Keeping pace with predators, one dossier at a time. Good on this Dutch organization; let the world follow suit.
A 14 year-old girl in France was, thankfully, able to demonstrate the reality of a horror that her account of would likely have been insufficient to bring charges. A hidden web cam captured her father sexually abusing her. The man’s attorney claims the abuse occurred- and only occurred- during a period of unemployment and the pressure of a divorce.
Doubtful. More than likely this has occurred 1) about as long as the man’s sexual interest in his daughter has been established, and 2) with no regard to any other stressors in his life.
This is how predatory behavior works. Thank God a camera was able to make the existence of it undeniable.
Emily Yoffe is frustrated by the backlash against her well-intentioned but ill-considered original Slate piece from last week, but apparently emboldened by the support she’s received from other well intentioned and ill-informed supporters.
Yoffe, like many others, sees a reduction in drinking (on college campuses especially) as the key to reducing sexual assaults against women. Indeed, the answer seems startlingly clear to Ms. Yoffe, as if she’s sounding an alarm that those around her infuriatingly cannot hear:
Women! Stop drinking! You’re making yourselves vulnerable!
It seems so obvious. A woman (or a man for that matter) who decides, for whatever reckless, juvenile, or ill-advised reasons, to drink to excess, is making herself/himself vulnerable in a cruel and unpredictable world. That’s the seemingly clear-as-glass conclusion at which Yoffe and many like her have arrived.
My perspective is that of a former special victims prosecutor, so I suppose I must ask myself: Haven’t I seen countless cases in which objectively “bad” victim behavior (like heavy drinking) “led to victims being raped?”
Here’s the naked truth: I have worked with victims- male and female- who were raped during or after behavior that might have been judged unwise. But I have never seen a victim who was raped because of that behavior. I’ve only seen victims who were raped for the one, single, incontrovertible reason that all victims are raped:
Because someone chose to rape them.
This is where Yoffe gets lost. Granted, it’s a subtle distinction and one I also had to absorb over time. It was a brilliant and irreverent PhD psychologist (Nikki Vallerie) who finally clued me in to a simple and profound truth: There is no vulnerability without danger.
A woman can skip through a big city park at midnight in a G-string made of sewn-together $100 bills. She will not be vulnerable- in other words, she won’t be at risk for the slightest victimization of any kind- even a criticism of her clothing choice- unless someone in her environment means to victimize her.
Let that sink in. No one is at risk, regardless of what they do or don’t do, if no one around them means them harm.
But the Yoffe’s of the world believe they’ve figured it all out and claim victory when it comes to policing bad or reckless behavior, believing the key to preventing most- if not all- sexual violence means the prevention of such behavior because of the “dangerous world” we all inhabit.
Indeed, the world is a dangerous place. But here are two critical areas where Yoffe and her ilk fail in their analysis and admonitions.
1. Women (and men) can be (and are) sexually victimized in the most “innocent” of circumstances, i.e., a day-time study group, a church function, an alcohol-free event or movie date. So warnings against “late night, drunken date rape” only protect victims from one type of rape- and could actually expose them to further harm as they’ll be unprepared for any other scenario other than what they’ve been warned against.
2. Rapists thrive on and celebrate- whether or not they do so consciously- the very rules of “wise and protective behavior” that Yoffe and her compatriots have so fervently and self-righteously promulgated.
The reasons are simple, and devastating.
First, as I alluded to before, a laundry list of things not to do will simply clear the path for the rapist who will rape after church, on a simple, alcohol-free DVD movie date, after a study session, or pretty much whenever he can isolate a victim who believes she (or he) has protected her/himself in every imaginable way from harm.
Second, the man who chooses to a rape a person who has “broken” a finger-wagging protective rule that society soberly approves of, knows full well that he’ll most likely never be accused of that crime.
Why? Because, thanks to the self-satisfying proclamations of the Yoffes of the world, his victim broke a rule and “got herself raped.”
Therefore, and as he well knows, she might not even be believed if she does report. But she’ll definitely be blamed even if she is. That will most likely keep her quiet. And so it goes.
Want to stop rape? Focus on rapists.
A travesty of justice likely took place in 2012 in Maryville, Missouri regarding the rape of a 14 year-old girl by a high school senior. Because the defendant comes from a political family with ties to the local DA, charges of a conspiracy to scuttle charges have captured media attention as much as any aspect of the crime. While salacious and disturbing, I’m willing to bet they aren’t true.
That’s not to say I don’t think the defendant, now a college student who was apparently still tweeting misogynistic messages until fairly recently, didn’t benefit from who he was and where he came from. The victim and her family were also likely disadvantaged by being “outsiders” from another community. But at this point, my guess is the reality is more mundane. I don’t think the case was derailed by a coordinated effort involving the DA and law enforcement to protect Matthew Barnett because of his ties to a former legislator and sitting Congressman.
Far more likely, Robert Rice, the DA responsible for dropping first felony and then misdemeanor charges, simply felt unprepared and discouraged from taking them to trial. If so, he’s far from alone in not knowing how to make the most of good police work and common sense in a sexual abuse case involving alcohol and adolescent behavior.
I’m careful here, as I am in every case I comment on, to stress that I’ve neither considered the case the way Rice has, nor am I familiar with his jury pool and legal culture.
That said, it appears he had quite a bit to go on.
