11/24/2009 09:43 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The AP, Lacrosse, and Rape Myths

If you were unlucky enough to read the AP story on the Sacred Heart University lacrosse player sexual assault case, you were the recipient of a huge dose of rape myths.  The AP, quotes Bridgeport criminal defense attorney Wayne Keeney extensively on the case.  Whether the AP did their journalistic due diligence or not, this article is a rape myth parading as news.

Rape is a violent crime.  One of the surest ways to spot rape myths is the look at what is being said through the lens of a different violent crime.  Doing so to the quotes from Mr. Keeney will illustrate my point.

Rape myth number 1: Boys will be boys

. . .any accusations that a sexual assault occurred in the Sacred Heart University dorm were a gross exaggeration of alcohol-fueled hijinks.

No matter how we think boys ought to behave, society gives men, particularly white college men, license to do just about whatever they want.  In the context of sexual assault and rape, 'he just got carried away' or 'he was drunk and wasn't thinking straight' are common refrains for perpetrators and those who defend them.

Applying that to say, an aggravated battery, may well be true, but no one would care.  So what if you were drunk, you still beat someone, and in this country that is illegal.  Imagine a defense for three guys who beat the hell out of somebody saying that assault charges were 'a gross exaggeration of alcohol-fueled hijinks.'

Rape myth number 2: Women lie

"The police report itself is so confusing," Keeney said. "The whole thing just doesn't ring true."

This thinly veiled statement is suggesting that the victim is lying, that something just doesn't add up.  This is meant to play on the fact that despite progress in sex equality over the past several generations, our society still takes a man's word over a woman's.  

The truth is that false allegations of sexual assault and rape occur with the same frequency as false allegations about other violent crimes.  Here again, a defense attorney for someone charged with a mugging would not say that they plaintiff was lying, they would simply maintain the innocence of their client.

Rape myth number 3: Acquaintance Rape is just a misunderstanding

"I can appreciate that this young woman was put in an embarrassing set of circumstances through some sophomoric, college-boy antics, but there's no indication from what I can see or discern so far that there was any sexual assault there," Keeney said.

This statement again, artfully belittles the charges to be the result of an embarrassing prank taken the wrong way.  In other words, what the victim perceived as rape, was really just a misunderstanding of 'sophomoric, college boy antics' (do you see the boys-will-be-boys myth again here?).

The point here is that a woman has a right to security of person.  It is she who gets to consent to sex, or withhold that consent, and she can do that, even change her mind, anytime.  If you are a woman, imagine that you are having sex and suddenly two men burst into the room.  Would you just want to continue?  If you don't and he - or they - force you to, that is rape.  And for men reading this, what if the victim here was your sister?  If she is dating some jerk, and his friends want to come in and join in, doesn't she have the right to stop that?  Would you give a damn that she was drunk?  Or they were?  Even if you disagree with that, the law doesn't, and Mr. Keeney knows it.

A former New York Cop, Ft. Lauderdale Detective, and San Diego Prosecutor, Wayne Keeney has been around the block.  Unfortunately his views on sexual assault are completely fictional (not to mention irresponsible).  

from his website:

Accusations of sexual abuse are a growing phenomenon in our society. Even consensual sexual encounters between adults all too often result in criminal allegations.

It is estimated that one in six women in the United States will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime.  The vast majority of those rapes will be committed, not by a stranger jumping out of the bushes, but by a man the woman knows.  A whopping 60% of those women will never report the assault.  Of those who do, a huge majority of cases go un-prosecuted.  

There is a negative feedback loop at play here.  Rape myths make it hard to convict rapists.  Prosecutors don't like to take rape cases because they are tough to win.  Women see that a woman who comes forward is often put on trial (as opposed to the man who raped her) and is reluctant to report.  Low prosecutions and low reporting reenforce myths and society's unwillingness to take rape seriously.

Rape is a crime that lives in the dark.  We would all like to think of it as a rare and terrible thing.  The fact is that an environment reluctant to talk seriously about rape, and recognize women as equal people, is a safe haven for rapists.  All-male groups tend to form these environments, and a corresponding concentration of convicted rapists come from their ranks.

Somehow the AP story (and the version I linked to above at Huffington Post) omits the victim's side of the story.  NBC Connecticut has this:

Timothy Sanders, 19, of Ashburn, Virginia and the woman were having consensual sex at the Roncali dorm, when Sanders suddenly summoned the other two men to the room.

Nicholas Travers, 18, of Smithtown, New York, Zachari Triner, 18, of Mansfield, Massachusetts, are accused of sexually assaulting the woman while Sanders held her down.

The victim screamed and fought, police told the Post, and Triner and Travers fled. As the victim sobbed, Sanders asked the student if he could again have sex with her, police told the newspaper.

I am not familiar with the case in question, and I seek only to provide the counter-perspective that the AP failed to include in its article.  I applaud the administration at Sacred Heart University for taking this case seriously.  Men rape one in four women in college, and it is refreshing to see a university care enough about its student's safety to suspend accused rapists.  

If you are a college woman, Title IX of the Civil Rights Act guarantees you equal access to education.  If college is a place where men rape 25% of women, that is a civil right violation.  Universities must take it as seriously as equality in sports.  If your university doesn't, here is where you can report them.

For more information on rape in Connecticut, take a look at this.

If you'd like to call Wayne Keeney and learn why he is spreading the myths that make it easy to get away with rape, his website invites you to call '24 hours a day, 7 days a week' 203-249-8001, 203-335-2080.

This blog cross posted at Common Sauce