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“Next Time” Already Happened

March 28, 2013

If you read this blog, it’s likely you already picked up on the Torrington, CT story.  There’s a longer treatment here.  There are similarities — football players, rape and online bullying of the victim(s).  But there are critical differences.  First, both of the girls here are just 13 years of age; and second, this is coming out after the Steubenville trial and national conversation.

Some things will be different.  I think it is less likely that the defense will try to drag the victims through the mud.  Mostly, as a legal matter it won’t do them much good.  In Connecticut, it’s a Class B felony for a person more than three years older to have intercourse with a person between thirteen and sixteen; the story says the players were 18 and 17; the 18 year olds I would think will be charged as adults, and the 17 year olds may (I don’t know Connecticut juvenile procedure well enough to discuss the possibilities intelligently).  But the ages alone make out Class B felonies; to not go to prison, they’ll need to raise a reasonable doubt as to the fact of intercourse, which is a lot tougher than raising a reasonable doubt as to consent. 

Still, the Steubenville trial was a bench trial, before a judge who wasn’t swayed by attempts to portray the victim as a drunken slut; juries seem shockingly willing to be persuaded by that.

In terms of basic moral expectations, too, one would think this case presents an extremely low bar.  Don’t have sex with a thirteen year old.  Even if she jumps up and down and says she wants to.  Because she’s thirteen.  We have statutory rape laws for a reason, and while maturity varies, there is no viable alternative to having a numerical limit, so that’s what we have.  There’s number, when in doubt, it’s on the older person to verify, with absolutely no tolerance for error, and so it should be.

I say this presents a low bar, and there’s nothing to talk about, but then people make excuses for Roman Polanski.  Samantha Geimer was 13 also.  And she didn’t jump up and down and say she wanted it; even though he got her alone at Jack Nicholson’s house and plied her with booze and a quaalude, she still said no.  And he forced her.  And even after all that, people who appear otherwise sensible say utterly ridiculous things in his defense.  So there’s no depth of victim blaming some people won’t stoop to, if the rapist is important enough to them.

Still, I confess, I am a grim and qualified optimist, and I believe what Dr. King said, that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  The next time always happens; until it doesn’t, and maybe the way this one is handled will be just a little less sickening to watch than the last.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. March 28, 2013 11:30 am

    I read the article on Whoopi, and it appears tome that what she is doing is excusing the rapist. I want to make clear that I think that is wrong and reprehensible. But in the very next sentence you used the term victim blaming. I read nothing of the kind. Is excusing a rapist (which again is still wrong) automatically victim blaming? Are you getting a little too trigger happy with your rhetoric there?

    • March 28, 2013 11:52 am

      I said she said utterly ridiculous things in his defense. That is correct. The next sentence is a different sentence.

  2. syrbal permalink
    March 28, 2013 11:59 am

    Reblogged this on herlander-walking.

  3. March 28, 2013 12:53 pm

    “We have statutory rape laws for a reason, and while maturity varies, there is no viable alternative to having a numerical limit, so that’s what we have.”

    I don’t see why that needs to be the case. We have a presumption that adults can consent to sex. But that presumption is rebuttable for instance in the case of severe mental illness. So why could we not similarly have a rebuttable presumption that children cannot consent to sex?

    “There’s number, when in doubt, it’s on the older person to verify, with absolutely no tolerance for error, and so it should be.”

    I don’t see why this needs to be a strict liability issue instead of a negligence standard. I see the point of such laws as being to protect people under the age of consent from being taken advantage of by people who have power over them. (Adults have power over children if anything because social norms mandate that children follow instructions given by an adult.) If that is the goal, it seems to me that strict liability is going too far. We should incentivize people to take reasonable steps (What is reasonable would depend upon a lot.) to verify the age of the person they are about to have sex with. A negligence standard would achieve that goal.

    • March 28, 2013 3:05 pm

      Because the alternative is, basically, to invite the adult’s defense lawyer to prove what a slut the underage girl was. I will not support that. And if you think that’s not how it would go, then you are completely unrealistic and not worth talking to.

      • March 28, 2013 3:45 pm

        I’m not sure to which of my two statements you are responding with this. I’m just going to assume you are giving me the same response to both. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.

        I think you may be partially right that this would be a strategy adopted by the defense in at least some cases. However, while I can see how such a strategy might be effective in getting the jury to find consent, (I’m assuming that what goes through the jury’s head is that promiscuity is evidence of giving consent willy-nilly.) I don’t see how it would be effective in getting the jury to find that either 1) the perpetrator had a reasonable belief (or something similar under a negligence standard) that the victim was above a certain age or 2) that the victim had sufficient maturity to be able to legally consent.

