Once More for the Cheap Seats

I am usually a fan of Shaun King‘s work. He has done — and continues to do — invaluable reporting on police violence, anti-black violence, and the Black Lives Matter movement. But in his recent piece about the Daniel Holtzclaw trial, King really misses the mark.

(Holtzclaw, a former Oklahoma City police officer stands accused of sexually assaulting 13 black women, one of whom was only 17 at the time, and has pled not guilty to 36 counts including rape, sexual battery, forcible oral sodomy and stalking.)

King’s tone-deaf support for Holtzclaw’s victims demonstrates once again why an intersectional analysis is absolutely vital when one is discussing sexual and gender violence.

Daniel Holtzclaw last month. Photograph: Sue Ogrocki/AP (via)

White feminists who discuss rape and rape culture as if the risks and ramifications are experienced by women uniformly across race render invisible the experiences of black women and other WOC.* Similarly, anti-racist writers who fail to consider the implications of gender will produce analysis like, well, this:

“While I am always sympathetic to victims of sexual assault, nothing is stronger than the DNA of a runaway teenager found inside and outside of the pants of an on-duty police officer.”

King may have stopped short of the full ‘yes, BUT’ of a classic derailing, but the implication remains: regardless of the spoken testimony of 12 adult women and one teenager, all of whom testified under oath to having been raped and/or sexually assaulted by Holtzclaw, none of their words carry the evidentiary weight for King of this one piece of forensic evidence.

Sympathy is…nice. I guess.

What is even nicer — what is essential — is believing women’s words.

The piece continues:

“Beyond the testimony of these women, all of whom said he forced himself on them in one way or another, DNA now proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he was sexually active with a marginalized young girl in the most reckless way imaginable.

“Mind you, Officer Holtzclaw was in a so-called committed relationship with another grown woman at the time and fully denied anything of the sort ever took place with this young girl.†

“Except it did.”

13 women all testified as to how they were victims of Holtzclaw’s predatory behavior. 13 may not be pushing 60, but even so. THIRTEEN.

And only the DNA of a minor provides sufficient proof?

A feature of rape culture is attributing meaning to women’s bodies and elevating that meaning above what they are actually saying. “Her mouth says no, but her body says yes!” and all that related horseshit. I hear something eerily similar in King’s essay — “their mouths say ‘blahblahwhateverblah’, but the DNA says ‘guilty’!” — and it chills me to the bone. If this is sympathy for victims, I want no part of it.

The rapist’s tools will never dismantle the rapist’s house.

# # #

*Across other identity markers as well, obvi: including gender, sexuality, age, class, etc. Another discussion, for another day.

†I’ma just skip over the whole “this cheater had a girlfriend!!” detour, shall I? Because really, wtf does that have to do with the price of eggs.

10 thoughts on “Once More for the Cheap Seats

  1. I was assaulted, at the age of 22, by a guy with a knife, in the back parking area of a deserted school. Fortunately for me, the local police decided to do a quick check around the property “because something doesn’t feel right” about the the Camaro Z parked there.
    I did not press charges. My boyfriend at the time didn’t believe anything had happened, and besides, I was wearing a see-through blouse. And all the people who knew the creep believed that I was a liar, that he wouldn’t DO that.
    I can still, over 30 years later, feel the cold steel of the knife on my neck.


    If someone tells me they have been assaulted, I believe them, I don’t CARE if most people think he or she is a liar, I don’t even care if, later on, it’s proven to be a lie, I believe them.

    It pisses me off when (usually) men don’t believe that a woman or a teenager or a little girl has been assaulted.


    1. I am so sorry for what happened to you, Sylvia, for both the assault and the secondary trauma — traumaS — of not being believed by people who should have supported you.

      Like you, I believe survivors. I SUPPORT survivors. I would rather believe and be wrong (though statistically, that ain’t likely to happen very often at all), than to turn my back on a single survivor who has, in telling her/his story, asked for nothing from me but that I listen with a heart open to their pain.


    1. We, as a society, are terrrrrrible when it comes to how we talk about/understand gender, sex, consent, and violence. Addressing rape means tackling a perfect storm of all of these.


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