Let’s just leave ‘rape’ out of it

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A not-so-funny thing happened in the wake of the latest politically-charged dust-up between Linn County Auditor Joel Miller and his former primary opponent Joe Stutler.

My colleague, Todd Dorman, offered a concise rundown of the controversy, which features Miller ordering the Cedar Rapids Police Department to arrest Stutler. Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden, who supported Stutler in the primary, called out Miller’s actions as a “deplorable abuse of the legal and political process.”

For anyone who has followed Linn County politics over the past few years, this is merely par for the course.

Who said what, who did what and the reason behind it is shuffled around and lost in a landscape that’s too politically charged, and too focused on past transgressions and opportunities for one-upmanship. Most residents, I think, have given up hope that county business will take precedence over a constantly churning pissing match.

Frankly, the back and forth between county officials is something I don’t like to think or write about. Grudges are too deep, feelings too shallow to believe anything I write will bring balance.

But, and to his credit, Dorman tried to weigh in, only to be connected, along with Vander Sanden, to the violent crime of rape.

“Thanks for treating me like a rape victim fellas,” Miller wrote in a submitted opinion piece and posted on his blog. “I guess I must have invited Stutler’s behavior.”

Both of these wrongly accused men have the power and authority to stand up for themselves. They don’t need or require my assistance. Yet, as a woman, I couldn’t sit idly by.

Using the word “rape” to describe anything other than an act of intimate physical violence is irresponsible. That any elected official would be so callous in co-opting the word is reprehensible, primarily because such use systemically desensitizes people to the severity of sexual violence.

It’s not a joke, not a noun that can be unthinkingly tossed into a sentence to make a stronger or more graphic point. Often the word itself is a trigger, causing survivors to relive heart-wrenching and unspeakable fragments of their assault.

Every time I see the word, I’m momentarily startled by it. And, thankfully, I’m not the only one. Because of local pushback, Miller later changed “rape” to “crime.”

Linn County Auditor Joel Miller began recording county supervisors meetings on Tuesday, April 21, 2015. Photographed in the informal board room of the Jean Oxley Linn County Public Service Center in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Linn County Auditor Joel Miller began recording county supervisors meetings on Tuesday, April 21, 2015. Photographed in the informal board room of the Jean Oxley Linn County Public Service Center in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

But Miller’s word choice was only one part of the problem. He follows up by saying he “must have invited” it.

Does Miller believe victims of sexual assaulted somehow invited the abuse? Or, is he trying to make a point that he has been mistreated in the same way as rape victims accused of inviting violence?

Honestly, I can’t tell, and it really doesn’t matter.

Any use of the word “rape” with the implication or allusion to “inviting” behavior is scurrilous.

As one of Auditor Miller’s many public bosses, I’m placing notice of my displeasure in his permanent record. My recommendation is that he take a break from the pissing match and reach out the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault so that he can be provided a very clear understanding of what rape actually is.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on November 5, 2016. Photo credit: Liz Martin/The Gazette