American society is still entrenched in rape culture. While movements like #metoo have shed some light on the pervasive nature of sexual violence, society still perpetuates a culture where the onus is on victims to prevent rape, and the conversation rarely includes dialogue surrounding the only responsible party in sexual assault – the rapist.
I was attacked by serial rapist Daniel Cummings in August of 2002. By that time, Cummings had amassed at least fourteen victims – that we know of – and had perpetuated lesser crimes against dozens more women.
This behavior began when Cummings were merely sixteen. He started as a “peeping Tom,” breaking into women’s homes to watch them sleep, later to touch them while they slept. As he aged, his crimes became more violent, and more frequent. He spent four years terrorizing women before he got to me.
I’m a good witness. I’m white, middle class, educated, well spoken. I was a single mother at the time of the attack, and I had media connections, reporters who knew me through my work and trusted me. It was easy for everyone – police, news media, doctors, attorneys – to believe me. I would have been great on the witness stand – awakened by an intruder who broke in to my home, a man I’d never seen before. I wore sweat pants and an over-sized t-shirt, and my young son slept by my side that night. After I reported the attack and endured the rape kit, I imagined how his defense might cross-examine me. I dared an imaginary defense to question my clothing.
But what about the young black woman whose story was challenged so aggressively she withdrew the charges entirely? What about the multiple women, all Cummings’ survivors, whose rape kits were “lost” or went untested?
Rape culture allows police officers to challenge victim reports. Rape culture allows a system that calls into question a victim’s wardrobe, as if clothing has any bearing on the violent act of power and control that is rape. As if the fit of a pair of jeans make a person culpable in violation of their body.
This Denim Day, remember that clothing, color, class … none of these excuse violence against another.