Attorney Uses “Boys Will Be Boys” Defense in Alleged Sexual Assault

by Cara on October 16, 2009

in assholes, courts, education and schools, misogyny, patriarchy, rape and sexual assault, violence against women and girls

Last week, a freshman at the University of Maryland allegedly gained access to a dorm that was not his own, entered a female student’s room and woke her up by trying to kiss her. He also twice tried to put his hands down her shorts. When the victim screamed, he allegedly ran across the hallway to another room, and grabbed another female student by the head and tried to kiss her. Then, according to the official report, he did something similar to two other students in two other dorm rooms.

So, Seth Rudnitsky allegedly entered several dorm rooms illegally and then attempted to sexually assault their residents. Apparently Rudnitsky has even confessed to entering the dorm rooms and touching the women, though he does not say that he attempted to kiss the women or put his hands inside their clothing. In any case, what he has confessed to alone is already a serious crime — which is why he has been charged with first-degree burglary.

But Rudnitsky’s defense attorney Mark Schamel frames the allegations differently:

Mark Schamel, Rudnitsky’s attorney, said Rudnitsky was intoxicated and made a “typical freshman” mistake. Schamel declined to comment on the specific allegations from the female students who said Rudnitsky tried to initiate unwanted sexual conduct.

“This is not a sexual assault case. You have a really good kid who has never been in trouble his entire life,” Schamel said. “It’s your typical freshman ‘I went out and had too much to drink and was being silly’ kind of case.”

Charging documents refer to the incidents as “unwanted physical contact.” In an interview with police, Rudnitsky admitted to entering “3 to 4 rooms and touching a bed, arm, or shoulder,” according to the documents.

Schamel said his client simply made a mistake.

“He had no ulterior motives. He’s a wonderful kid who had too much to drink,” Schamel said. “This frankly shouldn’t even be a criminal case. I think it’s being entirely blown out of proportion.”

You know, the last time I checked, breaking and entering and then sexually touching sleeping people without their consent is not actually a “typical freshman mistake.” And trying to put your hands inside a sleeping woman’s clothing is not “being silly” — it’s assault. How exactly did you spend your college years, Mr. Schamel?

Schamel might as well come out and say that “boys will be boys,” as it’s what his defense amounts to. But of course, that kind of view is not unusual. “Boys will be boys” is a common defense for all kinds of sexual harassment and abuse committed by young men — though most commonly white men of a certain class status.

We see it from the very early days of the playground, when a little boy lifts up a little girl’s skirt to take a peek, and everyone giggles rather than explaining to him why what he did was wrong — or giggles and then gives him the explanation, but with it the distinct impression that what he did was cute. We see it when the little girl is hit and pushed in the mud, and told that the boy did it because he likes her. We see it when boys try to grab girls’ developing breasts, or look down their shirts, or slap their butts, none of which is asked for — and met with some variation of, oh, he’s just playing around. All those hormones! It’s experimentation! And really, it means that he thinks you’re good looking, so take it as a compliment, ladies! And we see it when teenagers start dating, and girls are warned about not being alone with a boy, because you never know what he’ll try to do — after all, boys will be boys, and we can’t expect them to control their sexual urges or worry about your consent.

All their lives, boys who commit sexual violations are told that they’re cute, clowning around, letting off steam, normal. What the phrase “boys will be boys” in fact means is that behaving this way is an integral part of being a boy, growing up, and proving your masculinity. And all their lives, girls see their feelings on the matter pushed to the wayside.

Is it really any shock that many of those boys carry this attitude over into adulthood? The fact is, if the alleged crime here didn’t involve a break in by a stranger, but instead a break in by someone the woman knew — or if it didn’t involve a break in at all, but happened at a party or a club — far fewer people would find Schamel’s assertion absurd. If the women knew the guy, well he was just playing a prank! Trying to scare them! Hehe, funny! If it happened while the women were awake, well what were they doing out around all that alcohol? What do you expect young men to do when they’ve been drinking and you’re all there and gropeable? You know how they are!

“Boys will be boys” is a pervasive part of our culture. We see it everywhere, all the time. And the consequence of that reaction to sexual misconduct and violence is not only a stronger rape culture, but also more and more extreme behavior being excused underneath the banner.

And the whole time, no one thinks about how the girls might be feeling in all of this. We talk all the time about what it supposedly means to be a boy, and ignore the fact that if they are that way, we’ve conditioned them into it. But we as a larger society never, ever talk about what it means to be be a girl, how exactly girls will be girls in a land where boys will be boys.

As Amanda at the Sexist writes in response to Schamel’s statements up above about “typical freshmen”:

For the women who were assaulted, the “typical freshman experience” is a bit different: being awoken by unwanted groping from a strange man. But listen, ladies: That’s fine if that’s your college experience, as long as you don’t make a big fucking deal about it.

Yet again, the (straight, white, cis, middle-class) male experience is portrayed by other men as being the default experience. Yet again, it serves to erase the impact that experience has on the experiences of those around them. Yet again, the rights of women and the many other people who are impacted by this behavior don’t count nearly as much as the right for boys to be boys. Far too few care about what an insult such a phrase is to the intelligence and ethics of men and boys when it can be so efficiently used to maintain their privilege. And even fewer think or care about what it does to women and girls.

