Joint Statement from NHCADSV and WISE regarding Gilbert Sexual Assault Verdict
To learn more about the justice system and adult female victims of sexual assault please read the 2011 Reality of Sexual Assault Report.
Today’s decision in the Dartmouth rape trial of Parker Gilbert is devastating and there is no doubt that it sends a terrible message to survivors of sexual assault. Something has got to change if we can allow a man who has no relationship with the victim to violate her in her own bed and face no consequences.
Our thoughts are primarily with the victim and her family tonight as they try and sort through all that has happened. The incredible bravery and courage she displayed throughout this grueling process is immeasurable. The amount of time and resources utilized by the defense to break her down is rarely exhibited in a case like this where so few facts are in question. The prosecutors in this case should be commended for their principled and thorough handling of this case, despite how vastly out resourced they were.
Both sides agreed that Mr. Gilbert and the victim were at best acquaintances; both sides agreed he entered her room uninvited that night, in a highly intoxicated state, and both sides agreed that he initiated sexual contact which included vaginal penetration with the victim while she was asleep.
The issue at hand is that there needs to be a cultural shift in the understanding of what constitutes sexual assault as a crime, and the complexity of victims’ reactions after the assault.
It is extremely rare for the perpetrator of a sexual assault against an adult woman to ever see the inside of a jail cell, let alone a courtroom. In 2011, the Governor’s Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence released a report titled “The Reality of Sexual Assault in New Hampshire,” according to law enforcement data from 2006 - this report found only 3% of New Hampshire offenders were known to be convicted or pled guilty.
The professionals interviewed in this report pointed to a systemic problem which is that as a whole our society endorses stereotypes about “real rape” versus “deserving victims.” To understand the impact these myths have on the successful prosecution of sexual assault cases, it is necessary to acknowledge the myths themselves. General perceptions of what constitute “real rape” characterize the assault as an act of violent, forceful penetration committed by a stranger during a surprise attack while brandishing a weapon. Typically a “real” victim is portrayed as a morally upright woman who was sober and fought back against her perpetrator. These myths persist even though statistics show the majority of women are assaulted by someone they know, and that physical injury is not common in most sexual assaults. The further away from a classic hypothetical victim a case is– the less likely the victim is to achieve justice.
Jurors’ attitudes reflect public misperception of the reality of adult female sexual assault and thus make it difficult, if not impossible, to successfully prosecute these cases. Perhaps the biggest myth present in this case is that someone could stop a rape if they wanted to. The fact is that fear, threats, and physical brutality can immobilize anyone.
We know that today’s decision will no doubt impact survivors’ decisions in reporting their crime. Ultimately it is up to each individual to decide the best way to heal in the face of what has happened to them. We encourage anyone who is in need of support after a sexual assault to contact their local crisis center and speak with a trained advocate. Their information will remain confidential and our crisis line is available any time day or night. The number is 1-800-277-5570.
While today’s verdict is no doubt a setback it is important to note that in New Hampshire there are many people at all different levels that are invested in making the system better for victims. We are going to review what happened in this case and see what we can learn for the future.