Reply To: A case of unchecked prosecutorial abuse

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David Kennerly

“He used his power to get sexual gratification. That is the very definition of rape.”

Well, not exactly. “Rape” is sexually forcing yourself on someone who is unable to resist. It’s close to your statement but the term “power” as it is used to describe authority or perceived power imbalance is not quite the same thing as “forcing” someone and this distinction is critical and “power,” itself is now being used in a dangerously expansive way.

The problem with using the term “rape” too promiscuously – and uncritically – is that it cheapens the word and makes it less precise and therefore “knowable.”

For example, at one time the term “statutory rape” had a generally understood meaning. I remember when I was a kid and reading in the paper of “statutory rape” and learned what it meant. At that time, it was not used interchangeably, as it is now, with the word “rape.” No longer. Now it is impossible to understand, given only the term “rape,” whether force was used when the younger person is under the age of consent. In this way, we have traded precision in our language for blind moral outrage that occludes the facts.