Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Hierarchy of crime

According to Sports Illustrated, a newspaper reporter in Pittsburgh will no longer be invited to appear on a local sports panel TV show because he made a comment saying that Michael Vick would be better off right now if he had raped a woman.

I can understand why people are upset about that remark, because if you don't take the time to interpret it, it sounds off-colour. But on the other hand, I think he was right. And I think it's tragic that he was right.

One of the blogs I read regularly, Velvet in Dupont (who is, admittedly, a huge animal lover), has a post up saying that what Vick is accused of doing is much worse than what Kobe Bryant was accused of doing. The quote reads (and this will skyrocket my blog's rating from PG-13 to NC-17), "Whatever happened in Bryant’s hotel room remains unknown. Did a crime occur there? Was the girl raped or was she just a starfucker? Who knows. Who cares really. You go up to a guy’s hotel room you dumb cunt, and you’re asking for it. Women’s rights advocates be damned."

I'm not saying that dogfighting isn't a big deal. It is a big deal, it's a horrible, cruel, disgusting thing to do, and it should be treated as such. Michael Vick should be prosecuted for the laws that he has broken, and I'm glad that he has lost his endorsement deals.

But rape is an equally big deal. It also involves cruel mistreatment of living, feeling beings in a way that is beyond their control and that has long-lasting negative impacts. It is also a terrible crime that should be prosecuted to the fullest extent possible.

I recognize that Kobe Bryant was never convicted of rape or sexual assault against Katelyn Faber, and that nobody knows what happened there. Velvet in Dupont is right that it appears much more clear that Vick committed this crime than it was that Bryant committed that one (and I recognize the other point as well--that women are capable, to a certain extent, of avoiding dangerous situations, whereas dogs cannot avoid being brought into dogfighting situations). But the overall point stands. The public outrage over Michael Vick's alleged crimes is far stronger than the public response to the allegations against Kobe Bryant.

For some reason, alleged rape and sexual assault do not seem to elicit such strong, visceral responses. Is it that such allegations are so commonplace that people don't notice them anymore? Is it because there is some sort of societal prejudice toward alleged rape victims? Clearly, there is a stigma about coming forth and saying you were raped--many victims don't do it or choose not to press charges, many major news outlets don't release the names of victims of sexual assault in order to protect their privacy (which seems to me a tacit acknowledgment that unlike the victims of other crimes such as armed robbery, rape victims are not guaranteed to receive the support and sympathy of the general public), and now there are semantics debates about whether or not words like "rape," "victim," and "assault" should even be allowed to be used in court during rape trials. I find it crazy for a judge to rule that using the correct words to describe the alleged crimes is too "loaded" to be admissible in court.

Rape is a blurry line, and I think it's true that in many cases one person views as consensual what the other person views as forced. People are not always good at communicating with one another, at clearly stating what they do and do not want, and at interpreting each other's cues. I understand why it's such a blurry line with rape, and I understand why it's such a difficult crime to prove.

But when it does happen, it should be taken seriously. There is no need to weigh the crimes of rape and dogfighting against each other and declare that dogfighting is the worse crime. But that's what we have done, and now a reporter is being censured for pointing out the truth--that our society is meting out a worse punishment to a man accused of dogfighting than we would if he were accused of raping a woman. These are our societal priorities, and all Paul Zeise did was point that out. It's too bad that we chose to direct our ire over the issue of sexual assault toward people who make seemingly ill-judged comments about it rather than people who are accused of actually committing it.


  1. Hello!

    Okay, wait a second though. I wasn't comparing the two crimes. I was saying that someone on Nancy Grace did and I was pissed that they would even do that - not for any reason other than these are two totally separate cases. Nancy Grace went off on this guy because he didn't word correctly what I think he meant to say: There is proof Vick was involved. There is not proof that Bryant raped the girl and as such he wasn't found guilty.

    I was more aiming to compare the totally ridiculous-ness of the people on these talk shows that just get their 10 seconds and jabber away about the dumbest crap. I don't think that the rape of a woman is being belittled here, but the guy was found not guilty in our courts - so we can't persecute him for something our justice system could not prove occurred. I feel the same way about the people going on and on about how OJ killed his wife. Jesus people, NONE OF US WERE THERE, and if you live in this country, you have to have faith in the justice system, otherwise you may as well pack it in and head for another country.

    It looks pretty bad for Vick. What they have on him isn't pretty. It's hard to compare the torture and murder of hundreds of animals, murders that we know happened, to the rape of a woman that may or may not have happened at all.

    The animal thing and the rape thing are two pretty highly charged issues I think, and each person is going to have the cause they believe in more. I don't want to see a woman raped - but I never would find myself in a hotel room with a famous sports figure unless I was planning on having sex with him. If he really did force her, of course that is despicable, but as women, we HAVE TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for our actions. We can't rip off all our clothes, then say, "oh, I changed my mind." It gives the rest of us a bad name and puts guys in a very compromising position.

    I really could go on forever about this...sorry.

  2. Hey, thanks for your response.

    I agree with you that we shouldn't condemn people for crimes that they were not convicted of committing. Although I have to say that my faith in the justice system extends only so far. The public in general seems quick to judge people who get arrested, which is why mistaken arrests can ruin people's lives. And with celebrities like OJ and Kobe, people are even more interested in judging quickly.

    Rape is a tough one, though. There are so many angles to it and it's such a subjective thing. I remember in high school we had some sort of sexual violence awareness session, and this one woman who was brought in to talk basically said that if women wear revealing clothes, they can't complain when they get raped. Which is obviously an extreme viewpoint. And it's a challenge because part of the women's movement was about freedom of sexual expression and yet what that can lead to is this view of women as sluts or as wanting it but not being willing to say so verbally, and instead saying so with the clothing they wear.

    And you know, it's so difficult because on the one hand, you're right--it's stupid to go up into some guy's hotel room if you don't know him, and it's stupid to imply you want certain things and then turn around and say you changed your mind. But on the other hand, making stupid decisions doesn't mean that you deserve to be raped, or that you no longer have the right to take legal action against someone who committed a crime against you.

    But the problem with rape is that it's such a murky crime. It's so subjective trying to figure out what means yes and what means no, and then after the fact, whether you really wanted what you thought you wanted, and if not, whose fault it was that it happened to begin with. And it's bad for the guys involved when women change their minds after the fact and then try to pin the blame on the man.

    But all of this is why so many rape trials turn into character attacks on the accuser, and that in turn is why so many women refuse to press charges against the men who assault them sexually (which was a factor in Katelyn Faber's decision not to testify against Kobe). Because nobody, often including the people who were actually present during the alleged attack, really knows what was happening or who meant to do what or whose fault any of it was. So it becomes really delicate, and the end result is that rape is still a stigmatized accusation to make, and that many people who genuinely do commit rape do not get prosecuted for it.

    But I especially agree with the last thing you said. We as women do have to take responsibility for our actions, not just sexually but in general. We can't keep hiding behind these stereotypes of being the weaker sex, the indecisive ones who don't know their own minds and can't really be trusted to make decisions or clearly state what we want. We can't use accusations of rape to absolve ourselves of personal responsibility for unfortunate situations that we got ourselves into. It's just unfortunate that attempting to strike a balance between these two things has led to so many instances of genuine rape going unpunished.

    Wow, looks like I could go on about this forever as well...