In 2012, I published 24 articles in CultureMap, many of which I’m very proud of. A few weeks ago the smart, kind editor who encouraged me to write for them in the first place, who gave me tips on pitching and interviewing and dealt with my clumsy mistakes for almost a year, left CultureMap for greener pastures. I was happy for him but sad for me—I lost the first person who put me in e-print. Meanwhile the company had slashed its already modest compensation, and the editors seemed to be more overworked and less careful than before. So I was already starting to pitch elsewhere. But after all, it was such an easy gig, and as I said, they had done a lot for me.
That’s why I initially told my husband I didn’t want to write anything about this thing. I still don’t. It makes me tired. But the queasy feeling won’t go away, so here I go.
On Halloween, CultureMap Dallas published an article by one of its managing editors. The article implied a young Dallas rape victim might be lying (or rather, suffering from “guilt” over “impulsive teenage decisions”), and expressed sympathy for her alleged rapist, a promising high school baseball star. CultureMap freelance contributor Dan Solomon, as he relates in the XOJane article I read yesterday, posted about his disappointment with CultureMap on his personal blog. He was then approached by his editors and asked to remove the piece, under threat of losing further opportunities to publish there. A freelance contributor being asked to remove his own reflections about the magazine from his personal blog. Solomon, obviously, did not.
Well, I’m a freelancer too. I have a personal blog too. And if freelancers for CultureMap are associated closely enough with the brand to warrant that kind of attention from the editors, then it’s a two-way street. Put another way: CultureMap has demanded passive support from its freelancers in the form of silence on their personal blogs. So I’m posting this in order to feel that I have not granted it.
What I would like to do that I have not seen done yet is take us step-by-step through the article. No apology or statement has been issued, although St. Amant defended her piece in a follow-up entitled “Bandwagon reporting doesn’t do victims of sex crimes any favors.” (Surprisingly given the headline, the article isn’t actually a compendium of quotes from victims of sex crime who agree with St. Amant!)
The point of this exercise is not just to show that the article was sloppily and lazily written–that doesn’t take a close reading to prove. It’s to show how once again, this type of sloppy, lazy writing covers up an opinion that would be too noxious to spell out in a well-reasoned argument.
Maybe it’s the Freudian in me, but I don’t believe in “sloppy writing” any more than I believe in all those supposed “gaffes” from Republican rape apologists earlier this year. I do believe in slipshod thinking that covers up the misogynistic attitudes that buoy up rape culture. These people don’t want to believe they believe the things they believe. When you listen to their language, you start hearing the mental blurs, the murky pits where thinking goes to die, the cesspools of plausible deniability where slut-shaming and victim-blaming grow like an algae bloom.
At first, the article appears to be pointing out a relevant fact: the second-degree felony charge implies the victim (whose age was not released) is under 17. Despite the actual headline, the opening paragraph leads a reader to expect an argument that the rape should not be charged as a crime against a child, but rather a crime against an adult. The lede:
There are few things more complicated than the line between adolescence and adulthood. While the Texas legal system makes a clear-cut distinction from age 16 (a child) to age 17 (an adult), the transformation occurs only on paper.
Leaving aside that wretched first line (oops, I didn’t leave it aside, oh well), it’s an interesting enough angle for me to ease warily into the article. I’m ready to hear an argument about the severity of these charges, perhaps with references to statutory rape law and child molestation cases.
This, however, does not occur. Six sentences lay out the bare facts of the case (two of those sentences are about how this guy’s dad is a CEO of something or other and how the kid is a great baseball player, but whatever). Then we get this:
Many criminal cases hinge on he-said, she-said evidence, but when the parties in question are high school students, the information is under even greater scrutiny than usual.
Uh, okay. If you say it’s under greater scrutiny, it’s under greater scrutiny. Oh hey, have you ever noticed that only in acquaintance rape and sexual harassment suits is what we normally refer to as “evidence” renamed “the he-said, she-said”? Just a side note! Okay, still listening. What next?
Kids are supposed to mess up. They lie. They cheat. They get caught. They grow up. But throw a sex act in the mix, and childish ways are all but left behind.
What the what now? This paragraph says nothing. Its sole function is to be a transitional paragraph between dubious sense and utter nonsense. What are these “childish ways” St. Amant is writing about? I literally have no idea what is happening here or where this argument will go next, which is part of the point. While my mind is still echoing with the words what-the-what-now, here comes the next paragraph, which returns to the point just long enough to make me think, Argument alert! Here it comes!:
However, it still seems bizarre to call a girl his peer while they are kissing but a child if their clothes come off.
Okay! Let’s ignore the general tone this is taking and stick with this statement, which is consistent with the premise presented in the lede. St. Amant goes on to present another “fact” paragraph, the only one in fact where the girl’s story is laid out with any detail at all:
The girl who pressed charges against Romo says she told him “No, I don’t want to do this,” as well as “Stop!” She says Romo told her “It would be okay,” and to “let it happen.” A sexual assault exam revealed trauma consistent with force, the affidavit states. [emphasis added]
And now–immediately following the statement about the results of the sexual assault exam!–the kicker, the final paragraph, where St. Amant pulls the misogynistic rabbit out of the sloppily-written hat:
No matter the facts, there is no good outcome in this case. If Romo forced himself on a girl in the backseat of his Chevy Tahoe as alleged, then he’s a sexual predator. If it’s a case of impulsive teenage decisions, remorse and guilt, then no one suffers more than 18-year-old Ryan Romo.
