Changing The Conversation Of Rape: Protecting Women Against Misogynist Attitudes
(MintPress) – In January 2012, a California man was acquitted of rape charges — not because the court found him innocent of the crime, but because his victim was an unmarried woman.
Julio Morales entered a woman’s bedroom in 2009, posed as her boyfriend and began to have sex with her while she slept. When the woman woke, she saw that Morales was, in fact, not her boyfriend. She cried for help, but he continued. By definition of the law, he raped her. The California court system, however, reversed his conviction, thanks to a state law dating back to the 1800s.
Morales’ legal team argued that, under state law, Morales could not be convicted of rape because his victim was an unmarried woman. The legislation states that “any person who fraudulently obtains the consent of another to sexual relations escapes criminal liability, unless he masquerades as the victim’s spouse.”
Morales admitted he knew the woman was under the immediate assumption that he was her boyfriend. He admitted to the crime, yet he’s a free man. Justice for all? Not quite.
Rape: A fairly new recognized crime
This horrific violation of justice sent shockwaves throughout the nation. But for those who have followed the feminist movement, the California law isn’t anything new to U.S. legislation.
Jamie Utt is an advocacy writer for Everyday Feminism and travels throughout the country as a sexual violence prevention educator, speaking with young men about their role in the prevention of sexual violence. When he learned of the California case, he was saddened, but not necessarily shocked.
“The fact that the law was passed at some point or another is not surprising, and the fact that it was overlooked isn’t surprising,” Utt said in an interview with MintPress News.
Rape in America only became a socially-recognizable crime four decades ago. The rape reform movement of the 1970s led to the elimination of laws that undermined the victim’s right to seek justice in the legal system against their assailant.
“This is one of those moments where we can see the ways misogyny is built into the structure of our systems. It wasn’t until probably the 1970s, thanks to the work of concerted feminists, that people even started recognizing that rape was even happening in the U.S.,” Utt said.
Prior to the feminist-driven movement, laws stated that a woman’s sexual past could be considered by the court when examining the case, along with laws that stated forced sex would only be considered rape if the victim could prove an attempt to forcibly resist. Other laws requiring victims’ testimony to be corroborated were also reversed.
The rollback of laws were intended to not only force the nation to recognize rape as a violent crime, but also to create a system in which female victims felt comfortable seeking justice within the legal system. No longer would a woman be questioned about her sexual history when speaking out against her assailant. And while that law no longer stands, the sentiment from which it was created remains. This mentality exists with no other crime.
Our nation now is made up of a population split with those who were raised in a society that didn’t recognize rape as a legitimate crime — and those who they raised. From that perspective, it is perhaps not surprising that the nation is still evolving in its recognition and conversation on the widespread issue of rape.
In 2008, Tennessee State Senator Doug Henry summed up the thoughts of his generation while addressing the issue of rape in front of colleagues: “Rape, ladies and gentlemen, is not today what rape was. Rape, when I was learning these things, was the violation of a chaste woman, against her will, by some party not her spouse. Today it’s simply, ‘Let’s don’t go forward with this act.’”
Just months ago, Former Wisconsin Representative Roger Revert announced advice given to him by his father, claiming his dad warned him that “some girls rape easy,” insinuating that women had a habit of consenting to rape — and then reporting it. The issue of rape is not seen through clear lenses, even now.
Aside from the blanket accusation that women lie about rape, statistics show that most women (54 percent) subjected to the crime do not report it.
One law firm in California capitalizes on this very sentiment. SHouse Law Group advertises itself as a 24/7 sex crimes consulting legal agency, not advocating on behalf of victims, but for those who have been accused. A video on its website is laden with vague commentary, with criminal defense attorney Neil Shouse accusing women of falsely accusing their victims on a widespread scale, without using any statistics to back up his claims.
“The consequences of being convicted of rape are really devastating. That said, we find that a lot of innocent people get wrongly accused of rape. And this happens really for a number of reasons. First of all, there’s a lot of false accusations. A lot of times the accuser will make accusations out of jealousy, or anger or spite,” Shouse says in his video.
His statements perpetuate the stereotype that women make a habit of falsely reporting rape. Not only are those statements lacking of factual data, but they are also contrary to statistics that show women are, by and large, apprehensive about stepping forward — it’s a fearful act. A survey issues by the Bureau of Justice Statistics indicates four main reasons women do not report rape. Women reported feeling a sense of guilt, despite being the victim, along with a feeling of shame or embarrassment. The fear of not being believed, and a lack of trust for the legal system were also noted factors.
A look at the numbers
More than 207,000 women in the United States are subjected to sexual assault each year — one sexual assault against women every two minutes. And one out of four women will be subject to sexual violence in their lifetime, according to the United States Justice Department.
The issue is widespread, but the prosecution is not. In 97 percent of these cases, the perpetrator of the crime will never see the inside of a jail cell.
