The Anti-Rape Movement in
(Editors Note: The women's liberation movement organized the
first anti-rape groups in the 1970's and showed how the courts,
hospitals and police abused rape survivors.)
Movement of the 1970's in Chicago, Illinois, provided an opportunity
for women to feel empowered by being able to create change in
the institutions which only added to the pain and trauma of victims.
The hospitals which, if they did admit rape victims, were not
sensitive to the needs of the victims and were unskilled in gathering
evidence for possible prosecution; the police who, if they gave
credibility to the charge of rape, treated the situation as a
joke; the courts, who assigned untrained, hurried prosecuting
attorneys to the cases -- all created what we called "the
worked simultaneously to assure the success of our movement: a
powerful, determined and committed group of women emerged to take
on the issue and society was ready for us. This is the story of
the institutions we took on -- the before and after of the anti-rape
movement and some of the vivid anecdotes which will not leave
my mind, almost thirty years later.
I was asked
by the CWLU to start an older woman's group. I didn't see any
need for that -- after all, didn't we all have similar issues?
Jessie Bernard did convene such a group that year. The next year
I was asked again, so I said that I would do it. I put a notice
in the newspaper and six women showed up at my house. We started
by exchanging our experiences -- in a consciousness-raising group
style. After a while, some of us felt we wanted to get involved
in an issue. A workshop on rape was being offered by -- I believe
-- Andrea Medea. A few of us were totally intrigued by the idea
of immersing ourselves in this issue, so we started our own local
group. Andrea was quite dramatic. I can still recall that at one
point in her talk, she broke a record over her knee -- a record
known for its harmful, sexist lyrics
(I was later
to realize as I sat in a car with Mary Meyer on our way to a meeting
that I had been nearly raped by a sheriff in Texas
twenty years earlier
.. a memory I had buried so deeply that
it had been the much-hidden part of my psyche that came up as
an immediate 'yes' when the possibility of working against rape
came into my life).
the older women stayed to work on this issue; some left the group.
We were not trained organizers and had no special skills in this
area. What we had was street smarts -- when you have experienced
discrimination you gain a certain sense of what to do and how
to do it. Eventually some law students joined us. Renee Hanover,
a local attorney, worked closely with us.
recognized that there were three institutions that we had to confront,
train and change, in order to improve the picture for women who
had been raped: the hospitals, the police, the courts.
that one hospital (at least) in Chicago did not admit rape victims.
Weiss Memorial. At a presentation before a committee of the Chicago
City Council, I announced that there was such a hospital. Alderman
Bill Singer asked which one. I hesitated, not knowing whether
to announce this, but I finally did. That evening, a local newspaper
called me, did some investigation, and did a story on this. Lo
and behold -- Weiss Memorial began to accept rape victims.
also need awareness and training on two other issues (which we
conducted with the doctors and other personnel). They seemed to
be unaware of the tremendous effect of the rape on the woman mentally
as well as physically. She had to be treated gently and carefully
and preferably with a woman present (a nurse or later, as we became
better known in the community, an advocate from our group). Hospital
personnel also needed to collect evidence of the rape if the woman
decided to prosecute -- samples of semen, photos of any bruising,
clothing she wore to the hospital. Hopefully, women did not shower
-- which was, of course, a natural instinct (many reported that
they felt incredibly dirty after the crime).
I can recall
our first visit to a police station. It turned out to be very
traumatic. We were sent to the sexual assault section. There --
hanging right above the sign leading to that department -- was
a very, very large pair of pink women's panties! Clearly, this
was a joke to our local Chicago police. I don't recall the rest
of the visit, only that we returned the next day with a camera,
but the panties were down. This was typical of the attitudes we
had to combat with the police. At one point, I accompanied a woman
to the police station to report a rape. I did not identify myself
as a member of the rape crisis group. The police officer said:
"If she was raped, I'm a monkey's uncle."
had issued a manual that stated that the first thing a police
officer should do is to question a woman's veracity. I confronted
a police detective at a forum and he denied the existence of such
a manual. That day I was at a library in a public building and
a young man approached me. As I recall, he was a lawyer with the
ACLU. He showed me a copy of the manual that "didn't exist".
