Days after being abducted and raped, two Antelope Valley teens went on national television.
As cameras rolled, Tamara Brooks, 16, and Jackie Marris, 17, told of being tied with duct tape and rope, of their drunken captor loading his gun and threatening their lives. They described how they later attacked him, one girl stabbing him in the neck and the other smashing his face with a whiskey bottle. They spoke of watching their captor die in a shootout with sheriff’s deputies.
Critics harpooned the girls’ parents for allowing the NBC “Today” show interview and being dazzled by a chance at celebrity rather than focusing on the recovery of their children. But experts say the TV appearance points to a shift in how people view the victims of sexual assault.
The stigma, they say, is not what it used to be. The girls’ appearance marks a new attitude of empowerment, the sense that they have no cause for shame.
“Twenty years ago, no one talked about rape,” said Marie Lena, president of People Against Rape. “We’ve gone from ‘Don’t talk’ to ‘Stand up and talk.’ ”
In general, people are more open to talking about sex, said clinical sexologist Ava Cadell…
This loosening up, she said, also included thornier topics such as sexual assault. “In my work with rape victims, it’s no longer as taboo as it was. Women don’t have the guilt and shame that they did. And people are not pointing fingers saying, ‘It’s your fault.’ ”
This year’s highly publicized accusations against priests may also be contributing to an environment in which it is easier for victims to reveal their experience, said Tamara Kreinin, president of the Sexuality Information and Education Council.
“When there are a series of cases, people are more comfortable talking and feeling supported by society,” Kreinin said. “When something is talked about a lot, a social norm of support is created.”
In the past, most women did not report being raped, experts said. They wouldn’t tell family members or police because they felt the crime cast doubt on their integrity and intentions. Even 20 years ago, many people still viewed rape victims as women whose behavior or attire elicited sexual assault.
Today, rape is seen as a crime “not of passion but of anger, control and domination,” Lena said. The antidote is to restore a sense of safety, power and trust. Over the years, the notion that speaking out is both empowering and therapeutic has gained momentum.
Not surprisingly, TV news and talk shows are happy to comply. Getting exclusive interviews from victims has become big business. Bookers for TV shows often tell victims they will feel better.
Those involved with treatment of rape victims disagree. “Talking in a therapy relationship is different than being on national television,” said Gail Abarbanel, director of the Rape Treatment Center at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center.
They told Katie Couric, Today show’s interviewer, about their abduction, their struggle with their captor and their rescue. But there was one word they never uttered: Rape. Nor did Couric.
“What’s significant is they’re not talking about the one part of the crime that no one wants to talk about,” Abarbanel said.
Rape remains an underreported crime, she said. One in six women is the victim of a rape or attempted rape, Abarbanel said. Of those, 16% are reported to police, she estimated. The statistics, she said, indicate the stigma many victims still attach to the crime. “Always behind silence is a sense of shame.”
The teens’ appearance on national television shows progress, said Nancy Raine, author of “After Silence: Rape and My Journey Back.” “In an ideal world, all [rape] survivors would love it if this was a crime like all other crimes, where if it came up that you’d been raped, it would not plunge the listener into silence and discomfort.”
Others said the TV interview is evidence that victims were becoming emboldened. “Increasingly, women are unwilling to be silent victims,” said Linden Gross, author of “Surviving a Stalker.”