that the rape occurred in. It was after 2 am. There was dancing and music. He writes that “No drugs, including alcohol, [are] allowed inside” but that “Unfortunately, outside in the parking lot, a fair amount of drinking, drugging and general partying goes on with all the usual outcomes — including fights, sexual assaults and general mayhem.” In this particular case, “the alleged victim was either pulled into, of [sic] went willingly, into one of the side rooms” where the alleged rape occurred. And although he himself “felt terrible for the alleged victim”, he says the jury made “the right decision” and ends his piece with what is clearly meant to be the lesson of the story – the takeaway message, if you will:
“At the end of the day, this is a sad case. Interesting, though, we have a spot in our wonderful city that fires up at 2 a.m. And while I am young enough to know most young people go there simply to have a good time, I am old enough to know I don’t want my young adult children to be there.”
Judge Fagg, here is how I interpreted the “moral of the story”, as a young female myself:
I learned there are places I am not safe in my hometown, as a woman.
I learned there are times of day I shouldn’t be out of my house, as a woman.
I learned there may be consequences to not following these “rules”.
Consequences like rape.
I learned that if I don’t want to be raped, I need to stay home, and certainly after 10 pm. And if you do put yourself in these kinds of situations …
You are asking for it?
You deserve it?
The jury will make the “right decision” in acquitting your alleged rapist?
A court of law is going to be unable to protect you? Unable to punish the person who raped you?
What if I work the night shift as an ER nurse? What if my child is sick and I have to run to a 24 hour convenience store for medicine? What if I am picking up a friend who has been drinking and isn’t safe to drive home? What if in the parking lot of Walmart or the hospital or the restaurant someone is drinking or using drugs? Does that mean if I am raped in one of these situations that I should have known better? Does that mean you will “feel terrible” for me but then write a column talking about how “nothing good happens after 10 pm” and use my rape as an example of a jury making the “right decision”?
I wasn’t on that jury, I didn’t hear the evidence or facts. It entirely possible that if I were on that jury I would have acquitted this man as well. I cannot question the jury’s decision when I am uninformed, but I am struggling to understand what you want me to learn from it. I am struggling to understand the moral of the story, the reason you chose this exact case – the alleged rape of a young woman – to illustrate your point.
Are you telling me that there are situations I can put myself in where the court of law will shake their heads sadly and say, “Oh that’s just terrible for her. Wish we could help her, but she WAS out past 10 pm.”
Is the way I am dressed, the people I am with, my sexual history, my social history, my history with drugs or alcohol, the time of night I am out of my home, the part of town I am in – should any of that matter when it comes to rape? Do any of those pieces justify rape? Do any of those details nullify my right to be protected by the law?
I would hope that anyone, regardless of political or religious beliefs would agree that there is absolutely NO SITUATION of any sort that justifies a woman being raped. I don’t care if she is drunk, high, in the most dangerous place in the world, at the most dangerous time of night with the most dangerous company. She never, ever deserves to be raped. EVER.
It is deeply concerning to me that a Judge would even insinuate that being out past 10 pm near a parking lot where there is often drinking might make it hard for a jury to believe you, or feel sorry for you, or punish anyone who assaults you.
And to be honest, it is exhausting to write in a measured, calm, gentle way. My head hurts from trying to channel my rage at the tone of your column into a respectful letter. I struggle with using my voice against someone who holds much, much greater power than I hold. Do you know what that feels like? As a white male in a position of power, do you have any idea what it feels like to be a woman standing before you in this community? A woman that may read about herself in the local paper, about how the judge “feels terrible” for her, but “nothing good happens after 10 pm?”
This isn’t the kind of social commentary I want for future generations, for my own children, for my own life. This is the beautiful thing about social media – you have the power, but I can still use my voice. In this online community I can be heard as well. So I am using my voice because I want better for the future. I want better than victim blaming and living in a world where it is acceptable to tell women to stay home for their own safety rather than fixing the circumstances and people and laws which make it unsafe for her.
I would hope my words could shift your perspective even a fraction of an inch, that you could open your world view to one that isn’t solely yours, but I am not that naïve. Instead I will use my voice to channel my frustration, my anger that this point of view is accepted and un-questioned by some, that the woman who was allegedly assaulted will have to see herself used as a cautionary tale alongside Alan Jackson and Journey lyrics to teach women a lesson.
My voice still works, even past 10 pm.