The hashtag #WhyIDidntReport promulgated by the #MeToo movement hit social media this week.
Whether it’s a cynical and nakedly political attempt to buttress 11th-hour allegations against Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh or a legitimate effort to lend support to victims and crowdsource stories of alleged sexual assault and misconduct, it is worthy of debate.
But it draws attention to an important truth: There are good reasons why many victims of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault don’t share their stories. There also are good reasons why they should.
Amber Wyatt might attest to that.
The former Arlington resident is the subject of a compelling and heartbreaking Washington Post piece published last week that details her rape report more than a decade ago and its shameful aftermath.
The story’s author, Elizabeth Bruenig, attended Martin High School with Wyatt, and Wyatt’s story haunted Bruenig for years. After reading, it’s easy to understand why.
As Bruenig retells it, on Aug. 11, 2006, a 16-year-old Wyatt said she was raped by two older classmates in a backroad storage shed on the property of a house party.
The accused attackers were both student-athletes whom Wyatt had joined on a drive to go get food. Instead of a snack run, the boys took Wyatt to the isolated shed where she said they simultaneously assaulted her.
Before the attack, Wyatt had been drinking — a fact she freely admits and one confirmed by toxicological analysis the following day. There was also evidence of cannabis and prescription sedatives which Wyatt admitted to ingesting earlier in the week.
The toxicology report was important, not because it revealed behavior all too common among teenagers and that Wyatt later seemed to acknowledge was irresponsible and unsafe, but because it indicated that Wyatt was in Bruenig’s words “arguably too drunk” to legally consent.
So even if Wyatt had appeared to be a willing participant (her rape kit showed not only the presence of semen but trauma to her genitals), legally she could not have been. That alone should have warranted charges against her assailants, but a grand jury no-billed the case in 2007.
Though it’s difficult to fathom, the worst part of Wyatt’s story is not the allegations or that the suspects never faced trial, but the reaction by the high school and local community to Wyatt’s claims.
Bruenig describes the brutal backlash Wyatt faced from classmates — rumors and recriminations, social ostracism. She was moved to an alternative campus after the Martin walls were graffitied with a slur using her name. Even adults took part in pillorying Wyatt.
Her story in all its ugliness exemplifies what some alleged victims say they fear from going public — why many say they remain silent.
What Wyatt’s story also contains is a contemporaneous public record — a police report, a rape kit, grand jury testimony. It did not lead to an indictment as it should have, but her decision to come forward meant key details of her experience were made known when forensic evidence was available, when the incident was fresh, when her memory wasn’t subject to the inevitable haze of intervening years.
That matters. That cannot be reasonably construed as political opportunism. That is the kind of bravery that warrants the hashtag #believesurvivors.
In a political and cultural environment where it’s easy for alleged sexual assault victims to both exploit and to be exploited, a detailed report to local police won’t guarantee justice but it’s the place to start.