Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Blaming the Victim

I've been following politics most of my life.

I understand how the game is played and how one side or the other is apt to use things — appropriately or inappropriately — to score points in political campaigns.

That is how it was with the alleged "war on women" that the Democrats used — admittedly, effectively — against the Republicans in 2012.

Sexism is like racism — in the sense that it really does no good to deny that it exists. Clearly, it does exist — but it isn't the exclusive domain of one political party. That's where propaganda comes in.

To assert that it is the domain of one side or the other renders the accuser no better — indeed, probably worse — than the accused, for the accuser gives in to the very prejudice that supposedly is being decried.

Right here in Dallas recently, we had a blatant example of how sexism is not limited to a particular party — or, for that matter, a particular gender.

A district judge — a Democrat named Jeanine Howard who is unopposed in her bid for re–election this year — issued a ruling in a rape case that was nothing more than a case of old–time victim blaming and shaming. Howard sentenced the defendant, now 20 (18 at the time of the assault), to probation.

"He is not your typical sex offender," she said.

The victim, a 14–year–old girl, "wasn't the victim she claimed to be," Howard said and imposed an incredibly light sentence on the girl's rapist, who had confessed to the crime.

Howard also suggested the crime was not a rape because the victim apparently was not a virgin, that she had been promiscuous and had given birth to a baby. Really. The judge might just as well have said the victim asked for it.

By Howard's logic, any female who has had sexual intercourse cannot possibly be raped — even if she says "no," which, apparently, the victim in this case did. Several times.

(The victim did consent to intercourse away from the school grounds, but the young man attacked her at school.)

Also, the victim and her mother both say she has never been pregnant. Not that that should matter — except, apparently, in Howard's courtroom.

Meanwhile ...

In Montana, an astonishingly lenient sentence for rape handed down by a district judge in that state has been overturned. G. Todd Baugh sentenced a former teacher to one month for raping a 14–year–old student — who later took her own life.

Baugh said the victim was mature for her age and asserted that she was "probably as much in control of the situation" as her attacker.

CNN's Carol Costello wrote an opinion piece on the two cases that was posted on CNN.com (she may have delivered it on the air, too; I seldom watch CNN anymore so I don't know). She wondered — a bit naively, I thought — "Is America really clueless about the meaning of rape?"

I think the answer to that is that a certain portion of America has always been clueless about sexual assault — and probably always will be. Costello never mentioned Howard's political affiliation; the Dallas Morning News did. She never mentioned Baugh's political affiliation, either. I tried to find it, but I couldn't.

Perhaps Montana is one of those states where judicial candidates run nonpartisan campaigns. That really isn't the point, though.

The point is that, regardless of what Americans may have thought would be the outcome of electing the first nonwhite president in the nation's history, a post–partisan America is one of those achievements that is easier said than done.

America has always been a nation of laws, but it is a lot easier to change laws than to change minds. It takes time, and I'm not speaking about the inevitable disappearance of a generation because attitudes tend to be handed down from one generation to the next.

I don't know how old Howard is, but I have seen pictures of her, and I know she isn't of Donald Sterling's generation. Hillary Clinton is much closer, I'm sure, and we heard allegations today from Monica Lewinsky that the former secretary of State blamed the women around her husband — herself included — for the affair.

As long as offenders are given that kind of pass, any improvements in gender relations (and racial relations, for that matter) will be cosmetic at best.

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