|Rape is a complicated subject, but some ignorance is dangerous, especially when it comes from people charged with making policies. A spectacular display of ignorance showed up recently in a bill involving public abortion funding sponsored by U.S. Rep. Christopher Smith.|
While most abortion restrictions make exceptions for pregnancy resulting from a rape, the New Jersey Republican's would have limited exceptions on funding to "forcible" rapes - thereby excluding statutory rapes, incest and rapes committed when a victim was unconscious from drugs or alcohol. After widespread outrage, Smith removed the word "forcible."
But the mistaken idea that the only real rape involves a knife-wielding stranger popping out of the bushes persists even after nearly half a century of feminist advocacy. That "perfect rape" scenario doesn't represent many, or even most, rapes; 75 percent are committed by an acquaintance. A victim may even have dated, flirted or had drinks with the offender, none of which entitles him to have sex with her without her knowing consent.
Jurors seem to have been tripped up by a victim's heavy drinking when they last month found a former University of Iowa football player who had sex with an allegedly unaware and sleeping woman guilty of only misdemeanor assault rather than the felony rape he'd been charged with. Since the verdict, university President Sally Mason has focused the conversation - and the onus - away from sexual assault, calling it a lesson on "the dangers associated with excessive alcohol and the kinds of things that follow when you are not in control of your behaviors." She's promoted a mandatory college course on that and praised a city ordinance that lets no one under 21 into bars.
Granted, without a rape conviction, she has to be careful how she talks about the case. Still, anyone following the story knows there was more to it than regrettable drinking-related antics. Abe Satterfield has admitted to having had sex with the woman and acting "with the intent to cause serious mental anguish." He testified to allowing Cedric Everson into the bed where the woman lay sleeping. But felony sexual abuse charges against Satterfield were dropped in exchange for his testimony against Everson - in which he claimed his own sex with the woman was consensual.
Even if the prosecution bungled the case, the university's handling of it was a fiasco from the start. The woman, who was a virgin before that night, went to the athletic department instead of police, expecting they'd reprimand Satterfield. But, incredibly, he was allowed to keep living in her dorm and she was allegedly harassed and followed daily by the two of them and others. Her mother said officials discouraged her daughter from filing charges, saying she'd get quicker action if she didn't. She finally gave up and went to police three weeks after the events.
The university eventually apologized, fired two administrators and hired a sexual misconduct response coordinator in response to a critical independent investigation. One would think Mason might now have more to say than blaming alcohol.
Yes, excessive drinking leaves students vulnerable to many things. But this was a missed opportunity to send a strong message against sexual assault. So it bears repeating: Any sexual interaction in which one person didn't, couldn't, wasn't old enough or functional enough to give conscious consent, is forcible. And criminal.