I am one of the many rape survivors who chose not to report her rapist. I never went through the process of going to the police, testifying at a trial, and (hopefully) watching my rapist go to jail for his crime. There are times when I deeply regret that decision.
Yesterday was not one of them.
I was summoned to my local circuit court for jury duty. Ugh…I know. Never have I seen an unhappier lot of people parading across the busy streets of my city and marching up the stairs of the courthouse. At 7:30 in the morning. Apparently, “well-rested” is not a quality we want in our jurors.
But I didn’t mind this time. It came at a good time in the school year. I had no meetings scheduled. It wasn’t the first/last week of school. I have a good class that behaves well for substitutes. It was a sunny day and I had a brand new Louise Penny mystery in tow to while away the hours while I sat trapped in a large room with 250 strangers listening for my name to be called.
I sat for a while, making small talk with a group of women sitting near me. We became quite friendly–sharing snacks, bemoaning the ban on electronic devices, laughing at the ban on dental floss. Has someone ever really tried to kill a court official with floss? I am guessing they have, and it was added to the list of forbidden objects. Name after name was called and one by one we left the jury assembly room to go to a courtroom and see if we would be chosen to serve.
If you have never served jury duty before, the process goes like this. 50 potential jurors go into a courtroom and hear the bare basics of the case. The names of the lawyers, defendant, and witnesses are read to see if any of us knows any of the participants. Then 14 people are randomly chosen to sit in the jury box and the elimination process begins.
I was one of the lucky 14.
Then comes the questioning. The judge asks all of you what you do for a living, if you’re married, what your spouse does for a living. Lawyers and police officers tend to get excused right away. Then the lawyers ask questions pertinent to the case to see if you have any bias or reason why you might not be impartial.
My case was one of aggravated domestic violence with a handgun. The defense lawyer gave us a definition of domestic violence and asked if anyone had experienced this. I had to raise my hand.
Now, I had been mentally prepared in case I was seated for a rape case. This was criminal court in a major metropolitan area and rape was a possibility. I knew I would be too triggered and could not be partial on a rape case. I had not thought ahead for domestic abuse.
For what seemed like hours, the lawyer and then the judge asked me about my ability to be fair in this case. (In reality it was probably two minutes, but it seemed unending.) Would my experience make me sympathetic to the alleged victim? Had I already prejudged the defendant because it was a domestic violence case? Could I be absolutely sure that I would be impartial? If I was a defendant, would I want someone like me on the jury? They were very unhappy with “I think I can” and “I would try” answers. “Yes or no, ma’am”. Then they repeated the process with two other victims of domestic violence in the jury. (3 out of the 6 women who were up there were victims…that is a telling statistic in itself). The other two women were excused right away for cause. Somehow I was left. For a very long time, while other people cycled in and out of the chairs. The defendant kept looking at me. He did NOT want me on his jury.
Finally, the defense lawyer excused me and thanked me for my service. I was no longer one of the lucky 14.
I was taking time off work, doing my duty as an American citizen, paying exorbitant downtown parking rates, all in the name of justice. And I had just been put on trial. I felt I had been interrogated, not politely questioned. I left feeling dirty and ashamed, as if all the eyes in the room were watching me when I left. I had to tell a portion of the story I’ve hidden for so long. Out loud. In front of 50 strangers. It was so very public. My name and my story are forever recorded on some court document. I was the woman who had been assaulted. I was biased and unfit for this jury. Those 50 jurors are going home to their families and I will come up in dinner conversation.
I have gained such a huge respect in the last 24 hours for any survivor brave enough to report their rape. What I experienced was the tiniest, tiniest fraction of what you must have gone through. It was nothing. How incredibly, amazingly brave and strong you are for facing your attacker in court and subjecting yourself to the questions. Over and over, retelling your story. I pray that you found justice.