Saturday, March 13, 2010

Flashback: First case of marital rape involving co-habitating spouses: she was treated as a pioneer even though he was acquitted

Here's a story from the archives that made a big national splash back in 1979, the glory days of feminism. Time Magazine and newspapers around the country wrote about it.  It was the first marital rape case against a husband who was living with the wife.

Even if you don't remember the case, regular readers of this blog can imagine how the case was regarded by feminists. The wife was regarded as a pioneer, and the case was treated as a breakthrough.

Unfortunately, as is common in this area where ideology matters more than facts, the evidence didn't quite match the "wife-as-rape-victim" metanarrative.

Spoiler alert: he was acquitted. They got back together for a short time, then divorced on amicable terms. She got custody of their child, of course, and he was saddled with a support payment. They disputed whether his $18,000 defense costs for his rape trial should be classified as a family debt.  (That was a lot of money in 1979, especially for an out-of-work 21-year-old cook.)   See here

Some enterprising producer even made a film about the case (which the wife didn't much care for).

Even acclaimed satirist Art Buchwald had his say about the case. (Trigger alert: feminists won't like what Mr. Buchwald wrote -- got to read to the end.)

The ex-husband eventually got in trouble with the law because he couldn't keep away from the ex-wife. 

The most infuriating aspect of the matter, of course, was the reaction of the feminists. The story as reported by Time Magazine presented a classic "he said/she said" allegation of rape by a wife against her husband.  Certainty about what happened was not possible, just as it is not possible in most such cases.  Why the case was brought is anyone's guess, but I suspect ideology had something to do with it -- after all, a woman's crisis center urged the wife to bring rape charges, and for a lot of people, this case was bigger than these particular facts. Like Duke lacrosse, it symbolized something "more important" than whether a crime was committed and whether a man barely out of his teen years would spend the best years of his life behind bars.  Those, you see, were insignificant trifles. What really mattered was the symbolism of a wife sending her husband to prison for rape.

Now read this next part carefully: after the husband's acquittal, the director of the crisis center whose representatives had urged the wife to bring the charges in the first place, had this to say: "I feel terrifically saddened by the verdict and concerned about the future of women who have to live with marital violence daily."

Read it again.  Think about the insanity of that prompted that statement -- given that no one, except the two people in that bedroom, could possibly know what really happened.

Another crisis center worker said this: "Most of us are just in shock.  It is a terrible setback for women, all women."

Did you get that?  A terrible setback for women -- that a man who was found not guilty of rape on disputed evidence was not being sent to prison for many years.


I wonder, did it matter to either of these women, even a little bit, whether the accused young man was innocent or guilty? I mean, did they care even a little?

This case spurred feminist reformers to get the law changed everywhere to allow husbands to be convicted of raping their wives.  Examples of the debate are found here and here and here.