Torrington shows that media needs better language for statutory rape

31 Mar

How will Steubenville and Torrington affect a future victim’s decision to come forward?

That question, above everything else, weighs heavily on us as The Register Citizen continues to write about the rape victim bullying case that has sparked national outrage. Because without big changes in how police, school districts, parents and the media talk about rape, consent, relationships and sex, we’ve only made it worse.

Would you tell your parents or school guidance counselor or police that you’d been raped after reading on the front page of The Register Citizen that the last Torrington girl who did was called “whore” and “snitch” and blamed for ruining the lives of two popular football players?a1032113

Would you come forward if you flipped on CNN and heard about the tragedy of two young Steubenville men’s promising careers devastated by rape allegations against them and all about how much the victim had been drinking that night and what she’d been wearing?

Let’s hope that Steubenville was a wake-up call for media about buying into a “blame the victim” culture. That includes giving “equal time” or otherwise legitimizing “blame the victim” arguments. If a bystander, or a friend of the accused, or a friend of the victim, or a defense attorney, or God help us, a police chief, or school official, questions or minimizes rape based on what the victim was wearing, who she was hanging out with, what she’d had to drink or how many people she’d previously had sex with, the media has a duty to put it in proper perspective. Which is right up there with the Torrington High School students’ “whore” and “snitch” Tweets we published.

The only question before us in establishing guilt or innocence in a rape case is, “Did the accuser consent?” And consent has nothing to do with past behavior, wardrobe, the company you keep, or how much you had to drink. The media continues to legitimize the latter by treating the discussion as though it relates to mitigating factors in the crime instead of a glaring cultural attitude that helped contribute to and minimize it.

The Torrington case presents additional issues for the media.

A big part of the “blame the victim” dynamic in Torrington relates to statutory rape, and we need better language to refer to it.

A large number of Torrington High School students believe that statutory rape (in this case, two 13-year-old girls having sex with two 18-year-old high school seniors) is not “real rape.”

Local police have referred to the case as “consensual,” and “just a matter of age difference,” and “not forcible.”

Many Torrington young people have minimized the seriousness of statutory rape.

Many Torrington young people have minimized the seriousness of statutory rape.

We see this language as inappropriate, and harmful, and are struggling with a better way to refer to the details of the case.

The statutory rape law exists because a 13-year-old is a child, and an 18-year-old is a man. A 13-year-old can’t “consent,” period. There is an inherent power imbalance that kids fail to recognize.

In fact, if the allegations against Torrington football players are true (and only two questions really need to be answered – was there sexual contact, and how old are you?), it, in fact, was not “consensual.” It was not “just a matter of age difference.” It was “forcible.” Not consensual because they are children and don’t know what they are doing. Not “just a matter of age difference” because “just” and “rape” should not appear in the same sentence – it is so much more damaging than those words would imply. And “forcible” because of the power, status and manipulation that an adult holds over a child.

So much is at stake in how our communities respond to Steubenville and Torrington. And the very language the media uses to talk about it is crucial to that response.

30 Responses to “Torrington shows that media needs better language for statutory rape”

  1. Bill Toscano Post-Star March 31, 2013 at 9:09 pm #

    Rape is rape.


    You’re going to cater to the lowest common denominator?

    Rape is having sex with the consent of one of the parties.

    A 13-year-old cannot give consent. It’s that simple.

    (Do we know they’re guilty, no. I am not saying that. The court will decide.)

    Was it in any way the victim’s fault. No. Not at all. Doesn’t matter where she was or who she was with. If this is true, then it’s all on the guys who did it.

    • Jared Moen June 3, 2013 at 1:12 pm #

      Rape is Rape, your right. And this wasn’t rape, This was consentual sex.

      This wouldn’t be such an issue if people would stop pretending consentual sex between lovers of different ages is “Rape”. The media does need better language, the article is right about that. It needs to stop calling it rape. Your saying a 13 year old can’t give consent to something? That’s rediculous. If somone is 13 years old, and they go shoot up their school, more than likely they will be tried as an adult. 13 Years old is old enough to say “NO, I do not wan’t this”. If it wasn’t consensual, then yea, it was rape. If it was consentual, it wasn’t rape. It’s that simple.

      As long as you have hit puberty and old enough to understand what sex is, you are old enough to say NO to sex. These laws are just stupid. Unless a baby comes out of it, it affects NO ONE but the parties involved. It’s none of anyone elses buisness, unless it was forcefully thrust upon them. Being 13 does not make sex automatically rape, anyone that thinks so is a sheep.

