July 12, 2007

Just keep your mouth shut

I sometimes read feminist blogs. (Dr. Steph and I had a conversation at Knit Night last night where we said that we would both read them more except neither of us wants to be angry and exhausted all the time...which is problematic, but true.) I got to feeling sort of guilty on the way home that I wasn't keeping up and so this morning I made a quick tour and read up. One story in particular caught my eye. (Well, it caught my eye after the hysterical blindness caused by learning that women who think this sort of thing is wrong are referred to in some circles as "feminist supremacists" abated.)

Tory Bowen says that she was raped. Actually, Tory Bowen, was pre-law at college when she had a drink at a bar that was the last thing she remembers until she woke up in a strangers bed, with a stranger, who was doing something she hadn't consented to. (That would be the rape.) She went to the emergency room, was treated and had a rape kit done and called the police. The police charged her attacker with 1st degree sexual assault and a trial was set. That's where things got weird.

The judge decided that many words around this issue were too inflammatory. That they made the defendant sound guilty, and that they implied a crime...."Rape" is a legal conclusion- he thought. We cannot call it rape until a jury says it's rape. (Hear that women? You can't know something is rape until there's a vote. I suppose being there doesn't grant you any special insight.) So he banned some words. Nobody in his courtroom may use these words, when it comes to this trial:

Sexual Assault.

No one can say that the hospital did a "Rape Kit" and they can't say that at the hospital she was treated by the "Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner." In fact, inside the courtroom no one can even say that the defendant is charged with 1st Degree Sexual Assault.

So what, if anything, was allowed?

Ms. Bowen is allowed to say that she and the defendant had "sex" or "intercourse", which she complains (and very rightly so) implies the exact opposite to a jury, that the acts were consensual and non-traumatic.

Worse than this...perhaps the worst of all, the jury did not know that the words were banned. The jury was never instructed that the ruling was made at all. Can you imagine being a juror at a trial where a man is accused of not even sexual assault, but just sex?
A trial where the victim (oh, crap. Forgot we can't call her that.) the "complainant" can't say she was forced? A trial where the victim never accuses her attacker of rape?
If you were a juror, how seriously would you take a woman who testified about what happened to her for 13 hours without ever using a single word that implied that she thought what had happened to her was a crime?

Not surprisingly, the first trial resulted in a hung jury. A second trial is about to start and the same ban is still in place. The judges name is Judge Jeffre Cheuvront and he is a judge in Nebraska. There is an interview with Tory Bowen here, on the CBC (it's the first story in Part 1) and it's well worth listening to.

Whether or not you think Ms. Bowen was raped, forced to have sex, was sexually assaulted had sex with her attacker, the defendant is irrelevant. Limiting how rape victims can describe what happens to them is prejudicial to a jury and insulting to the victim. it's also insulting to the jury to not tell them that you've banned language at all. (A friend of mine pointed out that this ban is actually insulting to every single person involved except the defendant.) If this offends you, please consider taking a moment to tell someone how you feel about this. If you live in Nebraska you can find your Senator here. You can file a complaint about an attorney or a judge here. If you don't live in Nebraska, maybe your Senator knows a Nebraska Senator?

Tell them that until the words "victim" "attacked" or "forced" are banned from all trials, until at a robbery trial we say that "the interested party liberated some property and nobody minded" or at a murder trial the only thing that can be said about a serial killer who brutally murdered twenty people is "he may have reduced to zero the life energy of the other concerned parties" - that this is sort of obviously about women and their rights.

(See what I mean about the anger and exhaustion?)

PS. (Added at 3:30, when I still couldn't stop thinking about this)

I've been thinking a lot about the language Ms. Bowen is allowed to use, and trying to think of a sentence using only "sex" or "intercourse" that could possibly stand in for the phrase "he raped me" or any other phrase that makes it sound like something was done "to" her, rather than "with" her. Interestingly, I've discovered that I can't. Every time I use one of her two allowed words, I have to use the word "we" or "with" to make it work (you can't say "he sexed me", you must say "he had sex with me" or "we had intercourse" ) all of which imply she was a partner in the process. Try it.

I'm still mad.

Posted by Stephanie at July 12, 2007 12:24 PM