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A Long Way To Go On Sexual Assault Issues

October 5, 2007

An article recently appeared in the online version Nashville’s newspaper, the Tennessean, “Handling of spousal rape claim concerns victims’ advocate.” The subject of the story is a woman who was “digitally raped” by her spouse, who she was in the process of divorcing.

For background:

Bob Wilson, deputy district attorney in Cheatham County, said he told a detective that he would not prosecute a rape charge because there was no physical evidence.


“I recommend that she go for domestic assault and that she get an order of protection,” Wilson said. “There is no physical proof. It’s that type of situation. They’re living in the same house, they’re married, and there is no allegation of weapons. There is no DNA.”

Well, duh, there’s no DNA – that’s because there wasn’t an unprotected penis involved, there was a hand doing the violation (as though a hand can’t be a weapon). Likewise, there would be no DNA with condom use, foreign object use, etc. That in itself does not mean a rape didn’t occur, just that it’s difficult to prove.

To get an idea of how Tennessee treats this type of case, the piece reports, “Before 1988, Tennessee did not consider forcible sexual contact in a marriage a crime.” The author goes on to explain that later that year, an exemption was put in place to allow a spouse to be charged with rape *if* a weapon was used, or *if* injury occurred, or *if* they were separating or divorcing and living apart. The penalties were still less than when a non-spouse was raped.

Finally, in 2005, the law was changed such that raping one’s spouse carried the same penalty as raping a stranger.

The director of the Tennessee Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence had this to say:

“This kind of case would send a chilling message to other women. Why call the police? Why seek any type of protection through the courts? In a sense, this is giving the message that when a woman gets married, she gives up the right to say no to having sex with her husband.”

Now, I don’t really have a position on the details of the case, because I’m not informed enough to have one. Obviously, I think rape is wrong, no matter the relationship between the victim and perpetrator, and no matter what was used to perform the assault. However, certain commenters on the Tennessean’s website certainly did:

-“All she gotta do is yell and the libbers come running….how bout the man in some of these situations?”
-“remedy? maybe lay there and enjoy it?”
-(in response to the “remedy” comment) “From a girls point of view, ding, ding, ding!!!!!!! Maybe if these women stop thinking about how they can get the pool boy in bed and work on their husband they might see some changes……”

Others trivialized the woman’s experience because she and her husband were still living together at the time, while going through a divorce, although in separate bedrooms – which may have been the case for any number of reasons. Additional commenters turn the thread into a referendum on how they think men get the shaft in divorce/custody proceedings, as if that makes rape or assault okay. The “girl” from the last comment above made jokes in the thread about her husband raping her “soooo good” and she enjoyed it.

I know it’s not a good idea to take largely anonymous commenters on a poorly moderated newspaper discussion board seriously, but I worry that this type of attitude is more prevalent than we would like to think, coming to light because of that anonymity and the general tastelessness of the Tennessean comment threads.

I think we have a way to go still on getting people to take sexual assault seriously, if those commenters are any indication. Even if some of them were “joking,” the attitude that allows that joking disturbs me. I don’t have a nice neat wrap-up to this post, I’m just disgusted.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. October 5, 2007 1:44 pm

    Someone on the Tennessean’s forums, when the question was posed as to what remedy is available to women who are raped by their husbands, suggested that they “lay there and enjoy it.”

    … and it seems you caught that. Glad to know I wasn’t the only one incensed.

  2. October 5, 2007 1:51 pm

    Thanks for your comment, Samantha. I was horrified by some of the sentiments expressed in that forum.

  3. October 5, 2007 6:51 pm

    And this is why I fight.
    Some of you know the reason.
    This is why we fight. I meet with legislators every year about this bullshit.
    And, remember, charges have to be filed before it even gets to the point mentioned above.

    Who’s taking out charges? The laws are weird, sometimes officers respond, sometimes not.

    Crap, I said over at MCB I can’t do this on a thread, but…

  4. October 6, 2007 9:02 am

    This is just sad 😦 There is absolutely no difference!

  5. October 6, 2007 9:43 am

    ‘Coma, I know this is a sensitive topic for you, and I appreciate your reading. We’ll after to talk about it over beer one day.

  6. October 6, 2007 6:02 pm

    This is sickening, and more evidence that we live in a woman-hating world. I often see comments like that when it comes to women’s issues, and what’s really disturbing is that the misogynistic comments usually overwhelm the comments in defense of the woman involved. We have a long way to go… Misogyny is such an enormous problem that a lot of WOMEN believe it’s o.k.

  7. October 7, 2007 2:02 pm

    They’re at it again on an opinion piece Gail Kerr wrote today, writing horrible things anonymously that aren’t even avoidable. It’s right at the end of the actual article as if it were legitimate commentary. And while it’s being legitimized by placement, it’s also victimizing sexual assault survivors all over again.

    This is why we scrapped forum posting at my college newspaper back in the day … you see the absolute worst of humanity when people are given the opportunity to showcase their hate without having to attach a real name and thereby open themselves up to the consequences of what it is they are saying.

  8. October 7, 2007 7:06 pm

    Samantha, thanks for pointing to that – it’s just disgusting. Everybody else, here’s the piece Samantha is referring to, with comments linked from the bottom.


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