I Am Jane Doe

Candice Bernd

On the driz­zly, over­cast morn­ing of Thurs­day, July 28, 15 activists gath­ered out­side the Cook Coun­ty Cour­t­house in Chica­go to send a clear mes­sage: “I am Jane Doe.” The Jane Doe in ques­tion was a recent rape vic­tim who decid­ed to remain anony­mous, though the dec­la­ra­tion was one of sol­i­dar­i­ty with all such vic­tims. The demon­stra­tion was orga­nized to coin­cide with the first sta­tus hear­ing of Paul Clav­i­jo and Juan Vasquez, two Chica­go police offi­cers charged with sex­u­al­ly assault­ing a woman while on duty on March 30. The woman was walk­ing home fol­low­ing a long night of drink­ing and argu­ing with a friend. She was cry­ing when the offi­cers pulled up along­side her and offered a ride home. In the woman’s law­suit, she alleges the offi­cers told her she could not sit in the back seat, but made her to sit in Clavijo’s lap. The 22-year-old Jane Doe’s blood-alco­hol con­tent was test­ed at .38, near­ly five times the legal lim­it, but the offi­cers decid­ed to dri­ve to a liquor store after pick­ing her up. While one of the offi­cers was inside the store, the woman was sex­u­al­ly assault­ed in the marked SUV. After reach­ing her apart­ment, they played a game of strip pok­er, and the woman was again sex­u­al­ly assault­ed. She began to bang on the walls hop­ing to awak­en her neigh­bor. She screamed and ran out of her apart­ment when anoth­er neigh­bor saw her and called the police. Defense attor­neys are tot­ing the typ­i­cal vic­tim-blam­ing line—the encoun­ters were con­sen­su­al. Pros­e­cu­tors and activists say the woman was too drunk to con­sent and was clear­ly tak­en advan­tage of.
“We’ve been talk­ing about ways to fight the cul­ture of impuni­ty that sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly tries to deny the legit­i­ma­cy of any rape case, and tries to jus­ti­fy rape,” fem­i­nist activist and orga­niz­er Cas­san­dra Ave­nat­ti said. Ave­nat­ti has been tak­ing part in orga­niz­ing meet­ings of Chica­go Activists against Police Sex­u­al Vio­lence, a coali­tion force unit­ed for Jane Doe. Thurs­day morning’s demon­stra­tion was their first action, with more still to come. The Chica­go case came on the heels of a stun­ning­ly sim­i­lar police sex­u­al assault case in New York, reflect­ing an ugly trend of abuse of pow­er amid a still-rag­ing war on women. The two offi­cers involved in that case were acquit­ted of rape in May, once again val­i­dat­ing just how hard it is to defeat the rape cul­ture that stig­ma­tizes women who speak out. This evolv­ing trend, from the Assange accusers to the DSK maid (who chose to iden­ti­fy her­self recent­ly to counter increas­ing scruti­ny) to cas­es of preda­to­ry police, is part of the rea­son the coali­tion is so fired-up to work around this issue. Ave­nat­ti is unique­ly posi­tioned to speak up about police rap­ing women as a for­mer sex work­er. She was involved in sex work while liv­ing in Mia­mi, and said some of her friends in the indus­try were reg­u­lar­ly sub­ject­ed to bru­tal­iza­tion by police. “The cops will say ‘I’m going to take you to jail or you’re going to give me a blow job,’” she said. Ave­nat­ti became rad­i­cal­ized as a fem­i­nist activist after her expe­ri­ence there. With laws pop­ping up in state leg­is­la­tures across the coun­try seek­ing to soft­en the def­i­n­i­tion of rape to only include that which is “forcible,” the idea of con­sent is once again being tak­en up by women’s rights activists par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Slut­Walk march­es around the coun­try. Activists chant­ed one slo­gan that emerged from the Slut­Walk in front of the cour­t­house Thurs­day morn­ing: “How­ev­er we dress, wher­ev­er we go, yes means yes, no means no.” But attacks against women con­tin­ue to mount steadi­ly. In the most recent event, a Planned Par­ent­hood clin­ic in McK­in­ney, Texas, was attacked with a Molo­tov cock­tail, break­ing the glass door and start­ing a fire. Clav­i­jo is also fac­ing sex­u­al assault charges of anoth­er 26-year-old Jane Doe, the inci­dent occur­ring with­in only 19 days of the assault of the 22-year-old Jane Doe. Clav­i­jo and Vasquez’s attor­neys told Judge Flood Thurs­day they are request­ing audio and video from the Chica­go Police Depart­ment to use in court. The offi­cers are expect­ed to reap­pear in court Sep­tem­ber 9. They will be accom­pa­nied by silent activists in the court­room with name tags that read “I am Jane Doe.”
Can­dice Bernd is an edi­tor and staff reporter at Truthout. Her work has also appeared in sev­er­al oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, includ­ing The Nation, In These Times, the Texas Observ­er, Salon, Rewire.News, YES! Mag­a­zine and Earth Island Jour­nal, as well as in Truthouts anthol­o­gy on police vio­lence, Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Pro­tect? She received two awards from the San Fran­cis­co Press Club in Novem­ber 2018, and the Dal­las Peace and Jus­tice Cen­ter’s annu­al jour­nal­ism award in Decem­ber 2016. Fol­low her on Twit­ter: @CandiceBernd.
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