So, some of you may remember a post of mine from a while ago about Sheriff Joe Arpaio. He's the Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona (where Phoenix is), and he forces all inmates who enter the County prison system to wear pink underwear. He's made a lot of statements about why he does it over the years, but it all more or less boils down to "showing them who's boss." "Sheriff Joe" as he likes to call himself, has been castigated by all sorts of civil rights groups over the years for a lot of things, including the pink underwear, but mostly due to his actions on immigration. But today, let's talk about pink underwear.
There's a lot to unpack there of course, about masculinity, control, and such. Why pink underwear on these alledged criminals? Well, it emasculates them, makes them seem less like men and more like women. And women are the weaker sex, meant to be controlled. And what does a Sheriff want to do with inmates? Control them of course!
So Sheriff Joe had a huge blow against this policy, I think, in the form of an opinion from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Eric Vogel, born 1964, was a man who showed signs of some sort of mental illness. On November 12, 2001, he left his home for no apparent reason. After running in to police officers and demanding to see the President, he was put under arrest for assaulting a police officer. Upon intake into a prison run by Sheriff Joe, he completed a mental health assessment and met with a psychiatric counselor, who put a psychiatric hold on him, suggesting he needed further treatment. Upon further evaluation, he was recommended to get treatment in the psychiatric ward.
But before being transferred, he had to "dress out" or put on the pink underwear. When he refused, officers forced undressed and re-dressed him, all while Vogel was screaming that he was being raped. During this period, he allegedly spit on a police officer during the "dress out." After a week's treatment, he was released upon being bailed. On December 6, while in a minor traffic accident in his mother's car, he was informed that there was a warrant for spitting on the officer. He fled his home, beliving the police were coming, ran 4-5 miles until he died acute cardiac arrhythmia. His family sued, believing that the trauma Vogel had endured in the prison was the cause of his feeling.
The 9th Circuit Court's (the 9th Circuit hears appeals from Federal District Courts, including the District Court of Arizona) opinion, focuses mostly on excluding testimony about Eric Vogel's belief that he was being raped during the "dress out," which was why, according to his family, he fled.
A couple quotes from the opinion struck me (brackets are mine):
[Vogtel's] mind was focused on the implications of being dressed in pink. That he had been dressed in pink was not a delusion. But what was essential to the plaintiff’s case was [his mother's] testimony that the shock and humiliation of the “dress-out” in pink was preying on his mind."
When a color of such symbolic significance is selected for jail underwear, it is difficult to believe that the choice of color was random. The County offers no penalogical reason, indeed no explanation whatsoever for its jail’s odd choice. Given the cultural context, it is a fair inference that the color is chosen to symbolize a loss of masculine identity and power, to stigmatize the male prisoners as feminine.
The Court also added:
Unexplained and undefended, the dress-out in pink appears to be punishment without legal justification.
What is, of course, so striking about this opinion and this set of facts is the power that gender and its constructions have on people. Now, Eric Vogel undoubtedly had a mental illness, which clearly affected his perception of the "dress out" that was happening to him. However, the fact remains that the underlying dress out had a purpose: to humiliate and emasculate men by having them dress in women's clothing. While Vogel's tragic death is certainly the outlier, it demonstrates the power that the State can wield when it chooses to use gender norms as a tool of control.
I've written about what I perceive to be some of the problems of sexual assault and the law before, but I haven't talked a whole lot about the media. Now we've got a trio of stories to discuss: the acquittal of two NYPD cops charged with sexual assault, the alleged sexual assault by Dominique Strass-Kahn, the Director of the IMF, and the news that my former Guhvahna, Arnold Schwarzenegger had an affair with a member of his household staff.
First, the acquittal. As I'm sure some readers of my this blog, two police officers allegedly, while bringing a drunk woman back to her apartment, sexually assaulted her while she was incapacitated. They were acquitted last Thursday. I don't think I need to rehash the story, except to note a few things: there was videotaped surveillance of the officers returning to her apartment after leaving and there wasn't any DNA evidence. I think those two facts speak to an interesting intersection of the difficulties of prosecuting a sexual assault case where the victim was drunk (in this to incapacitation) and what is called in legal circles the "CSI effect." In a sentence, the CSI effect is the tendency of criminal juries to demand high-tech forensic evidence and analyses in prosecution criminal cases. While the actual effects of the "CSI effect" are hotly debated within the legal and academic community, I wonder if this isn't anecdotal evidence of it. Here we have a sexual assault victim who is unable to remember much of the encounter, which is obviously not uncommon in sexual assault cases where the victim has been drinking are/or using other substances. We also have a perpetrator (according to the secretly taped phone call) using a condom, which if used effectively, would prevent the collection of semen samples using a SAFE kit (popularly called "rape kits"). So we have juries that are disinclined to believe circumstantial evidence such as the surveillance videos (even though as a legal matter, circumstantial evidence is equal to eyewitness evidence), no CSI type evidence, and a victim who in all likelihood does not remember everything.
