Thursday, June 21, 2007

Your Lips Say "No More Rape" But Your Policies Say "Yes!"

This Slate article about a judge's deciding that the word "rape" can't be used during a rape trial is really, to put it mildly, disconcerting. The problem is, according to the article, that allowing the word "rape" (and several other words and phrases) to be used during the trial might taint the impartiality of the jury. After all, rape is a crime, and if you allow the victim... *ahem*... the person upon whom another person engaged in sex without consent to use the word "rape" to describe the condition, you might give the wrong impression. You know, the one that the person saying "He raped me!" might have been raped.

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.


Velma said...

Oh, didn't you know? We're on planet Earth. The real crime is being a woman in a man's world.

Cara said...

Seems like everyone is blogging about this, today. I did, too.


Jaclyn said...

Gah. Can you really "engage in sex upon someone"? That's like, well, RAPE, isn't it?

This is so, so scary. Control language and you control practically everything. Plus, I read that the judge isn't even going to allow the jury to KNOW that these words have been banned.

Because it's not hard enough to get a goddamned rape conviction in this country. Is someone protesting this bullshit? Can we stand outside the courthouse with tape over our mouths, and on the tape write the banned words? Or something?

I hope he wakes up one day unable to say anything except the word "rape" for the rest of his miserable, hateful life.

N1nj4G1rl said...

I think the choicest line was this one,
"as Safi's lawyer, Clarence Mock, explains, the word rape is just as loaded. "It's a legal conclusion for a witness to say, 'I was raped' or 'sexually assaulted.' … That's for a jury to decide." His concern is that the word rape so inflames jurors that they decide a case emotionally and not rationally."

Witnesses get to come to legal conclusions all on their own now? But of course the bit about inflaming juries is totally justified. We've all seen the evidence that with the use of the word rape comes an almost automatic conviction...wait that part wasn't true either! Damnit he's using the Chewbacca defense!

Betsy said...

That story truly disgusts and scares me. As if raped women had a hard enough time simply coming forward and accusing their attackers, now this idiot wants to put a gag on the very term for the reason they're all there in the first place. Sick and wrong.

assembling words to armory, she waits... said...

what?! you mean women can actually TELL THE DIFFERENCE between sex and rape? WOW! you would think that maybe they CAN think for themselves...