Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Privilege of Abuse

The television is fuzzy and my hearing is off.  I thought the NBC announcer called two women lugers "losers," and was getting ready to write the proverbial letter. Then it occurred to me that the women seemed to be taking the insult pretty well, and that I hadn't eaten in a good while, and the room was spinning, as well -- perhaps an example in surfeit.  Sharp as a tack, the phonic similarity of luge and lose eventually asserted itself, as well as my recollection that Lester Holt is an excellent commentator and, to my honed intuition, a good man.  The overweight Italian diva draped over the foot of my hospital bed loves him, but not to the degree that she adores Tom Brokaw (get well, Tom!), over whom she desires to one day exert her seductive powers.  Luckily, Bianca Castafiore has never had occasion to share space with the dignified Brokaw.

It'd be really cool were that a segue.

However, had the NBC announcer called the winter sportswomen "crazy nut-jobs who must have emerged from really twisted childhoods," I'd not even have blinked.

No, wait. Maybe that's how I feel about the skeleton sliders.  In case you've forgotten:

Skeleton is a fast winter sliding sport in which an individual person rides a small sled down a frozen track while lying face down, during which athletes experience forces up to 5 g.

Unfortunately, my mental plasticity slid over to my email, reading some, tossing most. The plastics in my skull never seem to completely gel with the desired mold, never seem to attain that waxy smoothness that so aids really smart and able people. In part to protect my defective neuroplasticity,  I usually avoid WSJ columnists, not "like the plague," but as "not my preferred source of editorial information."  However ThinkProgress headed one of their magazine-like "come hither, dah-link" ads for today's content with this:

Wall Street Journal Columnist: Rape Victims Are Just As Guilty As Rapists 
If They’re Both Drunk

The headline spoke to me, having been drunk on some of the finest campuses in the world, academically-speaking, including one famed for its motto "Work hard, play hard," and because I owe the loss of a good half-cup of brain cells for my work to bring the "top party school in the USA" accolade to one of my undergraduate institutions.  (I did a great deal of endeavoring, undergraduately.)  I was not raped at any of the eight universities I attended, although I would say, of three sexual encounters, that there hasn't been a label invented to do them justice.

But it is of the North Carolina Gothic Wonderland that i think, automatically, after reading James Taranto's "Best of the Web Today" opinion piece, entitled "Drunkenness and Double Standards: A balanced look at college sex offenses."

It almost makes you itch, doesn't it, that title?  Makes you think of Title IX, almost!  Fair is Fair!  This must be yet another meditation on the "Equal Opportunity in Education Act"!  But it would be shallow to judge a work by its title, as it may have been chosen all willy-nilly by some ersatz editor, and besides, that is how Taranto chose to début his own thought piece -- by vigorously shaking his editorial tail, much like Buddy my Maine Coon, when riled, in an attempt to mark it with odd conservative pheromones. 

It's an old odd tail, er, tale.  It begins with false accusations of rape (all instances he discusses treat rape of women by men).  We all detest unjust accusations, particularly of the sort that taint the accused no matter an ultimate determination of innocence, or lack of legal guilt.  

The U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics annually publishes a report on Criminal Victimization, the latest being from October 2013.  This paper, covering 2012, estimates that only 28.8% of rapes are reported.  Remember that when you hear bandied about the FBI assertion that 8% of reported rapes are false accusations or "unfounded" reports.  Take a moment to contemplate -- I mean, really get down and zen with it, mindfully -- the FBI definition of what constitutes an "unfounded" rape accusation: "if the victim did not fight back, if the attacker did not use a weapon, if the victim did not sustain injuries, or if the victim had a prior relationship with their attacker."

The mathematical adjustment brings the 8% level of "unfounded" rape within the norm of all falsely recorded violent crime, to approximately 2% -- for rape, 2.2%.

In a very FOX-y News echo, Taranto wants to bring a "balanced approach" to college sexual assaults, by making alcohol consumption some sort of levelizing force, a strike for equality.  He compares a car crash (I'm imagining his neuroplasticity invites further interpretation of this roadway danger as a fender-bender) to drunken college co-eds having sex, which will, of course, end with the woman falsely charging the man with rape. Elementary!

Taranto writes:
If two drunk drivers are in a collision, one doesn't determine fault on the basis of demographic details such as each driver's sex. But when two drunken college students "collide," the male one is almost always presumed to be at fault. His diminished capacity owing to alcohol is not a mitigating factor, but her diminished capacity is an aggravating factor for him.
I hate it when I run into a penis, don't you?

Unfortunately, Taranto writes from a mindset that seems steeped in an insurance lexicon, in some sort of automoblile accident outline drawing, with arrows and dotted lines, much as might be used to determine a sub-$5,000 monetary verdict of culpability by the ever astute Judge Judy.

He jumps too quickly, as well, to another paradigm -- from a reported, possible crime to the openly adversarial environment of the courtroom.  He refers to every accused man as a "defendant," which should make every woman, college-educated or not, guffaw.  Snort Diet Coke out her nose.  Gasp, even.

