I haven’t written about the R. Kelly trial and his atrocious acquittal because as a general rule I try to stay out of media circuses, I’ve been sick for the past several days, I very sadly never expected for a moment that he would actually be convicted of the crime he committed, and so many others have covered it and done a great job.

But this morning, Ashley snapped me out of it. I was thinking of this as just another “celebrity abuses women and goes free” case. She put it into perspective for me by looking at this pathetic state of affairs and asking a simple question:

What does it take?

There was a video tape, and a witness willing to testify against Kelly. What does it take to get a rape conviction?

As BFP noted, the young black woman who was allegedly thirteen at the time the “sex” tape was made has been all but declared unrapable. What About Our Daughters? provides some disgusting evidence on those with this state of mind: the victim — again, a thirteen-year-old girl — is a money-hungry tramp, she dressed provocatively, she wanted it, she’s impure, sexually precocious, and unwilling to be held responsible for her actions.

Is this about race? Um, yes. Absolutely. The fact that the victim is black has everything to do with the rape apologism surrounding this case and with the acquittal. Our racist/misogynistic society generally says that a black man accused of rape of a white girl/woman is clearly a natural born rapist. But a black man accused of raping a black girl/woman? Well she’s a natural born slut and liar.1

And so it’s also about gender. As I’ve argued before, rape apologism shifts to suit the needs of the case at hand. And essentially, the goal of every rape apologist is to make the victim in question unrapable. It’s not a phenomenon exclusive to women of color, or to a certain class, to transwomen or sex workers, only more common. Sadly, social prejudice gives them a head start in the race to the “unrapable” category or places them in it entirely automatically. But none of us are immune from it. I mean not to trivialize the greater impact that the “unrapable” myth has on marginalized communities, but to position the problem as a part of our entrenched rape culture in addition to it being a part of our racist/classist/otherwise prejudiced culture. Though many start out at a disadvantage, all of us — with the possible exception of elderly nuns and children under 10 — all of us, all of us, all of us girls and women can with enough determination be made unrapable.

I don’t know the race of all of these girls and women I’m about to discuss. What we do know is that all of these circumstances are different, and all of these girls/women have been made unrapable in someone’s eyes.

Charges were dropped against an alleged rapist because the victim was unconscious during the attack. In other words, the very state of being that made her unable to consent also makes her unable to be raped. As Marcella notes:

Those who don’t see this outcome as a serious problem are showing that they are fine with letting rapists ignore the law as long as those rapists pick the right victims at the right time and slander their victims boldly. Many of those who support the dropping of the charges against this taxi driver but who refrain from declaring the case “bogus” will blame the victim for becoming unconscious while declaring that they of course are against all rapes.

What should be one of the most cut and dry cases out there is suddenly called into question. What kind of woman is it who drinks to unconsciousness? Quite possibly one who lies, of course. What this shows is the public perception that if a woman does anything of her own free will that could possibly have influenced the circumstances under which she was attacked, she is unrapable. Because she put herself there.

What does it take to prove non-consent, if the very inability to consent is not enough?

A teacher recently declared her own student unrapable to the media:

The Utah Professional Practices Advisory Commission (UPPAC) decided Tuesday after an investigation to send a letter of warning to Tabiona School teacher Glenda Norviel. The letter comes after one of Norviel’s students, a rape victim, claimed the teacher assigned her to write an essay about her rape and pregnancy in front of the class as an alternative assignment to reading My Sister’s Keeper, a novel the student and her family found offensive.

Norviel then made remarks about the girl and her family to newspaper reporters who called her for comment. The Uintah Basin Standard quoted Norviel as saying the girl, “has supposedly been raped by the father of her baby.” Court records show a man was convicted of raping the 16-year-old girl.

Norviel also told a Tribune reporter, “The girl is not an innocent. . . . If she has just had a baby six weeks ago, is reading the f-word going to cause her emotional trauma for the rest of her life?”

“She spoke inappropriately and unprofessionally to the local reporter about the student and student’s family,” said Carol Lear, the commission’s executive secretary, of the investigator’s findings.

Whether the teacher intended the remark to mean that the girl is “not an innocent” and is therefore partially guilty in her own rape, or simply that she’s “not an innocent” because she had a child and is therefore a “woman” now, the effect is the same. The girl is forever tainted. And the teacher not only called her impure, but called into question whether or not the girl was telling the truth. Even though there is a conviction on record, and the baby’s very existence is clear DNA evidence, it’s still not certain if she was raped, in this teacher’s eyes. It never is. Either way, the girl is no longer innocent. She no longer has rights. By this same logic, it’s not possible to rape her in the future. And the teacher very clearly questions whether, despite a conviction, she was ever able to be raped at all.

Even when you win the rape conviction, good luck in the court of public opinions.

An accused rapist’s attorney has declared that his client must be innocent of raping a thirteen-year-old girl because his penis is so large (h/t Lisa).

