Before I started working for the Heralds last year, a coworker raped me at a previous job. I didn’t immediately report it to police. I didn’t tell my family in Puerto Rico, or my then husband. I didn’t keep the torn dress or the photos of the bruises.
With only 31 percent of rapes reported to police, according to the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network, we need to empower rape victims to seek justice in a system that they believe is fair and equitable — and one in which they feel safe and supported. Under the current system, though, for every 1,000 sexual assaults that are reported, only 25 perpetrators will be incarcerated, according to RAINN. My story is not a 0.025 percent story.
Six months after I was raped, I received a screenshot from a different coworker in which my rapist mentioned me by name, saying he hadn’t raped me, that it was consensual. He also mentioned two other women, as if listing membership in a club one out of five women join against their will.
I reached out to the women. One answered. She said he had bought her drinks, and she awoke the next morning, unable to remember the night before, to a text from him that read, “Thanks for sex, hope you remember.”
That was when I decided to call the police. Late one night, four male officers came to my home to write a report. I told them about the man who raped me and the other woman, that he had admitted two weeks after the incident that he raped me, and that I suspected he might have done the same to others, based on this woman’s report and the text he sent her.
The police dismissed my rape allegation as “sex,” asking, When did he have sex with you? Did anybody else witness you having sex? Had you had sex before with him? Finally, they offered me a counseling services number.
A few weeks later, I met with a special-crimes detective for three interviews. I shared texts and named witnesses to the crime. The detective tried to contact my rapist but could not. I was offered counseling services pamphlets.
Not only did I relieve the trauma, but I also had to endure victim blaming, with police saying, “Maybe you agreed, but you don’t remember?” “Are you sure you weren’t in a relationship with him?” “You both made bad decisions that night.” “You should talk to someone — RAINN offers great counseling services.”
The detective interviewed witnesses who had told me they saw what happened, but no one would admit to authorities that they had seen anything. A year and half later, after I had quit my job because I didn’t want to run into my rapist, he posted on social media that he had exacted revenge on me, calling me a terrible person and himself a “genius.” I immediately went to the police. They said they could do nothing, because my rapist was never arrested and the harassment wasn’t chronic. I tried to get a restraining order but couldn’t, because he wasn’t related to me or my live-in boyfriend.
Police said I should’ve reported the rape when it happened, and again referred me to counseling.
Now my rapist still works in the same place. I walk with my keys between my fingers toward my car, and check the back seat. I pretend to be on my phone when I walk alone at night, having 911 pre-dialed. And I keep an aluminum bat nearby at home.
For rape victims, no amount of therapy offers the healing that justice can. Our justice system and social institutions are fraught, however, with puritanical misbeliefs about female sexuality — the woman is almost always to blame — and a history of categorizing women as property, both of which fuel rape.
New York made some progress in 2020 when the Democratically controlled State Senate passed a bill to prohibit a rape suspect from using an alleged victim’s intoxication as a defense in court. But the measure failed to pass the Assembly, also controlled by Democrats, signaling to women that our Legislature, dominated by men, cannot protect us.
Want to hold rapists accountable? Stop asking their victims why they waited to report. Instead, call out men when they objectify women; advocate for greater female representation in formal and informal organizations, especially in leadership; unionize for living wages and work-life balance; and vote for elected leaders that will support women’s autonomy.
Victims cannot trust systems that fail them, at best, and retraumatize them, at worst. Once women gain a degree of financial and workplace autonomy and equitable systemic power, particularly in government, our institutions will change. Then, we hope, our criminal justice system will become a safe place for women to come forward.
Cristina Arroyo Rodriguez is editor of the Baldwin Herald. She has also lectured in psychology at Baruch College and Bronx Community College in the City University of New York, and has taught Master Executive classes for NYPD leadership at John Jay College. Comments about this column? Carroyo@liherald.com.