The problem with calling rape, “rape”

In IDS on January 16, 2013 at 3:10 pm

Read this lede.


It was a sleepover.

A 14-year-old boy and his friend were sleeping in a mutual bed. The 14-year-old awoke to the sensation of a touch on his genitals.

Afraid and unsure of what to do, as if paralyzed in a state of shock, the 14-year-old pretended to sleep. The other boy began performing oral sex on him and following the initial sexual acts, proceeded to force himself inside the victim.

The 14-year-old ultimately reported the series of events that unfolded that summer morning to Bloomington police.

After the report, a rape kit was completed at an area hospital.

This case, as it is recorded in police records, was a sexual assault. In fact, it was a number of things according to Indiana Code, including sexual battery and criminal deviate conduct.

But, according to the code, it wasn’t “rape.”‘

You want to know what happens next, don’t you?

That was the start of a project that began last semester, when IDS reporter and editor Michael Majchrowicz — who at the time was BPD reporter — found out that same-sex rape is not considered “rape” in Indiana. Later in the story:

Indiana law does not constitute sexual assault as rape unless it is between members of opposite sex. However, there is deviate conduct, “a person who knowingly or intentionally causes another person to perform or submit to deviate sexual conduct.”

Investigators and prosecutors typically file for criminal deviate conduct when an accused person makes forced sexual contact through means of anal penetration, oral penetration  or penetration with an object without the victim’s consent or if the victim is in a state in which they cannot grant permission.

Prosecutors, psychologists and advocacy leaders have made it clear that a change is necessary — some even calling the current code “archaic.”

The story is well-sourced and well-researched with input from investigators, counselors, prosecutors, local police records, legislative records and FBI records. It does a great job of explaining the problem with rape definitions from many points of view and does so completely and elegantly.

I know this took a long time to report and used a whole number of resources in the project. I’ve asked Mike to comment below and start a conversation about the reporting process. Make sure to read the story, linked above, and jump in with questions/comments if you have them.

  1. Thanks a lot for the link, Charlie. You said it right when you mentioned above that this was in the works for quite some time. It all started back in September when I reported on a same-sex sexual assault in Bloomington involving two men. The reported victim in the case reported to police he awoke to a man he had been with the night before, on top of him and forcing penetration.

    In police the police records and logs, the case itself was filed as a “rape.” When I went to write this story, I referenced Indiana Code and something really stuck out to me:

    “… intentionally has sexual intercourse with a member of the opposite sex when…”

    Emphasis on “opposite sex.” I was confused for a moment. If it wasn’t rape, what was it?

    And so the story began. The bulk of my reporting started in following months, combing through hundreds of previously accessed police reports and making a separate, more up-to-date records request for any and all same-sex sexual assaults that had occured in a span of the last two years. After I knew what I was after, it was time to do some outreach. I started with the campus GLBT center as well as the Middle Way House rape crisis and support center. The individuals I spoke with at the GLBT center were stunned. How was this possible, they asked. On the other hand, it had been a long-time battle for Middle Way House advocates.

    “We de-gender the crime,” said Shani Robin, Middle Way House crisis intervention services coordinator. “We don’t go by Indiana Code, and that’s deliberate.”

    I had the opportunity to sit down with the former sex cimes deputy prosecutor, a position that was dissolved in January 2012 after the stimulus grant that freed up the funds necessary to keep the position up and running had dissolved. It was in her office that I came to the realization of what this story was really about: it was a language issue.

    Now that there is actually pending legislation, perhaps this is where the conversation starts.

    • Very nice stuff, Mike. One thing that stood out to me was the variety in your sources, and that you were able to say so much through those purposely chosen sources. How did you select the folks you decided to use?

  2. I struggled for a quite some time throughout the reporting process trying to narrow down my sources. I eventually caught on that this was an issue all these respective professions were battling (prosecutors, police, psychologists, etc.)–as opposed to it strictly being a legislative issue. Making that clear in the story was crucial. This is an issue that goes across the board; It was almost like a game of connect the dots. All of the sources in the story inadvertently referenced what the others before and after them were saying.

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