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More And More Judges Banning The Word "Rape" At Sexual Assault Trials

Illustration for article titled More And More Judges Banning The Word Rape At Sexual Assault Trials

Tory Bowen, now 21, was roofied as a Nebraska college student, and when she awoke, according to the Kansas City Star, she was being raped. Sounds pretty straightforward, but a judge in Lincoln prohibited Bowen from using the word "rape" during her testimony. The term "sexual assault" was also verboten. The judge presiding over Bowen's case claims that her use of the term "rape" would sway an impartial jury and mar an otherwise fair trial — the implication being that the word rape is so charged, it would automatically prejudice a jury against the defendant if used. Unfortunately, Bowen is not the only rape victim who has been muzzled. The Star reports that "Senior Judge Gene Martin recently issued a similar order for the trial of a Kansas City man charged with raping a teenager in 2000," and barring the word "rape" from courtrooms is a growing trend around the country.

Though the names and photos of rape victims are not usually published in the media (as any reader of the Joan Didion essay Sentimental Journeys could tell you), Bowen consented to the use of her name and visage because she wants to make a stand for victims' rights. She has already filed suit against the judge for violating her First Amendment rights, and though the federal appeals court dismissed the suit, Bowen plans to take the case to the Supreme Court. Even though the appeals court dismissed it, U.S. District Judge Richard G. Kopf wrote, "For the life of me, I do not understand why a judge would tell an alleged rape victim that she cannot say she was raped when she testifies in a trial about rape."

And Kopf is right. If the argument is about defendant's rights, why is language only carefully guarded in sexual assault trials? Why wouldn't judges be making similar arguments in trials about regular old assault? Shouldn't they be forcing those victims to say, "When my face had a non-consensual interaction with the defendant's fist," rather than use the word "punched"? Bowen, for her part, is not backing down. "The judge took my words away from me," Bowen said. "How can the jury make an educated decision?"

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Judge's Ban On The Use Of The Word ‘Rape' At Trial Reflects Trend [Kansas City Star]

Sentimental Journeys [New York Review of Books]

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DISCUSSION

formerlyzivah-old
formerlyzivah

Hold your horses, folks. I don't think this is as far out there as you're trying to make it seem. I'm assuming the guy was charged with rape, which has a number of elements which have to be proven before conviction. You can't have a witness testifying as to the ultimate question of guilt or innocence. In the same way, a witness probably wouldn't be able to say "he committed battery on me" or "he committed fraud" - they'd have to describe the ACTS which would support such convictions for those crimes. The difference is that "rape" is a word we use colloquially, and not just a legal definition, so it seems extreme (for example, we don't feel the loss of the ability to describe something as "battery" because we can just say "he hit me").