Today I attended the first day of the long-awaited trial of Franklin County senatorial candidate, Norm McAllister (R) for alleged assaults committed against a then-teenage victim.
The morning began inauspiciously with a replaced juror, and news that the victim might not appear if the proceedings would be videotaped. She was understandably reluctant to describe the graphic nature of the assaults before the camera’s eye.
For some reason, the attorney for the Free Press advocated most strongly for not sparing the victim from the cameras. In the end, cameras were excluded for the duration of her testimony and she was called to the stand.
The doors opened and a little girl who looked like she might be a high school freshman stepped into the courtroom, accompanied by a victims’ rights advocate. Her taffy colored hair was gathered into a traditional ponytail and she was dressed neatly in jeans and a shirt. She later said that at the time of the alleged assaults she weighed just 85-lbs., and stood four-foot-eleven inches.
Thanks to a deal negotiated by the defense, she cannot be referred to during the trial as “the victim,” since Norm McAllister is disputing whether any crime has been committed. (Try that argument if you are a young black male!) Fortunately, we at GMD are not so constrained, and she will remain “The Victim” in these pages because she did not want the press to identify her, and seemed anguished to learn that her name had already, earlier, been leaked to the media.
After today’s proceedings, I think I better understand why it is so difficult to get sexual assault victims to challenge their tormenters in a court of law. It would be a hideous and demeaning experience even for the most confident and articulate adult.
For an economically disadvantaged and unsophisticated girl, with barely a high school education, her encounter with the “justice” system following sexual trauma is likely to be about enough to finish her off.
At this point, The Victim has been deposed several times over the course of many months, with varying degrees of readinesss, and by people with conflicting agendas. Unsurprisingly for me, her memory is faulty and full of contradictions from one account to the next.
A well educated and mature adult, untroubled by the trauma of sexual assault may find it difficult to understand how her story could be so inconsistent; but consider what that twenty-one year old girl has to contend with. Complicating the recall process was her instinct to hide her ‘shame’ from everyone, but most especially from her boyfriend.
Apart from the direct trauma of the assault, there are societal taboos in play that trigger unjustified feelings of shame and guilt from which the mind may weave a tissue of altered narratives that only serve to complicate recovery of the real memories.
The longer the incidents of trauma persist and the later the attempt at recall, the more likely it is that those memories will be riddled with flaws and fluctuations. All kinds of odd dysfunction occur in individuals suffering abuse. Think of Stockholm Syndrome and the tendency of pedophiles to have been abused themselves as children.
There is likely some underlying pathology to The Victims jumbled memories, as well as the contribution made by her youth at the beginning of the alleged abusive relationship (sixteen or seventeen), and the role of ignorant societal judgements on the violated.
But to dismiss the overarching complaint as a mere fabrication, as I suspect they may be fixing to do in the McAllister case, would be the worst kind of injustice.
Her obvious revulsion at having to discuss the crimes in public could not be concealed. She might have kept the secret of her violation indefinitely if police, investigating other allegations of McAllister’s sexual exploitation, hadn’t come knocking at her door.
Now I am sure she regrets having let them in.