I made a copy of it in the library and the next time the detective
and I were on a platform together and he again denied the existence
of such a manual, I produced it and quoted from it. Lo and behold,
the manual was then revised.
for a team of detectives to answer rape calls -- one male, one
female. We asked for training of police officers in this special
field which included sensitivity training and efficient collection
of data to be used to apprehend the suspect.
But if a
woman got through the ordeals of the hospital and the police,
what then happened in the courts could be even more detrimental
to her. Women were afraid to press charges because their lives
were examined and the women were made out to be loose women who
were "asking for it" -- by the audacity of the way they
had been dressed or had acted, or if they were not virgins. The
victims were made out to be the criminals. The women were represented
by state's attorneys who might be well-meaning but were inexperienced,
had no special training in rape cases, and, as one young man told
me: "I have only ten minutes to interview my client before
I have to enter the court." That particular incident involved
a teen-aged young woman from the Phillipines who had been gang-raped.
Her culture did not allow her to use the necessary legal language
which described rape. On that basis, the judge could have said
there was no "probable cause" and dismissed it. But
he looked at the young woman, looked around the courtroom (a row
of women sat there observing) and said: "There is clearly
something happening in our society; I am going to find "probable
cause".) Yes, there were people who "got it" and
On the other
hand, there were others who clearly didn't "get it".
Paulette was a young, African American woman, who went into a
bar one night because she felt like dancing. (It seems to me that
the issue of the way she dressed was raised at this time, but
no details come back). Four men in the bar raped her. The Chicago
court room was large and full. Judge (Dunn) called in the four
young men and included, in his remarks, that "boys will be
boys". I remember gasping and standing up in shock and saw,
from the corners of my eyes, court police coming over to seat
hosted a noon show in Chicago and I appeared on her program. Something
was triggered in Ms. Phillips and she became very involved in
the issue. She made a film "The Rape of Paulette". (Wish
I had a copy)
to go to court as lay advocates, both to give moral support to
women who chose to prosecute, and to monitor that all legal roads
possible were pursued.
going to the home of a woman on the south side of Chicago. Approximately
seven women were present that afternoon. We sat in a circle and
one by one the women told their horror stories. One woman was
walking into her building after a day of work -- a man was standing
by her mail box and he raped her. She was too embarrassed to tell
her husband and daughter. After that, she walked her teen-aged
daughter to school each day. When we went to our respective cars,
she asked if she could walk me. I was concerned about HER
this conservative, rather shy, quiet woman, carefully opened her
purse to show me a Saturday night special
. Which she carried
with her at all times!
young woman was not there because she, her husband and baby, had
moved to Canada. She had gone out for milk early one morning,
carrying her baby. A man forced her back into her apartment, raped
her in front of the baby, slit her throat, and left her for dead.
She was a nurse, and obviously was able to control the bleeding
sufficiently to save her life. She was too traumatized to remain
the commonality that had brought these women together? Each one
had identified the same man. When we confronted the state's attorney
handling the case with these facts, he said it was a case of "mistaken
. And, since the court system was (is?) set
up to introduce only one case at a time, with no reference to
other rapes and victims, the jury would never know that this was
indeed NOT a case of mistaken identity, but rather a miscarriage
suggested that the state's attorneys might try to come up with
some creative ways to somehow put this menace behind bars, we
were treated with some hostility
i.e., how dare we question
their handling of the case??
we were heard. Some state's attorneys were trained to handle this
area with expertise; many more women became involved in this aspect
of the law. Questioning a woman about her history was no longer
allowed. Defense attorneys were less likely to question what a
woman wore or how she had acted to "cause the attack".
We had a
rape crisis line on the north side and the calls we received were
learning experiences for us. We found out what women wanted and
needed. We listened and we learned. We found ourselves on radio
shows and being interviewed by the press. Clearly, the time had
come for change and we were ready.
I hope this
project (the book and the website) make that very clear to young
were clearly so important to me -- how else explain the power
of these stories that can last almost thirty years?
able to talk to individuals, to groups, to press. I learned to
confront when necessary.
how empowering it can be to work for social change and to achieve
So -- if
you can get the positive message out to youth today --what an
incredible service that will be to the world!