U.S. legal system continues letting ‘rape culture’ thrive at women’s expenses

Western civilization often tends to provide an ambiguous definition about what constitutes culture.

One of the most common descriptions is that culture is the tolerable means by which a society lives together.  This type of upbeat classification typically incorporates religious practice, language, laws, norms and even morality, to name a few, as requisites for recognizing a culture as an accepted way of life.  

Cataloguing culture also gives us an excuse for glazing over negative societal concepts like the existence of “rape culture.” If we can in good conscience deny that we allow violence against women and children as being part of our culture, we can dismiss any ideology that the foul culture actually exists.  

One way to eliminate the notion that a society condones a rape culture, it seems, is to legally change the language of rape and other violent crimes in order to unevenly swing the pendulum of presumed innocence in the defendant’s favor.  

A trend of censorship is sweeping through courts across the U.S., prohibiting victims of sex crimes from using their own words to describe atrocities committed against them and it’s a crying shame.  One notable case reared its ugly head again this month. A judge presiding over a rape trial in Lincoln, Nebraska disallowed rape survivor Tori Bowen from using “forbidden language” while testifying against her accused attacker.  

Among “highly-charged” words Bowen was banned from saying on the witness stand were “victim,” “assailant,” “rape,” “sexual assault kit,” “date rape drugs” and “sexual assault nurse examiner,” according to multiple media sources.  

Bowen could only use mild semantics like “sex” and “intercourse” in describing her ordeal because her accused assailant might be seen as a criminal by the jury.  The defendant, on the other hand, always has the right to testify in his own words, in his own defense and at his own discretion.  

Not only should this be seen as a violation of Bowen’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech (Bowen was denied such a claim by a federal appeals court and her attorneys swear they will petition the U.S. Supreme Court), but also must be deemed as an abuse of her basic human rights.  

Bowen’s four-year-long quest for justice is being denied through an attempt to change her description of the attack to one of consensual sex, even though she has consistently testified to the contrary.  In another trial decision over language in May, the judge presiding at singer R. Kelly’s trial for supposedly having sex with an underage girl chastised a Chicago police officer for using the word “investigation” on the witness stand, according the Chicago Tribune.

Kelly was eventually acquitted.  That judge went as far as to warn courtroom observers and the prosecution team, “If they do it again, I certainly am going to grant a mistrial.”  

Such court-directed admonitions send a farrago of messages to our society; one of the most dangerous being a medieval-like refortification that women should be stigmatized for even bringing charges against men for rapes and sexual assaults.  

By not allowing victims to testify in their own words, the courts are re-institutionalizing all-too-familiar “boys will be boys” arguments of the past.  That’s as vile as conceding to the primitive, “She was asking for it” defense; when a woman was seen as responsible for her own rape because of her clothing choice or her lack of a chaperon.  

If this misogynistic mindset permeates our legal system, then we indeed are nurturing rape as a culture.

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