Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Rape is not sex: framing and language in assault

Feminist pop quiz: What's wrong with this?


I'm not just talking about the abuse of the 15-year-old, and the utter moral depravity of William D. Jones. William D. Jones sucks. If you don't get why he sucks, you're on the wrong website.

Let's look at it again, with some helpful MS paint:


"Sex with"? Really? They're saying he "having sex with" right before saying that he would not LET her leave? If you're being forced, how are you doing any action "with" anyone? Something is being done TO you, not WITH you.

Isn't the whole point of jailing and punishing Jones is that the girl in question could not consent? That she was drugged and given alcohol to ensure that Jones could coerce her into intercourse? That even if she weren't drugged, her understanding of sex may be too limited to consent? That even if she weren't disabled, it'd still be statutory...

RAPE?

Sex is consensual. The phrase "having sex with" implies that there is some action or enthusiasm on the part of the other party - not a lack of ability to consent. There's no "with" there. She wasn't agent in that. That's why he's in jail, because it's not consensual. It's RAPE.

It's not sex. Sex is something between two people, both of whom are fully agent and having a good time. I have sex with my boyfriend. When one party is not able to consent - because of a form of non-neurotypicality, immature understanding of intercourse, age disparity, physical force, or drugs/alcohol - it's never sex. It's RAPE.

I'm going to turn it over to Cara of the Curvature for a more articulate explanation:

On the surface, “sex” refers merely to a physical act – an act that not all of us share the same definition of, but a physical act all the same... The dictionary definition of sex may refer to a physical act, but the connotation is one that we all understand to imply consent...we already have a word for sex that is not consensual. It’s “rape.”...

What incorrectly using the word “sex” in cases of rape does is cast a shadow of doubt over the accusation. The phrase “the defendant had sex with the woman” does indeed assume innocence for the defendant, but does not afford the alleged victim the same courtesy. Her version of the events is entirely erased – and it also presents the “sex” as an objective fact, though the victim certainly might not view it as such. As far too many people don’t get, rape is not merely sex, but an act of violence – and this wording erases that as well.

By contrast, the phrase “the defendant is accused of raping the woman” assumes innocence for the defendant while correctly outlining the allegations of the victim and giving her side of the story equal credence. It seems that by any objective standard, this is therefore the truly neutral language – and yet, we see the first example used time and time again under the name of neutrality and fairness. Even though I never see the similarly, supposedly “neutral language” “the defendant obtained possession of the car” to describe an alleged robbery.

By using the language of consensual sex to describe what is rape on a number of different levels, the AP is shaming the girl, undermining the state's case, and persuading people to see rape as sex, as consensual, as not that bad. It implies that the abuse of disabled individuals is no worse than the consensual sex you have with your loving partner. This is why victims of rape are slut-shamed. This is why rapes are rarely successful prosecuted.

When it's not consensual, when someone's not awake, when someone doesn't understand, when it's done to a child, it's not sex. It's never sex. It's rape. Calling it anything else trivializes and dismisses it.

12 comments:

  1. Hear hear. This is no different than people excusing date rape because "she led him on", etc. Rape is a crime of exerting power. It makes me sick when people talk about it as if it's anything else.

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  2. With respect, the AP is trying to avoid libel, not shame the girl. The newspaper cannot refer to the sex act as rape because the jury has not convicted the defendant of rape. Until then, the newspaper goes with the safer uncontroverted fact that a sex act occurred between the two parties. Once the guy is convicted of rape, the newspaper can report on the rape of the disabled girl.

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  3. Since they say "accused of" and "Police say", I think they can say "rape".

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  4. Fair enough, I should be more clear. The newspaper is trying to avoid the risk of being sued for libel. Of course the standards for defamation are quite high, especially when you're talking a public figure, so the newspaper would win any lawsuit. By referring to the act as a sex act rather than a rape, the defendant is less likely to sue because the fact that sex occurred is uncontroverted.

    I also agree that they're being overly cautious and should refer to the defendant as an accused rapist.

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  5. Good point. Thanks for stopping by and offering your voice!

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  6. I disagree, Elizabeth - I think they can say "Accused of _____" and "on charges of ____" without any reprecussion being available.

