Last year, I ran the fastest half-mile of my life — away from a man who exposed himself to me. I had been catcalled and received unsolicited “dick pics” a hundred times before — it’s become an unacceptable norm — but I had never been so close to being raped. That being said, 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men are not so lucky. Hundreds of thousands are sexually assaulted each year and then face the question: “What now?”
One of these victims is a woman* who was raped three years ago in Winnie, Texas.
After her assault, she followed protocol. Feeling ashamed and alone, she endured the rape kit procedure at the hospital and called the police to investigate. Throughout the three-year process that followed, she questioned whether she made the right choice, and she answered: My rapist will not win.
However, she didn’t have the power to make that decision. After all, cases like Bill Cosby’s and Brock Turner’s illustrate that victims of sexual assault rarely receive the justice they deserve — 994 of 1,000 perpetrators walk away scot-free.
The power to make those decisions lies with judges, if cases even make it that far. As Judge Rosemarie Aquilina proved when she delivered a “death warrant” to USA Gymnastics doctor and serial sexual assailant Larry Nassar, victims can receive justice — as long as they have the right judge.
On March 6, Texans have the opportunity to elect more judges like Aquilina in the state’s primary election. Dozens of municipal judicial seats, along with three seats on the Texas Supreme Court and three on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, will be up for election.
But before heading to the polls, we need to know how the candidates preside over sexual assault cases. For some, we can easily look online to discover whether they think the body shuts down if someone doesn’t want to have sexual intercourse, or whatever their outlandish ruling may be. For others, it’s a bit trickier to decipher.
In fact, to learn about a judge’s decisions if they’re not revealed in the news media (or through personal Twitter accounts), we have to request their records through the court offices. This means making a request in writing, paying a fee and waiting several weeks before receiving the documents. The process is daunting and infuriating, to say the least.
Elizabeth Peace, a former communications director on Capitol Hill who now works as a public affairs officer, agrees. As a result, she will be releasing a guide to the judicial process for sexual assault victims this summer — well after the Texas primaries, but before the November general election. The document, titled “#MeToo Needs a #HowTo,” will delineate the steps to de-seating judges and demanding justice.
While Peace’s guide will help us navigate the judicial system, we cannot wait until after the primary election to get justice for the woman in Winnie and other sexual assault victims. We must do more now.
We need to demand transparency from our judges instead of accepting the grueling process of requesting their court records. And, most importantly, we need to turn up the turnout at the voting booths on March 6 and in the May runoffs. Otherwise, sexual assault victims will keep enduring rape kit procedures and police investigations only to hear in the end that their rapists have won.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a #MeToo or a friend of a #MeToo — this is our #TimeTo change the outcome for sexual assault victims.
[The editor chose not to publish the victim's name.]