April 20, 2011

Alcohol and Rape: Twice the Standards

From Melissa McEwen comes a story of an unusual rape conviction appeal:

In what might be the most perfect, clear, hideous example of how rape culture interacts with actual acts of rape, an appellant brief (pdf) was filed last March in the Montana Supreme Court on behalf of Duane R. Belanus, who had been convicted (pdf) of "of sexual intercourse without consent involving the infliction of bodily injury, aggravated kidnapping, burglary, tampering with or fabricating physical evidence, and misdemeanor theft" after beating and anally raping his then-girlfriend. The brief [...] bases its appeal almost entirely on the premise that Belanus was drunk and therefore should not be held responsible for his actions[.]

Yes, you're reading that right. A legal brief in defense of a convicted rapist was submitted quoting real-life convicted rapist Mike Tyson's character in a movie in order to argue that if real-life convicted rapist Mike Tyson's character in a movie can forgive a bunch of drunk characters in a movie for stealing his pet tiger, then a real jury in the real world should be able to consider, and forgive, a real-life convicted rapist who really raped someone in the real world.

Can you not see the perfect logic?

As Jason puts it, "Wharrgarbl." However, lest you think this is one attorney acting egregiously in an effort to help his client, let me direct you to a 2007 study by Sarah McMahon exploring the shape of modern rape myths in college athletes.

A related and important finding was the belief that rape sometimes happens accidentally or unintentionally. This view reinforced the finding that the participants were able to avoid assigning blame to the perpetrators. It also revealed a clear lack of understanding of consent because, most of the time, by accidental rape they were referring to occasions when alcohol was involved. Alcohol played an interesting role in the explanations given for sexual assault. Some of the men believed that it was not fair to label an act as rape if the two parties were intoxicated, and this is how they believed accidental rape occurs. Yet at the same time, many of the men also admitted to using alcohol to get women drunk at parties to loosen them up and get them to have sex. Again, a lack of consistency and responsibility emerged.

Yes, people believe that rape is an "accident" if those involved are drunk, even if it's no accident that someone has gotten drunk. Imagine (as you should any time talks about rape) if the same "reasoning" were used for any other crime. "My client is appealing his conviction for criminal vehicular homicide on the basis that he was drunk. These things just happen."

Of course, if the victim is drunk, that's a whole different matter, as the New York Times so helpfully points out. Then alcohol isn't a problem for the victim. It's a...oh, wait. No, it's still the victim's problem.

Prosecutors have revealed no physical evidence linking either officer to a rape, although the officers were caught by a surveillance camera entering her apartment four times. Still, the prosecution’s case may rely heavily on the credibility of a woman who was admittedly drunk at the time she says she was sexually assaulted, and cannot recall large portions of the evening.

I'll let Stephanie Hallett handle this one, as she did it very ably.

Not so fast.

First off, alcohol causes memory loss, not false memories. When drinkers try to fill in the lost time, they generally assume positive experiences–unlike, say, rape.

Second, the victim’s so-called “credibility” had not yet entered into legal question at the time of the newspaper’s report, so the above statement is purely editorial. The defense had yet to cross-examine the witness or make its case. In fact, according to an earlier Times report, the defense’s opening statement had pointed to the woman’s ability to direct the cab driver to her apartment as evidence of her coherence and ability to “think and have normal conversations” on the night of the assault. The question of her credibility–on account of her level of intoxication–didn’t come up in trial until after it was questioned in print by The New York Times.

Despite this admission, which the defense argues was fabricated in an effort to end the confrontation, The New York Times saw fit to turn the case on its head and put the victim’s credibility on trial. If a woman’s “credibility” is publicly questioned because she was drunk when she was assaulted, it sends a message to attackers that they can get away with raping drunk women, and it sends a message to such victims that their stories won’t be believed.

So remember, kids. If a rapist is drunk, it's a way to excuse him. If a victim is drunk, it's a...way to excuse him.


Related Posts
Rape Myth #1: She's Probably Lying

McMahon, S. (2007). Understanding Community-Specific Rape Myths: Exploring Student Athlete Culture Affilia, 22 (4), 357-370 DOI: 10.1177/0886109907306331


Heather M. Rosa said...

Hey, your Honor, please excuse my DUI because I was drunk?

Unknown said...

Hasn't it been established law since, idunno, FOREVER that voluntary chemical impairment was no defense against a criminal charge?