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{ 17 comments }

1 Moody Springs October 16, 2009 at 2:09 pm

aw, cute cute! first we had a “cuddler”, now we have a “kisser”! Those adorable boys! (retching)

2 kaninchenzero October 16, 2009 at 2:26 pm

Oh, but he’s got so much potential! It’d be such a terrible shame to ruin his life over a little thing like this.

Either my first year at the University of Redlands or the year before — I’m not entirely clear on the timing — a woman who had a ground floor room in one of the on-campus residences broke up with her boyfriend. Worried that he might break in and assault her, she notified building services, campus life, and campus security that the lock on her window didn’t work, that her ex had threatened her, and she needed it fixed now. It didn’t get fixed. The ex broke in and raped her. She went to the city police and filed a complaint.

When she found out what was going on the director of student life, Charlotte Burgess, went to the police station to try to talk the victim out of pressing her complaint, giving the above as justification. It probably won’t be surprising to know that the rapist was the son of one of the members of the University’s board of trustees.

If I had the money, I’d help the victims in this case sue the University of Maryland for negligence in not making the dormitories more secure against this sort of intrusion. (My Lotto fantasies are a little odd, ’tis true.)

3 Cara October 16, 2009 at 2:37 pm

Jesus Christ, Kaninchenzero, those are grounds for a lawsuit if I ever saw them.

I also had a friend who was raped during college by an acquaintance … in the middle of the night, after he broke into her home, which had a faulty lock. It really just terrifies me to hear how common such a story might be. Maybe it is more “typical” college behavior than I thought.

Though, of course unlike our lovely attorney up above, I’m aware that even if it is common, that’s far from a fucking excuse, and “typical” behavior does not equate to “silly,” good-natured, harmless behavior.

4 Phira October 16, 2009 at 2:40 pm

Unwanted sexual contact = sexual assault, you stupid, stupid lawyer.

*tears our hair*

5 kaninchenzero October 16, 2009 at 2:51 pm

I don’t know if the victim in the Redlands case sued the school, or if the man who raped her ever even faced criminal charges. I hope so, but I sort of doubt it.

It’s kind of really depressing how many of us are or know someone this happened to.

6 Vic October 16, 2009 at 3:33 pm

what does “cis” men, please?

7 Cara October 16, 2009 at 3:38 pm
8 polerin October 16, 2009 at 3:56 pm

@vic
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cisgender

@article
Ugh. Pure ugh.

9 SunlessNick October 16, 2009 at 11:53 pm

The lawyer himself answered Amanda’s post, saying that he wouldn’t normally bother with something so “biased,” but he had to remind the silly woman to take account of all the facts and remember that this boy is a wonderful kid.

But really, the fact that he went on a spree of breaking and entering, and assaulting is all really need to take account of when deciding whether he’s a break and enterer, or assaulter.

Or should we conclude that all four of these women got together to malign him?

Schamel might as well come out and say that “boys will be boys,” as it’s what his defense amounts to. But of course, that kind of view is not unusual.

Bit of a tangent, but this reminds me of the ubiquitous bullshit assertion that it’s feminism which promotes the idea that men are inherently rapists.

10 Darcy October 17, 2009 at 3:07 pm

If this was a young man who worked in the neighborhood instead of being a college student, especially a black man, and who drunkenly decided to sexually assault girls in the dorms, there would be an OUTRAGE. The university administration would make a huge show of enacting all sorts of new safety measures to protect students.

But it’s just one of our students! He was playing around! He’s totally trustworthy because he’s one of us (even when overtly doing something wrong)!

11 Darcy October 17, 2009 at 3:08 pm

*especially IF HE WAS a black man committing the assault

12 jennygadget October 17, 2009 at 6:43 pm

kaninchenzero, how the fuck did I not hear about this? Was I away at college myself at the time? Sadly, probably not. And am I correct assuming Charlotte Burgess is somehow related to Larry Burgess?

13 Adrian October 22, 2009 at 11:02 pm

Honestly, I’m surprised that this is even a case. In New Haven (Connecticut), the colleges’ cops don’t even file reports for this kind of thing.

Or any other kind of thing, like drug violations, non-sexual assaults, robbery, reckless driving…

I agree that male privilege, white privilege, and class privilege definitely form part of the problem here, but there is a general pattern of permissiveness on college campuses that extends to law enforcement and the legal system.

14 Julia October 24, 2009 at 11:15 pm

I think this is a fabulous take on the story, however you may want to edit it. This did not occur at the University of Maryland, as the article states (and where I go to school), but rather at GW (at least according to Amanda’s article).

however, UMD has its fair share of sexual assault problems…not to mention policy brutality.

15 Cara October 24, 2009 at 11:45 pm

Hey Julia, I did see that and originally had it written as GW, but figured that the official article was the source I ought to trust when given two different pieces of information. What I’m gathering, actually, is that the article is from a GW paper … and that the burglary and assault took place at GW, but that the student was a student at the University of Maryland? (i.e. He entered a dorm on the campus of a school that he does not attend.)

In any case, if someone can find me a definitive source either way, I’ll gladly make a correction if necessary.

16 SM November 14, 2009 at 3:24 pm

It’s even worse when women say it. I was sexually harassed by a guy I had dumped and his current GF called and told me that he told her everything and she forgave him b/c “boys will be boys”. She said he was with her now and she would “change” him. There are no words….

17 SM November 14, 2009 at 3:25 pm

Oops…I meant to say sexually assaulted by a guy I had dumped.

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