A Long Way To Go On Sexual Assault Issues
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.
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.