I have wanted to go to Minnesota for a long time.
It’s kind of a weird reason why. It’s because the novelist John Sandford is from there, and has based pretty much all of his books in the heartland of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and the like. Sandford is not his real name, but rather the nom de plume of John Camp, an award winning journalist who has been keeping me and millions of others riveted with his fiction for the last 20-plus years.
I read my first Sandford novel, the first of his Prey series, in 1999, and I have read everything he’s written since then. I feel like I know his characters as well as he does. I feel like his chief protagonist Lucas Davenport’s family is my family. I am fully invested in Davenport’s ability to thrive as both he and I get older.
And I have vivid pictures in my head of the landscape, painted from Sandford’s books. Everything from the mean streets of the Twin Cities to the rural rust belt towns in the southern part of the state. I want to go there someday.
There is a precedent for this: Back in the late 1980s I took a week off and drove, alone, to southern Maine to see some of the locales I’d read about in novels from Stephen King and John Irving. I even dropped in at the actual orchard where Irving (The World According to Garp, The Cider House Rules) worked picking apples when he was in high school. I actually talked to women in the mart who worked alongside him back in the day.
It was just what you’d want from a road trip in search of really wonderful brain pictures derived from treasured books.
So Minnesota has been on my list for a while now. Which made it very awkward when I read this article: Rape victims not "mentally incapacitated" if they got drunk on their own, Minnesota Supreme Court rules.
I’m sorry, what?
You can read for yourself, obviously, you don’t need me to spoon-feed you, but the gist of the article is that this dude was convicted of third-degree criminal sexual misconduct after raping a woman the jury ruled was "mentally incapacitated" because she was drunk. How drunk? Well, he met her as she was being turned away from a bar because she was deemed too intoxicated to enter. Drunk.
The rapist appealed his conviction and, in a unanimous decision, the Minnesota Supreme Court said the lower court's interpretation of “mentally incapacitated” was inappropriate because the victim was already drunk when she met her attacker. Apparently, to meet the definition of the law as written, the alcohol must be administered to the person – to the victim – without that person’s consent.
So, here’s the thing. The judicial system isn’t set up to render justice, really. I mean, for example: Justice would be if a father happened to catch the man who raped his daughter and proceeded to, with complete impunity, beat him to death with two-by-four, stopping here and there to douse him with lemon juice to up the suffering before the guy died in abject misery from his injuries.
That is justice.
But the courts are not organized to deliver justice. Rather they are designed to rule on matters of law. And in this case, I’m not saying that every sitting justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court is a piece of crap misogynist who believes that most women who get sexually assaulted are at least partially responsible for their fate because of what they were wearing or things they said or, heaven forbid, if they were drunk. It’s probably true, they probably are pieces of crap, but I’m not saying that.
No, truth be told, the problem here is that they ruled on their interpretation of the law as written and the law, as written, apparently indicates that in order to meet this threshold, to meet the line of “mentally incapacitated,” the victim had to be plied with liquor against her will. It couldn’t just be a lousy day or a shitty week or a devastating breakup, after which the woman needed desperately to blow off steam, or feel a little sorry for herself.
She could have had friends around her to protect her, but she didn’t. She could have made better decisions, but she didn’t. She got drunk, it doesn’t matter why, and that made it somewhat okay – according to the law, remember – that this guy raped her. If not okay, at least not, like, really bad. Not like sexually assaulting someone who couldn’t consent and couldn’t fight him off. Not like that.
I guess hardliners would say this is a just decision, that the court did what it needed to, and that if change is needed, then it’s the legislature’s responsibility to change the law. Which means it’s the people’s responsibility to elect the right legislators, and then lobby them effectively, and then spend time advocating for their agenda, and persist until the state’s lawmakers passed a new law making it suitably unacceptable to rape a drunk woman under any circumstances, even if she managed to get drunk of her own accord.
And that could happen. But in the meantime, if you have a vagina, you should stay the hell out of Minnesota.
According to a 2015 study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “Approximately 1 in 5 (21.3% or an estimated 25.5 million) women in the U.S. reported completed or attempted rape at some point in their lifetime, including completed forced penetration, attempted forced penetration, or alcohol/drug facilitated completed penetration.”
I left in that last level of detail so you can think about the need to have to draw these distinctions when talking about sexual assault. Is it me, or are we trying to split hairs here? By keeping meticulous records, are we saying that attempted forced penetration is somehow not as bad as completed forced penetration? I mean, for the victim, I suppose there’s a grain of truth there. But drawing distinctions like that seem to be fertile ground from which to grow inhuman laws that say it’s not completely the attacker’s fault if the victim was already drunk when he got there.
By the way, the same study found a majority of female victims (81.3%) first experienced sexual assault early in life, prior to age 25. Think about that, fathers of young daughters. And a 2018 study by the US Department of Justice found that, while incidence of rape and sexual assault increased between 2017 and 2018, the rate at which the attacks were reported to police fell from 40% in 2017 to only about 25% in 2018. Three out of four rapes, unreported.
In a completely unrelated news story, in 2016 we learned from an undisputed video recording that one of the two candidates for President of the United States favored just “grabbing (women) by the pussy” as his preferred method of sexual assault. And then in 2017 that individual took office.
Draw your own conclusions.
I have been with the same woman, as boyfriend-girlfriend, fiancé, husband and wife, off and on now for 37 years. That’s ridiculous, right? I mean, sure, there were breaks in there but we got through those and to paraphrase Elton John, we’re still standing more than 37 years later.
I met her in college, when getting drunk was an acceptable form of entertainment whether you were a guy or a girl. These were simpler times: those were the only two choices, and you were defined by your chromosomal structure whether you liked it or not. But whether you were a double-x or an x-y, it was pretty much expected that you would blow off steam, at least sometimes, by drinking a little more than was necessary or ideal.
I’ve been with some drunk girls in my time. Not lately, but back in the day. I remember being compassionate, as empathetic as I could muster. I remember holding some of their hair while they hurled. I remember being the designated driver – a lot. I remember the now-famous time when my drunk girlfriend, now wife, found a gold bracelet on the floor of the bathroom while she was tipped precipitously over, her face inches from the floor of the bathroom.
It never once occurred to me to attempt penetration of any of these women. I never thought to myself, “Well shit, it’s not like I forced her to get drunk. This is on her.” I never debated, even to myself, the merits of just grabbing any of them by the pussy. Who should I thank for that? My father? My mom? The fact that I didn’t grow up in Minnesota?
I don’t know. All I know is, it never once occurred to me. I don’t believe it's ever occurred to my son, who’s in college now. I would be…devastated is the only word I can think of, if that were ever the case. I don’t have to think about it because I know, with every atom of my being, that he would never consider that an option.
He’s been to Ohio a couple times, and Indiana once. But not Minnesota. Maybe this is a Minnesota thing. But I doubt it.
I don’t know what kind of thing it is, but I am alarmed that it’s a thing at all. And I’m alarmed more people aren’t alarmed.
I have a daughter, too. Not just a son. Nothing about this is okay.
Is there anyone, really, seriously, who thinks fixing every law that emboldens rapists and fosters victim blaming and victim shaming is a bad idea? I hope not. I hope I live to see a day when there aren't inherently bad laws on the books - only bad people, and not enough of them to make it okay to parse the specifics of rape to decide whether we can all agree it’s wrong.
Some things are just common sense. Aren’t they?