May 1, 2002
(This letter was originally addressed to Pitkin County Public Defender Jim Conway.)
I am writing to you to express my utter disappointment in the courtroom strategies you employed last week as public defender for the man convicted of first-degree assault and rape of a young woman in Aspen.
According to reports in the Aspen Daily News and an account from someone who was in the courtroom (as I was not), you apparently sought to blame the victim as your defense. I make this assertion based on two specific tactics you used.
First, you implied that the rape victim’s choice of “suggestive” clothing made her responsible for the sexual assault, and second, and most appalling, referred to the rape as a situation of her “having sex” with the perpetrator.
As a woman and as a taxpayer, I am horrified by the archaic thinking that creates a defense such as yours. Your inappropriate choice of language, whether intentional or not, continues the myth that women who dress in a certain manner deserve, and perhaps even secretly want, to be sexually assaulted.
Furthermore, by characterizing the rape as “sex” you underscore the implication that this brutal attack was somehow consensual. Are we not yet past the point of accusing a woman for the way she dresses, especially when all of American society portrays women in a sexually explicit fashion?
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Language has power; your choice of words is of vital importance, especially in the role of public defender. Not until we as a society begin to treat women with respect, deserving of dignity, protection and all human rights, will crimes against women begin to abate.
Mr. Conway, I appeal to you to toss your outdated mindset in the trash bin, and embrace a more enlightened perspective and language toward women. With this simple, essential act you can help end the cycle of violence; you can help ensure that there are not more cases like this in need of public defense.