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.