The attorney representing a Lansdale man in a high-profile rape case wants a mold made of his client’s penis to prove to jurors that he couldn’t have committed the crime.

Attorney Marvin Gold wants Montgomery County prison officials to give Ronald A. McDade, 33, the privacy and a special kit to make a cast of his genitalia before he’s tried on charges that he raped a 13-year-old girl in January.

Gold said McDade’s accuser didn’t suffer injuries consistent with someone who had been assaulted by his client, whom he described as a “freak of nature” who is “extraordinarily large.”

[. . .]

Gold said he came up with the idea for the mold on his own after learning about the extent of the girl’s injuries. He said they weren’t as serious as one would expect.

Gold said he plans to show the mold to the jury to bolster his case that the girl should have had more injuries.

This is merely an astonishing and grotesque extension of an old favorite: she’s not injured enough to have been raped. There are a lot of assumptions here, and all of them wrong. Not all rapes cause physical injuries. Not all young or virginal vaginas are particularly tight. Not all vaginas have great difficulty accepting large objects for penetration. Not all vaginas tear or bruise very easily. Not all rapists are particularly rough in committing their crime, often in fact specifically for the purpose of leaving limited evidence. And I don’t know enough details about the case to know whether or not it is relevant here, but not all rape requires use of a penis.

But most wrong of all is the assumption that a 13-year-old girl is unrapable because, well, her suffering just didn’t adequately meet people’s bogus expectations.

What does it take, if actual physical evidence that this girl was raped, evidence that is hard to come by, is not enough?

Women and girls are declared unrapable because they’ve been raped before.2 Because they’re sex workers. Because they’re black. Because they’re immigrants. Because they’re poor. Because the they may have possibly made what some might consider a poor judgment call. Because they were drinking. Because they were promiscuous. Because they were wearing a short skirt. Because they’re trans. Because they’re disabled. Because they consented to one kind of sexual activity but not another. Because they made the choice to go there. Because they’ve consented to sex with the same man before. Because they’re ugly/fat. Because they are any combination of these things.

Women and girls are declared unrapable because the man in question is their husband. Because the man is a public figure. Because the man was drinking. Because he learned his lesson. Because he’s a family man. Because he’s “not like that.” Because he’s good looking. Because he’s wealthy. Because he didn’t use a weapon. Because he’s a man, and men are untrustworthy, uncontrollable, sex-crazed animals.

because because because

What does it take to get a rape conviction? This is initially, and morally, the better question.

The more accurate question for our rape culture is: what does it take to make a girl/woman rapable?

I’m here, my friends, to tell you more wearily than furiously that I don’t have the answer. Other than a massive, wide-scale reeducation program? I don’t know. I don’t know.

Make her white, middle-class, educated, sober, a virgin, sitting in her home in over-sized pajamas minding her own business, raped by a stranger who broke into the house with a weapon, make her beaten to a bloody pulp, make her a woman who called the police and went to the ER and phoned the police right away. Make her all of these things, a virtual impossibility, and she’s got a damn good shot, much better than most. But still, you better cross your fingers and hope. Because they will find something to make this woman unrapable. They always do.

I want to live in a world where rape is an anomaly, where women are not raped. I don’t want to live in a world where any of us are unrapable.

But we are. Especially the most vulnerable among us. This is what R. Kelly’s trial tells us, what we need to pay attention to: a thirteen-year-old girl was made unrapable. A child, erased by a full grown man. And it is far from an isolated incident. In our society, young girls of color are unrapable. So am I. And so are you.

And I don’t know what the fuck it takes.

  1. It should be clear that I’m talking about trends here. Yes, there are exceptions. But I swear to god that if someone pointlessly comes here with “I know a case where a black man was acquitted of raping a white woman!” or “I know a case where black man was convicted of raping a black woman!” as an attempt to prove that judicial racism/misogyny does not exist, I will flip the fuck out.
  2. The links are too many and I don’t have the time, so I give up. Click the “rape and sexual assault” category if you’re curious. If you really must know, I assure that I can find an example, almost certainly on this blog, for each and every claim.
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{ 13 comments }

1 Claudine O'Leary June 16, 2008 at 6:34 pm

I hear you about staying away from media circuses. I just blogged about the R. Kelly verdict on my blog here http://www.rethinkresources.net/2008/06/16/monday-morning-quarterbacking-on-the-r-kelly-verdict/

I’m from Chicago and I have worked for years with girls in the sex trade, including lots of girls who date older men. When I think about what does it take I think about the State’s Attorney who prosecuted the R. Kelly case, who I know and have been to many community meetings on youth in the sex trade with was quoted as saying in an AP article “This shows the world how difficult this crime is to prosecute,” she said. “It also takes the soul of the victim, the heart of the victim.”