Actually, Claire St. Amant, there IS a “good outcome”! We call it “justice.” If this girl was raped, as substantiated by her exam, a “good outcome” would be that her rapist would be convicted and sentenced, and that would be a “good outcome” even if her rapist proved to be Romo! That is, if by “good outcome” what you mean is “good outcome” for the victim; I suppose, as is the case with all accused and convicted criminals, it wouldn’t technically be a “good outcome” for Romo. At any rate, as per the second sentence in the paragraph, Romo being “a sexual predator” would not actually be an “outcome” of the criminal proceedings of the trial, but rather an outcome of his having raped a girl under the age of 17.
However, the last sentence really brings home St. Amant’s readiness to call the victim a liar, not by saying she might have falsely accused Romo, but by implying that she might not have been raped at all. Despite the results of the sexual assault exam cited in the previous paragraph, the alternative St. Amant finds to Romo being a sexual predator is not that she was raped by someone else. It’s that this was a “case of impulsive teenage decisions, remorse and guilt.” (I assume she means the girl’s potential “impulsive teenage decision” to have sex with Romo, not Romo’s potential “impulsive teenage decision” to rape her.) The question has been shifted from “Who raped her?” to “Was it rape?”
Acquaintance rape: the only kind of crime where being accused is actually a worse fate than having been a victim. What’s important, as always, is that a “promising” young man’s career got jeopardized by a woman who probably invented her rape charge because, why again? Why, Claire? Because rape charges make you super popular? Because she WANTS to be strapped to a table and probed by the county examiners? Because she WANTS to be gently chided in the local press for her impulsive teenage decisions, in an article that seems to delight in the phrase “Chevy Tahoe,” as if it stood for every teenage slut that has ever climbed into the back of a senior’s car and then sniveled later that he didn’t stop when she said “no”?
Maybe I should invent a rape charge! It would bring me so much welcome notoriety. I crave trolls on this blog. Now all I have to do is seduce some poor schmo into having sex with me, manufacture some bruises and lacerations, smear my mascara, and hobble to the nearest police station so I can sit for several hours on a cold bench under flourescent lights, talk to skeptical police officers, and then spread my legs for the county examiner. DONE!
(Next I plan to get pregnant so I can have an abortion, thereby sticking it to yet another group of beleaguered conservatives. Or alternatively I could become a single mom, thereby flaunting my sluttiness in public for 18 years and contributing to the decay of society as we know it.)
In her follow-up piece, Claire St. Amant attempts to “clarify” her original argument, with about as much success as GOP candidates clarified their “gaffes” earlier this year.
[W]hen men don’t listen, it’s rape. Period. However, we don’t know that’s what happened in that Chevy Tahoe on Saturday [DAMN “Chevy Tahoe” is fun to say! -Oed]. And when the two parties are high school students, the situation is much murkier than, say, a 32-year-old teacher preying on his pupil.
ACTUALLY NO, IT IS NOT MURKIER, CLAIRE! IT’S STILL RAPE. And yeah, if the victim is 16 (and she could be 14 or all we know), by law, she is a child. Sorry if that offends you. A girl who gets raped in the back of a Chevy by someone a year older than her has not been raped any more “murkily” than a girl who gets raped by her math teacher.
And anyway, that’s not the point that your article put across. It is about whether she was raped at all. And unless you want to start writing a “maybe this didn’t happen” article about every crime that happens in your county, I am going to assume you have some underlying motives to account for, even if you’re not entirely clear on them yourself.
Earlier this year CultureMap Austin published my husband’s angry response to the Daniel Tosh rape joke incident. The screed had been circulating on Facebook, and my former editor picked it up and ran it. And because of that my husband got internet famous for a day, as the male comedian in Austin who took a nasty, funny, smart stand against rape culture.
For 48 hours we lived and breathed rape culture. It was a difficult time. In the aftermath, after the fifteen minutes of internet attention had died down, my husband suggested we put our money where our (loud) mouths were and volunteer at SafePlace. Last month we finally started the process, which is fairly long and arduous. After sitting in that room, knowing that we were there partly because an editor at CultureMap took a risk on running a very controversial piece, knowing that part of what propelled us to that moment was the notoriety and conversation that his piece had generated in our lives—after all that—the very same corporate entity has unapologetically endorsed a public slut-shaming of a teen rape victim who reported her rape—Brave! Rare!—showed her bruises, submitted to the rape exam, and was deemed by a third party to bear “trauma consistent with force,” which I daresay even Todd Akin might concede is “legitimate”. . . .
Well, my coherency is gone. A rape joke uttered in a comedy club hundreds of miles away warrants a risky op-ed. An irresponsible, victim-blaming article about a girl in our own back yard gets nothing. No apology.
In her follow-up, Claire St. Amant asserts her solidarity with rape victims. (Apparently if a woman walked down the street naked and gets raped, it’s okay by St. Amant to call it rape! Truly radical.) But even if that’s the case, if you doubt that her article justifies less enlightened people in their view that teenage girls who have sex consensually can’t really have been raped, but are just experiencing morning-after regrets—I dare you to read the comment section on the Dallas Observer blog, where Anna Merlan called out the CultureMap article the day after it was written, giving far more detail into the crime report than St. Amant bothered to give. Read those comments and tell me if they get better, because I had to stop after the first handful of them.
Well, really after the guy who was like, “yeah man, this one girl I used to sleep with said ‘no’ one time, and then she seemed like she changed her mind and we had sex anyway, and also a bunch of other times where she didn’t even say no, and then later she just told her friends about that one time and then everybody thought I was a rapist. Ergo, this didn’t happen.”
THAT is the kind of thinking you are encouraging with your generous speculations on the subject of “but maybe she’s lying!”, Claire St. Amant. That is what you, and CultureMap too, are being called to task for.