The Duties of Citizenship, Ethics, and the Happy Rape Victim

A few months ago,  Washingtonian Magazine printed the harrowing memoir of Amanda Pagliarini, a woman who as a teenager was raped by some friends of her boyfriend as he looked on and did nothing. Entitled “How Could He Just Stand There?” the article recounts how she first came to be involved with “Juan,” how the rape affected her life, and remarkably, how she came to talk with her ex-boyfriend about the tragedy and his role in it years later. One of his revelations was that the gang that raped her also had done the same to other girls.

Her article concludes with this:
“A few years ago, ‘Dateline’ aired a story about a woman who’d been raped while in college in the 1980s. Twenty-one years later, she received a letter from her rapist—who’d never been caught—describing his years of anguish and guilt and asking for forgiveness. She took his letter to the police and filed charges. When asked if she was at all moved by his anguish, she said no. With her rapist behind bars for 18 months, she said, she was finally able to heal. But to me it didn’t seem she had healed at all. What I saw was a woman slashing through her wounds with a knifeShe said she’d never been the same after the rape. I agree—I was forever changed in a way I can’t quite explain. ‘It’s like you’re being killed,’ she said. ‘And yet you still live.’

I wanted to jump through the TV. Yes—you still live. And after recovering from rape, I’ve always felt that with the passage of time I’ve had a choice: I could live fully and freely or live anchored in resentment. I don’t judge the woman for reporting her rape. I wish I had reported mine back when it happened—not for the sake of justice, but to protect the women who were later hurt by the same man.

The state of Virginia doesn’t have a statute of limitations on felonies, which means I could still report the men who raped me and press charges against Juan as an accessory—and I can understand why some people might think I should. But I can’t see how pressing charges would bring peace to anyone involved, especially me….maybe I am crazy. But I’m also happy and free.

This has bothered me from the first time I read it, and it bothers me still. I do judge a rape victim, recovered or otherwise, who willfully allows her rapists to escape punishment and, conceivably, to rape again. It is about justice, and the perception of justice: every man who gets away with rape increases the likelihood that another man will try to do the same. And every victim of crime, be it rape, robbery, murder, harassment, or spousal abuse, has an unwaivable obligation to let law enforcement officials know about it. This duty has nothing to do with bringing “peace” to anyone involved. It isn’t about peace.  The duty’s importance is making certain that we live by a rule of law, that citizens respect the law, and that victims of crimes do what is necessary to stop their victimizers from harming others.

Does performing this duty require sacrifices? Will it involve discomfort and pain? Yes, and yes, and nevertheless: I regard the failure of the victims of violent crimes to identify criminals known to them and report them to law enforcement officials as great an abdication of duty as the Brooklyn EMT’s and the Seattle security guards. Just because the criminal’s next rape or drive-by shooting doesn’t happen within the previous victim’s sight doesn’t mean he or she isn’t responsible for doing nothing and allowing it to happen. Citizens have duties too, just like EMT’s. They acquire them by accepting the benefits of society.

Amanda wants her “peace,” the EMT’s wanted to finish their bagels. I don’t see a lot of difference. Let me refine that: I don’t see enough difference.

The message of the article was not the one that Amanda Pagliarini seemed to think it was. She apparently intended to make a statement about the power of acceptance and forgiveness, and how, because she forgave her despicable, cowardly boyfriend, she was now “happy and free.” The real message is that she has learned remarkably little since the years of willful, self-centered rebellion that led to her destructive life-style, choice of companions and rape. She still believes that she—her state of mind, her comfort, her convenience, her happiness, her peace —is all that matters. That is ultimately an unethical mindset, because ethics involves not only caring about what happens to others, but recognizing our shared duty to give everyone, including people we don’t know or have never met, a chance to be safe, happy, and yes, at peace.

9 thoughts on “The Duties of Citizenship, Ethics, and the Happy Rape Victim

  1. At what point could someone not speaking up be construed as “accessory” to a crime?

    Here comes one of my famous “What If’s…”

    What If a woman is gang raped and she is somehow told that they do this to a lot of other girls. Is she legally implicated to the subsequent rapes for not speaking up? Or does she have some type of defense pertaining to psychology or intimidation?

    Personally – If a guy was a career rapist and I was his last victim that spoke up and brought him to trial – and throughout the trial they paraded a dozen victims that came before me – I might be a bit more ticked off at the previous victims than at the rapist.

  2. The tone of this article (hers, not Jack’s) reminds me a lot of the arguments used by Roman Polanski’s apologists.

    And anyone who suffers “years of anguish and guilt and [asks] for forgiveness”, yet it never occurs to him to go to the police and confess . . . I’d say he just wanted to “get away with it” once and for all.


  3. It strikes me as awfully audacious for a man (or men as the comments section displays) to sit in judgment of a situation they couldn’t ever conceptualize. Perhaps I’m incorrect and the writer, Mr. Marshall, is a victim of rape or sexual abuse himself. At which point I would ask this – please share with us your experience with reporting your attacker.