      • mattderienzo June 3, 2013 at 4:41 pm #

        I could not disagree with you more. Connecticut’s law has a “Romeo and Juliet” provision that protects teenagers with a three-year age difference or less from being prosecuted for statutory rape. But there is a huge difference between that and an adult male (or female) taking advantage of a 13-year-old child who is not old enough to be able to make this kind of decision. In the eyes of the law, and rightfully so, a child can never “consent” to sex. And that is rape.

      • Jared Moen June 3, 2013 at 6:01 pm #

        What would have happened if the girl had been unwilling to have sex? would the high schoolers have raped her? i’m talking real rape. I don’t think they would have.

        If they did rape her in that way, it would be 100 times worse than what actually happened, but you would still be using the same rhetoric, because you can’t tone it up any futher. Your using the strongest rhetoric possible(that they forcibly raped her), and it just doesn’t fit the situation. Using the word rape the way you do will desensitize people to actual rape.

        I’m not saying they shouldn’t be punished. But to have their lives RUINED, even though they had sex with a person that wanted to have sex, age notwithstanding… I mean they may as well commit suicide now, their lives are pretty much over. They have to register as sex offenders, they wont be able to get good jobs.

        And the thing that gets me is this is the same punishment they would get if they assaulted her when she was walking home from school, dragged her behind a building and gang-raped her.

        A distinction need to be made. There IS a power difference between 18 year olds and 13 year olds, but the degree to which its used should be considered. The 13 year old is not braindead, and the 18 year olds are not monsters.

      • mattderienzo June 4, 2013 at 6:39 am #

        Statutory rape is “real rape,” because a child cannot consent.

        And beyond that point, actually, if you read the warrants in this case, one of the girls did say, multiple times, that she didn’t want to have sex. It was only after he convinced her to drink alcohol, in part by “pouring it into her mouth,” that sex “happened.” And that, according to the warrant, involved her arm being bent behind her back.

        Sound consensual to you, especially considering she was 13 years old?

        The warrant also includes a police interview with the guys, who were asked if they knew that it was wrong and illegal to have sex with a 13-year-old middle school student. They said yes, they knew it was, but did it anyway.

        It is mind-boggling to me that you would be worried about the lives of alleged rapists being “ruined” by society (or whatever point you are trying to make) instead of focusing on the victims in this case.

        Finally, your last two sentences are completely wrong. These guys are being charged with statutory rape, not first degree sexual assault. It carries a far less severe penalty than the scenario you describe about grabbing someone in an alley.

      • Jared Moen June 5, 2013 at 2:30 pm #

        Didn’t you say in the article that the police said it was consensual, and just a matter of age difference? Do you realize that although inadmissible in court, police have access to polygraphs, so they can tell who is telling the truth.

        Furthermore, the reason you see so many people that think its not “real rape” is because You are basically saying that minors can not consent to sex because someone wrote a law that says “minors can not consent to sex”. This doesn’t mean minors can not consent to sex, it just means it’s not recognized legally.

        The average age of first intercourse in the United States is 17 years old( The Romeo and Juliet clause was only recently introduced. Even now many state’s haven’t adopted it yet. But still, this does not mean everyone that has sex at age 17 is being raped. Only courts think so. This is why people are using a term like “not real rape”.

        If she was actually raped I would feel horrified, but I seriously doubt that’s what actually happened. The reason I am more concerned about the 18 year olds is that they are in much more dire straits.

        I would bet that anyone would rather be raped 10 times in a row than go through what they are having to go through. All the girl did was have sex, which I can’t believe wasn’t consensual, or else the police would be taking it more seriously, like I said.

      • mattderienzo June 5, 2013 at 2:37 pm #

        This is a disgusting comment, and clueless. —> “I would bet that anyone would rather be raped 10 times in a row than go through what they are having to go through.”

    • Micah September 18, 2013 at 12:11 am #

      Actually, there are lots of thirteen year olds who consent to sex. Sometimes it is even the under aged “victim” is the one who initiates the sexual encounter with an adult. There was a case of that not too terribly long ago where I live in Louisiana. Forcible rape and statutory rape may be the same by law, but really and truly, they are not.

  2. IOU March 31, 2013 at 9:33 pm #

    Hey Matt. That’s what the courts are doing. Please don’t try case in media. Doing terrible at that. Just report. Leave the rest to judges.

    • nancy yurgeles April 1, 2013 at 5:59 am #

      I am embarrassed this newspaper handled the initial reporting of this “rape story” in the way it did. The victims and “alleged” rapists were put in the limelight in such a way that their rights and the actual laws under which we all either adhere to, or face consequences, is almost a “non” issue now. There is a way to handle news, current or past, and using high school students as a front for sensational reporting is not the way to do it.

