Rihanna's Guide To The Criminal "Justice" System

Charlotte Hilton Andersen at the Huffington Post wrote a moving, interesting open letter to Rihanna about what she can expect if she chooses to deal with the criminal "justice" system. Sadly, it's what you'd expect.

What is striking about what Andersen writes is not that it's a grand tour of all the many, many fucked up things about our system of supposed justice for female victims of violence in this country, but that she opens up that hers, too, came by way of a partner.

I have been a victim of dating violence. And I did what only about 5 percent of victims but 100% of feminists say to do: I pressed charges and took my boyfriend to court, eventually sending him to prison for felony sexual abuse.

Do you sense that little bitterness? That comes from doing what you're told is the "right" thing that ends up feeling so wrong for so long. Having done the "wrong" thing once and the "right" thing once when it came to my sexual assaults, I'll sack up here and admit that Andersen's story sounds uncomfortably familiar and equally fucked up.

Here's what happens if you take Chris to court: basically, you're eviscerated. What, your victims right's advocate didn't tell you about that? I'm not surprised. Despite her title, she doesn't work for you. She works for the prosecution. And they don't work for you either. Nor do the police. All those folks are just there to enforce the laws of the nation. Dealing with the myriad of feelings most victims experience just makes the whole affair messy. Which isn't to say that they don't want you to cry. Your tears only help their case. But make no mistake: it is their case they are worried about, not you.

My victim's advocate refused to speak to me after our second phone call and first meeting because my reactions stressed her out. Literally: refused to call me or speak to me. The prosecutor's office strong-armed the detective in my case into doing it because they didn't want to. The only thing that person is there to advocate for is the prosecutors' interests with you, not your interests with them. They often don't give a fuck about your interests. If you want that, tough shit, honey. Find your own lawyer.

Next up is your testimony. You probably thought you were done with your affidavit - the one you signed with hands shaking so badly your kindergarten teacher wouldn't recognize your signature. But unless he plea bargains out early, you'll be stuck repeating your version of the events. And it will always be called that: "your version." It's not the truth. It's merely the truth as you see it. Or thought you saw it. Obviously you were upset so, you know, you might have missed a few things. Which of course you did. You're only human. The self-doubt, incidentally, will be the only emotion that the prosecution will not allow you to show.

The police, in my case, spent much of the 5 hours I spent at the hospital waiting for the forensic rape nurse to get her good night's sleep pressuring me to sign mine between bouts of compulsive vomiting and passing out. I can only assume they have an Egyptologist on staff to decipher my handwriting. If you're lucky, you'll only have one "version" of your events. If you remember things better later, if your story changes one iota, if you say later that the underwear you wore that night was red instead of black, well, prepare to have every single thing you said questioned by your supposed advocates as though you've been lying the entire time. Pictures be damned.

Andersen rightly notes that for all the questioning and badgering and general attitude that you get from the criminal justice system, neither she nor I can imagine what it is like to have what must feel like the whole world questioning the case.

Everyone will ask you questions. Some will sympathize with Brown. I'm telling you this as a girlfriend. It doesn't matter how clear-cut your case is - and domestic violence is often anything but - there will be people that think you brought it on yourself. That somehow, somewhere there is something terrible enough you could have said or done (and you know those rumors have already started and are flying fast and furious courtesy of the Internet) that would justify a sound beating.

The first person who suggested I might have been culpable — before the prosecutors got around to doing it — came less than 24 hours after it happened. She said that perhaps if I hadn't have had so much to drink... I can't imagine hearing from a relentless cavalcade of voices that I did something to engender the violence perpetrated on my person. Hearing law enforcement suggest it was bad enough.

And then, of course, she gets to us. Or, rather, some of us. You know who you are. The ones who have been banned for telling me that I should've reported my first sexual assault, and that the blood of his many victims after me is on my hands. Those people who made the tough choice, and many more who never had to and thankfully never will. Those who find it easy to pontificate that the entire fuckedupness that is our criminal justice system could be solved if we all just prosecuted because, obviously, the problem is only that there aren't enough scarred victims.

But you have the option of pursuing legal action. Should you do it?

Many people - who are not in your stilettos - will tell you absolutely. That you must. That you owe it to the other women out there who could be harmed by him in the future or the girls who've taken it in silence from him in the past. I'm telling you that it's hell. It was the worst and hardest thing I've ever done. The court case in its long protracted goriness scarred me worse than the actual assaults did. I regret it even now, five years later.

This kind of encapsulates how I feel about having reported mine. It was a grinding, grueling experience of constantly being asked to relive what was done to me, and then being constantly told that no, that wasn't what really happened.

Andersen, though, has a couple fewer regrets than I, probably in part because her case dealt with a partner and mine a stranger.

And yet I wouldn't take it back. I'd do it again if I had to.

That's the thing about it. Some of us would take it back, and some of us wouldn't. And, regardless, it's going to pretty much suck whatever she decides. I hope that, for her own sake, she doesn't let back into her life someone that would physically assault her. I hope that if she opts for that trip through the meat-grinder we ironically call our justice system she finds it less painful and horrific than the rest of us do. But, at the end of the day, she's one more victim, and the system isn't going to be changed by the victims inside of it or by one more victim reporting. It's only going to be changed when the people who haven't been there and aren't there stop lecturing about what us victims should do or should have done for the good of society, and start pressuring the system to make changes for the good of society and for victims. Otherwise, we're just a bunch of whiners that didn't get what we wanted.

Yeah, I heard that one from the prosecutors, too.

An Open Letter to Rihanna: What It's Like Taking Your Boyfriend To Court [Huffington Post]

Earlier: My Sexual Assault Is Not Your Political Issue