You Can't Say You Can't Play

by Dayo Olopade | June 9, 2008

I found this story out of Kansas City, making the rounds of the blogs today, appalling:

It’s the only way Tory Bowen knows to honestly describe what happened to her.

She was raped.

But a judge prohibited her from uttering the word “rape” in front of a jury. The term “sexual assault” also was taboo, and Bowen could not refer to herself as a victim or use the word “assailant” to describe the man who allegedly raped her.

The defendant’s presumption of innocence and right to a fair trial trumps Bowen’s right of free speech, said the Lincoln, Neb., judge who issued the order.

Bowen’s case gained national notoriety and drew the attention of free-speech proponents after she filed a lawsuit challenging the judge’s actions as a First Amendment violation. A federal appeals court dismissed the suit, but Bowen’s attorney plans to petition the U.S. Supreme Court.

Good for her. Not enough women testify against rapists--in part because women are still expected to feel shame at discussing openly the sex they are having (not to speak of the thousands who never acknowledge to themselves that a rape has indeed occurred). Further, I think the dehumanization implicit in feeling forced into sex is unfairly exacerbated when one is forced into accommodating the alleged perpetrator. And what a slippery slope. Can we no longer say "murder" for fear of prejudicing a jury? Melissa MacEwan makes this and a few other good points:

 

It's also forcing them to commit perjury—which is why I can't understand for the life of me how this can possibly be constitutional. Sexual intercourse connotes consent. Testifying to having "sexual intercourse," when one has not given consent, is not accurate. Effectively, rape victims are being compelled to perjure themselves to protect their rapists. Charming.

 

Yeah, that about sums up how I feel--though, I discovered, paranoiac tendencies among both sexes are pretty established when it comes to rape. I once taught health to a group of 18-year old juniors in a second-chance high school, and when the discussion turned to sexual abuse, even the most reticent students had an opinion--and suffice it to say it was misogynistic. I doubt the ethics of sex had ever arisen in casual conversation (no less than among me and my peers). But reminding the young men of the life-ruining penalties was highly ineffective. Most were confident that they could "silence" the women in question. And worse: the female class members seemed to go right along with the presumption that any woman who cried "rape" must have, ontologically, "had it coming."

 

--Dayo Olopade

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/the-plank/you-cant-say-you-cant-play