  3. Just A Parent April 1, 2013 at 6:08 am #

    If true, the alleged acts of the players under current state law, are rape. But I wonder if state law should be changed. Girls are developing figures and entering puberty earlier than ever before. Combined with the advent of multi-media, cable content and You Tube, older pre-teens are much more saavy about sex and consequences of it, and the power of it too. By the time they’re teens – even 13, children are much more advanced than the time at which Connecticut’s statutory rape law envisioned.

    I continue to be concerned about this paper’s hype of this story. The more you write about it, provide a platform for self-serving politicians to opine and “demand action” or call for a “zero tolerance” policy, the more shrill and knee jerk the response. It waters down the definition of bullying and cyber-bullying and removes the personal responsibility of the parents of all the teens in raising their children. I don’t care what the Register Citizen says, any 13 year old who willingly goes through all stages of having sex, has not been raised well. Conversely, the parents also failed in teaching their sons not to be cads, not to have indiscriminate sex and certainly not with somebody who is under the recognized age of consent, even if that age is somewhat arbitrary. There may not have been much initial support for the victim but it’s a lot more complicated and nearly nothing like the Ohio case. It’s trime to treat it as such.

    • Mystified April 1, 2013 at 7:23 am #

      So the development of “a figure” equates with the intellectual maturity to decide whether to consent to sex with an adult? With breasts comes executive functioning? There may be a flaw in your logic, Just a Parent…I agree with the media hype fueling the fires and the need for education on all sides of the issues. But a 13 year old – a six or seventh grader- “willingly going through the stages” with an 18 year old man is not giving consent, she is too young to fully understand the physical, psychological or legal ramifications…and that is why there are laws in place to protect her, regardless of her physical appearance. The same laws that protect an older teen in relations with teachers, coaches, or those in a position of true or referent power in their lives.

      • Just A Parent April 3, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

        It’s not just that she’s “developed” while that is true. My 11-year old is growing breasts. It’s her knowledge base of what that means and the attention it can get her. She is fully aware of what sex is, what it means and how you do it. She just finished sex ed class at school complete with rolling a rubber down her fingers. Don’t be so quick to dismiss what they know or don’t know. These kids know a lot – 11, 13 or 18. The idea that somebody is not “mature” enough simply because of an age – may be generally true in a sense of maturity per se. To assume that means they are clueless while dropping their pants is really archaic. In the meantime, parents need to get with the program and get on their kids. All of the parents of the Torrington have done a damn sorry job of raising them so far.

    • origami isopod April 23, 2013 at 3:33 pm #

      Your comments are really disgusting. If you actually have a young daughter, I feel sorry for her.

      • IOU May 11, 2013 at 9:56 pm #

        your daughter must be happy that your anonymous, sickening

    • Micah September 18, 2013 at 12:23 am #

      Right. People act like that sex offenders who commit a particular act that happens to be illegal in the state in which he/she lives (but may be legal in even a neighboring state) are such bad people, and they think statutory rape is as morally decrepit as forcible rape. But I wonder what they would think about people committing said actions if there were no statutory rape laws for them to violate in the first place. Granted, a line has to be drawn somewhere, but in a lot of cases the legal age of consent is largely arbitrary and does not really protect anyone. There may be a “reason” behind such laws, but there is not much of a “rhyme” to them, in my opinion.

      • mattderienzo September 18, 2013 at 7:27 am #

        In this particular case, it was 13-year-old middle school students with 18-year-old high school seniors. The law is there because of the huge power imbalance in that kind of relationship. Connecticut’s law has a “Romeo and Juliet” provision where it’s only statutory rape if there is a 3-year age difference and they are under 16, so it does not apply to a 14-year-old and 16-year-old experimenting.

        And while they were charged with statutory rape (a guaranteed conviction – was there sexual contact? Yes? Then show me your birth certificates? Done), there was significant evidence of force in this case. Arm bent behind back, girl saying “no, i don’t want this” repeatedly, vodka being poured into her mouth, physical injury resulting from the assault. A judge said: “This was not by any stretch of the imagination a consensual experience for this girl.”

      • Micah September 19, 2013 at 11:19 am #


        I agree that the 13-year-old described in this article could not have legitimately given consent under the circumstances which she was in. But in many instances, they do consent. I’m sure the law does prove useful in some cases, but in others it only becomes a criminal factory. And I reiterate, sometimes it is the teenager who initiates the encounter with an adult.

