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No Safe Place
No Safe Place: Violence Against Women
Interview: Abby Trujillo Maestas

Executive Director, Rape Recovery Center of Utah

Transcript of Interview

Q: Is rape a crime of sex, or is it a crime of violence?

When we think about rape, it's difficult not to think of it as a sexual crime because the component of sex being used as a weapon plays such a big part. And we live in a society where it's difficult to imagine that something so personal, something that is the core of who we are as human beings would in fact be violated to such a degree that we would forget even who we are, which is what we're talking about when we talk about crises.

I think that when we think about rape and sexual assault in our society it is so confusing that anyone would commit such a heinous and horrible crime that attacks the core of who we are as human beings. What happens for a lot of us is that we honestly cannot and have difficulty separating, whether or not it is sex or whether it is violence. However, the way we need to believe and what we need to think about when we think about sex versus control and power, is that anytime someone is not in a position or chooses not to consent to a sexual act, it requires some type of force or violence in order for that act to continue. And any time force or violence is perpetrated on another person to complete a sexual act, then we're not talking about sex. We're talking about violent means to an end. Yes, rape has a very strong and very large sexual component because it deals with sex as the ultimate weapon in this force of violation.

Q: Who are the men who rape women?

I think it's very difficult to talk about who the rapists are in our society because as a society we want to feel safe, so we want to believe that rapists have a particular profile in terms of they're easy to identify, they wear trench coats, they live under the viaduct or they hang out in vacant buildings and have crazed looks in their eyes. And that's not true. What we have found through the clients that are served at the Rape Recovery Center, what we have found through studies is that a rapist can be anyone, a father, a grandfather, an uncle, a neighbor, a brother, a son, and it can be female as well.

The rapist, the perpetrator can be either gender, primarily it is male, and my understanding is that less that two percent of perpetrators are female, but the only common thread that we have been able to find in many studies is that rapists have a tendency to be a little bit more violent, if not a lot more violent. And we have to remember that there are several different kinds of rapists. There are power rapists, there are the sadistic rapists, there are several profiles available to us. And unfortunately we have a difficult time understanding that if we don't think of any time that we force ourselves sexually on another human being as being a type of pathological behavior, then we are putting the society in danger. We need to think of the rapist not as having a particular profile. But understanding that this is an illness and that it is violence and that we must deal with it accordingly.

Q: How does being raped affect a woman?

People who have been sexually assaulted or raped and have been victimized by this crime oftentimes express to those of us who counsel and who do crisis intervention that their biggest issue is that they did not have control over their lives. Whether it was for twenty minutes or three days or five years in a marriage. The act of not being able to choose what you want to do with your very own body is a violation in itself. And that is where a lot -- and I might dare say the majority -- of the trauma comes from when someone has been raped or sexually assaulted. No one understands that feeling until it happens. It is like knowing that you're going to get into a car accident, seeing the other vehicle approaching, not being able to stop it, but it lasting much, much longer.

We live in a world where we are taught that we get to choose about our lives. We choose what we eat, we choose what we wear, we choose what we say. We choose what we think. And even if for twenty minutes not being able to choose what happens to us and not knowing when it is going to end, and not knowing what the affect will be afterwards, or if the end result is going to be death maybe. That whole act of not having control is so devastating that that is what creates the crisis element for victims of rape and sexual assault and we see this in every age group. Whether we're talking about very young children or whether we're talking about the senior citizen or any one in between. The theme that we must remember is that rapists choose people who are vulnerable. That's why children are a risk. That's why the elderly are a risk. We know that rapists seldom and I don't say never, but I'm saying seldom, will choose someone who looks confident, who can easily identify them in court or who is not afraid to talk, report or tell. Again that is why people with disabilities are so much at risk.

Q: Is there still a stigma against rape victims?

I think that there's a stigma that has been here in our society for a very long time regarding the victims of rape and sexual assault. That stigma is maintained because what is happening is that the core of who we are as human beings has been attacked. In a crisis, we become confused and we don't know who we are, after the crisis has occurred. I often give a scenario to the clients that we see here. And I talk about what it's like to get a paper cut and how many of us have gotten paper cuts, oh a couple of dozen times at least in our lives, and how easy it is that we look at it, we see that it's bleeding, we go to the restroom and wash it off, we find a bandaid, we put it on, we come back to work. Someone in crisis, even though they have had a paper cut many times might look at this cut and not know what to do. The faculties which they have called upon their entire lives to get them through the normal course of a day, no longer is available to them. So, we don't know who we are. We don't know the person that's staring back at us in the mirror.

The stigma combined with this not knowing who we are perpetuates itself because then what happens is that people who have been victimized don't talk about it. Because oftentimes victims don't know how to talk about it. Plus, we still live in a society that imposes guilt whether it's something that they were wearing, whether it's something that the person was drinking or where they were at. We see that in every high profile case. That those questions come up. The stigma is there because our society needs to forgive ourselves for not doing something about it and the stigma is wrong.

