Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
Placing a content warning here for discussion of sexual assault and its related legal and political terminology.
As has been reported widely, earlier this week Barry Hovis (R-MO) found himself arguing on behalf of a recently passed anti-abortion bill, one of many passed by individual states that aims to limit a woman’s right to choose by degrees both absurd and cruel. During his argument within the Missouri state house, he referred to his 30-year career in law enforcement and described his personal experience handling cases of criminal sexual assault thusly:
“Let’s just say someone goes out and they’re raped or they’re sexually assaulted one night after a college party — because most of my rapes were not the gentleman jumping out of the bushes that nobody had ever met. That was one or two times out of a hundred. Most of them were date rapes or consensual rapes, which were all terrible.”
The phrase “consensual rape” was met with murmurs and gasps in the gallery, and refuted immediately by Democratic Rep. Raychel Proudie when she took the floor.
Speaking as somebody who studies language and communication, I do think it’s important to recognize that when Barry Hovis uses a phrase like “consensual rape” it’s not because he believes this is an actual concept.
What this reveals about Barry Hovis, rather, is that he is a man so utterly devoid of substance and character that when he’s placed in the middle of a charged political discussion he finds himself drawing upon a limited tablet of relevant terminology and lacks the capacity to assess an abhorrent turn of phrase before it escapes his lips. He is publicly arguing for an effectively total abortion ban. His mind understands: (1) that “rape” is being put forth as a argument against such a ban and (2) that the word “consensual” is an exonerating term when it comes to accusations of rape. This settles into an instant and erronerous calculus that “consensual rape” might be the sort of phrase that supports his argument for the legislation.
Earlier in that same statement he also weaves in standard conservative talking points about the sympathetic spectrum of rape — that being assaulted while on a date is somehow not as worthy of being labeled a horror as the narrative of being attacked at random in public. This itself speaks to other conservative perspectives being put forth as policy, demanding there be legal limits placed on when sexual consent may be withdrawn. Within such perspectives, consent has been implied by other actions and contexts besides the present willingness of one’s partner: That a woman who has agreed to a date, or who has agreed to get married, who has agreed to be alone with a man at all, has already de facto consented and should be granted no agency to withdraw that consent. Note also, as an aside, the curious and offensive use of the word “gentleman.”
After being called out for his phrasing by Rep. Proudie and others, Hovis offered a nonsensical statement by way of apology, telling the Associated Press that he meant:
“…date rapes or consensual or rape. It’s my apology if I didn’t annunciate[sic] the word ‘or.'”
Which only underlines the point further: Barry Hovis has zero idea what he’s talking about, nor even how to talk about the thing he knows nothing about. For 30 years he was charged with receiving statements from victims of assault, among other duties, and it is frightening to consider how many of those victims suffered additional traumas due to his ignorance and insensitivity. It is more frightening to know that he has been elected to a position of power over American citizens. And it is terrifying how many more men there are like him in his relative position.