Rape, California-style

Posted: Jan 13, 2003 12:00 AM
I'm going to try to keep this clean, but the recent California Supreme Court ruling that a woman who changes her mind during sexual intercourse qualifies as a rape victim tests one's commitment to decorum. Yes, you read it right. The 6-1 ruling changes the definition of rape so significantly that a man who doesn't withdraw immediately upon his partner's shift in attitude can go to prison. One young man already has. A 17-year-old -John Z. -served six months in a juvenile detention facility on a rape conviction following just such an encounter. He and Laura T. were having consensual sex when Laura decided she needed to get home. She didn't say, "Stop." She didn't cry out or struggle. She merely said, "I should be going now" and "I need to go home," according to her testimony. Because it reportedly took John Z. a full minute and a half to cease and desist -an act of rare self-control among the primate known as a 17-year-old male -he was convicted of rape. I don't know who was holding the timer during this intimate act. Was the rape victim monitoring her watch's second hand? With its ruling Monday, the California Supreme Court affirmed John Z.'s conviction. Although Justice Janice Rogers Brown agreed with the rape definition, she dissented on whether the boy had been guilty of rape. She noted that he might have had an "honest and reasonable belief" that the girl didn't waive consent, a defense recognized by California courts. Honest and reasonable? That sounds right. Given that the girl wanted to have sex, or at least said she did, then proceeded to have sex, and only then said she needed to go home, one could leap to the wild conclusion that the young man may not have divined her intent that he retreat. I'm sorry, but when did girls get so stupid? In the old days -when girls were apparently both smarter and tougher -a girl who didn't want to have sex didn't have sex. She said no thanks, grabbed her purse and walked out the door. The boy may have been disappointed and frustrated, but he wasn't confused. "No" meant "no." And "yes" meant yes to the finish line. If you want a guy to stop midway through the first act, pick an older boyfriend. Say fiftyish. Speaking of which, I keep coming back to this: Where's Daddy? Who didn't teach this girl the rules of engagement? Once upon a time, fathers taught their daughters better. You don't take a boy to bed and then say "no." In a similar vein, as my father taught me, you don't pull a gun on someone unless you intend to kill him. There are certain things you don't kid around with, and hormonally charged teenage boys and loaded guns are among the top two. I'm not suggesting that girls get what they deserve. So stifle the swoon, sisters. Nor am I suggesting that there aren't times when boys and men fail to listen carefully when girls and women speak. In my vast experience, they mostly pay close attention when food is involved. But I am prepared to defend males against the sort of insanity that makes them criminals for not being able to read a girl's mind. Who exactly will bear witness to these "he said-she said" debacles? What words will suffice to mean "Stop," if "I need to get home" is enough to convict a boy of rape? What if she'd said, "Oh, gosh, I've got to buy cat food." Would that do? "Clearly my heart wasn't in it, Your Honor. He should have known I meant stop!" And how quick is quick enough for the man to cease his foul play? A minute? Thirty seconds? The court didn't say. I hate to be the one to break it to you, fellas, but the gelding of the American male is nearly complete and the message clear: You can do nothing right. As a friend's world-weary 15-year-old son correctly summarized the zeitgeist: "Women good, men bad." John Z. wasn't guilty of rape; he was guilty of being male. If I were a guy, I'd find another country.