Appeals Court: The word ‘rape’ can be banned from rape trials

This makes me want to tear my hair out. Remember the Nebraska judge who banned the word ‘rape’ from a rape trial? (You know, so the accuser was forced to use words like “intercourse” and “sex” to describe the attack. Charming.) Well, according to an appeals court, that’s all fine and dandy.

The lawsuit argued that Lancaster County District Judge Jeffre Cheuvront violated Tory Bowen’s constitutional rights in barring her from using certain words during her testimony in the trial, in which she said Pamir Safi sexually assaulted her.
While Cheuvront barred Bowen from using phrases and words like “rape kit” and “victim” in her testimony, he allowed Safi’s attorneys to use words such as “sex” and “intercourse” when describing the encounter between Safi and Bowen.

Even worse, of course, was that the jury wasn’t told about the banned words.
Dahlia Lithwick at Slate had this to say when news of the case first came out: “The fact that judges are not rushing to ban similarly conclusory legal language from trial testimony—presumably one can still say murder or embezzlement on the stand—reflects not just the fraught nature of language but also the fraught nature of rape prosecutions. We as a society still somehow think rape is different—either because we assume the victims are especially fragile or because we assume they are particularly deceitful. Is the word rape truly more inflammatory to a jury than the word robbery?” Indeed.
Bowen (who made her name public), has been an inspiration through this disgustingness. First, she refused to abide by the judge’s rule: “I refuse to call it sex, or any other word that I’m supposed to say, encouraged to say on the stand, because to me that’s committing perjury. What happened to me was rape, it was not sex.
Then, after there was a mistrial (because of the controversy over the word ban), Bowen sued. I’m just so disappointed that it’s come to this end. But kudos to Bowen for not taking shit – she is one amazing woman.

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56 Comments

  1. Peanutcat
    Posted April 6, 2008 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    As to the former trial where they weren’t allowed to use the word “rape” or “raped”, why couldn’t “assult” or “sexual assult” have been used?

  2. noname
    Posted April 7, 2008 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    tinfoil hattie – Many rape trials hinge on whether already admitted sex was consensual or not. Who was there is not the question. The question is whether what happened was a crime.

  3. Amanda Leigh
    Posted April 7, 2008 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    In the lovely state of Florida (where most of our kids are taught drinking bleach eliminates pregnancy apparently), “sexual assault” is the term used in most Rape Trials.
    As a survivor, I remember using the medical terms during the trial. “He forced his penis inside my vagina.” I remember using the word “intercourse.” I don’t remember using the word “rape” at all. Even now, five years after my rapist was convicted I still have trouble using the word “rape” as in “I was raped.” I usually say, “I was assaulted,” which can mean I was punched or hit, and doesn’t imply anything sexual. I have worked hard to be able to say, “I was raped.”
    I think it’s sad and leads to much more healing to deny a victim the use of words describing what happened to her. It would make me feel like what happened to me wasn’t as bad as it was. Society wants to euphemise “rape” by calling it “sexual assault/battery.” There is nothing pretty about rape and there is no need to euphemise it.
    Kudos to Bowen for not backing down even when it might have been the easier route.

  4. Amanda Leigh
    Posted April 7, 2008 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    In the lovely state of Florida (where most of our kids are taught drinking bleach eliminates pregnancy apparently), “sexual assault” is the term used in most Rape Trials.
    As a survivor, I remember using the medical terms during the trial. “He forced his penis inside my vagina.” I remember using the word “intercourse.” I don’t remember using the word “rape” at all. Even now, five years after my rapist was convicted I still have trouble using the word “rape” as in “I was raped.” I usually say, “I was assaulted,” which can mean I was punched or hit, and doesn’t imply anything sexual. I have worked hard to be able to say, “I was raped.”
    I think it’s sad and leads to much more healing to deny a victim the use of words describing what happened to her. It would make me feel like what happened to me wasn’t as bad as it was. Society wants to euphemise “rape” by calling it “sexual assault/battery.” There is nothing pretty about rape and there is no need to euphemise it.
    Kudos to Bowen for not backing down even when it might have been the easier route.

  5. Amanda Leigh
    Posted April 7, 2008 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    In the lovely state of Florida (where most of our kids are taught drinking bleach eliminates pregnancy apparently), “sexual assault” is the term used in most Rape Trials.
    As a survivor, I remember using the medical terms during the trial. “He forced his penis inside my vagina.” I remember using the word “intercourse.” I don’t remember using the word “rape” at all. Even now, five years after my rapist was convicted I still have trouble using the word “rape” as in “I was raped.” I usually say, “I was assaulted,” which can mean I was punched or hit, and doesn’t imply anything sexual. I have worked hard to be able to say, “I was raped.”
    I think it’s sad and leads to much more healing to deny a victim the use of words describing what happened to her. It would make me feel like what happened to me wasn’t as bad as it was. Society wants to euphemise “rape” by calling it “sexual assault/battery.” There is nothing pretty about rape and there is no need to euphemise it.
    Kudos to Bowen for not backing down even when it might have been the easier route.

  6. keshmeshi
    Posted April 7, 2008 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    Read the rest of my comment, Bozo. I SAID the victim is not required to “prove” a crime was committed. The prosecuting attorney is required to PROVE the DEFENDANT is the ONE WHO COMMITTED THE CRIME.

    Um, no. A fundamental part of any criminal case is to prove that a crime occurred. There is no presumption of a crime being committed, that then needs to be pinned on the defendant. No proof of a crime == no trial; the judge tosses the case.

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