Rape is rape. Even when the rapist is female
At first, our hearts sunk when we saw the headline: “Mary Kay Letourneau, 58, Teacher Whose Forbidden Love Was Her Scarlet Letter”
‘Forbidden Love?’ What sugar-coating! She raped a 13 year old boy.
But The New York Times redeemed itself in the first paragraph of the story, calling her “a tone time teacher who became a tabloid fixture in the late 1990s after she raped a 13 year old student and later married him after serving a prison sentence, died on Monday.”
We sympathize with headline writers, who often must summarize sometimes long and complex articles in just a handful of words. Its got to be tough to capture the essence of a story succinctly given time and space pressures.
But we’re grateful that the Times avoided a euphemism in the obituary itself and used the precise word ‘rape’ to describe Letourneau’s crime.
We should all be crystal clear that rape is rape, no matter who the perpetrator is and no matter how the perpetrator treats or purportedly feels toward the victim.
Subsequently showering a rape victim with ‘love’ or money or affection doesn’t erase the power imbalance between adult and child. Any therapist will tell you that the harm from an abusive ‘relationship’ can be just as great as from a ‘one time’ stranger rape.
Think we’re off base? Then call Mary Dispenza of Seattle. She was victimized as a child by a nun in Los Angeles, went on to become a nun herself, taught school and now leads a support group for those hurt by nuns as part of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. Mary’s a gentle – but smart and persuasive soul – who can help explain the devastating effects of being molested by a woman.
Steve Theissen of Iowa also suffered abuse at the hands of what Catholics call “a woman religious” or nun. He makes several excellent points about this type of abuse:
“Virtually every abused child feels alone and believes no one will understand if they find out. Boys molested by women feel this even more acutely. I’ve spoken with hundreds of them.
We urge everyone involved to be precise in how they describe these alleged crimes.
An ‘encounter’ is when you run into someone on the sidewalk. Words like ‘encounter’ or ‘affair’ or ‘sexual relationship’ – words that imply consent – should never be used in child sex cases, no matter what gender the victim or the predator is.
He rightly points out that “reporters should watch their language on (these kinds of cases). It’s wrong to say ‘she had sex with her three times’ as one journalist has done. That implies a degree of consent that is not possible when a trusted adult manipulates and exploits a child.
So we’re glad the Times called rape rape. We hope other media will do likewise. We hope Letourneau’s passing will remind parents that women assault kids too. And we urge anyone who saw, suspected or suffered crimes by women will find the courage to speak up, get help, call police, protect others and start healing.