In case you weren’t maxed out on rape apologism this week, yesterday the California Commission on Judicial Performance voted unanimously to publicly admonish Orange County Superior Court jackass Derek Johnson after he made “insensitive” statements during a 2008 sentencing hearing ”about sexual assault victims who do not ‘put up a fight.’ ” (His rebuke comes four years late because the Commission didn’t learn of his remarks until May.)
Like a proto-Todd Akin, Johnson said, “I’m not a gynecologist,” (You don’t say!) “but I can tell you something” (please don’t): “If someone doesn’t want to have sexual intercourse, the body shuts down” (face slam to the desk).
He’s not a gynecologist, but … what are we talking here? Bodies becoming comatose mixed with a little vagina dentata?
“The body will not permit [rape] to happen unless a lot of damage is inflicted, and we heard nothing of that in this case. That tells me that the victim in this case, although she wasn’t necessarily willing, she didn’t put up a fight.”
First off, making the “fight” his central argument essentially says, “she secretly enjoyed it.” Secondly, how does one’s body “not permit” rape? By metamorphosing into some venom-tipped porcupine? Even though she wasn’t willing, she still wasn’t really raped because “fight”/manifest superhero powers=rape?
Or is Johnson, in all his mansplaining glory, trying to say one must be beaten to be raped?
Which is just as stupid.
And what constitutes “a lot of damage” anyway? Does trauma you’ll be working through for a lifetime count?
Here’s a brief history:
The defendant and the victim started dating in 2004, and later moved in together. During the cohabitation, the defendant “threatened the victim with a knife” and “threatened to slash her throat.” She reported him to the police. He moved out. They continued to date on and off. They had consensual sex. Then they stopped dating. Then he “jammed” her front door lock “so it could not be locked” and claimed he had access to her house. He threatened to get her fired from her job and “blow up her car.” He “showed up at a restaurant where the victim was on a date with another man and threatened the victim while making a slicing motion across his throat.” When the victim went out to her car at the end of said date, one of her tires was slashed. When she got home, the defendant called and said he’d blow up her car if she didn’t come to his house in 20 minutes.
She went to his apartment where the defendant bruised her breast with a metal baton, shattered her cell phone, heated a screwdriver and threatened to use it to maim her face and vagina, threatened to burn her face and hair with a lit cigarette lighter, and threatened to shoot and kill her. He order her to perform fellatio, raped her, and ejaculated in her mouth. The victim did not leave after the defendant fell asleep because he was a light sleeper.
The next morning, the defendant demanded that the victim make him breakfast and told her she would live at his apartment. She convinced the defendant to allow her to return to her apartment on her own to collect her clothing. She drove to the police station, where she reported the defendant’s threats from the previous evening. In an interview about 17 days later, she reported the rape.
(To read the entire report, go here.)
That’s all pretty shocking, horrifying stuff: domestic battery, rape, stalking, threats of mutilation with a screwdriver, threatening to blow up a person’s car (not sure if the perpetrator intended that she be in the car, but still, violent person). Sounds like he could, ahem, do some “damage,” even by Johnson’s standards, right?
Wrong. Johnson: “To treat this case like the rape cases that we all hear about is an insult to victims of rape.”
“It trivializes rape,” he continued.
Actually, what trivializes rape is dividing rape into categories of “rape” and “eh, kinda rape-y.” What’s actually insulting is finding fault with a victim because he or she didn’t kick or scream or yell or fight when doing so might have cost him or her dearly. It’s insulting and wrong to dismiss a victim because, as Dan Savage wrote back in 2009, it’s “date-ish raped, acquaintance-ish raped, gray-area-ish raped, blurry-booze-soaked-lines raped, [or] raped under circumstances that would make bringing charges a futile exercise.” Savage continued: That [even if a person is] ”paralyzed by a set of inhibitions — a desire to avoid confrontation at all costs (even the cost of [his or her] own violation), a desire to avoid making [his or her] victimizer feel bad — [something] pounded into the heads of girls and young women –” that doesn’t mean he or she wasn’t victimized and exploited and raped.
It should be noted that of all the women who reported being sexually assaulted in 1998, only 14 percent were victimized by a stranger.
Johnson issued an apology ”saying he was frustrated with [the] prosecutor … over the sentencing in the case … compared to other more aggravated cases,” according to the Associated Press.
The prosecutor sought a 16-year sentence (two consecutive terms: one for the rape and another for the forced oral copulation) but Johnson lowered it to six. “There’s nothing in aggravation,” Johnson said.
The prosecutor responded by questioning how threats and weapons failed to represent “circumstances in aggravation,” but eventually agreed that the case was not necessarily comparable to those dealing with “forcible” rape and “stranger” rape.
Obviously, it’s a rape because she was not willing. I’m not in any way equating this to a stranger rape, to a forcible rape where she was beaten … so it’s not the People’s intention and position to in any way trivialize what we normally consider to be true victims of rape.
Granted, the prosecutor threw in “what we normally consider,” but you know what else trivializes rape? That part where you basically identify her rape as “less than” on some rape hierarchy.
I just — in speaking with her and seeing her testify, I know that she doesn’t feel any less of a rape victim because she had a relationship with him or she had at one time engaged in sexual intercourse with him. I understand the court’s reasoning when you’re looking at the cases in comparison … [but] why [is] the court not finding there to be any circumstances in aggravation to aggravate the term to eight years based on the fact that there were threats involved, there was a weapon involved …”
“I just found the threats to be technical threats. I found this whole case to be technical. The forced oral copulation is technical,” Johnson replied.
If you didn’t have a clear understanding of what it’s like to be a woman in this country, here is the perfect example. We live in a world that fails to see women as fully human. Women come forward after an assault and they’re denied emergency contraception; asked “what were you wearing?” or “why didn’t you fight?”; told their bodies permitted it, whatever that means; that their perpetrators couldn’t help it; that it’s their fault for being in the wrong place at the wrong time; that “forced oral copulation is technical.”
That it is a woman’s job to protect herself, but not the job of others to refrain from assaulting.
Whether in the courtroom, on the job, or walking down the street, women are too often denigrated, disrespected, accused of overreacting and/or ignored. So it’s no surprise that only 16 percent of rapes get reported. In addition to pushing communities to respect women and prioritize their safety, we should fight to get better allies in positions of power and force people like Derek Johnson to step down. Or rather, fight to get people in his position who make such toxic statements disbarred.
UPDATE: A petition is circulating calling on the commission to urge Johnson to step down.