Defense Attorney Calls Rape Victims “Whores,” and Worse

by Cara on August 27, 2009

in assholes, bigotry, courts, discrimination, misogyny, patriarchy, rape and sexual assault, sex work, slut-shaming, violence against women and girls

Trigger Warning

Every single time I argue that a rape apologist defense attorney has hit a new low, I speak too soon. This time, the evidence that there was still further to sink just came at a particularly rapid speed, and with a particularly hard impact.

Outside Charleston, West Virginia, a defense attorney defended a now-convicted serial rapist who specifically targeted prostitutes by repeatedly proclaiming the victims “whores,” and explicitly stating that their bodies and rights did not have the same value as those of non-sex working women:

Ed ReBrook, Gravely’s defense attorney, called no witnesses. But he summed up his case in a dramatic closing argument to jurors during which he called the victims “tramps” and “whores.”

“You cannot rape the willing,” ReBrook said. “They got in those automobiles with the intention of having sex for money.

“I would be horrified if any of the women in my life were raped, but I’m talking about decent, honorable women,” ReBrook said, and then dramatically raised his voice. “Not whores who have sex with many, many men for money.”

Assistant Prosecutor Fred Giggenbach immediately asked Kanawha Circuit Judge Tod Kaufman to stop ReBrook, but he did not.

“They are whores,” ReBrook persisted. “That is a perfectly usable word in the English language.

“Finding this man guilty of rape lessens the dignity of every other woman,” ReBrook said. “What they have done is turn sex into something disgusting.

“They are not like your wife, your girlfriend or your daughter,” he said. “They are street tramps. And what happened to them was, at least in part, their fault.

“If stupidity was a crime, my client would be a three-time loser,” ReBrook told the jury. “He may be guilty of assault, but he is not guilty of sexual assault.”

I had to read all of this over several times, feeling more and more nauseated upon each read, just to verify that yes, this article is recent, and no, it is not written on some kind of horrifically unfunny “spoof” site.

The idea that a woman who has sex for money is physically and emotionally incapable of being raped is absolutely nothing new. It has been around since the dawn of rape itself. The idea that a woman’s inherent human worth is tied to her sexual purity, and that any woman who has sex willingly — hell, who has sex willingly or not — has therefore given up her human right to say “no” in the future, is a basic staple of misogyny. It is used against all women, each and every one of us. But it is quite logically used most harshly, regularly, and despicably against sex workers — some of the very most despised women in a world that determines a woman’s value based on what she does or doesn’t do with her genitals.

Ed ReBrook specifically called the victims “whores” and “street tramps” in order to shame them. He used those names because they’re misogynistic, because they would hurt, because they resonate with so many people and seem synonymous with “worthless.” He did so because he knew that even in the face of the open admission that Thomas Gravely did that of which he was accused, the “you can’t rape the willing” defense is a pervasive one, and many people, like apparently himself, see a sex worker as permanently willing to have sex, no matter how violent, no matter if she says no, no matter if there is a knife at her throat. He did so, because as he proudly and publicly proclaimed, he doesn’t see these victims as fully human, but as something else, something lesser. He did so because he doesn’t see rape as violence, but as sex, and believes that sex can only harm a woman “honorable” to not ever have it. He did so because women are not their own people with their own thoughts, feelings, desires and dreams, but because they only exist in relation to their worth to men, as “[a] wife … girlfriend … daughter” — because rape is a crime not if it harms a woman, but if it “shames” a man.

Ed ReBrook made this argument without shame because he is shameless, because he is a misogynistic rape apologist to the extreme, who really shouldn’t be allowed in the same room as any woman. You can argue at me until you’re blue in the face that maybe Ed ReBrook didn’t “mean” those words above, that he was “just doing his job.” But you do not say those words unless on some level, you think it is acceptable for anyone to say them. And you do not think it is acceptable for them to be said, if you do not at some level believe them.

But the part of this that hit me the hardest personally wasn’t the childish and despicable name-calling. And it wasn’t the “what happened to them was, at least in part, their fault,” because though it’s not usually so explicit, I see this argument made so regularly and I’ve covered it so many times that I’m sadly almost numb to it. What hit the hardest was the phrase “Finding this man guilty of rape lessens the dignity of every other woman.”

I’m used to seeing the argument that “calling this rape is an insult to victims of ‘real’ rape,” though I feel the twinge of pain every time I do. The argument that calling rape what it is is an affront to all women and their dignity, though, is an even more frightening and misogynistic extension of that idea, yet again disingenuously made under the guise of actually standing up for women (the “good” ones).

To refer to rape as rape and to convict a man of committing it is not an insult to my dignity, either as a rape victim or as a woman. Rather, it is an important affirmation that my gender does not affect my very worth as a person. It is a means of sending the far too frequently ignored message that all women have rights. Giving other women their dignity does not decrease mine, it increases it, by narrowing the possibility that mine can so easily be snatched away by those who think that women are sub-human. To call rape what it is builds every single woman up, by making the world closer to a place where violations of their bodies will be taken seriously.

And any person who does not see it that way, any person who sees the simple admission that sex workers, too, have rights, can be raped, and in fact are, as an insult to women is valuing women not as people, but as genitals, as sexual objects. Any person who thinks that it lessens any other woman’s dignity to allow a sex working woman to have hers is saying that a woman must “earn” and “prove” her dignity in ways that men are never forced to. Any person who sees this relief of a verdict as an affront to herself or the women in his life is the one truly denying women their dignity, by holding onto a world where women are not seen as deserving and worthy enough to be automatically afforded it by the very act of being. They are stealing the dignity of all women by creating a world where an acknowledgment of the pervasive rape against women is not based upon what a man does, but about who a woman is.