Victim Daisy Coleman was found by her mother, freezing on her porch and still intoxicated; Barnett and the group that drove her home abandoned her outside of her house in 22 degree weather. Her mother saw signs of physical distress to her ano-genital area, and an immediate report was made, the child taken to a hospital. Seven hours after her last drink, her blood alcohol content (BAC) was .13%. Inexperienced drinkers cannot generally reach a .13 without serious signs of intoxication, and she was likely much higher at the time she was raped. Barnett admitted to sexual intercourse on Daisy. A friend apparently video-taped the act. Other witnesses, including Daisy’s 13 year-old friend who was also raped (her 15 year-old assailant confessed as much), reported that Daisy was between crying and incoherent as they left Barnett’s home, and had to be carried from the bedroom. Evidence of drinking was collected the following day.
The case looks- in any legal environment in the U.S. and I have seen most of them- eminently triable. Rice was benefitted by quick and competent police work, a confession to sexual contact, and a concerned mother rightfully terrified and appalled. He dropped charges anyway. Rice says he dropped them at least in part because the Coleman’s asserted 5th Amendment privileges before a deposition, but Melinda Coleman, Daisy’s mother, insists that this was 1) only after felony charges had already been dropped and 2) a short-lived decision that she reversed the next day, agreeing to cooperate. Rice’s other reasoning involves what he calls a lack of evidence and what appeared to him as “incorrigible teenagers” drinking and having sex. If that’s truly how he feels, he has a tragic misunderstanding of the dynamics of sexual assault.
First, I’m not sure what 5th Amendment privileges could have been asserted that Rice could not have proffered immunity for in order to pursue a far more serious case. Second, if Rice thinks his case was too light on evidence to bring in good faith to a jury, I can only say that myself and others- often in very challenging legal environments- have successfully taken cases forward with less.
Rice has done the right thing by asking a judge to appoint a special prosecutor and re-open the case. The Colemans appear ready to cooperate, and I hope the new prosecutor views the case differently, assuming what I know is accurate and complete.
Whatever happens, I believe Rice’s declaration that “there wasn’t any prosecuting attorney who could take that case to trial” should be publicly proven both defeatist and inaccurate. But I’m not willing at this point to believe his motivations are worse than that.
I should be more nuanced on the nettlesome issue of adolescent sexuality, I’m told. It’s not cut and dry, and my tone is often unyielding. Perhaps.
I limit myself to 700 words in this space out of respect for my readership and in acknowledgement of the hundreds of other demands on their time and opportunities to spend it. If I had more space, I’d be more circumspect and more exploratory of opposing points of view, at least where I thought arguments had merit. No one comes close to possessing all the answers on human sexuality, what is objectively abusive, and what should be considered punishable by law. I’m no exception.
In fairness, the issue of adolescent and adult sexual contact is particularly difficult to categorize uniformly. I sat on a Huffington Post Live panel last month where I discussed the issue with three well-known psychologists, all of whom agreed (as do I) that the “age of consent” to sexual intercourse in US jurisdictions has less to do with inherent rightness and more to do with an arbitrary cut-off for various cultural, historical and political reasons. I’ve known 15 year-old kids who could make thoughtful, informed and logical choices about sexual contact, and 25 year-old developmentally normal adults who absolutely could not. The age of consent in most of the US hovers around the age of majority, another number we’ve picked to differentiate the comparatively protected world of a child from the colder and more unforgiving one navigated by adults.
When it comes to sexual contact between even older minors and adults, though, there are at least a few key points that, for me, make these “relationships” exploitive and toxic far more often than my detractors who see Americans in particular as “hysterical,” “Victorian”, etc. In no particular order:
1. The issue is usually less about age and more about power, control, and authority. I would not likely advocate for sex-offender registration or a felony conviction for an adult within a few years age of his or her minor sexual partner- assuming a relationship based on more or less equal footing. Stacey Rambold, the Montana teacher whose paltry sentence recently sparked outrage, was [slightly] less culpable in my mind for being 35 years the senior of his victim than he was for being her educator. Teachers have power over students both in terms of what they can practically affect in their lives and superior insights about navigating adult life. We properly condemn and criminalize crossing this line. It’s not wrong because it’s illegal. It’s illegal because it’s wrong.
2. The still organically forming adolescent brain should at least be a factor in how we view a minor’s ability to engage equally with an especially far older adult. Nothing magical happens within the brain to end adolescence at 18. But the fact is, teenagers are more impulsive, more brash and less self-controlled and than adults. Adults should know better and act thusly. 18 is still arbitrary. But it’s not baseless.
3. What we have traditionally viewed as basically “harmless” where adult-child sexual contact is concerned is continually being challenged and rightfully so. The elite Horace Mann school in New York City, like countless institutions the world over, was apparently rife with sexual abuse by teachers on minor students for literally decades. To the extent people knew of it, I’m sure some considered it a quirk of the place, the price paid for such a dynamic and interesting faculty, a simple right of passage, or any number of things. Far too many of the victims of this “quirk” think differently, and are now responding in droves, decades after being seriously harmed with impunity.
There is room for nuance, particularly with regard to the application of the criminal law. I was never a mindless hammer in a court of law and I have welcomed the insight of the psychological community when trying to do justice in this regard. Increasingly, I believe my still-active colleagues are doing the same thing.
But I won’t yield so quickly to counter-arguments on the “harmlessness” of “fuzzier” sexual boundaries between adults and children. For one, I know better. For another, I know the motives of a dangerous few who are making them. See NAMBLA for a reference.