Was it rape?

Or was it something different?

“Think if she had been a man!” Huffing all week about how she benefited too long from the double standard, dozens of newly minted equality feminists have turned Mary Kay the Child Rapist into their poster person. “If a man had broken his probation to consort with his 13-year-old rape victim, we’d be outraged!” bellowed a colleague. “Why are so many people acting like rape is any different for a woman?”

Because it may be. Consider first the physiological nature of LeTourneau’s crime. Make no mistake: Rape is always reprehensible. But if we define rape as nonconsensual sex, we must allow that the word might not obtain when the victim is also the penetrator. “Can a woman force coitus on a man?” a friend wondered last week, and the consensus among pro-feminist friends was a reluctant no. She could seduce an unwilling male, he could later regret it—but in the final analysis a man who acquiesces to coitus is a man who has, at least with his physiognomy, signed on for the ride. Without the woman’s willingness, sexual intercourse is rape. Without the man’s, sexual intercourse is impossible.

We can safely presume, in short, that the boy consented. (Which doesn’t exactly tax credulity: As more than one man has reminded me this week, all schoolboys dream of making it with their teachers.) Of course, as a 13-year-old—LeTourneau’s conviction is for “child rape”—he was incapable of meaningful consent. So what LeTourneau did was wrong. But the double-standard damners’ question persists: Was it as wrong as if she had been a man? On a moral level, we ought to consider whether the arsenal of sexual seductions employed by female “rapists” like LeTourneau are really equal evils of the violent acts of forcible penetration that are the province of male sex offenders. These male predators make up the overwhelming majority of incarcerated rapists. In a memorable interview with the Seattle P-I a few months back, the only female sexual predator in the Washington penal system described in chilling detail her method of haunting public parks in order to befriend little victims. She feared that she could never be rid of her compulsion to molest.

What startled me about the interview—with apologies to good men everywhere—was how much she sounded like a man. It was the exception proving the rule: Males are the predators in our society. That is why, on statistical grounds alone, a person would be justified in looking elsewhere than sexual predation as a motive for an offender like LeTourneau. Measured alongside the overwhelming preponderance of women through the ages, LeTourneau was far more susceptible to the lure of love than to the temptation of forcing sex.

The little we have learned of LeTourneau’s story appears to bear this out. Unless other victims emerge we can’t seriously pretend she’s a roving menace; LeTourneau appears to be a one-boy woman. And although it’s easier to comprehend what the youngster saw in her than what she saw in him, LeTourneau was obviously so besotted she was willing to give up everything for her teenage lover. Her obsessive devotion may be a sickness, as the professionals keep insisting; from where I sit it looks more like the kind of overwrought passion a certain sort of needy, melodramatic girl first learns in junior high and never quite gets over.

None of which is to minimize LeTourneau’s abuse of power over the child. It’s simply to suggest that she views the power balance quite differently, being in plain thrall to the boy. If rape is not a crime of lust but one of power meant to reinforce male cultural domination—a hate crime against women, as many feminists have traditionally held—then the doe-eyed LeTourneau’s weird, almost submissive posture toward her boy lover forces us to consider that what she did to him might not have been rape at all.

LeTourneau abused the boy; no question. But to conflate their tragically inappropriate love affair with the violent physical violation that is rape minimizes both the devastation forced sex can wreak on the victim and the ancient message of male hegemony it reinforces across the culture. What Mary Kay LeTourneau did to the child simply does not reverberate destructively across society the way male violence toward the less powerful does.

That doesn’t make her crime right. It makes it different. And we progressives who tremble before the term “double standard” should have considered employing it last week, when a more nuanced reading of her actions would have left justice better served than a sentence in the slammer with the rest of the rapists.

Other SW stories on LeTourneau

Light of my life, fire of my loins

What’s unsettling about LeTourneau isn’t how she ‘preys’; it’s how she doesn’t. by Fred Moody

Objects of desire

Our consumer culture says, ‘Follow your heart,’ and Mary Kay LeTourneau did. Oops. by Eric Scigliano

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