Evil Gal Productions

Mere Smith
is a recovering Southerner,
longtime TV writer,
author and blogger.
November 12th, 2012 by Mere Smith

Wrong

[[POSSIBLE TRIGGER WARNING: RAPE]]

Due to the graphic nature of the following topic, this entry will, I’m afraid, be brimming over with profanity-encrusted vitriol.

Granted, that in itself is not especially shocking (right now my regular subscribers are going, “Bitch, you know we can read, right?”), but when I found myself on Saturday morning railing about this story to The Finance for almost a solid hour, I realized if I didn’t exorcise my rage through writing, I was going to contract some kind of soul cancer.

You should know that in all good faith, I tried to approach this post with something that at least approximated sanity, but it seems when it comes to this particular occurrence I have no control over my anger whatsoever.

My anger has emancipated itself, and is thinking of getting a neck tattoo.

So if you’re having a bad day and you just can’t take the ugly, or you – very understandably – don’t want your marshmallow harshed, that’s totally fine.  Duck out now and wait for the next entry, where I’ll try to talk about something funny, like…  uh…

(Yeah, turns out when you sit there and just try to think of “something funny,” it’s really hard.  All I kept seeing was monster trucks and koala bears.  Fucking hilarious.)

Thus fair warning: this post is gnarly.

If you’ve come this far, you can’t say I didn’t warn you.

* * *

On the front page of Saturday’s Los Angeles Times, I was stunned to see an article reporting that a woman had been raped on an LA city bus.

My inner knee-jerk went something like:

“What do you mean ‘on a bus’?  What the fuck?  Was there nobody else on the fucking bus?  No driver?  Was the bus in park?  Was it hidden in a fucking underground tunnel?”

And the answer is no.

The bus was moving.

During rush hour.

In broad daylight.

With a driver.

And with other passengers on it. 

All of whom claimed not to see anything.

* * *

Returning home from her special education classes, an 18 year-old woman – really, a teenager with the intellect of a 10 year-old – was raped in the back of this bus as it trundled along its regular route, making its usual stops, before finally reaching the end of its line, where the rapist at last disembarked.

Taking into account there are about 12 different WRONGS about this situation — and I’m pretty sure we’d all be in agreement as to what those 12 things are — I’m not going to file the standard list of grievances here.  There’s plenty of fingerpointing that can be done, but I’ll tell you one person who is absolutely blame-free:

That 18 year-old girl.

Let me be as clear as I possibly can on that point:

This girl did nothing wrong.

Reading the first few column-inches, I was filled with the same outrage (and outright rage) I’m sure a lot of you are experiencing right now.  Not an unusual response, I’d say.  Frankly, I’d be worried if you didn’t feel a little sick to your stomach.

However, horrifying as the event itself was, that wasn’t what launched me into a ranting cyclone of fury.

No, that happened when I read this quote by sheriff’s Sgt. Dan Scott:

.

“Unfortunately [the victim] was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

.

* * *

Has your jaw ever dropped so hard it popped?

Well apparently that can happen.

* * *

.

“Unfortunately [the victim] was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

.

Are you fucking shitting me?

Honestly, be honest now: are you fucking SHITTING ME?

The wrong place?  At the wrong time?

No.

Being in the wrong place at the wrong time is walking under an ACME safe just as it drops.   Wile E. Coyote had a bad case of the wrong place/wrong times.

This girl?

Was ABSOLUTELY NEVER in the wrong place at the wrong time, and it’s repugnant that anyone — anyone — should say that she was.

I want you to look again carefully.

Look closely.

Look at the words:

.

 “Unfortunately [the victim] was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

 .

The Victim.

Did something wrong.

Which is why she got raped.

 .

Oh, absolutely not.

The heat of a thousand suns’ worth of Fuck You, Man.

If a city bus – what we literally call public transportation – if being in public is “the wrong place” –

If 5 p.m. – rush hour, the busiest time of day, with the greatest number of people out on the streets – is “the wrong time” –

When the fuck is the “right” time?

 .

 “Unfortunately [the victim] was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

.

Can you see it?

It’s subtle.

Insidious.

Sure, you could read it as one of those thoughtless clichés uttered by every “Law & Order: SVU” cop ever written: “Wrong place, wrong time.  Wrong place, wrong time.”

And that’s probably what Sgt. Scott meant by it: a seen-it-all verbal shorthand for “This sicko was bound to go off sometime and it fucking sucks, but he went off on this girl.”

But the very laziness of that verbal shorthand turns an appalling (on multiple levels) crime into something the victim was responsible for.

.

Stick with me here.

Because let’s really break down his statement, shall we?

 

“Unfortunately…”

 

Nope.  Not a good start.