Now scoot on over to the alleged assault by Dominique Strauss-Kahn of a maid in his hotel room in New York City. Legally, I don't think this is as interesting a case, as it more closely conforms to traditional expectations of sexual assault: a man assaulting a woman, with DNA evidence. No alcohol involved, which would lead to victim-blaming or a more clear "defense," such as in the NYC cop case. Something that I should be added are the racial issues involved, which don't seem to have been brought up in US media as much: the victim is reportedly Guinean and obviously Mr. Strauss-Kahn is white.
I'd like to contrast this to the Schwarzenegger news we've heard and note again the ethnicities involved. The woman with whom Mr. Schwarzenegger had an affair with was also of color and also a woman under his employ. I bring this up because both these two men engaged in relationships with people with whom they had an unequal power relationship, and though Arnold's relationship has been reported as consensual, I think, as a general matter, that things become much more murky when it involves relationships between employers and employees. But the coverage of Schwarzenegger's story is mostly centering on the affair, the divorce, the effect it would have had on politics, etc., etc., and not the sexual dynamics inherent in an unequal relationship like that.
I think crimes involving sex remain some of the most strangely covered events in our media. If there's a mugging, you don't blame the victims for have the audacity to be mugged. If there's a murder, you don't blame the victim for what they were wearing, doing, or where they were at night. If there's a murder and it involves people of different races/ethnicities, you bet it will be discussed heavily in the popular media, but if there's a sexual assault, the likelihood is much less, such as in the case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Is it because of our society's inability to accept sexuality and yet be fascinated by sex in the popular consciousness? Is it our unwillingness to accept a lot of the racialized aspects of crime and sex crimes in general? I don't know, but it's all food for thought.
Firstly, it's been a while since I posted. I can't say I really have a good reason, other than that I've been busy with all the usual work and life.
Secondly…well, a lot of ink has already been spilled about Julian Assange and the allegations of sexual assault. People have far better than I made the point that one can separate his wikileaks project and whatever stance one takes on them from the allegations of sexual assault.
What I'd like to briefly talk about is how the so-called majority man view this.
This case is not unlike some of the other sexual assault cases that the media has highlighted over the years. As I've written about in the past, one of the problems with discussing sexual assault with men is that the only major media depictions of sexual assault are when (let's use the term very generally) "celebrities" are accused of it. This leads to a lot of problems when discussing the issue with men. Bring up Kobe Bryant in that context, and a man will ask, "Doesn't that woman have something to gain by accusing him of sexual assault?"
It's a difficult question to deal with. On the one hand, our automatic (and quite correct) response is to give credence to any allegations made by a victim of sexual assault. However, at times, that instinct leads us to deny the possibility that a false allegation could ever be made. This leads to problems building credibility with men. Statistics show that false allegations for rape/sexual assault are not made with any greater frequency than for other crimes. There's a host of reasons why a woman would not make a false claim, from the lack of rape shield laws in many states, permitting attorneys in Court to probe their sexual past to the publicity (either on a local or national scale) and the difficulties that publicity brings.
When you have someone like a Kobe or a Roethlisberger, people with power or money, from a purely objective and rational perspective, one would think that the likelihood of a false allegation would be higher with them, because the women could stand to gain money. When you do this kind of education, I think you have to admit that: "Sure, the gains could be higher," but on the other hand, you also have to tell men, "But the costs are higher too," due to the increased publicity and scrutiny. (Of course, one cannot discuss either of those men without noting that the allegations seems to have been borne out, with Kobe Bryant pretty much admitting to facts that are rape, and with Roethlisberger's behavior being pretty much following the textbook Lisak-Miller definitions of the behavior of a serial rapist.)
You have to discuss these issues in all their nuances with men, or lose credibility.
As the media depicted Kobe Bryant or Ben Roethlisberger, we have now a man in the spotlight for sexual assault who is someone with power or money. Unfortunately, we see a lot of people on the left unable to separate the two issues: the fact that Assange has a certain power and there are people opposed to it, and the allegations that he committed sexual assault. And just like any other of these celebrities, perhaps these women have something more to gain by making an accusation against Assange than they would against a regular Joe, but also the costs are far higher. The facts alleged sound like sexual assault within my humble and not-expert reading of the relevant law, and it's unfortunate that many on the left have chosen to distort those facts in order to defend Assange based on his political activities.
But enough about Assange. What this incident unfortunately teaches men, is that sexual assault cases are like Assange's, or like Bryant's or Roethlisberger. These types of cases are, after all, the only ones we see on TV and in the media. However, it's simply not true. Their cases are so far removed from the norm that to say that 99.9% of cases are not like theirs would be understating the fact. Sexual assault cases do not involve grand politics on the world stage; they do not involve celebrities; they do not involve professional athletes. The overwhelming majority of sexual assaults and rapes are perpetrated by "normal" people, without all these confounding issues of politics or money that seem to frequently confuse both the less-educated majority man who we would like to bring in to the movement, as well as much better educated progressive pundits who we would otherwise think we would be our allies on sexual assault.