    In the event that you have never been raped, or were and didn’t report it yourself, I see the only thing that merits an “ethics alarm” is whatever gall that lives in you to write this article.

    • Alexandra, you confuse the obviously right action with the difficulty and sacrifice involved in doing it. Nobody has to be a rape victim to be able to say with 100% certainty and accuracy that leaving the rapist unreported to rape others is objectively wrong. If I am not a rape victim, I may not accurately assess how difficult it may be to do the right thing in that situation, but there is no doubt—none—what the right thing to do is.

      May I say that I am sick to death of the “sit in judgment” argument? You would have all of human kind engage in willful avoidance of making judgments about what kind of conduct we as a community, a nation, a culture, and a species believe is good or bad out of fear, laziness and cowardice. I judge, you should judge, and we should be willing to submit to judgments ourselves while learning how to do it wisely. Your approach has always created a free pass for sociopaths and predators, and you cloak it in nostrums from the Bible and bumper sticker slogans. If something is wrong, say so. If you think it’s right—go ahead, tell us (and the his next rape victim) why not reporting the writer’s rapist was right—and I don’t want to hear any “it may have been right for her” gibberish. We have ethical duties, and some are hard and maybe impossible. But don’t try to censor figuring out what they are. You have a counter argument? Great—I want to hear it. “You can’t judge unless you are a rape victim” is nothing but a morally and intellectually lazy dodge.

  4. You see what you denounce as wrong to be black and white. In this case, you believe, as you state with “100% certainty” that this woman is wrong. I guess the first question it begs is – who are you to say so? The immediate second question is – who cares what you think is wrong?

    Some might argue that being gay is wrong and believe it with “100% certainty”. Does that make it wrong? No. It’s their opinion based on their limited filter in which they see the world. Would you argue that this proposed example is different than the one you write on? It can’t be. You can’t have it both ways. Either life is black and white, right and wrong, or it isn’t.

    To suggest that my position was riddled with laziness makes sense for someone who chooses to spend a great deal of time ostentatiously pointing the finger. But I would argue that whistling blowing, finger pointing, judgment, and blame are all innate human responses and are therefore easy to jump to. I believe it requires much more personal awareness and insight to take into account the limits and constructs of my perceptions. It has zero to do with the Bible. And it is anything but lazy.

    Ultimately, as an attorney yourself, I find it profoundly incongruent that you would essentially assert that had this young woman reported her rape that her rapist would have been stopped. We all know how infrequently rapists are found guilty in these cases and even when they are, are back out on the street in a couple of years.

    In the end, let’s be honest about why victims are so hesitant to report their attackers – and that’s because of people like you who favor pointing out the wrongdoings of the victim. So you think it’s 100% wrong that she didn’t report her rape? Consider the fact that you, Mr. Marshall, have 100% contributed to why most women don’t.

  5. I’m sorry, Alexandra, but your diatribe is illogical, senseless, and a denial of any ethical cultural norms whatsoever. Your world won’t work, and will just get worse and worse. Mine will get better by degrees.

    Many ethical issues are gray–perhaps even most. This one: “Should a victim have an obligation to report a rapist?” is not. She (or he ) does. Your argument otherwise is the purest rationalization—sometimes they aren’t convicted, sometimes they get off easy. Non responsive. Rapists who are arrested are a lot less likely to rape again than those whose identities are protected for selfish reasons like the author of the essay in question. A pathetic excuse, really: “it isn’t perfect, so we shouldn’t allow law enforcement to even get involved.”

    Your first two paragraphs are simply nonsense. Some ethical issues are black and white, some aren’t. You really claim that it is either one or the other, and you opt for “no ethical issues are clear”? Really? I don’t know how you function. I know how you reason, though.

    “Who am I” to make a judgment? Read my last response, Everyone has an obligation to make judgments about conduct, every day. Nobody is forced to pay any heed to what I think; my objection is to get people to think about ethics analytically, or unlike you, be willing to think about it all, instead of using an inert, passive, and yes, lazy “you just have to be in her shoes” standard of “anything goes.” Sure, people are 100% certain of erroneous opinions: condemnation of gays is 100% wrong, because it can’t be defended logically and truthfully—just as you can’t come up with a rational, truthful reason why rape victims shouldn’t be reported. “How dare you!” isn’t an argument.

    But I do hear it a lot.

  6. Rather than ring the ethics alarm at a decision made when this young woman was a teenager, isn’t the real ethics in question that of the authorities in the area? If there’s no statute of limitations, isn’t this article enough to prosecute?

    • Sure, though the names were changed. An aggressive law enforcement official could and should use the article to track down a predator, as this guy seems to have been. Maybe they tried. Maybe the DA advised that the odds of a conviction after so long with a reluctant witness wasn’t worth the effort. Maybe they decided (wrongly), if the victim doesn’t care, why should we?

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