TRIGGER WARNINGS: Discussion of rape and rape culture. No graphic details.
I have a new essay on CNN about a very disturbing case out of Georgia.
Last September, William Jeffrey Dumas was convicted of three counts of rape. According to the charges, he had raped a woman three times over a night and the following morning, and the jury agreed with the prosecution that he was guilty. But just last week, a judge overturned the jury's conviction and ordered a new trial.In the essay, I argue that this isn't a story about Down syndrome, but a story about rape, rape culture, and the failing of our justice system. This is a perfect case for an intersectional analysis.
The Georgia appeals court judge, Christopher McFadden, argued that the verdict went "strongly against the weight of the evidence" because, in his judgment, the woman in question -- I'll join other writers in calling her Jane -- didn't act like a victim and the man didn't act like a rapist.
The outrage is not only because this judge didn't understand Down syndrome, but that judges frequently impose their perceptions on cases of sexual assault, reducing sentences even for convicted rapists on the grounds that the victim didn't act "correctly." Jane's troubling case reveals the intersections between rape culture and the way we strip agency from people with disabilities.Here are some of the other examples of people who mostly do not have disabilities that I cite.
1 .Montana judge (well covered on DailyKos): "She was older than her chronological age."
2. California judge: "She didn't put up a fight."
3. Arizona judge: ""If you wouldn't have been there that night, none of this would have happened to you."
4. Alabama judge: "although she was forcibly raped twice, she continued to come back and have a social relationship."
The list could go on and on. This is what rape culture looks like, among other things - the myth that there is only one way to respond to rape.
I end my essay with these thoughts:
As the next trial unfolds, do not focus on Jane because she is a woman with Down syndrome. Focus on Jane because she is a woman who says that she was raped. Focus on Jane because she's joined the ranks of other women, women of all races, classes, sexual orientations, and levels of ability who have said that they were raped and then had their testimony disregarded by a judge on the basis of not acting enough like a victim.Thanks for reading, sharing the story, and joining whatever efforts you can to fight against rape culture and the abuse of people with disabilities.
There is no one correct way to respond to being violated, but there are so many ways that our justice system can make it worse.
I am a freelance columnist, blogger, long-time Kossack, and History Professor. You can read my blog at How Did We Get Into This Mess?
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