Yet another politician is under fire for saying something stupid about women. This time it is Wisconsin state representative Roger Rivard, who is currently being criticized for comments made in December about a high school senior who was charged with the sexual assault of a child after having sex with a minor in the school’s band room. When asked to comment on the incident, Rivard stated, “some girls rape easy.”
Now that he is up for re-election, Rivard has been taken to task for these comments. Though he tried to clarify his statements (twice), there was just no way to spin the comment. Rivard was talking about statutory rape, but his comments were still harmful. It’s victim-blaming, pure and simple, and it shifts the focus away from the real issue at hand.
Rivard claimed that the comment came from advice given to him by his father: “He also told me one thing, ‘If you do (have premarital sex), just remember, consensual sex can turn into rape in an awful hurry.’ Because all of a sudden a young lady gets pregnant and the parents are madder than a wet hen and she’s not going to say, ‘Oh, yeah, I was part of the program.’ All that she has to say or the parents have to say is it was rape because she’s underage. And he just said, ‘Remember, Roger, if you go down that road, some girls,’ he said, ‘they rape so easy.’”
It’s clear that Rivard doesn’t understand how statutory rape laws work. In the eyes of the law, minors under the age of consent (in Wisconsin, that would be age 18) cannot legally consent to sex. Period. Girls under the age of consent do not necessarily “cry rape” to have charges brought. If the two are caught or if a girl’s parents file charges, the police will take action even if the girl says she consented. Many states have “Romeo and Juliet” laws which make exceptions depending on the minor’s age, but Wisconsin currently has no such law on the books. I understand that he was trying to comment on problematic statutory rape laws in the state of Wisconsin, but he missed the opportunity to discuss how to change these laws. It also does not excuse the fact that his comments speak to a wider problem about how we talk about rape.
Rivard’s comments bring up a tired trope: women “cry rape” because they regret having sex. Their supposed reasons for regret vary (to cover infidelity, because they are embarrassed, because they do not want to get in trouble, they’re golddiggers looking for a cash settlement) but the sentiment that women constantly lie about rape is constant no matter what the story. It seems as though any time a story about rape hits the news, the story is questioned and false reporting is brought up. This just does not happen with other crimes, and it is damaging. It puts a great burden on the victim and often puts the victim on trial.
False accusations unfortunately do happen, but the number is hard to quantify. Depending on the source, the percentage of false rape reports is somewhere between 2% and 8%. Though ideally there would be no false reports, the percentage is not significantly higher than false reports for other crimes (an estimated 10% of automobile theft reports are false). Furthermore, the percentage often includes “unfounded reports,” which are sometimes classified as such if the victim is intoxicated, did not fight back, or has a history of mental illness. That is, if the victim is not “perfect,” the crime does not get prosecuted.
The myth perpetuated by Rivard’s words also implies that once a woman accuses a man of rape, he is immediately prosecuted and thrown in jail. In reality, rape is underreported and has an extremely low prosecution rate. According to RAINN, about 54% of rapes and sexual assaults are not reported to police. Of those reported, only about 12% lead to an arrest and 9% get prosecuted.
It’s time for politicians to stop making unfounded statements about women and rape. Our bodies do not have a way “shut that whole thing down.” Our bodies do not “secrete a certain secretion” to kill sperm during rape. If we don’t have cuts and bruises, it does not mean that it was not a “legitimate rape” or not “rape rape.” We do not “cry rape.” And finally, some women do not “just rape easy.” When we are raped it is not our fault. The blame lies with the rapist, pure and simple, and that is where the focus should remain.
Update: The case Rivard was referring to was not actually a “Romeo and Juliet” case and involved no consent on the part of the victim whatsoever. Rivard’s clarification would have us believe that this was a situation in which the 14 year old victim consented but that it was prosecuted only because she was under the age of consent. It’s disgusting that Rivard would say that “some girls rape easy” about anyone, but it’s especially awful considering he was referring to a rape victim who did not consent. Comments like these discourage rape victims from coming forward