05.05.2008 Feature Article

“Seduction” is not exactly the same as “Rape”

“Seduction” is not exactly the same as “Rape”
05.05.2008 LISTEN

The victim of the alleged rape was 15 years old; her “assailant” was a 45-year-old neighbor. Obviously, there is something psychologically wrong with a man who decides to have sexual intercourse with a teenage girl who is more than young enough to be his own daughter; and not only his own daughter but also very likely younger than the “assailant's” eldest daughter.

We have carefully decided to put quotation marks around the nominative descriptive of “assailant,” for we are working on the quite understandable assumption of “cultural relativity” (or relativism) even if we also unreservedly concede the untenability of a 45-year-old man having sexual intercourse with a 15-year-old girl. For one can almost be certain that intimacy of the kind described here, invariably, hinges not on the purely symbiotic but that of a predator and his prey.

Still, in a society in which a near-majority of women, particularly those in the countryside, continue to have babies in their mid to late teens, it stretches even the poetic imagination quite a bit to hastily conclude that anytime that a considerably older man engages in sexual activity with a much younger woman, the subject activity is, perforce, tantamount to a judicial act of rape.

Here in New York State, for example, indulging in sexual activity with a woman (or man) below the “consenting age” of 18 amounts to what the judicial (or legal) system defines as “Statutory Rape.” And the latter is a “Felony,” which means that one so convicted is liable to serving a long prison sentence, often 25 years to life, where the judicial system is quite efficient. For, it goes without mention that not all the states of the Union – that is, sub-continental United States – have efficient judicial systems.

Then also, one has to factor in the protean reality of gender, ethnic and/or racial bias, the routinely presumed blindness of the Law notwithstanding. For as Black New Yorkers were, once again, rudely reminded recently, in what has come to be known as the “Sean Bell Case,” the Law is not all that blind, after all. In this instance, a judge decided that the shooting death of an unarmed African-American male by some members of the New York City Police Department (NYPD), at a night club, on the eve of the dead man's wedding ceremony, was not altogether without merit, contrary to what both the supporters of the deceased's family members and prosecutors would have the public believe.

Matters were neither helped by the fact that the trial judge was a retired police officer. Among the protective and, perhaps, also secretive ranks of the New York City Police Department, there is a beast called “The Blue Wall of Silence.” The latter simply means that anytime that a police officer comes into violent confrontation with a “nobody” civilian, rank-and-file members of the Force have a bounden duty to staunchly stand behind “one of their own.” And the latter situation is exactly what occurred in the Sean Bell cause célèbre.

Unlike the Ghanaian case in point, in which the 50-year-old mother of the 15-year-old girl allegedly raped by a 45-year-old male neighbor could not find justice in the criminal courts and had to humiliatingly bow to an out-of-court settlement in the insolently piddling sum of $ 200.00, piddling even by Ghanaian standards (see “Ghana: Justice Denied” 5/3/08), here in the United States, if one is fully convinced that the victim has not been duly served, or dealt, the proverbially long and deliberate arm of justice, one has recourse to what is termed as a “Civil Rights Violation” charge against the criminal suspect.

In the latter instance, the judicial, or punitive, stakes are considerably lower though, were the suspect to be convicted, s/he still stands the risk of imprisonment, albeit a relatively lighter sentencing than in the case of the charge of an “upper-class felony” in a criminal court of the first instance. Interestingly, there is also a third option of judicial recourse, which is roughly and analogically akin to the type which Naa Adorkor, mother of the alleged Ghanaian rape victim resorted to. It is called “Wrongful-Death Suit,” and on the latter score, the infamous O. J. Simpson case readily comes to mind. And now, of course, the Sean Bell case also readily comes to mind, even as the U.S. Department of Justice begins to explore plausible ways and means of bringing the acquitted police officers to book.

The latter is largely a “Civil Suit,” with the punitive objective being the recovery of “punitive damages,” in the form of a handsome monetary payment to the victim and/or members of the bereaved family, as pertains to the Sean Bell Case. The latter case largely pertains where criminally culpable evidence, as “dispassionately,” or clinically, defined by the courts appears to fall a bit short of the quite elusive phrase of “evidence beyond reasonable shadow of doubt.”

In the case of the alleged rape of Naa Adorkor's daughter, most likely no DNA evidence, or even a credible medical report, had been submitted to court by the prosecution, almost invariably represented by a barely passably educated, or trained, policeman or woman. And so very likely, the entire case had been reduced to the notoriously unsustainable dialogical mantra of “Her-Word-Against-His-Word.” If so, then in the Naa Adorkor case, the victim's mother was even lucky to have had the alleged rapist own up to some form of criminal culpability. Thus in a real sense, contrary to the IRIN news agency's rather sensational article titled “Justice Denied” ( 5/3/08), what the Ghanaian justice(s) of the law did was about all that s/he (they) could do. For in the “Her-Word-Against-His-Word” judicial scenario, if the 45-year-old rape suspect had insisted, in the grim face of the absolute or near-absolute lack of clinical evidence, that his sexual intercourse with the 15-year-old “minor” had been consensual, there is little that the court could have gone by, short of a summary guilty verdict of “Statutory Rape,” and then only if such law exists in the law books.

There is also a judicial catch even within the American context of Statutory Rape. And the latter inheres in the fact that among some states of the Union, if a considerably older man, such as Naa Adorkor's 45-year-old neighbor, decides to “date” a 15- or 16-year-old woman with the consent of the young woman's parents, then, such morally jarring conjugal association is perceived by the law of the land to be perfectly legal.

Indeed, Western “modernism” may be fast encroaching upon our land; still, the saying that: “Traditions die hard,” cannot be lightly dismissed. For judicial expertise and all, Ghanaian jurists are, by and large, also a part and parcel of traditional Ghanaian cultural mores. What the preceding means is that these judges often have to confront two conflicting cultures, one that is clinical and Western, and another that is intuitively humane and punitively reticent (or peaceable), that is, one that seeks to rationally punish while at the same time preserving the communal balance and cohesiveness of traditional Ghanaian society.

In the Western context, the “perp,” or criminal perpetrator, is the veritable enemy of society who needs to be promptly and roundly excised from society; whereas in the Ghanaian/Traditional African context, the criminal is merely an errant son, or daughter (for that matter), of the community who requires disciplinary rehabilitation, for the most part, rather than outright extirpation or even long-term removal from society. The latter philosophy pretty much underscores the following Akan maxim: “Afom Pata, Na Afom Nnkum,” loosely translated as: “The offended is pacified; s/he is not allowed to maim in return.”

*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English, Journalism and Creative Writing at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is the author of 16 books, including “Ghanaian Politics Today” (Atumpan Publications/, 2008). E-mail: [email protected]

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