What I have learned about rape

Yesterday in Denver, a 46-year old anesthesiologist was acquitted of raping his 23-year old nanny.  The rape happened after he had taken her out for a beer to celebrate her birthday last summer, and he claimed that the rape was consensual sex.  Here’s what I learned about rape yesterday from the Denver Post’s reportage of the trial:

1.  Unless a rape victim’s life comes to a complete halt and she is unable to enjoy anything ever again, it’s prima facia evidence that she was not raped.

[Dr. Jordan] Sankel’s counsel asked why the allegedly traumatized victim threw herself a birthday party two days after the July incident.

2.  Rape can logically never be successfully prosecuted, because if a rape victim has the guts to cooperate with the state’s prosecution of the perpetrator and face him in court in front of a jury, then she had the toughness to fight off the rape in the first place.  (Ergo, attempted rape is not a crime and men should never be held responsible for their own sexual conduct.)

And if the alleged victim could “stand up to the glare of a courtroom,” posited defense attorney Pamela Mackey, jurors might believe she could have stood up for herself when confronted with unwanted sexual advances.

3.  If a rape victim had any kind of consensual romantic or sexual contact with the rapist, then she has given implicit consent to anything he wanted to do sexually.  Flirtation and kissing imply consent to rape in any and all bodily orifices, in all imaginable permutations.

“She’d been kissed. She knows this is moving in a sexual direction,” said Mackey, who defended basketball star Kobe Bryant against rape allegations in 2003. “The front door is mere feet away. She doesn’t leave.”

.       .       .       .      .       .      

“At one point she backs off and looks at me and says ‘Oh, Dr. Sankel.’ It was kind of like Marilyn Monroe. It was meant to be a joke,” Sankel said. “The kissing was sexy, for lack of a better word, hot. There certainly was no resistance on anybody’s part.”

4.  Rape victims bring rape on themselves by their dress and demeanor.

[Sankel’s] appearance opened him up to questions from the jury as well.

They wanted to know how the nanny typically dressed at work, details about her demeanor during the sex and did Sankel think it was appropriate to kiss an employee.

Notice how most of the questions for the perpetrator regarded the nanny’s conduct and appearance, not his own behavior when his judgment told him that “consensual sex” with an employee half his age who worked with his children was appropriate?

Congratulations and thanks once again to Pamela Mackey, who’s making quite a career for herself by reviving eighteenth-century ideas about heterosexuality and rape in the twenty-first century!  And a special shout-out to the Denver Post, for providing a very instructive story to rape victims in the near future who might consider reporting their rapes to the Denver police and prosecutors.  You can be sure they’ll think twice before they do thatNotice how the victim’s voice is never reported in this story–almost the whole story is narrated by the perpetrator and his defense attorneys.

As for rapists in Denver–apparently, if you buy a beer for someone and she kisses, you can do anything you want after that.  So it looks like it’s open season, boys!

0 thoughts on “What I have learned about rape

  1. Lesson 5, that reporting a rape will get you nothing other than more trouble, should not be underrated. As a society, we choose to let rape to go unpunished and so it does.


  2. Well, that’s *so* reassuring. Thank you for enlightening me.
    Oh, and maybe she’d planned the party BEFORE she was raped? And didn’t want to call it off? I’m having trouble deciding what is worst here — the “she couldn’t have been raped because she didn’t behave the way she should have” or the “She kissed him, so it was OK.

    On the other hand (since there is occasionally better news on the justice front: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/26/nyregion/26tapes.html?_r=1&ref=nyregion
    Sorry I don’t know how to do the link….


  3. The prosecutor’s comment “we are disappointed on behalf of our victim” is also very troubling.

    First, from a legal standpoint, prosecutors do not prosecute crimes on behalf of victims, but on behalf of the state. They should be disappointed that what they perceived as justice was not served.

    Second, personalizing the prosecution in this way as being on behalf of the victim plays into the pernicious lie that rape is a private matter between the rapist and the victim.


  4. I think it’s clear that the state really doesn’t care about prosecuting rape. It’s just so counter-cultural and going against centuries of jurisprudence. Of course the state–like the writers and the editors at the Denver Post, and most of their readers–think that when a man says he “had sex with” a woman, that that’s what happened. Her testimony or point of view at the time is irrelevant.

    If we had a justice system that actually privileged women victims of sexual assault and their language, testimony, and point of view, think of how different these cases would work. For example, when a man was charged with rape, what he allegedly did would be described in her words as “rape,” not as “had sex with.”

