The Rape Double-Standard, Ctd

A reader keeps the thread going:

All of your reader stories are very sad, especially so the men describing life inside abusive relationships. Our culture definitely has difficulty understanding male victims, not just of sexual assault. It’s one of the causes of damaging silence about child abuse, which helps make prevention and justice close to impossible in far too many lives.

But I really can’t let pass the notion that if the genders were reversed, the perpetrators would go to jail for a long time – which more than one reader mentioned. This just isn’t true, and people who say it is make me doubt their motives. Women have a difficult enough time reporting rapes that fall very far outside the gray areas of abusive relationships and bad sex – ones that fall very squarely in the black and white world of being raped while unconscious or physically assaulted by acquaintances. And if they do report, prosecutions are difficult and often end up being trials about victims instead of rapists – with few of them ending in convictions. What would happen if a woman who was raped in the more gray areas mentioned in your reader stories reported her experiences to law enforcement? I think we know: she would be dismissed, just as these men would be. There is no prosecutorial double-standard.

On that note, if you haven’t yet caught wind of the rape story out of Maryville, Michael Shaffer sketches out the main details:

Last Sunday, a New York Times reporter visited Maryville, Missouri to report on the existence of a grave threat to the town’s bucolic, Real-America essence: “Ever since The Kansas City Star ran a long article last Sunday raising new questions about the Nodaway County prosecutor’s decision to drop charges against a 17-year-old football player accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl, the simplicity of small-town life here has been complicated by a storm of negative attention.” …  There are two ways the town could have lived up to the Times’ rose-colored description of its status quo ante:

1. Beforehand, by not sexually assaulting ninth-graders, videotaping the incident, and leaving a victim asleep on her front lawn in freezing weather.

2. After the fact, by not ostracizing the victim’s siblings, firing her mom from her job, dropping the case inexplicably, and burning the family’s house down.

A reader backs up the first one:

As a former prosecutor who has handled a fair share of sexual assault cases, I’d like to clear up a misconception that seems very widespread in this discussion. Several readers have described being sexually assaulted by a female, and many of them have said something like “If the situation were reversed, I would have been in jail.” That isn’t necessarily true.

The kind of case that is being discussed would be extremely difficult to prosecute regardless of the gender of those involved. Juries, in my experience, are very reluctant to convict people of sexual assaulting an adult unless they are absolutely certain that the sex wasn’t consensual. Basically, if a defense attorney can give them any remotely plausible reason to believe that the sex might have been consensual, then they are probably not going to convict.

In the cases your readers have described, there are many such reasons: the defendant and the victim are in a relationship together; they willingly sleep in the same bed; they begin a relationship after the sexual assault occurs. Any one of those facts would make a conviction unlikely and might even be enough for a prosecutor to decline the case. Sometimes even the fact that the defendant and victim have a history of flirting with each other can doom a case.

You might say that’s unfair: surely a young woman should be able to go to sleep with her college boyfriend without giving up her right to say no. Well, yes. But convicting the guy if he subsequently decides to have sex with her while she’s asleep in going to be very difficult.

I want to be clear that I am not saying that any of this is good or bad, or that female on male sexual assault is any less serious or traumatizing than the reverse.  I only want to make clear that the reason that the women in these stories were not convicted of rape is not necessarily because they are women, but rather because proving an adult rape charge is much more difficult than society in general seems to think.