In response to the troubling ruling in a recent Oklahoma sexual assault case, I thought I would remind everyone of the definition of rape. Merriam-Webster defines rape as “unlawful sexual activity and usually sexual intercourse carried out forcibly or under threat of injury against the will usually of a female or with a person who is beneath a certain age or incapable of valid consent.” The state of Oklahoma has its own definition.
The case involves a 2014 incident between a 17-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl. The two had been drinking with some of their friends in a park and the 16-year-old girl was severely intoxicated. Witnesses recalled her stumbling and falling in addition to slipping in and out of consciousness. Her blood alcohol content would later prove to be above .34. She had to be carried to the alleged perpetrator’s car to be driven home. She was then taken to a hospital by her family and underwent a sexual assault examination. The boy’s DNA was found on the girl’s leg and around her mouth.
So, what happened? The boy claimed that she had consented to performing oral sex on him. The girl reported that she could not remember anything after drinking in the park. The boy was charged with first-degree rape and forcible oral sodomy, and rightfully so. Going back to the definition of rape, this teen was obviously “incapable of valid consent.” You would think this would be an open-and-shut case. Nevertheless, an appeals court in Oklahoma unanimously ruled that “forcible sodomy cannot occur where a victim is so intoxicated as to be completely unconscious at the time of the sexual act of oral copulation.” What does that even mean? Apparently, it means that forcing another person to perform oral sex while he or she is an alcohol-induced blackout does not qualify as rape. I wouldn’t be surprised if you have to go back and read that sentence again.
It is a decision such as this that promotes victim-blaming. Additionally, it dissuades victims from coming forward and receiving the justice they deserve. Can you imagine going through the grueling process of reporting your own rape only to be told that you “deserved it” because you had a little too much to drink? I guess I must have missed the “Warning: May Cause Rape” label on my bottle of Smirnoff! What about date rape? Under this ruling, someone could slip a drug into someone’s drink and proceed to legally rape the unconscious victim. Our laws have failed to protect victims.
Archaic laws are to blame for this ruling. These laws reflect ignorant notions of rape, such as “it isn’t rape if the victim doesn’t fight back” or “intoxicated victims are responsible for their own assault.” While Oklahoma is highlighted in this ruling, there are still loopholes and grey areas in sexual assault law that exist in other states throughout the country. It should not take a case such as this to force a state to reexamine their sexual assault laws. Injustices are waiting to happen until states update and strengthen their legal codes. While we have made great progress in understanding sexual assault and accepting victims, change continues to be an uphill battle.