Saturday, May 24, 2014

Blame, Responsibility, and Rape

Yesterday I talked about how we take away the confidence of middle school girls by criminalizing their bodies. It isn't challenging enough that they are going through major upheavals inside and out, our culture throws extra rules and negative judgement at almost every change as it occurs. You are female: you are to be blamed.

That post promoted three different fascinating discussions: here, on Facebook, and on Twitter. It clearly struck a nerve. I was gratified that more than one point of view was expressed. I learned from all of the input. Contrast that experience with this:

Thursday evening this post was put out on Facebook and Twitter by Howard County Times--

A Columbia man has been charged with rape for allegedly having consensual sex with a 14-year-old girl, according to Frederick police.

Read more:

This is what followed:

A: isn't legal age of consent in Maryland 16? SO by definition it is NOT consensual at 14?

Me: Wow. This is truly an odd way to word this. If it is below the age of consent it is rape. Period. What is the writer trying to say here?

C: There's no such thing as "consensual rape."

Howard County Times: Thanks for your comments. We assure you the writer is not making a statement about the age of consent. We delivered the facts as they were presented in the police report, and, as such, every sentence in the story is attributed to police.

Me: Ah, so we should assume there are quotes somewhere in the status posting?

Howard County Times: Again, the information above is attributed to Frederick County police. We take special care to not take liberties in our writing on sensitive issues, so if the wording disturbs you in any way, you are free to get in touch with their department.

Howard County Times: For further clarification, here is the report from Frederick police:

Frederick, MD

Man Indicted for Second Degree Rape (CID)

D: No need for pedantry here, folks. They're just trying to be clear that it wasn't a violent attack. He's still being charged!

Me: "Pedantry"? (I was thinking, "I do not think that word means what you think it means...")


Whoever is running social media for Howard County Times must have been having an extremely bad day. Or it could be that they need some additional training on how to deal with the public. In the face of clear concern from readers, the response was: justify, justify, justify.

I read the Sun article. I read the police report. You should, too. The actual article is fine; the material is handled responsibly. The police report, on the other hand, certainly raises some questions in my mind about attitudes in the Frederick police department. But neither address the problem at hand, the choice to post these words on social media:

"A Columbia man has been charged with rape for allegedly having consensual sex with a 14-year-old girl, according to Frederick police."

Howard County Times cannot get away with blaming this wording on the Frederick Police Department. This wording was chosen and published by the Howard County Times. The reader is left with the thought: that the writer doesn't understand the age of consent, doesn't understand statutory rape, or thinks 14 year olds can have consensual sex with adults.

And the response to being called on this?

"It's not my fault. Blame the police department. If you don't like it, take it up with them."

This makes me sick. It also makes me angry. Take responsibility for your own actions. This is a story about a fourteen year old girl. It should not be a story about sloughing off the blame onto somebody else.

The rapist may say, "It wasn't rape; she wanted it." Isn't that horrifying enough? Is it necessary to add insult to injury through sloppy writing and a refusal to own up to it?

It was clear to me that the writer was thinking, "does the wording really matter that much?"

Yes, it matters.


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