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{ 11 comments }

1 Michael Shoshani August 27, 2009 at 1:52 pm

Your last paragraph sums everything up so painfully well that comment is truly superfluous.

As reprehensible as his words and actions are, Ed ReBrook is not the problem. He’s the SYMPTOM. The problem is much larger and much more insidious, the millenia-old situation wherein men arrogate to themselves the privilege of deciding whether or not a woman is (or women in general are) “worthy” of respect or dignity or humane treatment, while neatly avoiding having the same condition imposed upon themselves.

I mean, that’s just one problem out of many but it really goes back to the attitude that a woman who has had any sexual contact at all – even violent, coerced, humiliating and degrading contact – is somehow less pure or less worthy and bring shame upon males. Which is just fecking stupid considering that it’s usually a male who puts her in that position in the first place.

I’m sorry, Cara, I have trouble formulating my abstract thoughts into concrete language when enraged, but things like this gall me. No one deserves to be denigrated that way either in public or in private, and there is absolutely no excuse for justifying rape for *any* reason, let alone for a subjective judgmental reason based on perceived moral purity.

No one ever “asks for it”.

2 Karen August 27, 2009 at 2:36 pm

Wow. Glad you’re on the good side. Lady, you know how to persuade and make a case.

3 CableGirl August 27, 2009 at 5:22 pm

Horrifying! But not at all surprising, not in a country where people are regularly not granted equal status in the eyes of the law based on the arbitrary decisions of (mainly) white, middle aged men.

4 Therese August 27, 2009 at 8:54 pm

sex workers are one of the most vulnerable groups with high chances of being raped… how on earth did this idiot get a law degree? don’t you need to be logical and smart? the drivel coming out of his mouth makes no sense.

5 Liz Barnes August 28, 2009 at 9:48 am

I am a transplant to the state of WV from a more liberal state up north and it has been eye opening about the way people think out here well more downright frightening. This makes me well quite enraged and I have to agree with Therese how the heck did this idiot get a law degree?I hang my head for this state I really do but then again it is a larger scale problem as well. Horrible just horrid.

6 Yolanda C. August 28, 2009 at 12:31 pm

Assistant Prosecutor Fred Giggenbach immediately asked Kanawha Circuit Judge Tod Kaufman to stop ReBrook, but he did not.

Both ReBrook and Kaufman need to be brought up on ethics charges, pronto. Giggenbach, the survivors, and whoever else was in that courtroom witnessing this shit need to file a complaint as soon as possible. ReBrook’s behavior in open court violates every foundation of due process and equal protection under the law.

Being a sexist asshole is one thing—being an abusive and unethical attorney is quite another.

7 abyss2hope August 28, 2009 at 3:35 pm

The descriptors ReBrook used only explains why his client found this particular crime so easy to justify. All those who accept this excuse that certain women can’t be raped are accepting rape.

“Real” rape victims are used only as self-defense against true allegations that a particular person supports rape and wants others to do so as well. If ReBrook were defending a husband charged with raping his wife the glorification used in this case would be tossed out in an instant.

I also agree that the judge was wrong to let this rant of bigotry continue.

8 factcheckme August 29, 2009 at 4:23 pm

rape is fundamentally and historically a crime against not the woman but her *family*. dont forget that this ancient mindet persists (as if you could). by reminding the jury that this man “only” rapes hookers, the defense attorney was telling the jury “dont worry, this rape isnt about you.” this woman wasnt a member of your family, therefore YOU havent been dishonored.

its hard enough to get a rape conviction on behalf of any victim, but i imagine its alot easier to get one if the jury feels that THEY have been victimized. its still not about the victim, but if the jury can relate, they can punish the rapist as angry, disgraced family members, on their own behalf. the suffering of the rape victim is almost always irrelevant in this context.

this defense attorney knows what he is doing. and…i agree that ethics charges against both he and the judge should be forthcoming.

http://factcheckme.wordpress.com/

9 Michelle August 29, 2009 at 7:30 pm

Thanks for sharing this, although it is appalling, the world ought to be informed about “lawyers” like this and their opinions on rape and women. Thank you for this and all your posts.

10 melanie September 15, 2009 at 2:15 pm

this is so sick. i can’t even believe it’s real. i really hope that guy experienced some kind of backlash for that at the very least.

11 jill December 24, 2009 at 10:20 am

I am not surprised by this court case. Even though I have not had sex for years I have been labeled a “whore”. I have been kicked out of many stores when I have not done anything wrong. Police literally turn their backs toward me out in public when I get threatened by people who threaten to assault me. The message is that because I have been labeled a “whore” I am an outlaw who does not deserve police protection. My doctor seems to give me the wrong medications on purpose. I am treated very badly by practically everyone. All this started to happen in 2005, when I turned 45 years of age. Yes I have a diagnosis but I do not think I am imagining anything. Certainly when you get kicked out of a store for no reason, when people you do not know seem to attempt to knock you down or when people try to inappropriately touch you, you know you are not imagining anything. It is very scary to go out for the reasons listed above. I do not know what to do. People will not leave me alone. They want to be near me. Too near to me. College kids sitting behind me in a bus were attempting to stroke my hair as if I was an animal. I am in a northern city and this situation is very scary.

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