        Also, while I certainly don’t want to support anyone attempting to paint underage rape victims as sluts, I do not want to withhold from anyone their legitimate right to consent to sex. I also do not want to throw in jail people who had no reasonable way of knowing that their actions were illegal.

      • March 28, 2013 4:17 pm

        If you are a defense lawyer defending an adult accused of sleeping with a minor, and you can defend on a basis of sufficient maturity, you can try to prove that the young person was studying differential calculus and wrote letters to the school board and the local paper, which will make the complainant seem sympathetic, or you can show the complainant’s sexual sophistication with questions about online interactions, porn use and prior sexual experiences, which has the dual effect of showing sexual maturity and also, where the complainant is a woman in a misogynist culture, making her look like a bad girl, who deserved it. That’s how it would go, just about every time. Look at the way people attack minors that grown men have sex with — usually by saying that she wasn’t a virgin, she had sex before, maybe a lot … So that’s what would happen. And I’m not willing to encourage that result.

        I don’t think the law should recognize the consent of a minor to have sex with a much older person, because of the power differential — the inherent power differential that an adult has over a child. We recognize that sometimes stated consent is void; people who are very drunk cannot give valid consent for example. Minors cannot consent to a lot of things; they’re often not bound by contracts without a parent or guardian.

        So I am for strict liability. If a thirteen year old is jumping up and down begging to get fucked by an adult, the adult has a legal obligation to say no, and if they fail that under any circumstances, I want that to be a felony. End of story.

      • March 28, 2013 4:59 pm

        Fair enough… I suppose the tactic might be more effective than I thought.

        Nevertheless, I don’t think you can point at the power differential and call that the end of the story. There are many cases of power differentials which do not obviate consent.

        For instance, as an immigrant who depended upon my wife for my visa, she had the power to get me deported by divorcing me. Nowadays, I make significantly more money than she does and so I could by divorcing make her income drop by close to 80%. Both of these cases involve huge power differentials. Yet, I would object to the characterization that this power differential meant that I could not have consented to sex with her back then, and that she cannot consent to sex with me today.

        Power differentials can clearly be manipulated in ways which can negate consent. Furthermore, if one is not careful, one can inadvertently or negligently create a situation where consent cannot be freely exchanged. But I think it’s a mistake to say that the power differential inherently makes it impossible for an adult and a child to freely exchange consent. It’s probably just much harder.

  4. March 28, 2013 2:43 pm

    For the record, when Goldberg said that Polanski’s crime wasn’t “‘rape’ rape” she was specifically referring to the guilty verdict. As the result of a plea agreement, Polanski plead guilty only to unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. It was obvious from the full conversation that Goldberg had no doubt Polanski raped Geimer.

    • March 28, 2013 3:03 pm

      No, you’re wrong. She was not merely arguing that he plead to statutory rather than forcible rape. If you watch the clip, she only concedes that he sexually penetrated a thirteen year old. She makes an aside asserting (falsely, as I understand it) that Polanski and Geimer had has sex before, and basically says that it was just statutory and it isn’t like he really raped her. Even though he gave her alcohol and an quaalude. Even though Geimer said no and Polanski used force, which Whoopi avoids because she either doesn’t think it’s true or knows it destroys her argument. So you are wrong and full of fail.

  5. March 28, 2013 6:14 pm

    Talking about rape is hard. Being rational about what is so emotional is difficult. Being objective in a dialogue about trauma is challenging for survivors of trauma. I desperately want to see our societies and cultures learn to genuinely value women, and support and heal rape victims of any gender. I don’t know how to see past my own pain to say constructive things to contribute to the changes I want to see. I don’t want to be raped again. I want to live in a world where rape victims are treated with compassion for that painful experience – regardless of how they dress, where they were, whether they were intoxicated, or any other detail typically used to excuse or justify the experience they’ve gone through. I want to know that parents teach their sons explicitly and by example than consent isn’t just important – that it is necessary.

    I read your posts. I try not to be touched to the point of hurting all over again. I fail, I fail hard, because what you are saying is real, and I am hearing you. I want so much to thank you because these are things that need to be said. Discourse is ok too – but god damn it fucking hurts when some of that discourse is suggesting that rape isn’t what it is, or that there is some way to overlook the pain.

    Please keep writing about it. Let’s keep talking about it. I can cry more later, I seem to make plenty of tears.

  6. March 29, 2013 12:14 am

    Part of the reason it happened again, and so soon, is because it have been happening all along–every weekend, all over the country.

    But also, because of the publicity, there are those who want their own 15 minutes of (in)fame(y) and will stop at nothing to be the one everyone talks about–particularly when so much of the commentary excuses the rapists, blames the victim, and basically encourages onlookers and “friends” to either remain silent or join in the mob denigrating, humiliating and dehumanizing the victim.

  7. March 29, 2013 3:11 pm

    I hope Dr King was right. 😦


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