Jacqueline Marris and Tamara Brooks are my new heroines. These two brave Southern
California teenagers not only acted to survive their ordeal but also made an important
decision to speak out on national television after their kidnapping and rape Aug.
With the loving support of their families, they performed a great service to
rape survivors everywhere by refusing to be shamed into silence.
Their act of courage, of course, does not mean that the stigma surrounding
rape is fading.
Media pundits revictimize these young women when they say that the teenagers
came forward merely to claim their "15 minutes of fame." Brooks told reporters
that they spoke because "We want to get the message across to everybody to never
give up on anything. Whatever obstacles you have, you've got to fight your way
One of those obstacles is the societal stigma. My experiences, and those of
hundreds of other rape survivors I have met, is that the stigma is alive and well.
Justice Department figures tell us that one in six women have experienced an
attempted or completed sexual assault. Maybe people feel that if they can distance
themselves from the victims of rape by finding a reason to blame them, they and
their loved ones won't be as vulnerable.
Some examples of victim blaming I have heard from family, friends, neighbors,
TV reporters, law officers, prosecutors and strangers include:
"What were you wearing?"
"What were you doing out so late?"
"Be grateful you weren't hurt."
"If you had only taken kickboxing, this never would have happened to you."
"Why would your boyfriend want to stay with you?"
Why go public, then, as more women are choosing to do? Their motivations may
include changing antiquated laws, preventing rapes by the same perpetrator or
helping others by putting a face to rape statistics and sharing their experiences
We can identify with a mother who speaks out after a drunk driver kills her
child. Who would question why she would want to share her private grief and anger?
Rape survivors who choose to speak publicly rarely have the support of their
families, and too often don't have the support of rape crisis centers, which are
concerned about the confidentiality of their critical counseling services.
Jeri Elster, my friend and a fellow advocate of speaking out, was devastated
when she discovered that her rapist, who was identified by DNA, could not be prosecuted
because prosecutors ordered the testing after the then-six-year statute of limitations
Jeri says telling her story in front of TV cameras during state Assembly hearings
was the best thing she ever did. Like a lot of survivors, Jeri felt completely
disempowered by the rapist. It was a "much-needed emotional boost" to her when
she helped change California law to effectively eliminate the statute of limitations
on rape cases with DNA evidence.
On Aug. 27, the 10th anniversary of Jeri's assault, she will lead a march in
downtown L.A. to protest the disposal of DNA evidence by local law enforcement.
Something unexpected happened after my own first interview on national TV about
my rape. Women I knew and complete strangers came up to me and thanked me, whispering
that they too had been raped. Most of them had never told anyone, not even their
mothers and husbands.
They are members of what I call the Secret Sorority, women silently burdened
by the long-term effects of the trauma of rape. Rapists frequently threaten their
victims: "Shut up!" and "If you tell anyone, I will come back and kill you!" When
we decide to go public, we break their power over us.
No one aspires to be a poster girl for rape. We come out in spite of the risks,
because we can and for our sisters who are scared silent.
Karen R. Pomer is a founding member of the Rainbow Sisters Project, a Los
Angeles-based group that lobbies and educates on behalf of rape survivors. E-mail:
Copyright 2002 Los Angeles Times