    I stand by my claim that it seems much more difficult to try and convict men of rape than it was when I was a young woman in the 1980s and even the 1990s. Pamela Mackey deserves credit for that because of her defense of Kobe Bryant. That’s when rape victims–people the state had decided had indeed been raped and had arrested their alleged rapists–started being called “accusers” rather than victims, erasing the role of the state in prosecuting rape and (as CPP says above) making it all about the relationship between the victim and the alleged rapist.


  5. And the way the victim is portrayed in all this only discourages other victims stepping forward, preventing recognition of the prevalence of rape. Not to mention horribly maligning the victim in a way that victims of no other crimes are publicly doubted and shamed.


  6. @CPP:
    The notion that prosecutors work on behalf of the victims, rather than on behalf of the state, has been developing for a couple decades. It’s a natural outgrowth of conservative ideology. If the state is evil, then officials working on behalf of the state (in this case, police and prosecutors) must also be evil. But conservatives like law and order, so they’ve redefined the relationship. Police and prosecutors are seen as working on behalf of the victim, and only because the victim failed to prevent the crime herself- she should have been carrying a handgun, or kicked and screamed, and at the very least been appropriately traumatized. Blame-the-victim also shows up in muggings, car thefts, assaults- the victim shouldn’t have been in that neighborhood, shouldn’t have parked there, should have been carrying a gun. In this worldview, it’s not the state’s responsibility to maintain order or the criminal’s responsibility to behave. It’s the victim’s responsibility to avoid being victimized, and if the state has to get involved then it means they screwed up. God help the rape victim who didn’t take every possible precaution against being raped (wearing a chastity belt, carrying a pistol and two tasers, winning a gold medal in kickboxing). She will get no sympathy.


  7. Rustonite–good point about the reconfiguration of the state in the conservative imagination. Conservatives hate nothing so much as they hate victims!

    But I disagree that the victim-blaming in other crimes is anywhere near the same scale as in sexual assault and rape. Rape is in a class all by itself.


  8. Even before the 18th-century shoutout, I was thinking: wow, just like colonial America. The title of the article says it all: “Doctor acquitted in nanny rape case”. Who you are determines your guilt.

    And the defense line that she’s suing him in civil court/standing up in court, so is less believable is SO eighteenth century! As the popular 18th-century tale went: A rape victim wins a civil judgment against her attacker. The judge gives her a bag of money. Then the judge orders the attacher to try to get the bag back from her. She holds on to the bag in the ensuing scuffle. The judge then reverses his verdict, reasoning that if she cared for her chastity as much as for money, she would have resisted then too.

    It is still women’s responsibility to prevent rape — if they don’t, they’re obviously guilty already.


  9. Historiann, I totally agree with you. I was just pointing out that victim-blaming isn’t unique to rape victims, although it is much more intense with them than with any other type of crime.


  10. Ruth — I’m not surprised; it has the feel of one of those stock stories — wonder if it is Roman…

    Speaking of patriarchal equilibrium: I actually saw a televised rape trial a few years ago where the defense spouted Lord Hale’s ‘easy to accuse, hard to prove, harder to defend against’ line in his closing arguments. Laugh or cry?


  11. I live in a very conservative area. I’ve come to the conclusion that for many men, there isn’t a distinction between sex and rape, and if there were, it would be rape that they were interested in. Overpowering someone *is* what gets them off and they feel that if she were healthy she would enjoy that. This they learn from a combination of church and porn. I know this sounds odd and counter-intuitive, and it certainly goes against the 70s style anti rape point that rape was not about sex but about power. However, I really think that in the current culture sex is about rape and power … !


  12. Nice. I will say that one tiny piece of good news coming out of the Idaho Senate this legislative session is a correction to a law that only allowed a charge of rape-by-fraud (an odd term, I know) if the woman was legally married.

    As a woman and feminist, I tend to side with alleged victims of rape when they make an accusation. That said, I find stats like those cited by Toonces to be confusing because I lived in a county where an overzealous D.A. was prosecuting rape cases a bit too eagerly because doing so brought in lots of federal grant money. (In the first years he was in office, prosecutions of men of color for rape increased 48% and prosecutions of white men for the same crime decreased 52%. Of course, I may be biased because a friend’s dark-skinned son is serving 378 years in California prison for rapes he very likely didn’t commit.) Of course, rape is underreported, which makes rape convinction stats an even less reliable measure of the number of actual sexual assaults taking place.


  13. I’m so glad you noticed — that Catch 22 pronouncement oughta mean that Miss Mackey should be out of a job — all those guilty liars coming forward, saving her the job of proving them wrong? That’s all done, now —

    I was mad enough to spit, that things have gotten this bad, this fast.


Let me have it!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s