      • MissBD September 19, 2013 at 11:51 am #

        And the ADULT should no better. Just because the CHILD initiates something does not mean its ok. Regardless if the child intiates, it’s up to the adult to back up and say “whoa, wait this is not right” and go to the parents of the child and tell them they need to seek help for their child. In no instance is it ok to proceed and then turn around and say “well she started it” what kind of logic is that? And to the parents of the children who do initiate, pay more attention to what your child is doing, via the Internet, their cell phones, it’s ok to be nosy, that is our job as a PARENT. We need to know what’s going on with our children. Don’t assume you know what they are thinking or doing… ASK! Be aware!

      • Micah October 1, 2013 at 4:25 pm #


        You do make a good point that the adult should know better regardless of who starts what-I’ll admit that. But your purpose for supporting statutory rape laws is to protect children who cannot give consent, right? If the child initiates the encounter, then how can one legitimately say that he/she is being protected? If they have enough a mental capacity to suggest sexual activities themselves, then how do they have a lack of ability to give consent that elicits a need for protection?

        I’m not saying that we should get rid of these laws all together, I’m just saying that they need to be improved. Exactly how they should be improved, I don’t know-no one can know exactly where to draw the line-but statutory rape laws are not fine just the they are, as some might believe. In any case, I think the laws should be more consistent throughout the states.

  4. Marley Tellier April 1, 2013 at 7:35 am #

    I am thrilled as other parents are who have children attending schools that this story is being reported on. It gives the parents who care about what happens in the school system and outside the schools info on who their children can associate with without fear. We now know who the bad apples are and how they are being raised by their parents. We know where their frame of mind is at when it comes to breaking the laws.We know who the bullies are and can keep our children away from them. We now know how the school thinks when this kind of tragedy occurs and how they punish those responsible. We also sadly know how some of the public is thinking about our younger children and their rights to due process. I know of one student who was sexually harassed in the school itself last year, was charged and convicted of the crime,but no where to be found in their records! That child was pulled out of that school for her own protection because the school cannot protect their students as they claim they do. I hope the register citizen keeps up on reporting on this story for the concerned parents who need to be in the know about the schools and lack of protection. We are appreciative of your concern as well for our children. Thank you for caring!

    • IOU May 11, 2013 at 9:59 pm #

      your kids must hate you, try at least doing your comments anonymously like a ‘good’ parent respecting the brood

      • May 11, 2013 at 10:36 pm #

        Really? My kids who are well in their 30’s adore their mother…..I have nothing to hide with my opinions. Okay IOU? Whatever THAT means lol

  5. bluntandcranky April 2, 2013 at 10:45 am #

    Reblogged this on bluntandcranky and commented:
    Couldn’t have said it better myself. Read this blog post.

  6. Paul Bass April 3, 2013 at 12:48 pm #

    Good points in this column — a tough one … I think there may also be a positive social value to your exposing the ugliness in those tweets, rather than watering them down with euphemisms.

  7. mike July 3, 2013 at 11:49 am #

    “Real rape” is what will happen to these ‘men’ in prison. 13 is too young, but I think it’s absurd to label them as sex offenders for life because of it. I suppose we should consider it justice to know that in 50 years, they still won’t be able to live within 1/4 mile of a daycare though. They will be like so many other ‘sex offenders’ who do nothing more than clutter the registry, taking resources from and obscuring the real predators out there. What a bunch of nonsense. There’s a difference between being a dumb old boy and a dirty old man, except in the eyes of this paper, a vocal minority of zealots, and the sex offender registry. We do need to have a discussion, but not necessarily one where we demand ‘children’ buy into the rhetoric hook, line, and sinker.

  8. sonia July 28, 2013 at 3:55 pm #

    @Marley teller… totally shows in your post that you are a very ignorant person and parent. We should never believe everything we read that the media puts out there because it is never 100% true!!!!! Children make up lies all of the time to cover what they really did and kids these days don’t think about the consequences when they accuse!!! These boys lives are ruined forever!! Did u ever ask yourself, what if they didn’t do this?????? If they did do this we will never know but we are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty in a court of law aren’t we???? Oh yeah its guilty until u can prove yourself innocent and pray you have the money to do it!!!! I feel for u, your kids and your grandchildren!!!

    • Marley September 18, 2013 at 7:21 am #

      I guess you were the ignorant one, they were convicted…


  1. Changing the Culture of Media: A Needed Re-haul of the Media’s take on Sexual Assualts | Zach's Bloggin' State of Mind - April 1, 2013

    […] blaming the victim of a rape is the one point that should be left out. In a similar news story, a Torrington, Connecticut rape case having many similarities to the one in Steubenville is being treated in much the same […]

  2. Rape Culture | Just Starting Out - May 17, 2013

    […] On his blog, Connecticut Newsroom, DeRienzo already touched on rape culture. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: