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Ambiguous rape, definite victims

Sheila Flynn | Monday, September 1, 2003

The word “rape” – in our society, our justice system, our media world – is nearly synonymous with “ambiguity.”

Unlike other crimes, such as murder or burglary, rape cases are almost never clear-cut. A fine line exists between an offense and a human behavior, and that fine line makes it very possible to turn a case into a he-said/she-said fiasco. Very often, there is no substantial evidence, and questions arise about whether or not there even is a victim. And “victim” is very often another ambiguous catch-phrase in a rape trial, as the defense claims a man is being victimized by false accusations while the prosecution fumes that the woman is a victim of a violent and horrific crime.

But no one ever talks about the other victims permanently scarred by rape trials – and they are there, behind the scenes.

The victim’s father and Abram Elam’s parents and step-father spent five days sitting in a court room, listening to graphic, detailed accounts of the incident. At various points throughout the trial, the woman’s father shook physically, covering his face with his hands as rape counselors attempted to comfort him. Elam’s parents read the Bible during the trial and his mother often sat bent over, with her head in her hands.

Elam’s father and mother, who have already lost two children to gunshot wounds in separate incidents, had to hear their son – a hometown hero and remarkable success story, up to this point – pronounced guilty of sexual battery. They didn’t lose him to guns, but they may lose him to jail.

The parents, almost never discussed, will never recover. They will always wonder how this could have happened, why this happened and what they could have done to prevent it.

And then there are the jurors. They knew that their verdict could forever brand the woman a liar or the man a sex offender. Their decisions, they knew, would dictate the fate of not just the defendant, but also the alleged victim. And that is probably what prompted the tears that several jurors shed when the verdicts were read. Their faces fallen, they emerged from deliberations emotionally shaken.

During the hype of a rape trial, these victims are not usually considered. The weight of the final decision on the parents, the jurors – the pain the families feel – these aspects do not necessarily make headlines. But these are the results of rape, the crime, and rape, the accusation. Rape may be ambiguous in nature and difficult to prove, but, in the end, it doesn’t matter. The victims, without a doubt, are there. And they are numerous.