Relativism, Hyperbole and the Definition of Rape

Watching the evolution of the rape case in Dallas involving a girl who was 14 at the time, a defendant who was 18 and confessed to the rape and the judge in the case, Jeanine Howard, who not only imposed a very light sentence 45 days in jail and a 5 years probation (deferred) but has come under fire for her decision, it’s easy to have a knee-jerk reaction of outrage.

Most specifically because of the judge’s rationale for her sentencing. Judge Howard defended the lightness of the sentence by defaming the victim, saying that the girl “wasn’t the victim she claimed to be”. She cited ‘medical evidence’ showing that the girl had given birth and had had three sex partners. There was also evidence that the girl had texted the defendant indicating she wanted to spend time with him, continued to text with him after the rape, and finally, that during the rape, she didn’t cry.

Seems pretty outrageous, doesn’t it? Yes, it does. However, hold your fire. I want you to take the time to read the defendant’s confession to the police.

Okay… big breath.

Firstly, the mother of the girl and the girl herself deny that she was ever pregnant. And, although medical evidence certainly can show if someone is not a virgin, and if they have given birth, I know of know medical examination that can specify the number of sexual partners a woman has had. So it is, to some extent, extremely clear that this judge has subjectively ‘interpreted’ the victim’s gynecological medical information. What’s more, she has made that information public. To my mind, this was a deeply unethical act. What’s worse: I suspect Judge Howard released this information in her own interests only. She did not release the information to protect the defendant, or the victim. She released this information to cover her own ass.

But more to the point – how does this have any bearing of whether rape occurred or not?

I’d like to point out here that we DO require judges to interpret the law. If the law were clear and proscriptive in every case, we wouldn’t need them. And it is rare that judges interpret the law completely free of bias. Cultural, generational and ethnic forces play a role in how any give judge ‘sees’ a situation. Decisions are often made ‘in the best interests of society’ and what those interests are change over time.

However, in this case, Howard based her sentence on factors other than evidence that a crime was committed. Either rape occurred or it didn’t; in the face of a clear confession on the part of the defendant, that medical evidence of the victim’s prior gynecological history has no bearing on the case and, furthermore, Howard’s extrapolation of a medical report as proof of 3 prior sexual partners is simply ludicrous and unprovable. Which throws her ability to reason clearly into some doubt.

At the same time, from both the trial transcript and the offender’s confession, what is clear is that this was not a case of violent rape. Although there is a clear case of rape – not only because both the plaintiff and the defendant agree that she said ‘no’ repeatedly but because, at 14, the victim is not even legally able to give consent – it is certainly more nuanced than some cases.

There is evidence that the perpetrator was shocked by his own behaviour and shows remorse, not just now, but at the time. There is also evidence to suggest that although the victim did not want to have sex with the accused in that place, at that time, she was interested in having it at another time, in another place. And no, that does not mean that what took place was not rape. It was.

But we are at a point in our society where we seem to want very absolute, black and white answers to everything. Certainly, there are feminist factions who refuse to entertain that there are degrees of severity when it comes to the crime of rape. On the far right, there are people who refuse to believe that ‘good’ girls ever get raped. That, by definition, if you got raped, you were asking for it. And we have judges, in multiple cases, showing extremely poor judgement even as human beings, never mind as adults. In this case, we also have the victim’s mother insisting that her daughter’s life has been ruined.

We need to step back and take a more humanistic approach to this. We have a 14-year-old girl who was very probably more sexually knowledgeable than we would like 14-year-olds to be. We have an 18-year-old young man who did not know that ‘no’ means ‘no’. And for all his subsequent regret, he clearly had not been taught the level of self-control we expect off our young men. We have agenda-driven organizations who demand extremes including the condition that any woman who is raped must consider their life as ruined. Although this sort of rape is undeniably traumatic and requires time and help to heal, it is blatant hyperbole to say that this victim’s life is ‘ruined’ by this particular experience. It is more likely that her life has been considerably more damaged by the process that followed it. By the judge’s insensitive statements, by her mother’s hyperbolic claims, and by having her life dissected in the media. All of which could have been avoided had the case come before a more sensible judge.

But this is partly our fault as a society. We are so busy screaming ‘pedophile’ and blinkering ourselves to childhood sexual development that we are doing a lousy job all ’round with our children. In insisting that sexuality begins at 16 or 18, we are leaving kids unequipped to exercise self-control or good judgment. And meanwhile, we are inundating them in marketing that is literally steeped in sexual inuendo, if not blatant sexuality.

I think Sir Khalil’s sentence was  too light, but considering the environment of incarceration he’s facing, among adult offenders who’s understanding of limits and boundaries are frankly non-existent, compared to his own, I can see why the judge decided on a short sentence. I certainly don’t believe that he deserved anything close to what the maximum sentencing guidelines allow for. What I don’t understand is why she did not impose the customary conditions which would, very probably, have informed him in a far more effective way – the sex-offenders rehabilitation and sensitivity training program, the ban on the consumption of porn, the limitation on his contact with minors. This guy doesn’t need to spend 20 years in a prison with violent criminals. He needs training on how to be a better human being.

And the appallingly misguided condition of community service at a rape crisis center? Judge Howard, what the hell were you thinking?

Society has not served either of these two young people well. Justice has not served them well. The media has not served them well. And most of all, this Judge has done far more lasting harm to all of them for her lack of sensible jurisprudence and her rampant bid to defend her own bad call.