I think that before we can talk about reducing rape rates, we need to look at current systems. We have good systems. I really believe that we do, what we don't have is we don't have situations and systems in place to support the laws that are already there. We don't give police officers the authority to act. We have a difficult time believing when people come forward and say that they have been raped or sexually assaulted. Even children are questioned. The innocence of children are questioned. Oftentimes I have sat with a police officer or a client and have heard that a four-year-old girl was responsible for seducing her perpetrator who was an adult. Now what are we saying? What we're saying is that we don't know how to take responsibility as a society. Therefore, we will continue to blame the victim.

We need to change the system. We need to blame, we need to believe that the people who are being assaulted are honest and are true. We need to provide systems for investigation that do not say take his word and her word or his word and his word or her word and her word, whatever the situation might be and say, we'll ya know, I know you said that this happened to you , but he says it was consensual so we have no case. We need to find other systems that say wait a minute.

Q: What can be done to stop rape?

I think it's important that we take the responsibility as women and as men in our society to stop rape. The only way that we're going to be able to do that is to believe the people who come forward and say that rape and sexual assault has occurred. And the second thing is to be proactive. It's for so very long what we've done is we've picked up the pieces from those people who have left broken pieces of people behind in their past. And now it is time for us to be proactive. And I particularly charge this with the men in our community. Women have been doing this for a very long time and it's now time for men to do this.

Men need to be proactive by talking to each other, they need to be honest about it. They need to not put up with jokes about rape and sexual assault. They need to understand the difference between respect and disrespect of women, children, and of each other. Again, men are primarily the perpetrators, from what we have been told and what has been reported.

I think women on the other hand, need to communicate very clearly, we need to make sure that the messages that we are giving a man and other women are true and men need to believe those messages. When we say no, we mean no. And men need to not every put a woman or another person in a position where they have to say no. And that is the bottom line for rape. That is what I mean when I say proactive. We must take this seriously and approach it as if it's a life and death matter. Because it is. It may not always be physically life and death, it may be emotionally where their mental health is at risk.

We are at epidemic proportions and we need to be concerned about this because not only does it happen to our friends, but to our daughters, our mothers, our grandmothers, our brothers, our fathers, there is no end. Oftentimes people will ask me in an educational situation or just in a chit-chat social situation whether or not women should fight, carry fire arms, take karate, keep the knife under the bed, etc. The response that I give frequently and consistently is that you need to do what best meets your ability. If you are in a wheelchair, the chances of you taking karate classes are going to be pretty slender. And being successful in an attack. The other part to this is that we must remember that seventy-eight percent of all rapes that are reported are committed by people that we know and they're not going to be the surprise attack from behind the bush, so we need to keep that in mind. So what we tell people, female and male, is that you need to do whatever your instincts tell you to do at the time. There is only one goal during a sexual assault and that is to make it through the assault alive. Because if you are dead, we cannot help you. And that is the bottom line.

Q: When we talk about rape, we don't always think of all the victims. Who else is affected?

Often times we forget that there are other victims of rape and sexual assault. We often think of the person who has been sexually assaulted directly but we forget about the wives and the husbands and the children and the significant others and the partners of those who have been sexually assaulted. There is a condition called secondary victimization and what we have found is that when someone that we care about, someone that we love has been assaulted or sexually assaulted, when someone that we care about or someone that we love has been sexually assaulted or raped, often times significant others respond exactly like the primary victim does. They go through the same symptoms of rape trauma syndrome, often times we have to crisis intervention and we must remember that when one person is sexually assaulted or raped, that many, many, many people are affected.

Q: Can you give us the definition of rape?

The definition of rape and sexual assault is fairly clinical. What it means is that any time there is sexual intercourse between a man and a woman and that there is penetration without consent of both parties and it's generally the consent of the woman that is in question here. That is called rape. And it is a felony. We must understand that it is seldom that do we have difficulty proving that intercourse has occurred, what we have difficulty proving is that consent was given or not given at the time. Sexual assault is the definition for any other unwanted sexual behavior that does not fall under the category of rape. And again we are talking about male, female, child or adult.

Q: Is it true that many perpetrators were themselves the victims of assault?

Often times we hear stories about perpetrators who have been sexually assaulted in their past and generally it happens when they are children and without a doubt, our heart goes out to people who have been victimized. However, it is important for us to remember that this society no longer can accept the responsibility for those people who act badly toward other people because of a past incident. If in fact people have not gotten help and their violence is caused by this activity that happened in their past, then we as a society need to develop systems to help children, to help those who have been sexually assaulted better, and faster and more frequently so that they will not continue. However, I again state that because this has happened to us in our past, that is not an excuse to act badly toward other people. There is a bumper sticker that the sexual coalition in Wyoming distributes and it says there is no excuse for abuse.

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No Safe Place: Violence Against Women is made possible in part by a grant from the Albert and Elaine Borchard Foundation and the Dr. Ezekiel R. and Edna Wattis Dumke Foundation. The documentary is a production of public television station KUED in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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