Sgt. Scott, I know nothing about your experience on the force, but I can tell you there is nothing “unfortunate” about being raped.  “Unfortunate” implies a bad stroke of luck.  Rape derives from intention.  Rape is about anger, and power, and stripping victims of their agency and humanity.

Ding your car door?  That’s unfortunate.

Fight with your spouse?  That’s unfortunate.

A mentally disabled girl sexually assaulted in full view of a public that does nothing to help her?

That’s not “unfortunate.”

That’s a noxious fucking nightmare of physical, mental, and emotional violation that you’ve just reduced to a car ding.

Your word choice?

That was unfortunate.

.

“[the victim] was…”

.

And since we’re talking about stripping a person of their agency and humanity, let’s remember who’s in charge during a rape.

Here’s a hint: it’s the fucking rapist.

And if the rapist has all the agency – he’s obviously the one dictating what happens – how is it that after the rape, all that agency, all that accountability, gets shoved back onto the victim?

After all, it’s not “the rapist was…”

It’s not “this fucking psycho brought the wrong place and wrong time with him.”

It’s

“[the victim] was…”

.

So tell me.  When exactly does she get that agency back, hm?

When does she step up and take responsibility for being “wrong”?

I mean, is it optional?  Can she, at some future date, choose to accept the fact that she picked “the wrong time” to ride a bus?  That she showed up too soon?  Or too late?  Or at any point in linear existence when the rapist happened to catch sight of her?

Or is it not a choice at all?  Does her agency just return automatically, say, as soon as the assault is over?  The moment he pulls out, does it suddenly click in her head, “Oh, it’s my fault I’m here, and not at work/home/anywhere-else-in-the-fucking-world right now.”?

Tell me, at what precise moment does a woman become an accessory to her own rape?

The answer, of course, is fucking never – a rape is always the rapist’s fault, and only the rapist’s fault – and goddammit, I’d really like to hear people speak like they fucking understand that.

* * *

Now, do I think Sgt. Dan Scott is a yay-rape! kind of guy?

Of course not.

Even though we’ve never met, I like to think he’s a protect-the-helpless and catch-the-baddies, white-hat Wyatt Earp type.  I’ve always had a soft spot for sheriffs.

But I would also like him – and all men, and all women – to consciously consider how they think about rape, and moreover, to be aware of how they talk about it.

Language has always reflected the beliefs of a society – and no matter how repellent we may eventually find some of those beliefs – i.e., victim-shaming arises from the archaic belief that women who get raped “deserve it” – only recognition and acknowledgement of our language’s reflective connotations (along with the thought, “Hey, that’s incredibly fucked up.”) will lead to changes in our thinking, our vocabulary, and thence to changes in our society.

But first we have to pay attention.

Really pay attention.

Once we stop even subliminally shaming the victim –

 .

“Unfortunately [the victim] was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

.

– perhaps we, and the police, and those passengers on the bus —

— those people who swear they noticed nothing –

— will finally open our eyes and see.

 

Comments

29 Responses to “Wrong”
  1. FIRE OF THE ENTIRE FUCKING MILKY WAY RAAAAAAAAAGE.

    • Tell me about it. It took me two days to go from this feeling to something readable. And I’m still mostly on this feeling.

  2. Some serious cowards on that bus

    • No shit. And it makes me wonder: I know I would’ve done something, regardless of the danger. I know you would’ve done something, too. So where were all the people like you and me?

  3. I’m gonna have to wear my night guard all day, my jaw is so effing sore from gaping wide open during this entire post. THAT is unfortunate. What happened to this girl? Not unfortunate. DEPLORABLE.

    • You totally get it, M. It’s not only that what happened to this girl was an abomination of humanity, but the fact that she gets blamed for it that ratchets my anger up to 11. Actually, more like 492.

  4. I can’t even…

  5. sheriffs are elected, right? Send this to the sheriff’s dept! The sgt might not care about votes and public opinion but his boss will

  6. I knew what was coming next when I read your “However, horrifying as the event itself was, that wasn’t what launched me into a ranting cyclone of fury.” Because it was *exactly* the same phrase that sent me off on a swear-fest that no one was around to hear but the cats. Poor cats.

    “Unfortunately [the victim] was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

    Words would fail me, but I get talky when I’m mind-bogglingly ear-steaming furious.

    Throwing gasoline on the fire, this additional bit from several articles (http://bigstory.ap.org/article/disabled-woman-raped-los-angeles-city-bus & http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2012/11/bus-rape-suspect.html) will also prolly make you as teeth-clenchingly RIPSHIT as it did me:

    “Given that Trotter was standing up with his back to the driver and the victim was sitting down, other passengers may not have known a rape occurred,” Scott said.

    “People generally think of a rape as some type of an attack where someone is thrown down. It is not always the case,” Scott said. It “seems reasonable that they would not know what was going on.”

