Bad news for rape victims: a prostitute is forced to have sex at gunpoint, and her judge doesn’t even consider a rape charge. This shows how confused our culture is about sexuality, power, and commodification. Feminism, justice, rape victims, sex workers… for how many people is this a step backwards?
Before we hit the big analogies - talking about the body as a commodity, the difference between product and service, alienation and voyeurism - we should at least acknowledge the common-language definition of “rape.” Rape is forced sexual activity or intercourse, a coerced appropriation of another person’s body. It’s a uniquely visceral crime, a violation of the sense of self that precedes ownership, or even love or family. If the body is a temple, rape is the universal heresy; in a dualistic universe, rape is a hijacking of the physical part that’s closest to the mental part.
In this common-language semantic mode, the story from Philadelphia was obviously rape. The moment the sexual act is forced at gunpoint, it becomes rape. Rape is about the intersection of sex and power, and the moment one person is no longer an agent in the transaction, the whole arrangement (whether it’s monetary or emotional) is off. That’s why pederasty is a form of rape, and that’s why a gun rules out any contractual agreement.
But Judge Teresa Carr Deni dropped the rape charge. She only acknowledged a “theft of services” charge. This is because the victim agreed beforehand to have sex with the defendant for money. What judge Deni seems to have overlooked is that 1) this is a violent sexual offence, rather than a simple refusal to pay, which by default doesn’t involve a weapon, and 2) that the victim wasn’t just forced to have sex with one man — she agreed to have sex with two, for money, and was forced to have sex with three more.
This second point is most important on a technical level. The victim agreed to have sex with the first two men, but she didn’t agree to render the service before the payment was presented, and she certainly didn’t agree to have sex with the other two. Even if we break the situation down into commodity terms, there were multiple offenses, and at least three of them were rape.