Monday, November 24, 2014

Rape Culture: Courtroom Edition

Reporting for jury duty – and then, possibly, serving on a jury – is a civic duty, an honor and a privilege, and most of the time, a huge pain in the ass.

And sometimes, it just so happens that a case touches a raw nerve.

Last week I was called up as a potential juror on a civil case that would've run through December 5. This would've been very bad for my day job, and done extremely evil things to my budget.

But worse was yet to come.

As my pool of jurors was being screened, the judge (who was kinda hot, as was one of the defense attorneys, even if he was on the side of Evil) told us we were there for a sequel. In Part One, A woman had sued her former employer, a Big Corporation, for wrongful termination and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

I knew a little something about that, because about a decade ago, I went through something similar. After working for an employer for about ten years, my supervisor because erratic and verbally abusive, spewing off at me (and other employees) whenever she was in a foul mood; marking down my performance reviews (after a spotless record) for turning in projects late (which was a lie), and other fabrications to make me look bad, because...? So puzzling, because once, we'd actually had a good rapport  and working relationship between us; I had thought of her as friend-ish, if not exactly a friend.

I developed upper back problems, and tendonitis in both wrists, as a result of long hours at extremely unergonomic work stations, and had gained weight from all the stress. Which added another dimension to my supervisor's insults; she had once been on the overweight side herself, and I don't think a day went by in that last year, when she failed to make a derogatory comment about fat people.

After I was terminated, I was shellshocked, probably Depressed, frantic about bills and rent, in so much physical pain I could NOT work for several weeks. After consulting a shrink and a doctor, I found some lawyers, who informed me that while I could pursue legal action for the wrongful termination and hostile work environment, I was better off going for recovery for physical injuries, because intentional infliction of emotional distress was almost impossible to prove in court

I did not regain any emotional equilibrium for well over a year. Possibly longer. In hindsight, I wonder if I would've been more alert to the red flags in my now ex-boyfriend's behavior, if the earlier issues with my former employer had not still clouded my judgment.

Back to present day - This woman, who'd worked for Big Corporation for 20+ years, had sued for the deliberate harassment she'd endured in her last year, and she had won her case. Despite the fact that, lawyer-power-wise, she was totally outgunned. Despite the fact that intentional infliction of emotional distress was so very difficult to prove in court. Her jury found that the Big Corporation had deliberately made her life a living hell, trying to mess up her mind and emotions.

And then they fired her after they succeeded.

Gotta love the old school sinks. Scalding hot water on the left, ice cold water on the right.
I just wanted to wash my hands in WARM water.

And What, Exactly, Does Any of This Have To Do With Rape Culture, You Ask?

Or maybe you didn't, but I will tell you anyway.

As I'm sitting there, listening to the other (mostly male) jurors being questioned by the different attorneys, what I hear coming from most of their mouths sounds bizarre to me.

  • How subjective emotional injury is.
  • How suing people has gotten carried away, how everybody is looking for a big payout, and it isn't like they cut off a foot or something.
  • If she was being treated so badly, why didn't she leave?

Remember, the Victim has already proven in a court of law that the Big Corporation intentionally inflicted emotional distress on her, and fired her. She's not the bad guy here.

On the one hand, we have Big Corporation intentionally behaving badly. On the other, we have a Victim, who'd done her job well for over two decades. And instead of being mad as hell at the aggressor, at the guilty party, people are passing judgments and talking smack... about the Victim. WTF?!?

This is rape culture in action. Just as people have blamed high school girls for getting too drunk and suffering rape, as people ask why Bill Cosby's accusers didn't bring their stories up earlier, it seems whenever we are uncomfortable with an act of overt or covert violence against another human being, we hurry to brush it off as the victim's fault, somehow.

If we just don't do that thing that s/he did, then we can be safe.

Only it doesn't work that way.

This Can Happen To Any of Us

We can do everything right, and still be a victim of rape or harassment. Or, maybe we are not perfect, but we still do most of the things we should, and still face arbitrary violence or aggression, just because.

I wish I could say I’d gone all Jimmy Stewart on the court, stood up and made one of those grand movie speeches, about rape culture and how horrific it is for big Corporations to deliberately torture their employees, and how, yes, Virginia, emotional distress can lead to physical ailments, but I wasn’t nearly so eloquent. Partly because I'd begun suffering an almost-panic attack as I emotionally relived all the ugliness I'd gone through. Yes, a couple times a year I still have nightmares about that place, over ten years later, even though I have a great life and fabulous job now.

I did make it clear that I think big Corporations shouldn’t merely get a slap on the wrist when they condone abuse of their employees, but that it should hurt. And then, just maybe they won’t keep on deliberately mind-fucking their employees.  Otherwise, as long as it's more cost-effective for them, they'll keep on doing it.

However, I was afraid I’d get in trouble for using the term mind-fucking in a court of law, and I couldn’t think of a more appropriate term. (Obviously, I still can’t.)

I would've given the Plaintiff a boatload of money.

I did whisper "Good luck" to her after, it will not surprise you, I was dismissed from the jury.

I did soothe myself that day with two delicious treats: something hot and tantalizing (meeting a new man!), and something cold and sweet (Dreamsicle, yum!).

First Dreamsicle in years, and I enjoyed it
to the last bite!

Do you see what I mean about rape culture?
Have you ever sat on a jury?
Your thoughts?