How Did This Rape Case Become A Punch Line?

Photo: via MollyShattuck.com.
Molly Shattuck, a 48-year-old socialite and former Baltimore Ravens cheerleader, plead guilty to the charge of rape in the fourth degree yesterday. According to The Baltimore Sun, the plea was part of an agreement, dropping two previous charges of rape in the third degree, which Shattuck first faced back in November. She now faces up to 15 years in prison and will register as a sex offender.

But, despite the fact that Shattuck has owned up to sexually assaulting a minor, allegedly on multiple occasions, public reaction to this case is almost as appalling. Molly Shattuck is an attractive woman, after all. And, her victim was male.

Shattuck first saw the 15-year-old boy on Instagram last year; he was apparently a friend of her son's. The boys attended the same private school, and it was in that school's parking lot that she first initiated sexual contact with him. Later, she invited him to join her family at their beach house, where she performed oral sex on him.

"I should have been so lucky when I was 15. I know I am being very un-PC here, but any man who recalls his teenage years thinks this is just nuts," reads the top comment on The Washington Post's report on Shattuck's plea. "I bet this was hard-on her, for a while he was head of the class!!!" writes the top commenter on The Baltimore Sun's piece, adding, "She looks like she's aged considerably." Over on Gawker, the top commenter concludes, "The kid got blown, and quite happily I'm sure," after going on rant about the difference between child rape and child rape.

There are a handful of dissenting voices among these, condemning Shattuck's actions as those of a sexual predator. But, they're buried under hundreds of Mrs. Robinson jokes and outraged comments about how a charge like this "diminishes the word 'rape.'"

In reality, a charge like this — and the reaction it incited — points out an inequality that needs addressing in our cultural consciousness. Because, on some fundamental level, we still seem to think that female-on-male assault doesn't really count. Worse than that, we condone it: "Dude will have bragging rights to having banged a former cheerleader. Every guy's dream," said one Washington Post commenter.

The first and most obvious response is to point out the double standard: If this were a 15-year-old girl getting groped in the back of a car or brought to a beach house by a 48-year-old man, we'd have no problem calling that sexual contact assault. We'd recognize that rape doesn't always happen at gunpoint with a stranger. Four out of five assaults involve someone known to the victim. Even if the girl had said "yes" to the sex, we'd use words like "coercion" and "grooming" because that's what it is when an adult uses his or her authority and power to sexually abuse a child.
Photo: Courtesy of Delaware State Police.
Perhaps that's the definition we need to remember when talking about these cases — not "rape," but "child."

Because the fact is, the double-standard argument isn't working. No matter how clear the facts are laid out, there will always be those who say that teenage boys and teenage girls are just different. And, you know what? Fine. They're right. From a biological and developmental standpoint, a male adolescent and female adolescent are not the same (nor, of course, are all male or female adolescents the same as their peers). Certainly, from a cultural standpoint, we treat them very differently as well. But, they are all adolescents. That's the deciding factor.

From a legal standpoint, these adolescents are considered children, and all of them should benefit from that protection. We should value their lives, their health, their privacy equally. No matter their gender, we created a law that says childhood is childhood so that there could be no quibbling over whether rape is rape.

It's not a perfect system, by any means. Regarding assailants, we understand there are pathological differences between raping a toddler and raping a teenager (though both are still pathologies). Certainly, there are those whose lives have been irrevocably changed by consent laws, and that's why we need to examine these cases with solemnity and caution.

What we don't need are thoughtless cougar jokes. That boy doesn't need a high five. He needs the support and sensitivity that we would show to any child — any person — who's been sexually assaulted. We cannot know his experience or his potential trauma. All we know is: he was 15. That's all we need to know.

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