The Non-Existent Laws for Sexual Assault Survivors

Larry Nasser is the perfect example of privilege winning for so long in the justice system. He had the perfect formula: He was a well-respected doctor in esteemed programs like USA Gymnastics and the Olympics. He also had the privilege of being a male. This case is a classic example of injustice; many girls spoke out about Nasser’s behavior, which resulted in no legal action for nearly twenty years. He got away with assault for so long because people did not believe the victims. The laws taking sexual assault survivors seriously simply are not there. They have never been there. In fact, dating as far back as to the Code of Hammurabi, there are no concrete laws protecting sexual assault survivors from their attackers. Ultimately, our legal system reflects the Code of Hammurabi by failing to establish laws that protect and encourage women to seek justice for their sexual assault experiences.

            No laws in the Code of Hammurabi mention any protection for women if they are sexually assaulted, which reinforces their silence. Unfortunately, there are very few laws that protect women in general. One of the only laws in the Code of Hammurabi that mentions the legal action for a woman wanting to leave her husband is rule 141, which states:

If a man’s wife, dwelling in his house, has decided to leave, has been guilty of

dissipation, has wasted her house, and has neglected her husband, then she shall

be prosecuted. If her husband says she is divorced, he shall let her go her way;

he shall give another women, and that [first] woman shall remain a slave in the

house of her husband. (Hammurabi 5)

According to law 141, they were either going to remain a slave in their husband’s home or be prosecuted. Women had no rights outside of their husbands or fathers. Because the consequences for wanting to leave a marriage were extremely repressive, this law forces women to be silent and stay in a relationship that is not working for her. The idea of a women speaking out against a male sexually assault her was a concept that was not even considered in the Code of Hammurabi because of how silenced women already were in society. They were not taken seriously, which is an idea that has transcended into today’s society and can explain why there are still no laws helping sexual assault survivors.  

            While today’s laws allow for women to seek divorces that do not end in enslavement, women still feel like they have no voice when it comes to speaking out about their sexual assault. The only reason Nasser’s case was heard was because a girl came forward to a neutral media outlet, causing a cascade of girls to report Nasser’s behavior. It is powerful, yet sad, to see it took a nation-wide movement and a collective voice of roughly three hundred women to imprison one man. People who self-report their assault have never been taken seriously until recently, and this case supports the idea that change is coming. Unfortunately, while there are no laws that allow one predictor to be indicted because of one account of sexual assault, Nasser’s case made a statement to all that women are establishing their voice amongst the legal system.

Krystyna Bartocci

Word Count: 559

2 thoughts on “The Non-Existent Laws for Sexual Assault Survivors

  1. I agree with the relation of the code to present times and understand your frustration with this whole situation. First and foremost, I have watched a documentary on this USA gymnastics case. It was hard to watch simply because the man got away with his evil crimes for so long, and the fact that no one would listen to the women who spoke up was very sad. The women had no hope when it came to the system dealing with this case. It took so much more effort to make people pay attention to this case. As you mentioned, this unfair treatment of women can be seen in the laws dating back to the code of Hammurabi. However, there has been changes made over time and women’s voices are being listened to without women having to put forth extra effort. With time, the divided will shrink, but will the playing field ever be equal due to people’s small mindedness?

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  2. I agree that laws protecting victims of sexual assault have perpetuated a culture that silences survivors and discourages them from coming forward for fears of the ricocheting effects on one’s career. Not only does Law 141 that you referenced from Hammurabi’s code discourage divorce, but it completely neglects to acknowledge cases of domestic abuse and only frames the law in which the woman is at fault. The law’s wording blames the woman by default when it states, “If a man’s wife … has been guilty of dissipation, has wasted her house, and has neglected her husband.” The possibility of a scenario involving domestic violence is not recognized in the slightest. This same attitude has sustained in today’s society, but the consequences are exponentially worse. Our country’s gun laws have failed to protect women from gun violence in their own homes. Once again, we are seeing our laws fail to protect women at risk.

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