    Really? Because it seems neither reasonable nor credible to me. And so how did that one person who *did* apparently see & understand it & tried to get the driver’s attention figure it out? Did they have special Rape-Vision Goggles on and a super-special genius intelligence?

    BTW, I don’t really understand “tried” to get their attention. I have absolutely NO PROBLEM getting anyone’s attention when I need to. You simply go on and on until they acknowledge you. I don’t give up when it’s something small like “where’s the boneless chicken?”, so I think when someone is BEING RAPED I might be able to make myself heard.

    I want to hear from ALL those witnesses & the bus driver. I want to know what the FUCK they were thinking. I understand that there was no way to know if he had a weapon, or if he was going to hurt her or them, but there ARE many things you can do – that is, if you give a shit, and have just a modicum of brains or gumption.

    • I’m completely with you, QG. I understand being afraid, of not knowing what to do. I get it. We don’t all have our fight/flight wiring rigged the way we’d like, and when danger hits, a lot of people’s natural instinct is to freeze and do nothing. Like I said. I get that.

      Instinct is powerful. It’s what make us lurch away, or scream, or freeze, or lash out. If you’re the target of violence or danger, falling into a hole of our own instincts is understandable and should never be judged. When you fear for *your own* survival, instinct is all you’ve got.

      Anyone who witnessed this was not the target of this danger, and in cases like that, being human means being more than our instincts. I sympathize that instinct might make their *initial* reaction a desire to hide, freeze, stay out of sight. Staying in that initial reaction while *someone else* is being hurt is just not okay. You don’t have to punch the guy in the back of the head, or face him alone. You can shout for help, you can run up to the bus driver and demand he stop, you can yell at the assaulter and make sure he knows he’s been seen – which will probably, frankly, get him to stop – and then RUN THE FUCK AWAY if he comes after you. There’s a lot you can do.

      I’m speaking as a coward. My reaction had always been flight when I’ve been in danger. I freeze up, and I’m not happy with that reaction. But I’ve also gotten my ass kicked because I stood up for someone else, because sometimes things are more important than our own need for safety.

      Sometimes you have to stand up for someone else, because it’s the only truly human thing to do.

      • aboleyn says

        Saalon I completely agree. Oddly when I have been in danger myself I do freeze up, but when I’ve seen someone else in danger I’ve had the opposite reaction. I literally put my body in front of a stranger to prevent him from being punched once without a second thought. I do not understand how you try to get the drivers attention. I would have been screaming my fool head off. I haven’t been on a bus in a long time, but I know the ones I used to ride had pull strings if you wanted the bus to stop. At the very least I think you could have pulled that to get the drivers attention. Hell didn’t this person have a cell phone to call 911? If not why not ask another passenger for their phone? How do you just let it continue?

        • I’m just like you, aboleyn. I tend to go all Petrificus Totalis when I’m in danger — but for some reason, if it’s anybody else, suddenly I’m immortal and possessed of Bruce Lee’s fighting skills. I have a funny story about that… maybe I should write about it here. Kind of a companion piece. Hmm. Stay tuned.

      • Exactly. It’s the human thing to do. But then again, I have downgraded everyone on that bus’s status from “human” to “chickenshit”.

    • I’m just going to tack this on to the end of my post and pretend I wrote it. Except you’re a lot more coherent than I was.

  7. stelised says

    Now that’s the kind of writing I fed you at Brown U to produce!! Good job.

    • And it’s a good thing you fed me, too, or else I would’ve died way before graduation…

      Thanks for reading, stelised!

  8. I read Mere’s post just before I left work yesterday and tried all day to make sense of this. It just makes me sick to my stomach that anyone could do this – and especially to a mentally disabled young woman. It’s beyond fathomable to me. And, according to one of the articles QG linked to, this is the third rape on country buses THIS YEAR!!! (The others haven’t been linked to this guy apparently.)

    It’s taken me all this time to write this much because I’m not sure if I can handle it if I really let myself think about what actually happened. She has the mental capacity of a 10-year-old. How can she make sense of it. I can’t and I’m just reading about it.

    The Sheriff’s remark comes across as dismissive and unfeeling. She was on a public bus, something she probably does every day (and may not ever want to do again) – not in the wrong place. It’s the rapist who was in the wrong place. He was doing the wrong thing – there is NOTHING right about his actions.

    I do have some thoughts about the other passengers. If they really knew it was rape then there is no excuse for them not intervening, but I wonder if they realised. I travel on buses all the time and I’m often daydreaming or dozing. Because he followed her on to the bus at the same stop, I might have assumed they were together and even if I were close enough to hear noises that indicated sexual activity, I might have thought it was consensual. The reports all indicate she was too shocked to scream, which is totally understandable, especially with her mental disability.

