When Will Survivors Get Justice?

Only 230 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to police. Only 46 of those reports lead to an arrest. Only five lead to an actual conviction. That means that only 4.6 of every 1,000 rapists will ever spend a single day in jail—making perpetrators of sexual violence the least likely to go to prison than any other type of criminal.

While only 0.7 percent of sexual assaults will end with a felony conviction, statistics show that survivors are some of the most traumatized crime victims within the justice system. Nearly 90 percent of rape survivors will suffer from physical injuries, PTSD, depression, anxiety and substance abuse—in higher numbers than victims of any other crime.

(Creative Commons / Chris Beckett)

These numbers don’t add up within the justice system—because even though one would think prosecuting these cases would become a priority for law enforcement officials and community stakeholders in the wake of these facts, the justice system instead fails survivors every single day. Even the nine out of 321,500 victims of sexual assault per year who wind up seeking justice in court will likely face disappointment.

Look no further, for example, than the alarming case in which New Jersey’s Judge James Troiano denied a motion to prosecute a 16 year-old for rape—recommending leniency for the boy instead, since he “came from a good family” and was “clearly a good candidate not just for college, but probably for a good college.” The judge went on to chastise the victim about “the devastating effect a waiver would have on G.M.C.’s life.”

The boy in question—identified as “G.M.C.” in court documents—filmed himself raping a visibly intoxicated 16-year-old girl and then proceeded to send the video to at least seven friends. The videos were sent along with this text: “When your first time having sex was rape.” Judge Troiano dismissed such language as “just a 16-year-old kid saying stupid crap to his friends.”

The accused himself admitted the act he had just committed was rape, but Judge Troiano still denied it—arguing that in traditional cases of rape, there are “two or more generally males involved, either at gunpoint or weapon… sometimes in an abandoned house, sometimes in an abandoned shed… as well as beating the person, threatening the person.” His definition of rape is wildly out-of-step with both federal and New Jersey law, which defines rape as sexual assault involving “the penetration, no matter how slight, in which physical force or coercion is used or in which the victim is physically or mentally incapacitated”—an exact description of what occurred.

Judge Troiano’s failure to try G.M.C. as an adult means that his real identity is obscured. He can apply and attend any college he wishes and gets to go home with a clean record.

This is not the first case in which a judge showed extreme leniency to an accused rapist based solely on “his potential.” Judge Aaron Perksy sentenced the now-infamous Stanford college swimmer Brock Turner to only six months in jail after he was seen raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. Turner didn’t complete his sentence and was released after three months.

During the Turner case, both the victim and the accused’s father wrote letters to the judge. The father’s was a request for the judge to go easy on his son for his “20 minutes of action.” The victim’s detailed the shame, humiliation and trauma she had been forced to endure.

Even though Turner had a pattern of predatory behavior towards women at parties, a prior arrest for underaged drinking and a pattern of abusing drugs and alcohol, Judge Persky still sided with the father—arguing that the incident was the result of unusual circumstances, was “unlikely to recur” and thus did not merit serious punishment. “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on [Turner],” worried Persky. “I think he will not be a danger to others.”

Another “young athlete with a promising collegiate future,” then-18-year-old David Becker, faced up to life in prison for two counts of rape and one count of sexual assault—but instead walked away with a two-year probation, was allowed to continue attending college and did not have to register as a sex offender.

These cases are not outliers. They are not exceptions. Instead, they are proof of the broken path to justice that survivors must slug through after they are raped and sexually assaulted.

The direct effect of these cases are alarming. These sentences allow rapists to resume their normal lives, potentially opening doors to them re-offending and definitely closing doors on their pathways toward rehabilitation. Victims, meanwhile, will both forever carry the pain of what happened and long endure the sting of justice lost.

It’s no wonder, reading these stories, why so few victims report their assaults. For the one in three women who will survive sexual assault, these cases are a direct reminder that a rapist’s “potential” is still valued more than our lives in the eyes of the law.

While the fate of G.M.C. specifically remains unknown, there is one certainty: victims deserve better. We need judges who will uphold justice and the law no matter who the accused is. We need politicians who stand by victims. We need comprehensive sex-education and consent lessons starting in elementary school. We need people in power who are compassionate and understanding. We need more female police officers and formal training for officers who respond to sexual assault cases. We need to prosecute and investigate sexual assault reports—rather than continuing to shovel hundred of thousands of rape kits into backlogs. We need to stop asking women what they were wearing and start holding men accountable.

And if the justice system and our lawmakers won’t deliver, it will be up to every single one of us to shift the narrative—and demand accountability.


Ali Marsh is an editorial intern at Ms. Magazine in Los Angeles. A rising senior at American University, Ali is majoring in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies with a double minor in Justice and Studio Art. She is a self-published author of a writing/film photo book based off her six months of solo backpacking across Europe. She was one of the focuses of a Vice documentary series about inspirational women, and her activism has led her to be featured in Time Magazine, i-D, New York Times, Quartz, LadyGunn, Topshop and more. She is known for her frequent live streams on Instagram where she discusses politics and current events. You can find her here Instagram