A young woman in Texas found out this week precisely how much the criminal justice system values her. The former fraternity president she says raped her will serve no jail time and will not be put on the sex offenders registry. Instead, he will pay a $400 fine — less money than you’d pay if you got caught speeding through a construction zone.
Now-expelled Baylor University student Jacob Walter Anderson, who was indicted on four counts of sexual assault in 2016, agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge of unlawful restraint, for which, in addition to the fine, he’ll spend three years on probation.
This is the third time this particular judge has approved probation for men who have sexually assaulted Baylor students. “It pays to be rich and white in McLennan County when you’re charged with a crime,” said Vic Feazell, the victim’s lawyer.
While the cost of hurting women is so very low, the price women pay is immense.
The victim, known as Donna Doe, says she was drugged, and after Anderson took her outside to get some air, he attacked her; she says he violently raped her multiple times, choked her, “and when I blacked out, he dumped me face down on the ground and left me to die.” She woke, she says, aspirating on her own vomit.
After the judge announced the terms of the agreement, Doe took the stand to respond: “I am devastated by the decision to let Jacob Walter Anderson go free without punishment. Rape is a violent crime… I will never be the same. He most likely will rape again, and no one will know he is a sex offender, emboldened by his power over women and his ability to go free,” she said. She also spoke directly to Anderson, saying, “You stole my life and my virginity.”
Doe’s case is not unusual. Only a minuscule number of rapists will serve jail time. The real issue, though, isn’t how few rapists go to prison (there’s a large swath of feminists who prefer restorative justice to a system they find corrupt and racist, for example). The problem is that the lack of consequences, be they social or criminal, reflect how seriously this country takes sexual violence against women, and a Texas frat boy paying a few hundred dollars because he raped a woman reminds us of the small or nonexistent price men pay for hurting us.
Even in the midst of #MeToo and a powerful feminist moment in U.S. history, women have watched as abusers make their comebacks, sometimes to standing ovations, or hide out in multimillion-dollar mansions and spas.
While the cost of hurting women is so very low, the price women pay is immense. Since Brett Kavanaugh has been elevated to the Supreme Court, for example, Christine Blasey Ford has moved four times, retained a security detail, and has been unable to return to her job as a Palo Alto University professor.
It’s not just well-known women who suffer after they come forward about abuse. One of the most difficult stories I ever wrote was about two young women — just teenagers when they died — who killed themselves rather than face the continued harassment and shaming their communities inflicted upon them after being raped. Surviving a sexual assault isn’t just about getting through the attack, but getting through every day after it.
You should ask yourself how much you think your dignity is worth. What price you would put on your body, your safety, and your right to walk through the world without being attacked. Something tells me that it’s a lot more than $400.