Though George Will’s June 9th column in the Washington Post took the prize for “Best Mainstream Contribution to Rape Culture-Media,” it meant that another piece that demonstrated equal disregard for victims managed to fly under the radar. The day prior, The Daily Beast published a piece titled, “Exclusive: Brown University Student Speaks Out on What It’s Like to Be Accused of Rape.” It is approximately 3500 words on the never-before-heard story that when rape allegations are made, the alleged rapist and the alleged rape victims say that different things happened.
If there were still more than a handful of presses around, they would all stop to reconsider their stories on sexual assault in the revelation that serious criminal charges are not immediately confessed to and corroborated by the accused. The piece serves as a stunning example of how even publications that one would expect to know better are polluted by rape culture’s insistence on the myth that the issue of consenting to sex is one of “daunting, wrenching complexity.”
The piece centers on the non-trial of Daniel Kopin, the alleged rapist in a now-infamous case at Brown in 2013 that has brought federal scrutiny to university responses to assault, wherein campus administrators saw fit to suspend Kopin for “sexual misconduct” rather than suggest that the case be handled in a real court. Details of testimony from Kopin and his accuser, Lena Sclove are set against one another. Both say they’ve had consensual sex prior to the incident in question. Both say that an unwanted grasp of Sclove’s neck took place and was apologized for by Kopin. And both say that at some point, Sclove started crying. The stories then diverge, with Kopin telling one of an ill-advised hook up and Sclove telling one of rape. Their stories are a textbook example of how acquaintance rape so often plays out.
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The undisputed fact of Sclove’s crying in the midst of the encounter is strangely given little attention in the piece, but speaks volumes about the disturbing disregard many men have for the feelings of women with whom they have sex. Outside the contexts of highly communicative BDSM scenarios or the phenomenon of tearful orgasms, a woman crying from distress during sex should be an antidote to male arousal. Young goes on to write, “A couple of times during our conversation, he admits that having sex under those circumstances was probably not a good idea: ‘I’m responsible for that,'” about the mountain of evidence against Kopin. If this really is the best case that could be found to demonstrate the supposed complexity of rape cases, it demonstrates at the very least how many men are ambivalent about the distress of the human beings attached to the orifices they seek to penetrate.
What are perhaps more egregious than Young’s suggestion that “mixed signals” are often at play in rape cases are the unnecessary flourishes about Kopin’s manner and upbringing that play into the myth that nice, progressive men are less capable of rape than others. Armed with “a self-effacing smile” and “preppy manner” and the fact that he was involved in progressive activism with Sclave, Kopin is painted as a misunderstood friend. The fact that Kopin grew up “in an environment where ‘believing the victim’ in a sexual assault case is a widely shared principle” is a novelty worth mentioning should have perhaps indicated to Young that perhaps ink is best not spilt on the stories of accused rapists. Instead, it functions as a character witness for the accused as someone who knew better than to rape.
What is simply tacky is when Young brings in Kopin’s mother Elizabeth as some sort of expert witness, whose work as an OB/GYN apparently qualifies her to comment without bias on rape investigations involving her own child because she sees female genitalia as part of her job. Kopin’s mother says, “‘To have someone misconstrue a situation, perhaps because of a prior assault or abuse, and then make an accusation in such a process where she can destroy a young man’s life – stunning,” she says. “I never, ever would have expected this.'” The scores of mothers in the world that have said, “You know, I kind of see my son as a possible rapist,” were unavailable for comment. So too were the millions of women who never reported their rapes for fear that they “misconstrued” a violation of their bodies.
Beyond Young’s failure to use the story as an opportunity to demonstrate that campus sexual assault protocols need a major legal makeover, it reveals more broadly that crimes that are largely committed against women are assumed to require exceptional levels of scrutiny. Few reporters clamor to get the stories of thieves and murderers – yet sexual assault and rape, crimes that are well-documented as underreported and epidemic in their prevalence, are crimes where special sensitivity is given to the accused. This does not mean that reporters must believe every rape accusation without exception, but that devoting real estate in a major publication to the other side of rape stories adds insult to injury to the untold numbers of rape victims that never report.
In the case of reporters, sometimes it is best to simply write nothing if a report exacerbates endemic myths about rape as an exceedingly complicated issue. Because when a voice is given to an accused rapist, it implies to victims yet again that perhaps theirs cannot be trusted.