    I just can’t fathom anyone not intervening if they knew what was actually going on. Even the person who was ‘trying’ to get the driver’s attention may have just been trying to tell him two people were having sex on the bus. Because most people sit close to the front of the bus and they were at the back, I can see why the passengers may not have reacted. Putting myself in their places, I don’t know whether I would have either which would haunt me for the rest of my life.

    • Totally know what you mean by it taking a while for this event to make “sense” (irony, of course, being that IT IS ABSOLUTELY SENSELESS). That’s why it took me two days to write and post this entry — all that came out at first was just “Fuckfuckmotherfuckshitgoddammit!” And while this accurately expressed my emotions, I figured I should probably include some other words, too.

      I think we all look at something like this and wonder how we would’ve reacted — if we would have seen it — if we had seen it, what we would have thought was going on — if we knew what was going on, what we would have done about it — or not done about it — and of course, while it’s very easy to Monday-morning-quarterback it, until we’re put in that exact same situation (gods forbid), we’ll never know.

      I can tell you, though, that from now on whenever I board a bus — and at every stop — I will be scanning the passengers and noting the ones who, in a worst case scenario, might not be able to defend themselves: children, the elderly, the disabled. Likewise, a glance around every few minutes or so only takes a few seconds of my life, and a few seconds could’ve been enough to save this girl from being raped — or at the very least, stopped the rape in progress.

      Politically speaking, I don’t know if it’s necessarily our responsibility to be our brothers’/sisters’ keepers (spiritually is another thing entirely, in my opinion), but me? I am absolutely willing to volunteer for the job.

      We can only hope that enough awareness is raised to where every bus is filled with volunteers.

      • Yes, I think I will also be more aware. I do usually keep an eye on children who are unaccompanied by an adult. And like you, QG, Mels and others, I am more adept at supporting/fighting on other’s behalf rather than my own.

        On my way to work this morning I found myself yelling more than usual at stupid drivers and cyclists and realised my feelings about this were leaking through.

  9. Modwild says

    I don’t freeze up when in danger. Not when it’s me, nor others. It will likely one day get me killed. My dad pulled off the side of the road once to confront a man who was beating up a woman. Funny that I never learned of that altercation until he was dead, but it makes sense. I know where I come from.

    If I ever saw a man doing that to a woman, most especially on a crowded bus, I would feel the power of Athena behind me and shout RAPE at the top of my lungs while lunging at the man. It may prove to be the last thing I did, but I’ve had enough of these stories where the criminals get treated like soft, stuffed animals and the victims like stones.

    Enough already. Just enough.

  10. From what I hear about the increase in rtorpeed rape allegations, the best method of reducing rape would be for more women to stay more sober more often. Alcohol seems to be a significant factor. Of course a women cannot be held responsible for being raped because she is drunk, but the fact remains that many fewer women would be raped if they weren’t drunk. They should take better care of themselves. This attitude doesn’t just apply to rape. If I wandered round a rough area late at night, every night, eventually I would be mugged or worse. I would not be to blame for this, but most people would regard me as being idiotic to have been there at all. As for the low conviction rate, in many cases it is merely the woman’s word against the man’s. In a strictly legal sense, it does not matter whether the woman was raped or not. What matters is the prosecution’s ability to prove that a rape has occurred. Evidence of an offence is required, and if there is no evidence there should be no conviction. A womans claim that a rape has taken place is not independent evidence, any more than the man’s claim that sex was consensual is independent evidence.

  11. I’ll try to put this to good use immediately.

  12. not sure how you know what these people know more than I do. Getting out of the way of power lines is what I suggested, and these people are not. I know more than they do!, and you too apparently.

  13. Well, speaking as a bereaved parent, I was offended by this particular storyline, by the sheer boring predictability of it. When do you ever see a bereaved mother in fiction who doesn't go raving mad and start snatching babies? It's a particularly irritating trope because so many mothers have to work so hard (with very little help) to overcome the crippling grief that comes when a baby dies. It would be far more dramatic to see this healing process on television. Fine to complain, I think, craven of the BBC to capitulate.

  14. “But the Catherine ads don’t tell you what the game is really about. It looks to be about sheeple, and dangerous, predatory women.”That’s actually pretty much what the game is about. Catherine is a dangerous, predatory woman (you find out why she is that way towards the end of the game) and upon meeting her, Vincent begins having nightmares revolving around sheep and climbing bizarre structures (hence the sheep motif and the puzzle spect of the game).

  15. That’s a slick answer to a challenging question

  16. I’m amazed, I have to admit. Seldom do I come across a blog that’s both educative and interesting, and without a doubt, you’ve hit the nail on the head. The problem is something not enough folks are speaking intelligently about. I am very happy I found this during my hunt for something regarding this.

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