There are a few reasons for this. Most women who are raped simply do not report the incident to police. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), 54 percent of women do not pursue legal action against their perpetrator. This level is not seen with any other violent crime, indicating there is still a prevalent sentiment within the nation preventing women from seeking justice.
For every 46 rapes reported to police, only 12 will lead to arrests. Of those 12 arrests, nine will be prosecuted and just three of those cases will lead to jail time. From a purely statistical viewpoint, the likelihood of justice being done is not on the side of the victim.
In 2009, 11,300 rape kits were discovered on the shelves of a Detroit annex building. Each rape kit represented 11,300 cases, 11,300 victims whose cases had been ignored. This highlighted that either there was severe intentional negligence within the legal system, or a lack of seriousness when dealing with the case. Either way, it illustrates that there is still a struggle in the U.S. today when it comes to prosecuting rape.
Women who do pursue through the legal realm know the process will be lengthy, with lawyers on the other end attempting to create a case aimed at undermining women’s credibility. For every woman, this is a painful process. For women 18 and younger, this is escalated. This is cause for concern, especially considering 44 percent of victims are under the age of 18, according to RAINN.
Is the nation realistic in its understanding and conversation about rape?
Former Missouri Congressman Todd Akin really shook things up when he took it upon himself to distinguish between ‘illegitimate’ rape and ‘legitimate’ rape. Akin felt a need to differentiate between the two, instantly insinuating a widespread concern within society that when a woman comes forward to say she’s been raped — a painful process that keeps many from stepping forward in the first place — there’s a likelihood she’s lying.
If any light was shed through Akin’s comment, it was that a conversation about how the nation thinks — and handles — rape ensued. It opened up dialogue, exposing a thought process that is all too prevalent in today’s society.
Should education be improved?
The nation was once again given an opportunity to delve into the rape conversation when video was leaked through an arm of Anonymous, a national ring of hacktivists, showing a group of high school football players bragging about kidnapping and gang raping a young woman. In the video, a young man described the process of having sex with the “dead” girl, laughing about the situation along with his comrades.
The video represented a part of American high school culture not often exposed to the public. It was seen by activists as a way to shed light on a widespread problem, with the hope that national dialogue could begin. But it didn’t.
Media coverage following the leaked videos didn’t focus on widespread rape in the community. It did not focus on how or why teenage boys felt it appropriate to act and speak in the matter that they did. Instead, it focused on Anonymous, the activist group that leaked the information.
Sheriff Fred Abdalla, who was leading the case, held a press conference following the leaked information, defending the boys in the video, claiming they were not at the site of the rape. Rather than focusing on the dangerous nature of the boys’ comments and the obvious issue of teenage rape in his community, he went after Anonymous.
“Now tomorrow, there’s going to be a rally and the majority of the people there are really and truly concerned about the victim and there are some that are not concerned. They’re there to antagonize, to cuss, like they were cursing last week at the Steubenville Police Department, calling them names about being corrupt and what have you,” Abdalla said to a local NBC affiliate.
Utt sees this issue as he travels throughout the country. Young people — teenagers — are surprised to learn that 25 percent of women have been subject to sexual assault. Utt’s role is to educate those young people, particularly young men, not only on the widespread crime of rape, but on recognizing how male culture plays into the bigger picture.
“I think it’s notable that the vast majority of leaders in this country are men and there’s an old saying that privilege conceals itself from those who have it. In the U.S., I’m of the opinion that we have a crisis of masculinity. Little is being done to understand that. Men don’t always realize the extent to which masculinity is playing a role in the rape culture,” Utt said.
And while his work with young men is a step in the right direction, he acknowledges that by the time men are engaged in such conversations, it’s often too late.
“We don’t start very young with this conversation,” he said. “When we start talking to young men, it’s too late. They’re in their 20s when we start talking about concept.”
Education among younger children is one way of addressing the problem, but there’s still a need for those leading the country — the law and policy makers — to recognize there is a problem. With the older generation of men still distinguishing publicly between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” rape, there’s reason to assume that such attitudes will be reflected through the thoughts of young boys.
And while there is no magic wand that can be waived, there are steps the nation can, collectively, take in the right direction. It happens through the media, through thoughtful conversation and dialogue regarding a crime that impacts hundreds and thousands of women in the U.S. It happens through lawmakers — men and women — stepping up and recognizing that there is a problem, not only in the crime rate, but the way the nations’ male leaders discuss it. And it happens through the education of young people.
“It can’t be one thing. It has to be all of the above, because if we’re going to undo, we have to look at thousands of years built upon oppression.” Utt said.
And throughout it all, Utt contends that men will play a vital role, not as the leaders of the conversation, but as the supporters.
“Men have a certain role in leadership and working with other men, but we (men) need to make sure that when talking about gender oppression and sexism and overturning the rape culture, that we need to be accountable as allies to women.”
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