Keli Goff, 5/30/2011 [Archive]

Is There Such a Thing as a "Credible" Rape Victim?

By Keli Goff

In the last few weeks I've learned a number of valuable lessons. Among them:

1) Apparently if you are poor or powerless, you should not expect to be taken seriously if you accuse someone who is not poor or powerless of sexually assaulting you.

2) If you are intoxicated—at all—you should not expect the judicial system to take you seriously if you accuse someone of sexually assaulting you.

3) If you are worried that you are in a vulnerable state—intoxicated or otherwise—and therefore worried that you could find yourself in danger, don't call the police.

4) If you do call the police, and they take advantage of you, don't expect the judicial system to take your complaint seriously (See numbers one through three).

I would like to thank the two (former) New York police officers who were supposed to be coming to the aid of an intoxicated woman, but instead admitted to 'cuddling' with her in bed, for teaching me these valuable lessons. I'd also like to thank the jurors who acquitted them of the most serious charges they faced. And lastly, I'd like to thank the defenders of Dominique Strauss-Kahn for driving these points home through their endless efforts to trash and allegedly buy off his accuser and her family.

The mistreatment of both of these women has left me with one question: Is there such a thing as a credible rape victim? Is there any woman on the planet whose word, reputation and behavior is considered beyond reproach enough that she can accuse someone in power of assaulting her and have a real shot at being taken seriously? Or should we just save ourselves some time and just make a rule right now that only wealthy, tee-totaling nuns should be allowed to make sexual assault claims? The rest of us, should we find ourselves in harm's way, would just be out of luck.

Now before I get inundated with scolding e-mails, yes I know there are women who have made false assault claims. I find anyone who would do such a thing appalling and believe she should face serious punishment (including jail time) for doing so. But statistically we know that the pendulum tends to swing much further in the opposite direction—meaning many more sexual assaults go unreported, than go over-reported. The 'cuddle cops' case is yet another reminder why so few survivors are willing to come forward.

The best-case scenario is that police officers that were called to get a vulnerable woman home safely engaged in 'cuddling,' groping and other inappropriate physical contact with her, while she was so intoxicated that she became sick. Despite the fact that one officer was caught on tape confirming to the accuser that he used a condom, he was acquitted of rape. I'm not exactly sure what he would have needed a condom for if he didn't engage in any sexual activity with her, but I guess I wasn't in the jury room to hear how this little detail was rationalized by those who acquitted him of the rape charge.

Now I can already hear the judgments of some. 'No woman should be so intoxicated that she can't fend for herself.' Let me take this a step further and suggest that, it's probably best that no human being, male or female, should get so intoxicated that he or she can't fend for him or herself. Forget sexual assault. What about wandering into a street and getting hit by a car?

The demonization of the victim in this case is not its most disturbing legacy. The trust that these officers have destroyed between future victims, and the men and women all of us should be able to trust the most—police officers—is. While I applaud the NYPD for swiftly terminating Officers Ken Moreno and Franklin Mata for disgracing their uniforms, I fear the damage has already been done. I know I'm not the only woman who will now think twice the next time I'm alone, it's nighttime and I need help with anything, including getting home safely, and I see two male police officers.

After all, I'm not wealthy. I'm not powerful. I'm also not a nun. So chances are my word isn't worth very much.


Keli Goff is a contributing editor for, and can be reached at

This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.

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