Monday, December 05, 2005

The Rape Narrative

One of my regular readers posted a comment about my piece on the 19-year-old young woman in Oregon who was raped two years ago by three men, one of them her boyfriend at the time.

I am responding to the comment here because I think the arguments my reader makes go to the heart of how rape is viewed in our society, why getting a conviction for rape in court is so difficult (if the case even goes to trial), and why rape is such an underreported crime.

Here is the comment:

Bloggers have jumped on this story without bothering to find out if it was reported accurately. I checked out the links and saw lots of opinion and few facts. Newspapers are very unreliable for accurately reporting the reasons for a court's decision. One of the factors that influenced that judge was the girl did not seem traumatized after the event. If that was the sole reason he dismissed the case, then he is nuts. But we don't know that. We don't know how much weight he gave to that conclusion. We only know it was part of his reasoning.

If you recall a big scene was made about the woman who sued McDonald's when she burned herself spilling coffee in her lap that she had purchased from the drive through window. Everyone wrung their hands about frivolous lawsuits and stupid people who don't realize coffee is hot. It took a long time before anyone picked up on the fact that she had 3rd degree burns in her lap from coffee that was kept scalding hot so it would stay fresher longer. The temperature of the coffee was kept at a temperature not permitted for the very reason that somone might spill it on themselves and do serious damage. To this day many people do not know the whole story about that law suit.

Unless we look at the actual decision from the Judge we do not know why he dismissed the rape case and why he charged this girl with the false reporting of the rape. What is the point of even offering an opinion on this case until that is done?

There are things commentators on this case do not understand. For example, the sexual history of the girl IS relevent in this specific case vis a vis the boyfriend. Sexual history is admissable when it goes the defendant's belief that there was consent. The only sexual history that is relevent is her history with this particular man. There is no information as to whether this rule was followed or not during this trial. Hence we do not know if the court erred.

Men and women DO falsely accuse others of rape. It probably does not happen often but when it does happen the defendant is facing some pretty draconian consequences. That is the difference between falsely reporting a car stolen and pointing at a specfic man and saying: "that man over there raped me."

IF this was a false accusation, I would come down pretty hard on the girl as well. She simply cannot put other people in that situation.

Kevin may know the girl, but he wasn't in the room when the inceident occured and he himself admits that he is biased. No body wants to believe someone they cared about is capable of doing something so wrong.

The focus on this issue should be an analysis of the NUMBER of women who report a rape and are later charged with making a false police report when the charges are dropped or the defendant is acquitted. How many women does this happen to? Is it becoming a trend? Is it done to intimidate women who report a rape? These are the issues people should be concentrating on for their blogs to make any sense at all. Taking ONE case where we do not know all the facts is pointless.

First: Kevin wrote about this case because he has known the girl since she was a baby, because he attended the trial (against the girl, on charges of filing a false police report), and because he was so upset about the judge's ruling. Others then picked up on the story because they shared Kevin's outrage, even if they did not have his personal involvement. Kevin did not say he was "biased"; he said he could not be completely objective. There is a difference. It's not like nothing Kevin says can be trusted or believed simply because he's known this girl all her life.

There's nothing wrong with commenting on a particular case, and no necessity to do an academic study on rape before one can comment. If people had to be present in the courtroom and have heard or had access to the entire transcript of a court proceedings before they could come to any conclusions or take any informed action, no one would ever be able to comment or act on anything.

My reader says, "The focus on this issue should be an analysis of the NUMBER of women who report a rape and are later charged with making a false police report when the charges are dropped or the defendant is acquitted."

Why? Why is the number of women who are charged with falsely reporting that they were raped more relevant than the fact that in THIS case, the prosecutors brought this girl to trial for filing false rape charges, based on statements made by her mother and by the three alleged rapists, when those same prosecutors had found those same people inconsistent and lacking in credibility during the pretrial investigation? If there wasn't enough evidence for a trial, how could there have been enough evidence to charge the girl with a false accusation of rape?

It's not like there WAS a trial and the alleged rapists were ACQUITTED. If the case HAD gone to court and the three men HAD been acquitted, THEN, maybe, an argument could have been made for charging the girl with filing a false police report. But the case never went to trial!

How does "Neither side in this case is credible enough to go to trial" translate into "We can't prove these rape allegations so that means the girl lied about being raped"?

The district attorney's office in Washington County, Oregon, where this alleged rape occurred, defends the decision to bring false rape charges against the girl because, although both sides lacked credibility, she lacked credibility MORE. What kind of a legal argument is THAT?

The D.A. also said their decision to charge her with filing a false police report was based on the fact that she did not "act traumatized." That's not a legal argument, either; it's also not a well-informed argument in terms of how rape victims typically act after a rape.

If you want to know how rape survivors typically act in the aftermath of the rape, go and read the accounts by actual rape survivors at Shakespeare's Sister. These painful stories have been pouring out since Kevin wrote his piece; it really touched a nerve.

With regard to the girl's sexual history, the notion that it had any relevance to her rape is just plain wrong. It has no relevance whatsoever. A virgin can consent to sex as easily as a prostitute can. If a woman had consensual sex many times before, that does not mean she is more likely to have consented this time, too. It does not mean she is more likely to say that she was raped if she was not. If a woman has no sexual history or a very sparse one, that also does not mean she is less likely to have consented to sex.

From Shakespeare's Sister:

A woman's sexual history has absolutely no bearing on whether she was raped -- including her past sexual history, if any, with her attacker. A rapist doesn't give a rat's ass whether he rapes a virgin or a whore, or any of the majority of us who fall somewhere in between, which makes each of us as likely to fall victim to the crime as anyone else.

The idea that there is a connection between a woman's sexual history and whether she was raped is rooted in what might be called The Rape Narrative: that women who like sex and have a lot of it are dirty and bad, and therefore deserve to be raped. In contrast, a man charged with rape is unlikely to be grilled about his sexual history in order to show that, because he is addicted to sex, he must have raped this women when she said no to sex with him.

Arthur Silber at Once Upon a Time... says it has to do with The Male Myth that men are always right, and their authority is not to be questioned.

As the other bloggers note, it is very revealing what evidence was allowed, and what was not: the woman's sexual history came into evidence, while a great deal of negative evidence about the other witnesses was disallowed.

In short: with regard to every critical issue, the very worst possible interpretation and outcome was accorded to the woman, while the most innocent explanation was eagerly provided to the men. This is "justice" provided by every woman's worst enemy.

So what explains this? I think the ultimate root is the prevailing view of women that still dominates and saturates every aspect of our culture: that, in essence, women are the root of all evil. ...
The central point is simple: with regard to evil in the world, in all its manifestations and no matter what the evidence might suggest about other causes, women are the ultimate source of all evil. All of it, bar none.

When you consider that throughout history and into our own time, men have held all the positions of power and that men, and only men, control all major events, one might well wonder why men are so fragile and insecure that they cannot bear even to contemplate that anything might be their own fault. But no matter what happens, it is never their fault. It's always someone else's. If no other man is available to take the blame, then pick a woman -- any woman. They're inherently evil, so they can fit any bill of particulars.

So when there is talk about not having been there and not knowing all the reasons for a court's decision and not having the full story, we should remember that the Rape Narrative and the Male Myth and all of the deeply rooted cultural assumptions about women, men, and sex are part of the reasons and the full story.

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