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.