Sunday, December 04, 2005

Rape, The Law and Unspoken Prejudice

Every now and then, a particular event makes you sit up, take notice and start thinking about generalities with a new energy. One such incident, the case of a young girl in Oregon who alleged gang-rape and has now been found guilty of filing a false report, has done exactly that for many in Blogtopia in the last two days. Many of the bloggers I highly respect have turned their attention with newfound vehemence and zeal to the way in which Western culture approaches rape.

I will let Shakespeare's Sister give the bare bones of the case itself:

A 17-year-old girl went to police at the urging of her friends after she was allegedly gang-raped by three men, including her boyfriend. The men testified that the act was consensual. After reviewing all the information and statements, prosecutors decided they didn’t think they could prove a rape allegation, and so declined to prosecute the case.

Instead, they prosecuted the victim for filing a false police report. Yesterday, she was found guilty.

The victim has never recanted her story. Instead, the decision was based on the judge’s opinion that the three men were more credible, in part because a police detective and the victim’s friends testified she did not “act traumatized” in the days after the incident.

There's even more to it than that, as Kevin Hayden reports - and he actually knows the girl in question. The girl is 17, her alleged assailants older, but they were referred to by the judge as "boys". All four were drunk, it seems, and the three men, one of whom was the girl's boyfriend, told police that sex was consensual and at the girl's instigation. Much was made of the fact that the girl was sexually active before the incident. The prosecutor decided that there wasn't enough evidence against the "boys" to prosecute mainly because the girl didn't live up to his stereotyped beliefs by showing she was traumatized enough in the days after the incident - by which he means she didn't take a shower for two days. The evidence that she didn't "act traumatized" was also crucial to the judge finding the girl guilty of filing a false charge. The judge found inconsistencies in all of the stories, thus establishing reasonable doubt in every story. Yet he convicted the victim.

Further, the judge who heard the case has a speciality in computer and copyright law, not criminal law, and may have been railroaded by a prosecutor who wanted to send a message about wrongful allegations and picked this case to do it with.

As I said, this kind of case brings all kinds of thoughts to the fore again. Kevin Drum says:

This is obviously pretty troubling. If everyone agrees there were significant disputes over the facts, how was it possible to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the woman's version of the story was the false one?...Phrases like "more credible" combined with specious reasoning like "did not act traumatized" seem more suitable to a civil lawsuit — or a dorm room bull session — than to a criminal prosecution.

Which would again point to the judge's expertise in civil rather than criminal law and the probability that a travesty of justice has been done here.

The Heretik takes his musings even further:

What message beyond the verdict against the girl is sent and heard? Don't come forward on rape cases. One girl goes to jail, these boys are free. Future rape victims don't come forward and remain in their own jails of guilt and regret while the boys as always remain free.

There is a larger message beyond this one girl's case and those who focus on the mere facts of the law here fail to see the greater damage to justice.

Then Shake's Sis posts again with a set of testimonials from rape-victims showing how wrong the prosecutors stereotype of "acting traumatized" is, while The Heretik comes back with a poetic round-up of how this story has made others think from the specific to the general.

My own opinion? I think that its very, very rare for a girl to allege gang-rape. I feel that whether a women is drunk or not, promiscuous or not - "no" still means "no". I think, on balance, that gang-bangs happen far more in the fantasy of internet porn (where they are often at least partially non-consensual) than in real life and the three young men in this case had been spending too much time online before trying to enact the fantasy.

And finally, I think that this particular case has made me think again about a generality I've found often, especially here in Texas. That men's rights activism is often a poor concealment for the mysogeny and abusive domination of women which is a cultural norm. That in the same way, freedom of speech activism is often a hiding place for racism and "they hate our freedom" is a cover for hating "the other" however someone decides to define it. That "freedom and justice for all" normally has the unspoken addendum "unless they are different from me" tacked on.

That Ghandi was right. When asked what he thought of Western civilisation he replied "I think that would be a great idea".

No comments: