A funny thing can happen in politics: You make a comment and it might come back to bite you weeks, months, or even years later. That’s what just happened to Representative Roger Rivard of the Wisconsin legislature, who’s found himself in a very tight race with a Democratic opponent, which means the gloves are off when it comes to digging up dirt.
Some rather nasty comments he made about rape 10 months ago are suddenly in the national spotlight while they passed without a ripple originally, illustrating how in politics, you’re never truly safe from your past.
Way back in the dark ages of December 2011, Rivard had a conversation with a local paper about a case in which a 17-year-old was charged with sexual assault after “having sex with” an underage girl. I’m using scare quotes here because the specifics of the case are not entirely clear; did he have consensual sex with his 14-year-old girlfriend (even though legally, no one under 16 can consent in Wisconsin), or did he rape a 14-year-old girl? Since the media use “had sex with” in a variety of ways, it’s hard to tell if this was rape, exploitation of an age difference or simply a high school romance.
This isn’t the first time the issue has come up. We have statutory rape laws for a reason, but sometimes relationships fall afoul of the age boundaries and some tricky legal problems arise. Cases like this bring up a lot of questions about the ability to freely consent, as well as attitudes about teen sexuality. Is it okay for two 15-year-olds to have sex? What about a 20-year-old with a 16-year-old? These are hard boundaries to draw, you know?
Whatever the specifics of the case were, Rivard had an opinion he was happy to share, informing a reporter that his father taught him that “some girls rape easy.”
I’ll let that sink in for a moment.
What he meant, he said in a statement to clear up his comments, was, well:
He also told me one thing, ‘If you do (have premarital sex), just remember, consensual sex can turn into rape in an awful hurry.’ Because all of a sudden a young lady gets pregnant and the parents are madder than a wet hen and she’s not going to say, ‘Oh, yeah, I was part of the program.’ All that she has to say or the parents have to say is it was rape because she’s underage. And he just said, ‘Remember, Roger, if you go down that road, some girls,’ he said, ‘they rape so easy.’ What the whole genesis of it was, it was advice to me, telling me, ‘If you’re going to go down that road, you may have consensual sex that night and then the next morning it may be rape.’ So the way he said it was, ‘Just remember, Roger, some girls, they rape so easy. It may be rape the next morning.’
Oh, so, basically, ladies are lying whores. Those underage girls, man, preying on innocent men by seducing them and then entrapping them with rape charges. Got it. I was confused there, so thanks for clearing that up.
Apparently it’s inconceivable that what you think is “consensual sex” might not feel that way to your partner, that a partner might decide during sexual activity that it’s time to stop, or even that a young girl might have trouble saying “no” to someone older, more powerful and more popular than her.
His daddy, in other words, scared him away from the evils of premarital sex by suggesting he might be charged with rape if his girlfriend’s parents found out she was sexually active. Way to talk to your kids about sex, Papa Rivard.
He says his quote has been taken out of context, which, okay, sure; I think the initial reporting was sloppy, actually, and the story would have been better with the whole “context” he says was involved. Because what he’s actually revealing here is an even deeper contempt and hatred for women than he had before, suggesting that statutory rape cases are trumped up by girls and their families after experiencing regret, or punishment for being sexually active. And that is something I think people should know about when considering who to vote for.
But this case brings up some other issues that have come up in comments here as we’ve discussed the slew of amazing things that come out of people’s mouths in an election year. With all the fixation on specific comments, we tend to miss the larger picture: a politician’s platform, voting record, and general history. We start to become so consumed by the trees that we don’t see the forest, and as a voter, I’d argue that’s a bad thing.
This guy made a shitty comment. Does the same shitty attitude reflect in his other actions and comments? Because if so, I’d like to see the Wisconsin media talking about that, not just these comments, to provide voters with the information they need to make an appropriate choice at the polls.
I can pretty much guarantee you that you can find evidence of every politician you absolutely adore and think can do no wrong saying something shitty at some point. Vice-versa, you can probably find some politicians you really hate saying some cool things. If that was all you knew about them and you based your votes on that, you’d end up with a pretty skewed representation.
I’m glad Rivard is being called on his comments after all this time, but I worry that the news cycle will become so occupied by them that it won’t pay attention to anything else about him. I’d note, for example, that he’s voted in support of voter ID, to ban abortion coverage on health insurance exchanges and supports limits on damages for workplace discrimination.Among other things.
His deeds indicate that he has a record of beliefs and attitudes that runs contrary to my own, and if I was a Wisconsin voter I wouldn’t vote for him on those grounds, not just because he said something really gross about rape. You can’t base decisions at the polls on one thing someone said once, and I’m tired of the media acting like you should.
Speaking of which — you ARE registered to vote and you know where to go on election day, RIGHT?!
s.e. smith is a writer, agitator, and commentator based in Northern California. This piece was originally published on xoJane.com.