And of course, the victim in this case did not want to be identified as a victim. As long as prosecutors are looking for girls to act like what they think are appropriate victims, they are going to have a hard time finding youth to testify for them.

I know many youth who’ve refused to participate in similar trials brought on their behalf because they weren’t respected or heard and did not want to be portrayed as someone with “the soul of a victim.”

2 SunlessNick June 16, 2008 at 10:31 pm

Because they will find something to make this woman unrapable. They always do.

What business was she minding? It had better be something wholesome.

But I’ve got nothing except to echo your question of what does it take?

3 Renee June 19, 2008 at 7:03 pm

You put into word everything I felt when I found out the verdict. To read commentary where people were thankful that he got off totally disgusted me. Lost in all of this is the fact that a 13 year old girl got raped.

4 Jennifer-Ruth June 20, 2008 at 11:21 am

Totally agree with you on the race thing.

Black man rapes 13 year old black girl = girl was asking for it/wanted it/led him on/insert your own excuse here.

Black man rapes 13 year old white girl = all black men are rapists/black men are animals/racial tension.

Of course, when you get -
White man rapes 13 year old white girl
- you’re back to the fact that she asked for it/dressed provacatively/etc.

But this is one of the very many reasons that feminism needs intersectionality.

Also, thought this might be relevant to your post: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6237480.stm

The rest of your post was brilliant but I’m just…too tired of it all to comment on it right now. It’s so fucking depressing.

5 Tiffany June 20, 2008 at 5:38 pm

100% agree with your post..

I recently spoke with a black male about the case and he like the majority of black males defended r.kelly and made black females unrapable by of course using the same old excuses…

I have to wonder what will these men who support and defend rapist do when they have girl children, would they think of their daughters in the same fashion.!

Crazy..
Here’s a petition that is going around standing up for the rights of black women and children..
http://ebonyintuition.blogspot.com/2008/06/statement-of-black-men-against.html

6 sbsanon June 20, 2008 at 11:20 pm

Wow, what a powerful post, Cara. Your words are sending shivers through me. I find it so depressing reading about these cases sometimes I can’t take anymore. But you’ve gone beyond simply ranting about each individual case, to ask the big and important and fundamental questions. Seeing this laid out in words is good even if it’s hard to read. What does it take? What a question.

7 sara June 21, 2008 at 10:03 pm

Am I missing something? I thought the R Kelley rape victim refused to cooperate with the prosecution and testified that she was NOT the girl on the tape?

Of course I think he’s guilty, but when you dont have a complaining witness for the prosecution you’re not going to get a conviction.

8 Cara June 21, 2008 at 11:11 pm

They charged him on child porn in the end, Sara. He’s on video “having sex” with a girl who is very clearly underage, and there was a witness who testified that she had sex with both of them and that the girl was underage.

9 Macai June 30, 2008 at 10:08 am

I’d like to point out that I agree that the Robert Kelly case was handled wrongly; he should’ve been convicted, because it simply wasn’t reasonable to doubt that he did what he was accused of.

However, I’d like to warn women not to go too far with this. While in many cases such as this one, the man who is accused goes scot free, there are cases when innocent men are convicted more or less on the word of a complaining woman.

Let’s face it, this door swings both ways. The way we handle rape in this country is messed up, and I honestly think that the verdict of any actual rape charge may as well decided on a coin flip.

10 Cara June 30, 2008 at 10:27 am

Uh oh, you hear that folks? I’ve been WARNED.

Yeah, the verdict of any actual rape charge is decided on the flip of a coin, if the “head’s” side representing an accused rapist never seeing the inside of a jail cell weighs about 10 lbs.

Dear Macai: please learn a thing or two before commenting on my blog.

11 Cara June 30, 2008 at 11:04 am

Macai seems to think that I’m a dipshit to fails at banning him, and yet all of his comments are in the spam folder. Funny that.

While he doesn’t deserve the reference, his claims that there is about a 50/50 shot of getting a rape conviction for all reported rapes is preposterous. Seeing as how, according to federal statistics, statistics which I personally believe to be artificially low BTW, only 50% of reported rapes will result in an arrest, and since 100% of those arrests don’t result in a prosecution let alone a conviction, he’s wrong. And I do believe that this makes him the one who fails.

12 SunlessNick October 9, 2008 at 7:12 pm

Well, thanks to a news item found by Marcella Chester at Abyss2Hope, we now know that even a conviction may not be enough for a conviction. (No, that’s not a typo).

(I don’t know how to link to a specific post in her blog, but if it’s not at the top any more, search the page for KOMO News” or “Clatsop County.”

13 Robert November 28, 2008 at 2:43 pm

“Women and girls are declared unrapable because they’ve been raped before… sex workers… black… immigrants… poor… drinking… promiscuous… trans… disabled… ugly/fat. Because they are any combination of these things.”

You forgot one criterion for unrapability: if you’re a man or boy, and your abuser is a woman, you’re unrapable.

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