For a woman desirous of reporting rape, the road from report, rape kit, ridicule, mental and physical anguish, ruination of relationships... to an identifiable male being labelled by the judicial system as a "defendant"?  That road is arduous, long, and full of surprises, such as exposure of her sexual history, her habits of dress, her use of drink and drug, and the discovery of the stereotypes of ethnicity, lifestyle choices, and socioeconomic status.

Aw, leave Taranto with his banging cars, and yes, with the real cases of false accusations among college crowds, where binge drinking is truly a dangerous epidemic that compromises good decision-making.

I have personal knowledge of college women who practically "begged for it" when the college man in question was from a famous, infamous, or rich family.  Toss in an abject Greek system, and digging the good earth for the original kernels of truth becomes a muddy mess.  I have personal knowledge that money was often that honest germ, and, just as often, money was the muddy mess solution.  Society weddings have been based on less.

Colleges and universities are evolving, some ahead of the curve, some behind, keeping the Bell Curve theory alive, if gasping.  There are more advocates, more guidance counselors trained in sexual trauma, and there are vastly improved campus police agencies, better able to work with local law enforcement. One major obstacle still to be successfully managed in the insular campus world is the role of college athletics, and how collegiate athletes survive on amplified reputations, and sometimes steroids, and occasionally via well-placed good-old-boy pedophiles... and how that contributes to sexual coercion.

But I want to leave you with something that should shock whatever side of this "the booze made me do it" argument you support -- if it is even an argument, and not just another way to render complicated one of the least complicated of crimes.

Basic forensic evidence gathered from the body and clothing of the person claiming rape is called a "rape kit." It's important.  It takes hours to complete, feels invasive and degrading to someone who may have just undergone a violent and humiliating attack.

It's important.  And the backlog in processing these kits, combined with their incorrect storage, and their mysterious propensity for being "lost," leave me sputtering.  So I'll close, because it's my night to cook dinner, with this excerpt from The Joyful Heart Foundation, itself originally part of an article by Sarah Tofte for the Shreveport Times in Louisiana, published November 6, 2013:

Every year, thousands of individuals take the courageous step of reporting their rape to the police. They overcome the social stigma of being the victim of sexual violence, the warnings sometimes uttered by the rapist to keep silent, the suggestions that these issues ought not to be spoken of; and they speak up. During a forensic exam of their bodies which can take between four and six hours evidence is collected in a “Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kit” — a rape kit.

Experts estimate there are hundreds of thousands of rape kits sitting untested throughout the country. Over the past several years, this rape kit backlog has become a fixture in the national media, with reports of untested rape kits piling up in police and crime lab storage facilities across the nation.

Rape kit evidence is an invaluable investigative tool for a country that has struggled to respond adequately to sexual assault. When tested, rape kit evidence can identify an unknown assailant, affirm a survivor’s account of the attack, connect a suspect to other unsolved crimes and exonerate innocent suspects. And yet, hundreds of thousands of times, a decision is made not to process the evidence. Even when a member of law enforcement does send a kit for testing, it can sit unprocessed for months and, in some cases, years. Each untested kit represents a missed chance for justice for survivors and accountability for offenders.

Of all violent crimes in the country, rape has the lowest reporting, arrest and prosecution rates. According to FBI crime data, rape has a 24 percent arrest rate — the lowest in nearly 40 years of tracking such information. This means that a survivor of rape has a one-in-five chance of seeing the perpetrator brought to justice. It also means that a rapist is likely to get away with the crime and, in many cases, to rape again.

We have seen the difference that testing every rape kit makes. New York City cleared its backlog of 17,000 kits and now tests every kit booked into police evidence. Proof of the value of testing every kit: the city’s arrest rate for rape has jumped from 40 percent to 70 percent.

Detroit is another city that now faces the massive task of clearing its backlog — more than 11,000 untested kits. After a National Institute of Justice grant allowed the first 850 kits to be tested, 46 potential serial rapists were identified. From those first kits, prosecutors have already secured two convictions, and traced assailants to crimes in 12 additional states and the District of Columbia.  [READ ALL OF MS. TOFTE'S ARTICLE HERE.]

© 2013 L. Ryan


  1. I was a certified rape counselor - we went to the hospitals to meet the victims.
    No wonder many women don't report it!
    On thing that is inaccurate "During a forensic exam of their bodies which can take between four and six hours evidence is collected in a “Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kit” — a rape kit." No, it does not take anything like 4-6 hours. They undress standing on a sheet to catch any hairs. They do take swabs from intimate areas. Maybe under fingernails. Photos of bruises etc. All of this done by nurses and doctors, not police. Not fun, but not 4-6 hours.

  2. thanks, TAM, for that update, and correction. i bet that was difficult but rewarding work. anytime you want to do a guest post on the topic, simper, simper, hint, hint -- just let me know!

    sorry i was so late in responding. i just saw your comment today.



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