    If further down the page they want to say "had sex" because he's not convicted (leaving it to the reader to infer that alcohol, narcotics, and imprisonment, not to mention mental handicap that could theoretically prevent consent AND underagedness that would DEFINITELY prevent consent, would make it all KINDS of rape), that's up to them.

    However, a larger issue I have - to RMJ - is that AP is reporting what he's charged with as "statutory sexual seduction". That isn't AP's bad reporting, that's, presumably, Reno's legal system at work. WTF?

    1)That doesn't even make sense: the "statutory" in "statutory rape" means it's rape by a technicality or statute under the law, eg, the child is under the age of consent. It's not SEDUCTION because the child is under the age of consent.

    2) It's complete cleaning up of a CRIME. This isn't seduction, it's child abuse. Granted, there are a few cases where consenting, emotionally ready, healthy teenagers, say, 19 and 16, get in trouble under statutory rape law. But I would say that's way less common than a sexual assault in some manner, and it should be called what it is. Unless we're prepared to declare 15 year olds legally able to consent, it's rape, plain and simple.

    3) Why isn't this just being called rape? Is there some law in Nevada that disallows minors from being raped? It's not just STATUTORY rape or seduction or whatever they want to call it. It's date rape. It's kidnapping and imprisonment and drugging and a lot of other things as well. There is no way in HELL this young woman could have consented, even were she 25 and not 15.

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  7. faye, the newspaper can say many things. My point is that they are trying to avoid being sued, not that it would be a legitimate complaint.

    More to the point, and I should have caught this earlier, in looking at what the defendant is being charged with, he's not being charged with rape. He's being charged with (1) kidnapping; (2) statutory sexual seduction; (3) luring a child or person with mental illness; and (4) felony child abuse or neglect. So in this case, the newspaper could be legitimately sued for defamation if they had used the word "rape" because he's not being accused of rape.

    I can only speculate on why Nevada uses "statutory seduction" when everybody else uses "statutory rape." The statute reads like a statutory rape law. NRS 200.364:

    3. “Statutory sexual seduction” means:
    (a) Ordinary sexual intercourse, anal intercourse, cunnilingus or fellatio committed by a person 18 years of age or older with a person under the age of 16 years; or
    (b) Any other sexual penetration committed by a person 18 years of age or older with a person under the age of 16 years with the intent of arousing, appealing to, or gratifying the lust or passions or sexual desires of either of the persons.

    I'm also very curious about why the defendant wasn't charged with sexual assault. You can see from the statute that it includes exactly this type of situation:

    NRS 200.366 Sexual assault: Definition; penalties.
    1. A person who subjects another person to sexual penetration, or who forces another person to make a sexual penetration on himself or another, or on a beast, against the will of the victim or under conditions in which the perpetrator knows or should know that the victim is mentally or physically incapable of resisting or understanding the nature of his conduct, is guilty of sexual assault.

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  8. Just for comparison: here is a similar story in which the word rape is used, in the same headline:

    http://www.news10.net/news/local/story.aspx?storyid=64984&catid=2

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  9. The media often avoids the use of the word 'rape' and often will replace it 'sexual assault' or 'harassment'...or in this case just 'having sex'.

    Just call it what it is. Rape.

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  10. Amen. While I certainly understand that newspapers don't want to be accused of libel, it's also indicative of a greater problem in our society--blaming the victim, or at least finding fault with the victim. If it's against your will, it's rape. Thanks for adding your voice to this.

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  11. While I definitely think rape should be called rape, whether you put "alleged" before it or whatever you need to do to avoid libel, I think Elizabeth is correct: if Nevada's legal code calls is "Statutory Seduction", I doubt the AP can call it "rape" without exposing themselves to a lawsuit. So I would argue that Nevada is the cause of the problem in this case.

    And I think I'm even more sickened by Nevada using the term "seduction" in their code in this context than anything the AP said. "Seduction" can be aggressive, but the "seduced" person always bears some responsibility for the sex that occurred. Furthermore, how is this even statutory rape as opposed to just plain rape? I'm mentally capable of consenting, but if everything that happened to this girl happened to me in most states, it would be considered rape, plain and simple. What the hell is Nevada smoking?

    This is so messed up on so many levels.

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  12. Maybe if people started suing papers for defamation of character over implying consensual sex in cases of rape, they'd knock this nonsense off. Y'know, if it's simply a case of being worried about being sued.

    Except, somehow, I tend to doubt that would help much...

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