Commentary: Where the sidewalk ends: Sexual assault edition

Shel Silverstein put it simply: there is a place where the sidewalk ends. In his collection of children’s poems by the same name, “Where the Sidewalk Ends,” he recounts and describes the way a simple sidewalk, one walked on by many, full of promise with the sun and green grass, can come to a sudden stop; and at the end, darkness and nothingness replaces all the promise.

Too frequently victims of sexual assault are left at the end of the sidewalk of the judicial system, responsible for bringing assailants to justice. However, too many times these cases are left, abandoned, ignored, and forgotten. Too many times, justice does not come to fruition and instead 97 percent of the accused are left with barely a slap on the risk.  The Rape, Assault, and Incest National Network (RAINN) reports that out of every 1,000 cases of rape, only 310 cases will be reported, and 6 perpetrators will be convicted of a felony. For many of these instances, the survivor is led down to the end of a sidewalk. At the end of this sidewalk should be a bright, big building with letters “J.U.S.T.I.C.E” written in bold, but instead, for many, there is injustice and nothing other.

Undeniable disgust and nausea filled many Americans when rapist Brock Turner was released from jail only four months into his minimal sixth month sentence for stripping and penetrating a young woman behind a dumpster. The proof was there: Brock Turner was a rapist. The confession was there: Brock Turner was a rapist. The testimony was there: a survivor had to see that the assailant was not only given one of the most lenient sentences for rape, but also see him released before his sentence was fully complete. The survivor’s sidewalk ended abruptly and unfairly.

The sidewalks of the many women accusing Donald Trump of sexual assault and misconduct ended when Donald Trump himself, or his lawyers, denied the claims.

More recently, Harvey Weinstein has been accused of sexual assault, harassment, misconduct, and rape from many of his past employees and actresses he had worked with in the past. High-profile celebrities have come forth, Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow included, stating that Weinstein had asked them to do inappropriate things while filming movies more than 10 years ago. Ten years. It goes without showing. The delay in reporting sprouts from the stigma and process survivors face continuously. I question whether these accusations, like the verdict of Brock Turner, will result in any consequence. I question whether, because of Weinstein being a white male with power, these accusation will fade to black as another scandal takes over the newsreel. I question whether the accusations of these women will be left where the sidewalk ends.

It goes without showing: the judicial system responsible for bringing assailants to justice is congested and convoluted with the power and status of men and the stigma of society. What is needed is a system where the stigma is erased and the survivors are able to fully report with the confidence that the system will deliver the assailant to justice.

The U.S. Sentencing Committee is responsible for setting up guidelines for the sentencing of certain crimes based on a variety of criteria. However, the local and state courts have the power to enact any sentencing they deem fit, some completely turning a blind eye toward the guidelines a federal agency puts forth. Why is the recommended sentencing for a convicted rapist eight to 20 years in prison and Brock Turner was released within four months? How come too many sexual assault cases go without reporting and why are these traumatic experiences consistently muffled with a stack of dollar bills.

It is not an undeniable fact the judicial and reporting system of sexual assault and rape is fogged up with a lax judgment and relentless stigma of assailants and survivors. As a society, the push for a new system needs to be harder than ever before. Assailants, no matter their status in society, whether they have a billion dollars, an Oscar, or an All-American swimmer title, need to be brought to justice. Too many times, cases and survivors are left in the dark. It’s time for a system where the assailants are not let loose, where the stories are not hidden under piles of cash, and where no survivors are left where the sidewalk ends.

Richard Carey is a Stephens City resident who is in his third year at James Madison University, where he is studying communications with a concentration in advocacy and political science.