Clementine Ford: How Rape Culture Protects Privileged White Men

In the latest example of how rape culture intersects with class privilege in the judicial system, a family court judge in New Jersey has come under fire for his appalling comments regarding a teenager facing charges of rape.

The allegations date back to 2017, when the boy (who was 16 at the time and is referred to in court documents as “G.M.C.”) allegedly filmed himself penetrating an intoxicated girl (also 16, and given the pseudonym “Mary”) at a house party. She claims he forwarded the video to his friends alongside a text that read, “When your first time having sex was rape.”

It took several months for Mary to bring charges against G.M.C., after she discovered that, despite his repeated denials, he had continued to share the video of the alleged assault. Prosecutors have recommended G.M.C. be tried in an adult court, due to the “sophisticated and predatory” nature of the alleged actions.

At the time, the prosecutor wrote, “For the duration of the assault, the lights in the gym remained off and the door was barred by a foosball table. Filming a cellphone video while committing the assault was a deliberate act of debasement.” The prosecutor further described G.M.C’s behaviour as “calculated and cruel”.

But Judge James Troiano disagreed that the charges were serious enough to warrant being tried in an adult court, and ruled against the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office petition.

Instead, Troiano said, “I still in my mind…distinguish between a sexual assault and a rape. In my mind there is a distinction.”

He clarified his views further, saying that with rape there is “generally two or more generally males involved, either at gunpoint or weapon, clearly manhandling a person into…an area where…there was nobody around, sometime in an abandon[ed] shed, shack, and just simply taking advantage of the person as well as beating the person, threatening the person.”

Troiano’s failure to compute the most basic facts about sexual assault and rape are made even worse by his adherence to views that position wealth, race and class status as somehow relevant to how the judicial system should treat people charged with serious crimes.

In determining the outcome of where G.M.C. would be tried, Troiano said, “This young man comes from a good family who put him into an excellent school where he was doing extremely well… His scores for college entry were very high.”

According to the court transcript, Troiano had admonished the prosecutor, telling her she should have “explained to Mary and her mother the devastating effect a waiver [to be tried as an adult] would have on G.M.C.’s life”. (Troiano’s ruling was overturned by an appeals court and, at the time of writing, prosecutors are still seeking to try G.M.C. an adult. According to Troiano in court transcripts, G.M.C. said he "f***ed" Mary, but denied raping her.)

Consider then the views expressed by Judge Aaron Persky in the conviction of Brock Turner for the sexual assault of a young woman at a Stanford University frat party in 2015. Despite his conviction, Turner was handed a mere six month sentence to be served in the county jail.

In his sentencing remarks, Persky stated that “obviously, a prison sentence would have a severe impact on him.” This level of concern for the efficacy of incarceration on young men is rarely applied to black men, working class men and men whose life circumstances don’t protect them at every turn.

A campaign rally to recall Judge Aaron Persky in California in 2017. (Image: Getty)

Let’s be very clear here: rape perpetrated by white men of power and privilege isn’t somehow different to the rape perpetrated by those other men, the ones who aren’t seen as the future captains of industry. The physical and emotional scars wrought by sexual assault and rape look the same on any survivor regardless of which college their rapist was able to get into. Nice boys who are good at sports and have lots of friends and are well liked by everyone, while innocent until proven guilty, can still be rapists.

Consider also the recent arrest of Jeffrey Epstein, the American multimillionaire who has been charged with the sex trafficking and sexual assault of dozens of minors on allegations dating back years. (He has denied the allegations.) In 2006, Epstein was charged with multiple counts of unlawful sex acts with a minor. But in 2007, a plea deal was struck that saw him plead guilty to two lesser charges of solicitation in exchange for a 13 month sentence in the county jail. That plea deal was orchestrated by Alex Acosta, who (until his resignation last week) would go on to become the Labor Secretary in the Trump administration.

Writing for the Miami Herald, Julie K. Brown revealed the deal also “essentially shut down an ongoing FBI probe into whether there were more victims and other powerful people who took part in Epstein’s sex crimes”.

The leniency shown to Epstein in 2007 gets worse. As Jill Filipovic wrote in The Guardian, during the 13 months he was supposedly in jail “he was allowed to leave the facility to work in his luxurious private office instead of serving life in prison.” Again, privileges that would not be afforded to the bulk of the men of colour who fill the cells in America’s prison industrial complex.

Protestors hold up signs of Jeffrey Epstein's face at the federal courthouse in New York on 8 July 2019. (Image: Getty)

I must have repeated this view hundreds, possibly thousands, of times during the last decade but in my view: this is rape culture at play again. It is rape culture to provide caveats and excuses and lenient sentences for sexual assault (as happened with Turner) and it is rape culture to consider ‘good prospects’ and future potential as somehow relevant to the severity with which alleged perpetrators of sexual assault should be dealt with by the judicial system.

It’s rape culture to treat access to sex and power as the natural rights of young, white men from privileged backgrounds, whose conscious actions are dismissed as mere mistakes or ‘blips’ on their paths to greatness.

It’s rape culture to treat girls and women as morsels for powerful men to nibble on as they please, and it’s rape culture to perpetuate the false claim that rape allegations ruin men’s lives when we are surrounded by examples of men continuing to succeed and be celebrated despite (in some cases) actually having convictions for these things.

This “boys will be boys” crap has gone on for far too long. Call it what it is. It’s rape culture. Unless we intervene, it will perpetuate itself endlessly.

And girls and women continue to shoulder the burden. Who will care about their futures?

Featured Image: AAP