At least in the coverage of Roman Polanski’s arrest it has! I keep hearing about how he was arrested in Switzerland this weekend on a 32-year old charge of “having sex with” a then-13 year old girl. (This New York Times story will stand as representative of the chicken$hit coverage.) Funny–he was actually charged with rape in 1977 (aggravated with the use of drugs and alcohol to incapacitate the girl), but pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of statutory rape.
Here’s something even more inexcusable: the Denver Post ran a Los Angeles Times story that featured a photo with a caption of the victim in which she is described as the girl who “accused Polanski when she was 13.” (The Denver Post’s headline in their print and online editions this morning is “Polanski held in 1977 rape case,” however, so “rape” is OK in a headline presumably because it’s shorter than saying “sex case” or “having sex with 13-year old accuser.”)
Thank you, Kobe Bryant, and your very capable but total dirtbag of an attorney, Pamela Mackey! Ever since Bryant was charged with raping a 19-year old college student from the University of Northern Colorado in 2003, the news media has refused to label rape victims as rape victims, even when a District Attorney has charged a man with rape, at which point the alleged crime is acknowledged to be in fact a crime. (The presumption of innocence of the alleged criminal still holds, but at this point victims should be acknowledged as victims, not jeered at and patronized as “accusers.”) Check out the linked story above–Bryant’s victim is described as the woman who “accused” him, although of course he had been arrested and charged with the crime. By the way, the charges were dropped because the victim refused to testify against Bryant, not because the D.A. came to the conclusion that the charge was unwarranted.
What a proud legacy Colorado has given the nation with respect to our understanding of crime, consent, and rape. Now, we can’t even describe drunk and drugged 13-year old girls as rape victims–they’re just “accusers.” I’ve talked with my women’s history students about this for the past few years, when thinking about patriarchal equilibrium and the fact that I’m old enough now to see a good span of my life historically and to note the changes, and I think the language we use to describe rape has been shaped to the advantage of rapists everywhere. Unless and until all crime victims are going to be referred to as “accusers” in media accounts, I’ll stand by my analysis here.
UPDATE, Monday afternoon: In catching up on my blog reading, I find that others have written some good posts on the Polanski arrest. First, Dr. Isis got there yesterday with her post, “After Years of Stealth Evasion, Elusive Criminal Roman Polanski Arrested,” and Salon’s Kate Harding wrote today, “Reminder: Roman Polanski raped a child,” which is a much longer and more thorough treatment of the case than I offered here.
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