Assessing America’s insufficient rape shield laws

The trial and verdict in the Steubenville rape case in Ohio earlier this month underscores a problem that has persisted for far too long in America’s courts. This problem is an amalgamation of stereotypes, misconceptions,  lax punishments, and insufficient rape shield laws. 

 “The person who is the accuser here is silent, just as she was that night, and that’s because there was consent,” is the argument the defense tried to use in the Steubenville case, where a drunk 16-year old was sexually abused by two high-school football players. There are two main problems with this statement. First, silence doesn’t equal consent. Second, she may have been, I don’t know, passed out during the rape and traumatized during the trial, which would explain why she was silent in both instances. But why use logic when we all know she wanted it, right? 

Ma’lik Richmond’s attorney Walter Madison also elicited testimony from Elayna Andres, who the media described as “a sober, 17-year old girl who witnessed the alleged incident.” Before I go into the testimony, I would like to point out two problems with the media’s sentence. Instead of using a term such as “reliable witness,” the reporter describes Andres as “a sober” girl, thus drawing a contrast between the unreliable victim who was “drunk” and the defense’s witness who was “sober.” Furthermore, she is reported to have witnessed “the alleged” incident, which was caught on video and photographed. I guess it’s the same as when people say they saw Jon Stewart “allegedly” make a joke on TV last night. Except, nobody actually says that. Anyways, back to the testimony.  When on the stand, Ms. Andres described the victim as “someone who had just forcibly declined an offer for a safe ride back to her friends and away from the boys.” This is irrefutable proof that she wanted to be molested. Well, at least that’s what Madison wants us to believe. 

Now, I have to warn you, the sentencing was even more infuriating than the trial. Both defendants were sentenced to a minimum of one year in prison. You get five years for using drugs, or, you know, sending your five-year old son to a school district where you don’t have a permanent residence. At least prosecutors are nabbing the real criminals. 

This case actually reminds me of the Gregory Haidl case back in 2005. In that case, Haidl and two other teenage boys violently raped an intoxicated 16-year old girl and videotaped it all. Their attorneys then tried to say she wanted to be a porn star. Moreover, Haidl’s defense team consisted of not only attorneys, but a publicist. This group of stellar individuals then embarked on a smear campaign, calling the victim a “slut”, offering money for dirt on her, and illegally releasing her medical records to the media. They then brought in a porn star to testify that the girl “was faking unconsciousness in the video while playing the role of a corpse” because she allegedly wanted to make a snuff film. See, that is a good use of “allegedly.” But let’s not get sidetracked. The defense also purchased the expert testimony of a New York doctor to claim that the girl “didn’t need to give oral consent to the gang bang because her rectum had done so when it accepted the insertion of foreign objects.” Oh, and the reason the Steubenville case reminds me of this one is that Haidl was released in 2008, just three years after being convicted. 

This next case is like the cherry on the sundae, though, making the last two look like bedtime stories. Back in 2011, in Cleveland, Texas, 18 men raped an 11-year old. The defense tried to claim that she was seeking a gang bang because she dressed older than her age, which must mean like a 16-year old in this case, and wore makeup, like a 14-year old, presumably. During the trial of the second rapist, defense attorney Steve Taylor asked this to the detective on the case: “Wasn’t she saying, ‘Come into my parlor,’ like the spider said to the fly?” Two have already been convicted in this case, but that leaves 16 more men who this young victim is being forced to confront face-to-face. See ,Texas doesn’t have sufficient rape shield laws, so defense attorneys are able to call the victims things like “slut” and accuse them of being promiscuous while they are testifying. And they have to testify against each victim in person because taped testimony would be unfair to the poor rapists.  

I just want to know, do you think people are going to want to come forward if stuff like this is allowed in court? The law should be crafted so that victims aren’t intimidated and so that rapists don’t walk free. 

Ondo is a member of the class of 2014.



You can contact Adam at aondo@u.rochester.edu.

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