I had so wanted to avoid giving the whole “Wizards banning a convicted sex offender”* controversy any more air. People have solidified in their opinions, and while one of those opinions is clearly, thoroughly, and excessively wrong, I’ve been trying to follow XKCD’s take on internet inaccuracy. But this has been an interesting week for rape culture, and in light of that I think there’s more to talk about than just whether or not Wizards was right to ban the rapist. If that’s what interests you, Rich’s post from earlier this week is a good starting point, even if the comments turned rancid almost immediately. Rich studiously kept the morality question out of his article to prove the point that even in an amoral system, letting the sex predator play is a bad move for Wizards. But in my eyes, it’s the morality of rape that’s the story.


Incidentally, I’m not interested in using that rapist’s name in my article. There are already plenty of articles out there that will permanently fuck up this guy’s SEO, so including the name doesn’t have much practical value. If I include the name, this article becomes about him, and that’s not my intent. I want to talk about us, as a community, and what it says about us that so many people went to the mat in defense of a convicted stranger rapist.


Have I ever mentioned I’m a criminologist? It’s a label I’m somewhat proud of earning, and it reflects the fact I spend a lot of time thinking about criminal justice policy. It also reflects my MS, but I don’t place too much stock in the value of those types of credentials.


Of course, that’s easy for me to say, as I also have a college degree and JD under my belt; I don’t lose too many credential showdowns. But if life has taught me anything, it’s that the relationship between credentials and competency tends to be a loose correlation at best.


Life has also taught me how to humblebrag, although my need to meta-analyze things tends to undercut my boasts.


Anyway, I’m a criminologist with legal training, and that means I’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking about rape. When you’re in law school, rape discussions are reliably the worst part of any criminal justice class. As lawyers are trained to find corner cases and backfill policies, these classes are invariably a bunch of guys (and occasionally a woman or two) asking the same question. There are many permutations and wrinkles, but the base question remains constant no matter how it’s phrased: “what about an ethical rapist?”


Ethical rapist questions, to be clear, are always phrased around weird hypotheticals in which a dude’s need to complete trumps a woman’s right to say no. “She said yes before she said no,” “she dressed like she wanted it,” and my eternal favorite (she said, voice dripping with venom), “it’s all a conspiracy to discredit the dude.”


There was more than a bit of that in the backlash to the survivors’ stories about being drugged and raped by Bill Cosby. In case this is unknown information, prior to these allegations Cosby had endeavored to resuscitate his career through positioning himself as a moral lodestar for the black community. He toured talking about respectability politics, the “pull your pants up” school of public policy. Unsurprisingly, there were a large number of people who felt this was a good thing; when you blame black youth for the systemic oppression they face in urban environments it plays into the idea that America is a meritocracy. Plenty of people are invested in that fiction, some literally.


Point is, women have been talking about Cosby being a rapist for a while now, and it was only after the incomparable Hannibal Buress made a joke that went viral that men started to listen. Even then, Cosby had prominent defenders, some of whom had a financial interest in the maintenance of this man’s reputation. It is only this week, after a judge took Cosby’s moralizing as license to unseal his (very newsworthy) past testimony in a rape case, that most people have come around to the idea that maybe 40 women weren’t involved in a defamatory conspiracy to take down a prominent black man. And even then, publications have twisted themselves in knots to avoid calling Cosby a rapist.


Survivors have a tremendous battle to have their concerns taken seriously.


RAINN, a decent organization with an unfortunate habit of partnering with transphobic organizations, has crunched the numbers, and they came up with the following chart. Soak it in.
Jailed-rapists December 2014

The point? Convicted rapists are rarities.


They’re also predators. In some ways, murder is less morally reprehensible a crime than rape. There are many reasons to end another person’s life, many of which are explicitly condoned by the state. There is no legitimate reason to sexually assault another person. That’s why rape is a war crime. Killing another person isn’t.


But there are a lot of people who seem intent on minimizing this. With Cosby, it tended to be people who tried to keep the spotlight on his deeds, not his misdeeds. In the Magic situation, it’s been people drawing comparisons between rape and property crime. There were people, otherwise good people, who were seriously trying to hold the ground that the theft of thousand-dollar-decks was a more bannable offense than raping another human. To me, that’s absurd.


So let’s circle back to the ethical rapist, since I think it’s relevant. In my eyes, there is a huge line between “sex predator” and property crime. When someone elides that line, I am faced with one of two conclusions: either the person does not see that line, likely because they are so steeped in rape culture that they underestimate how damaging rape can be as a crime, or that the individual is personally involved in downplaying the severity of rape because they can see themselves crossing that line. In the same way that some people idly fantasize about being the gun hero, some men (and it’s mostly, but not entirely, men) idly fantasize about situations in which they could cross that line. Some of them even have.


These are the types of rapists who think of themselves as being the ethical rapist. It’s never about their culpability, it’s always “she wanted it” or “we were both drunk.” But that Magic player isn’t even that! He’s a stranger rapist, the rarest of all rapists. Fully 80% of rapes are committed by a person known to the survivor. One other interesting statistic on rape? 46% of convicted rapists go on to commit another crime within three years. It’s a bad month in my urban alternatives to incarceration program when our recidivism rate hits 20%. 46% recidivism is significant.


This is not some slippery slope. This is not some close call. This is not an upstanding person that many decided to defend. He is a sex-crime unicorn, and Wizards deciding they no longer wanted to be associated with him is not only the smart move for their brand, it’s the ethical move for their organization. They create community spaces; not wanting to reward the reprehensible with the spotlight seems like an obvious way to make those spaces a bit safer.


And the host of indignant defenses have provided a fair bit of information as well. It lets you know which people view rape as a major crime, and which ones lump it in with vice and property crimes. Those lumpers are showing more than they intend. If you view rape as being of the same severity as theft or sex work, it’s probably because you see women as objects and whores.**


Jess Stirba believes certainty and celerity are far more effective deterrents than severity.




*Side note: I use sex offender fairly often throughout this piece, despite the term most heavily being associated with paedos. The thing is, there are plenty of people who end up on sex offender registries for non-predatory reasons, like urinating in public or having sex while underage. Pennsylvania has (had?) this system where ending up on the registry was not enough to result in a significant loss of civil freedoms, but instead sex offenders are evaluated for predatory tendencies. There are non-predatory sex offenders, but there are not non-predatory rapists.
**No offense intended to sex workers, who, in my experience, are usually the salt of the earth.

Don't Miss Out!

Sign up for the Hipsters Newsletter for weekly updates.