The Slate author sort of touches on a problem I've mentioned before. We treat rape cases very strangely, from my perspective. In most criminal cases, the assumption for most crimes is that a crime has actually happened. Sure, there is the occaisional exception, but in most cases, if someone says "I was robbed when I got off of the subway!" the general public aren't going to assume the victim is a lying jerk. We may question whether the right person is being charged, but we don't routinely paint the victims of most crimes as stupid liars. The defendant is supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, but that doesn't necessarily mean that no crime has occured- just that we can't assume that the defendant is the one that did it.
That seems fair.
Rape, though, is different. In a rape trial, it's not the defendant that's on trial- it's the entire case. It's the woman, and her claims to have been raped. When many rape victims step forward, they are immediately assumed to be liars. It's not just a matter of "Well, she's accusing the wrong person" it's often "she wasn't raped at all." Every aspect of her accusation is subject to the accusation that she's a lying slut who wanted it. The words are different, but the message is the same. Passed out? Maybe she said yes. Raped on a date? She consented, but regretted it later. Raped by strangers in a park? She's ugly, so she wanted it.
It's not that I think that the defense shouldn't be able to raise questions about whether there was actually a rape. Absolutely, they should, just as someone accused of murder can try to shed doubt over whether it was actually murder, or self defense. That being said, the starting position of any particular case shouldn't be "That lying slut just feels guilty after-the-fact," which is an all too common sentiment. The prosecution shouldn't be going into the case trying to convince the jury that the victim isn't a dirty liar who is out for attention.
Removing someone's ability to call an assault what it is just makes it more and more difficult to convince women that they should come forward when they've been attacked. What, exactly, is the incentive? On the one hand, we're told that we want to prosecute and punish rapists. Great! I'm all for that! On the other, cases like this make it seem a lot more like we're interested in punishing women who've been raped. We're asking women to come forward and charge rapists, but then we start off assuming that they're lying, and now we're even taking away their ability to use the words that describe what has happened to them.
We'll prosecute your rapist, and we'll let you talk about what happened... but you can't actually call it rape. You can't mention the rape-kit. You can't call it an assault. In fact, here's the thing... what you can do? You can call it sex or intercourse. We don't want to give the jury the impression that you've been the victim of a crime. After all, it's not like we're here to put someone on trial for committing a crime.
Can we imagine this happening in other trials? As the author points out, it would be ridiculous. We understand that, at a criminal trial the alleged victim is accusing the defendant of a crime. We understand that the person making the accusation is going to talk as though sie has been victimized... otherwise... why would we even be having a trial? If I go to the police and accuse someone of stealing my car, and we go to trial, it's obvious to everyone that I'm saying my car was stolen, and it's up to the jury to decide if it really happened, and if it did really happen, if the person being accused did it. My saying "my car was stolen" or "and he shoved a gun in my face and stole my keys" is important information. It lets the jury know my side of the tale, and allows me to give voice to the crime that was perpetrated against me.
All over the world, it seems like women are getting the same message, though: Rape is not a crime we punish. The state says "No, rape isn't okay. We take rape seriously!" but action after action says differently.