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A R T I C L E S* &* S P E E C H E S

ENVISIONING EQUALITY

With Kaethe Morris Hoffer

Kaethe Morris Hoffer, a feminist attorney, explores equality, justice, and the complexities of living in a world in which power is abused and gendered.


Using Cash to Deter Rape in America
©Kaethe Morris Hoffer

Most men don’t engage in rape. Even the gloomier statistics imply that most men always, and only, have sex in conditions of mutuality and respect.

But as we know, a significant number of men do engage in rape. And for the most part, they blend in seamlessly with the men around them—the ones who never violate girls and women.

In addition to the fact that rapists mostly look and act and sound like men who are trustworthy in intimate settings, rapists have this in common with the majority of men: they spend most of their time NOT raping. Like most people, they mostly engage in activities like working, sleeping, eating, socializing, and studying.

I point this out because I think it proves that men who rape are perfectly capable of refraining from rape. If you listen to survivors of the most common kind of rape—rape by non-strangers—you will find that even men who rape are perfectly capable of engaging in sexual relations with girls and women that are based in mutual desire and volition. In other words, boys and men who rape are frequently, and often mostly, having sex that is not forced. William Kennedy Smith, Kobe Bryant, Mike Tyson, Bill Clinton…no one can deny that these men—all who have been credibly accused of rape—also have significant experience in having sex of the mutually desired variety.

So what does it mean that men who do rape are perfectly capable of responding to no, of waiting until they have a true and meaningful yes before they engage in sex? I think it means, very simply, that men who rape do so because they can.

Part of why men rape with impunity, of course, is the American criminal justice system. While police and prosecutors are frequently aggressive and effective against that minority of rapists who leap out of bushes or break into homes, they are astonishingly ineffectual when it comes to responding to rape the way it is lived out by most survivors.

And in America, where cash is king, and the capitalist system leads the way in almost every arena—from the provision of health care to the cleaning of the environment—there has not yet been a real push to attach FINANCIAL consequences to rape.

Fortunately, in Illinois, there are tools that exist now with revolutionary potential. In order to leverage the proven ability of cash to change and influence men’s behavior, the Illinois legislature enacted the Gender Violence Act, which allows rape survivors to sue their perpetrators for money. Last year, I helped one of my clients use the law to obtain a multi-million dollar verdict against the classmate who raped her.

The defendant was in many ways just your typical student. A bit taller than average, perhaps, and maybe more coordinated—he was a varsity athlete. But in general, pretty “normal.” He’d had girlfriends. He’d had consensual sex with women at his school. He wasn’t some drooling, violent, pathological, obviously crazed maniac who went on a crime spree. He just decided one night that he wasn’t going to take no for an answer. And believing he’d get away with it, he forced sex on my client.

But now he has a gigantic debt hanging over his head. A legal judgment says he owes more than two million dollars to his victim. It’s a debt that he can’t void through bankruptcy. It’s a debt we can use to garnish his wages, once he graduates. It’s a legal obligation that means if he comes into money through inheritance, or work, or by winning the lottery, we get to see it turned over to the woman he raped, until the debt is satisfied.

He was never sentenced to jail time. He was never charged with a felony. The criminal system was about as effective against him as you might predict. But wow, he is not walking away scot-free. Not like most rapists, not like most times.

I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that he will think twice before ever again trying to use force to obtain sex. Like most men who rape, he always had the capacity to control himself. He just didn’t always see a reason he should.

Now, as he knows well, there are legal tools that give attorneys like me, and victims like his, financial incentives to expose and punish him. His story might not have any impact on most men—those who always and only have sex that is mutual—but think about the impact of his story on those men who do rape. His story says that men in Illinois can no longer rely on the ineffectuality of the criminal system to protect them from the consequences of their actions.

And if men who are willing to rape understand the risks they now face, I believe that in this state at least, rape will decrease. Because, let’s face it, every man can refrain from rape—they mostly do—it’s just a matter of giving them the right incentives, so that instead of mostly not engaging in rape, they never engage in rape.

Lots of people may still find it easy to ignore the voices of girls and women, but in this culture, when money talks, people listen. And in Illinois, I’ve got a $2.4 million dollar judgment just screaming for attention.


Kaethe Morris Hoffer
morrishoffer@ameritech.net

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Kaethe is an attorney from Evanston, Illinois. She served on the Governor's Commission on the Status of Women in Illinois from 1999 to 2003, where she chaired the Commission's Violence Reduction Working Group. She is co-author of the Gender Violence Act.

 

 

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