Tag Archives: sexual violence

Up Against a Wall

Rape Reform and the Failure of Success – by Rose Corrigan

The anti-sexual violence movement has come a long way since the initial feminist efforts to draw attention to the issue and create initial policy and systems responses to carve out supports for victims and survivors of gender-based violence. However, not every step appearing to be a victory also represents a step forward for the movement. Based on years of research and in-depth qualitative research with rape crisis center advocates doing front-line work to support victims and survivors through the aftermath of sexual violence, Corrigan reveals the ways in which best-intention policies have created additional barriers to services, resulted in poor implementation, or stagnated altogether while mired down in local political and cultural clashes. Through research focused on policy reform, legal responses, medical services, and prosecutorial trends, Corrigan details the ways in which attempts to make “the system” work for victims and survivors have led to further marginalization of feminist efforts at reform and progress. From access to emergency contraception, street-level bureaucracy, and distancing from the feminist label in favor of professionalization, the real-life implications have led to disparate outcomes dependent on local context, leaving advocates no clear path forward.

“Up Against a Wall: Rape Reform and the Failure of Success” by Rose Corrigan looks at the lived experiences of advocates across the country as they struggle to navigate the fine balance between legal reforms and collaborative partnerships. Corrigan draws on past research and her own in-depth interviews with rape crisis center staff to explore the ways in which advocates seek to have a voice throughout the legal process (police reports, DA hearings and prosecutorial decisions, sentencing outcomes, etc.) and are simultaneously constrained in holding such entities accountable when laws and procedures are implemented with broad discretion by the need to maintain partnerships and funding. Through her interviews, Corrigan draws on myriad examples of reforms that work well in some communities and fail miserably in others (she has a decent spread of experiences in her examples, having interviewed staff from a sampling of states across the country representing everything from rural to urban communities, conservative and progressive). She includes plenty of egregious examples of systems failures, largely due to individual discretion of officers, medical staff, attorneys and others that have authority to impose their own interpretation of the law. Ultimately, she concludes that there needs to be greater collaboration among theorists and front-lines staff to promote critical analysis of current difficulties to seek an effective path forward.

I appreciated Corrigan’s in-depth research into the reality and constraints that rape crisis center staff face when advocating on behalf of victims moving through the medical and legal systems. However, her research seemed to return bad news at each turn. For every example of one reform that worked, there were myriad more examples of how it didn’t, with no clear suggestions for how to actually make progress. As someone who has been in the field for a while now, I would have appreciated more attention to the importance of local context and the fact that everything must be constantly negotiated. Criticisms aside, I love that this book reflected so much of my own experience in the field. Important to read for anyone interested in this work.

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Caged Eyes

Caged Eyes: An Air Force Cadet’s Story of Rape and Resilience – Lynn K. Hall

As a young girl with big dreams, Lynn Hall set her sights on the stars. She steadfastly pursued her goal of becoming an astronaut, holding herself to incredibly high academic goals, maintaining physical fitness, and becoming thoroughly involved in the local arm of the Civil Air Patrol all in preparation for her application to the Air Force Academy. Nothing would prevent her from becoming an Air Force pilot, not even when her flight instructor began molesting and sexually assaulting her. When she did eventually arrive at the legendary Academy, she felt she had finally escaped a difficult past and found a world of opportunities. In addition to dealing with all the typical transitions from high school to college, Lynn also faced grueling physical training, intentionally demeaning behavior from upperclassman, and blatant sexism. When seeking to reestablish a sense of independence and passion, Lynn met with an upperclassman to learn more about additional flight opportunities. When he raped her, she was not only betrayed by this student, but also by the doctors from whom she sought care, the community she had worked so hard to become part of, and the institution she had revered since childhood. She became infected with herpes, which turned into viral meningitis and ultimately untreated encephalitis, leaving her with a chronic headache and a multitude of difficulties. Despite struggling through another year of cadet training, Lynn was eventually deemed incapable of becoming a pilot due to medical complications, and she began reassembling her life piece by piece in pursuit of healing herself and helping others.

“Caged Eyes” by Lynn K. Hall is the kind of story that hits you like the shock of jumping into freezing water. You know what’s coming, and you know the eventual outcome, but that foresight does nothing to lessen the impact. Unapologetic and unrelenting, Hall recounts her story of rape and sexual assault with straightforward candor. She is not apologetic for naming the harm caused to her by the people, professionals and institutions that she turned to for help and support, and neither is she apologetic for the discomfort caused by sharing her story publicly. Hall’s own experience is not exempt from this direct tone, and she discloses the shame, guilt, and emotional turmoil she felt at each encounter and each betrayal. Her self-awareness and insight into her own thought processes and emotional responses humanize and personalize her experience of sexual violence within a military institution. Although her story consists of unbelievable pain and suffering, it is simultaneously steeped in optimism and hope. Even when faced with insurmountable obstacles, Hall invariably returns to her belief in her ability to survive, thrive, and achieve great things.

Wow. It’s hard to find the exact right words to describe this book, but it is certainly a must-read. On the condition that you have strong support networks that are easily accessible, and possibly some distractions lined up to take your mind off the unbelievable mistreatment and neglect Hall endured at the hands of the people and institutions she trusted. Heartwrenching and heartfelt, this book will move you in all directions at the same time. Do what you can to prepare yourself, but there is nothing you can do to lessen the shock of her story.

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