Kate Rush Cook Speech at SlutWalk Philadelphia
I felt the hand before I saw it.
Squeezing my throat – choking me.
Gasping for air.
What is happening?
I heard his voice, “Unlock the car, I am getting in.”
His hand still on my throat, I gasped for air.
I listened and complied with his demands.
I was in fear for my life.
Every two minutes in our country, a woman is being raped.
In 1993, at the age of 20, I became a statistic. I was kidnapped, robbed and repeatedly raped by a man I had never seen before.
My story actually begins in early 1993. My best friend was killed during a high-speed police chase when the man who was being chased by the police ran a light and ran broadside into her vehicle; she was pronounced brain dead by the doctors that very morning. I felt as if my whole world had collapsed. I was devastated. Months later I was still suffering.
Six months later, my friends convinced me that I should go out for the night; I had barely been out of my house since she was killed. I was going out with some friends to an under 21 dance club and then we were planning on having a good old fashioned sleepover. I even went out and bought a new outfit for the occasion; a pair of jeans, a black camisole and a black, long-sleeved lace shirt. The night started off as we had planned and took a turn for the worse after we stopped at a friend’s house on the way home. A friend of mine was going to walk to a bar to buy some beer. I convinced him to let me drive him because it was in a bad area of town. As he entered the bar, I saw some men sitting on a nearby porch. One of the men walked past my car. [He then came from behind me] and then put his hand on my throat and started to choke me. He told me he had a gun and ordered me to unlock the doors. He entered my car and told me that if I did not do as I was told, my friend would be killed. He had me drive to a non-residential area and turn my car off. This is where my life was forever altered.
There, in my car, I was raped repeatedly. I had no bruises or scratches; I complied with his every demand because he threatened to kill me. I knew where we were and where I could run if I had a chance but I never had that chance.
This ordeal lasted for six hours. Eventually, he allowed me to dress in my jeans and my black lace shirt with no bra and told me to start the car. He told me he was going to take me somewhere he was going to kill me: he even gave me the choice of what method he would use. By the grace of God, my car did not start. We walked about 3 miles back towards the area when this horrific ordeal began, all the while introducing me as his girlfriend. Before he let me go he said, “If I had paper and a pencil, I would give you my name….Can you remember this?”
He spelled his name out for me. He told me he trusted me and let me go. I believe that he trusted me because I had talked with and reasoned with him; the police told me that I had probably saved my life by acting as I did. I realized where I was when he let me leave him and ran about a mile to my friend’s house. While I was running, the reality of what had happened to me set in. All I wanted to do was take a hot shower and scrub my body clean. The whole time he held me captive, He told me that his friends knew where I lived and if I did not do as he told me that my friends would be “taken care of”. After finding out that all of my friends were safe, they convinced me to let them call the police.
A squad car was sent to my location. The officer that arrived, I later found out, was not experienced in sexual assault cases and dealing with victims. I was taken to the hospital in the back of a police car. While the officer may not have considered it, I felt as though I was the criminal.
When I arrived at the hospital, the nurse told me if I had been home where I belonged; I would have never been raped. My then boyfriend told me I was a whore and blamed the rape on me.
In January 1994, I went to court. I was a manager in a retail clothing store, so I dressed as I would if I was going to work; a hounds-tooth plaid suit, black high heels, hair done, nails done. I was told by the DA’s office that I needed to be dressed in more” victim like clothing” for the jury. I had no idea what victim-like clothing was. I was told to wear clothing that was modest; long sleeves, turtle-necks and long skirts.
When the trial began, I was devastated by the defense’s story that they had concocted. His defense was that as a result of the death of my best friend, I had turned to drugs and prostitution to forget about her; I was a prostitute and sold myself to support my drug habit. After court concluded for the day, I went shopping for “victim like clothing” to wear for the remainder of the trial.
The trial itself is a blur to me. It was bad enough having to tell the police what happened to me. In court you have to recount the rape in excruciating detail for twelve strangers, your family and many times, the media. I was asked questions like: “Where did you buy your underwear?” and “What color were your underwear?”
The last day of the trial had arrived and I dressed in my victim-like clothing for court. After testimony was finished for the day, the judge called a recess for lunch. I went to lunch with my mother, my friend that had been with me the night I was raped and another friend. I remembered that my mother told a dumb joke and I laughed at it.
I will NEVER forget that last day. I came to the courthouse dressed in my “victim-like” clothing, as directed by the District Attorney’s office. I was wearing cream and tan pinstriped pants, a cream turtleneck and a cream crocheted sweater with my long hair pulled up on the sides. The joke of the day was that if I had glasses, I would look like a librarian.
During the trial, I was using a locked employee’s bathroom because I had been attacked by my rapist’s family members the first day of the trial. After lunch that last day, I was in the bathroom with my mother. Closing arguments were to start after lunch and I was a bundle of nerves. I was crying and my mother was comforting me. She told me, “After today, you won’t have to wear these librarian clothes anymore. You can go back to wearing your funky clothes and being Katie.” During the course of these events, a woman entered the bathroom. She used the bathroom, washed her hands and left the restroom without giving us a second glance. When we re-entered the courtroom, I saw the woman from the bathroom speaking in hushed tones with the defense attorney.
When court reconvened, I was called to the witness stand again. The defense attorney asked me about using the locked bathroom and the conversation that I had with my mother. The conversation was twisted around to give it a different connotation. I was asked if I knew the woman from the bathroom, which I did not. He asked me if she had been in the bathroom when I had been in there, I answered yes. He said, “so you know her?”; I answered just because I saw her in the bathroom does not mean that I know her. I was dismissed from the witness stand without so much as question from the District Attorney or a comment from the judge. The woman from the bathroom was then called to the stand. She recounted her version of the story which was twisted and made it sound as if I was not telling the truth. Closing arguments were given and the jury was charged. Forty five minutes later, the jury acquitted my rapist of all charges. My rapist looked back at me and laughed.
It was later that I found out that the bathroom lady’s comment called MY credibility into question with the jury. In actuality, that line of questioning was meant to imply that I was not dressing as I normally dressed, which was true. However, the issue of my clothing should not have played a role in determining if I was in fact raped. It is a stereo-type that women who dress provocatively, or slutty, are just asking to be raped. What happened to me during my trial perpetuates this stereo-type. In addition, two of the jurors had seen me laugh at lunch; they felt that if I had truly been victimized, I would not have been laughing.
I share this with you so you can understand that even though strides have been made to improve the field of victims’ rights, there is still a huge stigma surrounding victims of rape and sexual assault. This is the only crime where the victim feels as if they have to prove their innocence. When I reported my rape, I never believed that I would have to prove that my story was true or that I had to justify my actions. I had to answer questions like, “Did you scream?”, “Did you try to get away?”, “Did you fight him off?” Robbery victims would never be asked such questions.
I believe in order for change to happen, our society needs to view rape as the crime of violence that it is and hold the RAPISTS responsible; not make the victims justify their actions or defend the way they were dressed. As a community, we need to support victims when they report the crime. We need to aid these women in their journey from victim to survivor. Finally I would like to say that, as a society we need to abolish this archaic belief that the way a woman dresses contributes to the violence that is perpetrated against her. No one asks to be the victim of sexual violence… no one.
Kate Rush Cook, August 6, 2011
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US