Can’t say “rape” in a rape trial

June 12, 2008
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Correct me if I’m wrong, but if you are involved in a trial dealing with an alleged rape, then the word “rape” should come up in order to describe the purported crime. But one judge in Kansas has made headlines because he doesn’t want the word “rape” or any kind of synonym for the term to be uttered in his courtroom during a rape trial because that would be unfair to the defendant. What about the alleged victim? Placing restrictions on her testimony to not include the words “rape,” “sexual assault,” or “assailant” hinders her ability to accurately describe what happened to her.





 This country prides itself on the First Amendment protection of free speech, but the Kansas judge decided the defendant’s right to a fair trial was more important, believing that allowing the victim to say the defendant “raped” her might interfere with the presumption of innocence by the jury. But could placing restrictions on the alleged victim’s testimony and the use of the word “rape” during trial affect her rights as a victim?



  This case is just begging to be looked at by the United States Supreme Court. The victim, Tory Bowen, filed a lawsuit claiming the judge’s actions violated her First Amendment rights. A federal appeals court dismissed her suit, but her attorney plans to petition the nation’s highest court to take a look.  Apparently, this isn’t an isolated case – it’s a growing trend in sexual assault cases. When is a judge is overstepping his or her boundaries in restricting the use of the word “rape” in a rape trial? It’s not a “forced sexual intercourse” trial or a “disagreement about consent” trial, but a rape trial.
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  • Okay--that is just ridiculous. When the charge against the defendant _itself_ contains a word, how is the jury hearing the word in the courtroom any more damning than the simple fact that the defendant is on trial? Last time I checked, evidence is supposed to be weighed as to whether it is more prejudicial than probative, not whether it is prejudicial at ALL.

    Of COURSE the words are prejudicial--this isn\'t embezzlement or securities fraud, for heaven\'s sake. The negative connotations associated with the words rape and sexual assault are there because those crimes are, by their nature, PERSONALLY violative. Taking away the prosecution\'s right to use those words dehumanizes the victim all over again, in either of two ways: either the severity of the crime or the extent of the damage it inflicted will be minimized; or the victim will be forced to relive the incident even more than is necessary because the prosecution will need even greater graphic detail to get the message across to the jury. Yet another burden on prosecutors who already walk a tightrope in trying to get inflict any additional pain.
  • No, it makes sense. Its not a rape until the jury or judge convicts. To allow a witness to say He raped her is a legal conclusion that a witness may not make under the IRE. The same can be said for calling someone a victim...judges may properly admonish all lawyers to watch their, and their witnesses, language use during the trial. A mistrial is not warranted upon a violation of the admonishment. All such admionishments do not apply in final argument, of course.

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