Originally published in December, 2016
content warning: sexual assault, police, swearing, big emotions,
ugly humanity, broken bits, honesty, the president
Due process: fair treatment through the normal judicial system, especially as a citizen’s entitlement.
Due Process Step One
Tell someone. This person may be yourself. Often you are the first person you tell.
If you are young, you may tell yourself after a book, or a flyer in your school, or an episode of Degrassi confirms that the tearing and ripping inside of you is not an anomaly, but a reaction.
There will be an overt message that you are not alone in numbers, but one thousand subtle messages that you are probably alone regardless.
If you are an adult, telling yourself can happen during the assault, or just after, or years later. It can happen when you do that math inside your head that says if I scream he will kill me or if I just make it to the end it will be over and she will leave. Math is a process. Math figures out how much more they have to weigh than you to hold you down. It’s not that much. It figures out how damaged you have to be to be believed without being so damaged that you are not believed. This window is infinitesimal.
It is not fair that this is how you must talk to yourself, but neither is it judicial, so we will move past this step.
Due Process Step Two
Tell another someone. Maybe a friend, perhaps using code words.
There is a fair chance that the person you tell will not believe you. They may explain to you, kindly or not, that it was your fault. This blame is not about you. It is about constructing a safe cocoon of control that says I would not have made those choices, so it will not happen to me or I did something similar once and I am not a villain.
They may believe you, but since they have spent a lifetime watching dashing heroes on film win love by hands-over-ears ignoring no and stop and I mean stop, they will wonder if it isn’t just the way things are. This is also not fair.
Now that you have told someone, you are drifting into the judicial. Everyone you tell, even your diary or your mother, can be called upon later to testify. That’s the process.
Maybe it’s better to say nothing at all, and to smile in pictures at picnics, but then, those pictures may also be called to testify.
Anyone/thing you tell is likely to come back at you. This article could come back at me. Every time we speak, we give a piece of ourselves to that process that we cannot take back with honest words. Words are not proof.
Due Process Step Three
Tell the police. We use ‘the’ with police because everyone knows what you mean. No need to give qualifiers, adjectives. They are the police. The police with candies at parades and dirty looks when you walk in groups with other people from school. The police who, perhaps, look more like your assailant than you. The police may not be safe or effective to tell if you are not yet a citizen, or if your skin is Black or Brown, or if your family has lived here for thousands of years and has survived a genocide. This may also be true if you are not of one assigned gender and attracted, exclusively, to another, if you are poor, if you are disabled, neurodivergent, or just different. If you live in more than one of these identities, it is even less safe and effective.
If you make it to this step, it is here that the process part of due process comes due. You are one of roughly six out of one hundred survivors. The rest need to stop at or before step one or step two.
Here, you sit in a room, or curl up in a ball in a room, or pretend you are not in a room, and try to take something that is bigger than any part of you and break it down small enough that it will fit on a piece of paper that can go in a file in a drawer, or on a computer, and maybe turn into fair treatment in the judicial system.
If this outcome were common, there would be more than six of you. It is not common. Numbers show that. Stories show that. Our arms, and our medications, and our nervous ticks show that.
Due Process Step Four
There are two ways this step in the process can go. You may find, like I did — like a fall from a high height that lands you square on your back — that the last step takes all the wind out of you. It is okay if your process ends there. You are allowed to end your process where you must.
If you proceed, the next step involves lawyers. Lawyers are people who went to school for a very long time to study a system created before most folks could vote or own property or avoid being property. An apple tree can grow a thousand ways, but it is still an apple tree. Until we plant something new, this is our only apple tree. This apple tree sucks. People will tell you to have faith in it. They may point to new branches that have grown since you were considered a person. They may say that the roots are strong enough to maintain us through change. That is bullshit.
Only one out of sixty-five of us will see fruit from this tree and that fruit is often small and full of worms. Have I lost you? Anyone who tells you that you should not have feelings about your assailant or someone else’s until due process is served is choosing not to see that, no matter how nobly an idea may grow, it is only by its fruit that we can truly judge it. There is no fucking fruit.
Due Process Step Five
Some people may think that the previous step is the last one in the process, but there is another. This is a step we take when we’ve exhausted one of the previous steps and found that, no matter what the promise of fairness is, the social contract we have signed has crap clauses. It has the clause that wealthy people, and famous people, and popular people, (and really any people), can succeed despite what they do to us. They can be free. They can be loved. They can be president. It has a clause that says we are to stay very, very silent, no matter what happens, unless the due process tree gives us grand, ripe fruit.
They do not point out the very small text that says it rarely does, except when attractive and convincing humans with pristine pasts and no scars point at very mean looking humans and say, “It was them!”
So what do we do? We hold our hand to our mouth and with a theater aside, we whisper our stories in quiet spaces. We write maudlin poetry and carve lyrics on our bellies. We cry when we masturbate and flinch at gentle touches. We sometimes throw the contract out and shout and shout and shout, only to be met, finally, by a two words that I can no longer bear: