The rights of women in Canada suffered a serious setback last week when a Manitoba judge allowed a convicted rapist to walk free, arguing that the signals supposedly emitted by the female victim confused the assailant. Justice Robert Dewar noted that the woman had worn high heels and a tube top—without a bra—as evidence that the assailant, Kenneth Rhodes, shouldn’t be held exclusively accountable for the attack that occurred in the woods five years ago. “Sex,” the judge averred, “was in the air.”
The victim was with a friend when she met Rhodes at a bar and later agreed to accompany him alone into the nearby woods. She consented when kissed by Rhodes, but rebuffed him when he repeatedly tried to escalate things. Rhodes then raped the woman, telling her it would only hurt for a short while.
Justice Dewar, while convicting Rhodes of rape, gave him an absurdly lenient two-year conditional sentence, which allows him to avoid prison, continue to live and workin his community. He will also be placed on the national sex-offender registry. To top it all off, Justice Dewar ordered the rapist to write a letter of apology to his victim.
There are few words in Canadian English strong enough to describe how perverse and discredited the judge’s argument is. It’s enough to let his putrescent words speak for themselves. Dewar called it a case of “inconsiderate behavior.” He cited the victim’s tube top, heavy make-up, and willingness to swim with Rhodes in a nearby lake—though she had not brought a bathing suit—as evidence that the victim and her friend “made their intentions publicly known that they wanted to party.” He calls Rhodes “a clumsy Don Juan.” The atmosphere created “inviting circumstances.” In short, the victim got what she asked for.
While we are not privy to the exact proceedings of either the crime itself or the trial, it’s enough merely to consider the supposed evidence of such “inviting circumstances” the justice himself invoked in order to understand that he is partially excusing the rapist from responsibility for his heinous actions. This is merely a latter-day manifestation of a long-held and convenient myth that scantily-clad women are essentially asking to be raped—that they in some way had it coming. The endorsement of this myth—which we at the Tribune mistakenly believed had already been exposed to all as the lie that it is—by a sitting Canadian justice is a shame to this country. This is not an innocuous belief, but could also lead to serious, practical harm, by providing would-be rapists with a ready-made excuse for their violence, and a precedent to which they can appeal. In a bizarre and offensive twist of logic, Dewar’s argument makes victims accomplices in their own victimization.
There is no such thing as “mitigating circumstances” when it comes to rape. In the U.S. last month Republicans in the House of Representatives sought (unsuccessfully) to redefine rape by dividing it between cases of “forcible rape” and all other instances. Dewar and these American legislators ignore the basic fact that all rape is forcible. Tube tops, skinny-dipping, kisses, and “heightened expectations” don’t enter into it. We thought this lesson had been learned years ago and are angered at seeing it ignored—and by a sitting justice no less.