Monday, May 7, 2012

Reckless 'rape' talk in the news: (1) Insisting a penis joke hints at 'our agressively sexualized culture,' and (2) Insisting that a rape claim not charged must have been false

Two cases in the news underscore the need for greater discernment and maturity in talking about matters related to rape:

The Cox T-Shirt: Lucy Berrington thinks the Tuft's men's rowing team's cox T-shirt "hint[s] approvingly at the aggressively sexualized culture within some fraternities and college sports teams." That's an unwarranted stretch because the shirt suggested nothing agressive or misogynistic; it was a juvenile college boy wiener joke. 

Indignation about our aggressively sexualized culture should be reserved for the real thing, not for every silly reference to penises. 

Massachusetts Gaming Commission: Here's a story that warrants some indignation.  The new interim executive director of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission was accused several years ago of sexual assault in Florida.  No charges were ever brought.

The problem is that the chairman of the state’s gambling commission apparently justified, in part, hiring the new interim director by telling the commission that the sexual assault charges were false and that Florida authorities had concluded there was zero substance to them.

In fact, it appears that the Florida authorities only decided not to press charges, but their reasons for that decision aren't evident from the news reports.  According to a news report: "A police officer who handled the case told the Globe last week that he ‘absolutely’ believed the [alleged victim], who was curled up in a fetal position, shaking and crying after the alleged attack."

It generally isn't fair to treat a presumptively innocent person who was accused of sexual assault, but not charged, much less convicted, the same as a convicted rapist.

But words matter, and the fact that a charge wasn't brought doesn't necessarily mean that the claim was "false." 

To his credit the chairman of the gambling commission corrected himself: He said he should not have referred to the allegations as "meritless, if I did, because I do not know the full facts. I should have said ‘evidence insufficient to warrant prosecution of the charges.'"

Declaring charges "false" when they might not have been is hurtful to the alleged victim. As a society we need to be sufficiently mature to be able to treat with dignity and respect both the presumptively innocent man who was accused of, but not charged with, rape, and the alleged victim who claimed s/he was raped. This means not making inaccurate assumptions about either.