Thursday, October 09, 2014

The History of "Rape" Repeats Itself

I've been reading about the Scottsboro Boys, the nine black teenagers accused of gang-raping two white women on a train in 1931 Alabama. The case was then and is now widely perceived as an indictment of racist Southern justice, generating two Supreme Court due process decisions and an eventual legislative pardon.

I will not pretend to have an opinion about the factual guilt or innocence of the accused, as my impression is that most such opinions spring directly from attitudes towards their and the accusers' membership in competing victim classes. My interest, rather, is in the parallels between the standards of evidence and due process in use both then and now, and those recommended both then and now. And I can't help noticing that many of the protections erected in the course of that case and the black Civil Rights movement generally are now being undermined now that "sexual assault" is having its day in the sun.

For instance:

[Defense attorney for the appeal of the first of the three guilty verdicts, George W] Chamlee moved for new trials for all defendants. Private investigations took place, revealing that Price and Bates had been prostitutes in Tennessee who regularly serviced black and white clientele.[43] Chamlee offered Hawkins affidavits to that effect, which the Judge forbade him to read out loud.

So, both Price and Bates had checkered sexual histories. Does that mean that they were incapable of being raped? No, it doesn't. But if it was relevant then, it should be relevant now.

From this account of the closing witness of the second trial:

The appearance of the defense's final and most dramatic witness, Ruby Bates, might have been taken from the script of a hokey Hollywood movie. In the months before the trial, Bates' whereabouts were a mystery. [Defense attorney Samuel] Leibowitz announced that he was resting his case, then approached the bench and asked for a short recess. Minutes later National Guardsmen open the back doors of the courtroom, and-- to the astonished gasps of spectators and the dismay of Knight-- in walked Ruby Bates. Under direct examination, Bates said a troubled conscience and the advice of famous New York minister Harry Emerson Fosdick prompted her to return to Alabama to tell the truth about what happened on March 25, 1931. Bates said that there was no rape, that none of the defendants touched her or even spoke to her, and that the accusations of rape were made after Price told her "to frame up a story" to avoid morals charges. On cross-examination, [prosecuting attorney Wade] Knight ripped into Bates, confronting her both with her conflicting testimony in the first trials and accusations that her new versions of events had been bought with new clothes and other Communist Party gifts. He demanded to know whether he hadn't told her months before in his office that he would "punish anyone who made her swear falsely" and that he "did not want to burn any person that wasn't guilty." "I think you did," Bates answered. (LINK TO BATES TESTIMONY)

Victoria Price had some knowledge of "morals charges": in the course of her three marriages, racked up by age 20, she had been jailed at least once for adultery. I expect that if you were ever able to corner a feminist with evidence that, yes, sometimes women do lie about rape to protect their reputations, the feminist would assert that the fault therefore lies with the morals, aka the cultural demands of proper feminine behavior.

Even if you believe that to be true, and even if you believe that sacrificing sexual morality is the acceptable price to pay for women's liberation and/or to increase the credibility of rape charges brought by sexually loose women, the problem of lying doesn't end there. For instance, as we have seen, alcohol consumption is involved in the vast majority of sexual assault cases. But alcohol is forbidden to young people and specifically prohibited at the service Academies. A decade ago, in the midst of another spasm of anti-sexual assault righteousness, the Air Force Academy established the policy of "amnesty" (this word was changed to "indemnity" or something in response to objections from USAFA's legal office) to female cadets for any alcohol abuse that they might have indulged in the course of their sexual assault -- this policy intending to encourage assault victims to come forward without fear of being expelled for their own offenses. However, this policy also created ample incentive for cadets charged with alcohol abuse to make a rape charge against somebody -- anybody -- conveniently at hand. Oddly, though, there is little appetite among USAFA officials for climbing down off this dilemma by repealing laws against alcohol consumption, say, which might have the added benefit of increasing both sexual assaults and sexual assault reporting at the same time, a two-fer from the perspective of those wanting to stir up the "War on Women" meme for political benefit.

I will note in passing that Wikipedia isn't exactly covering itself with glory here. It reports, correctly, that Ruby Bates recanted her original testimony and testified for the defendants in the second trial. What it doesn't mention is that representatives (perhaps) of the American Communist Party offered bribes to both Bates and her co-victim, Victoria Price (see here and here.)

Price, who stood by her story until her death, had declined the bribe.

From this source:

Defense lawyer Samuel Leibowitz suggested that Price had invented the rape by the black defendants when the train they'd hopped was stopped in Paint Rock. He proposed that Price made up the charge to protect herself and Bates. Leibowitz speculated that the young women feared they would be arrested for vagrancy or for being hobos in the company of the black youths. And he amassed a host of details in his witnesses' testimony to prove Price wasn't telling the truth. But Leibowitz was unable to depict Price as the lying, loose woman he believed her to be. An atmosphere of extreme hostility toward the Jewish New York lawyer and his witnesses had taken hold, so much so that a reporter in the courtroom heard more than one person say, "It'll be a wonder if Leibowitz gets out alive." Despite the many inconsistencies in her testimony, Price captured the all-white jury's sympathy. Denying any acquaintance with Carter, rejecting his story of spending the night in the hobo jungle, and insisting she had been raped by the black youths on the train, Price offered her own explanation of events.

She was an avid talker and told the story of the rape with many colorful details. The rape story she told to grand and petit juries at Scottsboro involved knives and guns with one boy claiming they were going to take the girls north and "make us their women." At the trials in Decatur, she said that "one of them pulled out his private parts and says, 'when I put this in you and pull it out you will have a Negro baby.'"

Price was the star witness for the prosecution, but perfectly uncooperative with the defense. In response to Leibowitz's questions, she would reply, "I can't say" or "I can't remember." When asked if the model train he set up in court was similar to the one they had been riding on she said it was not, the train she rode on was much bigger. Along with his questions, Leibowitz introduced evidence that Price had been arrested for adultery and fornication in January of 1931.

Note that the defense used (or attempted to use, since the defendants were convicted in this second trial), and historians today highlight, Price's inconsistencies and faulty memory as evidence of her deceit. Yet as we can see from Air Force propaganda today, we the public are expected to treat these as evidence, not of deceit, but of the victim's trauma. Was that somehow less true then than it is now?

In summary, while I personally can find little evidence of “racist Southern justice” in the administration of the legal system back then, my point is not to weigh in decisively one side or the other of these questions. My point is to highlight the inconsistency of those who argue that the Scottsboro Boys were railroaded and then turn around and attempt to railroad alleged assailants today using essentially the same arguments as used then or create the same background attitudes towards victims and perpetrators as were in place then.

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