In the case of Elizabeth Smart there was no avoiding public exposure. Smart had been kidnapped from her Utah home and raped repeatedly for months. When her rapists were caught they were put on trial and sent to prison. The story was all over the media and there was no way that Smart could avoid the publicity.
One must say that she handled it with exceptional aplomb and maturity. She returned to her life, studied for her degree, got married and had a child. She also became a victims’ rights advocate.
With the exception of her advocacy work and the book she wrote about her recovery Smart did the best she could to put it all behind her.
In the case of Emma Sulkowicz, the situation was more ambiguous. The woman who was dubbed the “Mattress girl” accused a fellow Columbia student of rape, only to have her complain dismissed by both university and civil authorities. She was not merely protesting what she believed to have been a rape, but she was outraged that the criminal justice system had refused to prosecute the man she accused.
For reasons that escape me she then saw fit to produce and star in a pornographic video depicting exactly what happened on the night she believed that she was raped.
Curiously, Sulkowicz is the daughter of psychoanalysts. Given the disposition of her case one can only wonder what she could possibly gain by making her accusations into a public spectacle. Now that she has labeled herself the Mattress Girl and has starred in a porn video, what effect will that have on her dating prospects, her romantic prospects, her sex life and her career opportunities?
Perhaps she believed that she was willing to martyr herself for a cause, but did she know that her actions will exact a heavy price?
And now we have the case of Chessy Prout, a girl who suffered a sexual assault by one Owen Labrie at the St. Paul’s School two years ago. You recall that Labrie was tried and convicted of misdemeanor assault. He was sentenced to one year in prison and is now out on bail awaiting appeal.
Since Prout was fifteen at the time of the assault, her name had been censored from all media accounts of the story. It has always been the policy of media outlets to protect the identity of rape victims, especially children.
Now, however, with the encouragement of her mother, the seventeen year old Prout has to come forward and identified herself as the victim. On the Today Show. You can't be more public. One notes the obvious point that her name was hardly a secret at St. Paul’s school. Many people there knew who she was, to the point where she was ostracized by other students. She might well have expected that at some point in the future her identity would have been revealed. One should also mention that the name as been circulated on some internet sites.
Be that as it may, one questions again the virtue in public exposure. Since Prout testified at the Labrie trial, she had already shown considerable courage. She and we might well believe that she did the right thing, but she gained no real personal advantage by doing it. But, at the least, the judicial system protected her identity.
Now, however, her public statement and her picture has been disseminated across the media, so we should again ask about the value in this level of media exposure. Presumably Prout went on the Today Show to demonstrate that she is proud of herself for having stood up and testified.
Without knowing any more than you do, I suspect that Prout has undergone some kind of therapy and that the therapist counseled this level of exposure. Obviously, her mother thought it was a good thing, since her mother accompanied her on the Today Show.
One notes that, by the standards pertaining to the law, Prout is still a child, so however much people are cheering her courage, one suspects that she does not really understand the price of this level of exposure. Surely, a teenage girl who sexts does not understand what happens when such an image is passed around in the locker room and when other girls start calling her a slut. She might tell herself that she is not ashamed of her body, but she is clearly not old enough to deal with the social and emotional consequences. Allowing a seventeen year old child to go on national television to put a face on a sexual assault is dubious parenting, at the least.
The New York Times reports Prout’s performance:
“I want everyone to know that I am not afraid or ashamed anymore, and I never should have been,” the teenager, Chessy Prout, who was 15 at the time of the assault at St. Paul’s School in Concord, said on “Today.”
“It’s been two years now since the whole ordeal, and I feel ready to stand up and own what happened to me and make sure other people, other girls and boys, don’t need to be ashamed, either,” she said with her parents at her side.
She added, “I want other people to feel empowered and just strong enough to be able to say: ‘I have the right to my body. I have the right to say no.’”
I would contend that she is not old enough now and was not old enough then to understand the concept of shame. She has picked up the therapeutically correct cliches, unthinkingly. And yet, she understood that she was shunned by her classmates when she returned to St. Paul’s. And that it forced her to change schools.
Without knowing anything more, I suspect that she is asserting her innocence. She is saying that she did not consent to the sexual assault and should not be thought less of for as much. In many of cases women gopublic in order to say that they are not the kinds of girls who would have engaged in such activities. They are saying that they are not sluts.
It might have worked for kidnap victim Elizabeth Smart but it did not work as well for Chessy Prout. In the first place, Prout sounds like someone who has received the right kind of politically correct therapy. We can agree that she was not responsible for what happened, but, if that is the case, she would have done better to shut up about it. Because if she is not responsible, she is saying that it did not really happen to her. If it did really happen to her why does she want everyone now to see her as a rape victim, with the attendant fantasies?
When you have suffered a trauma, the one thing you do not want to do is to “own it,” as Prout says, as she probably learned from an especially lame therapist. You do not want to make it a part of your history or even your self narrative. It says nothing about who you are and does not reflect on your character.
A trauma victim should put the experience behind her, to forget that it ever happened, to move on with her life. Elizabeth Smart did. It does not mean never testifying, but it does mean not going public with the fact. Once you go public the world will henceforth identify you as a rape victim and will treat you accordingly. They will treat you differently. In some cases they will shun you. In others they will pity you. In all such cases your chances of getting it out of your mind and acting as though it never happened diminish exponentially.