Date rape vs. stranger rape sparks debate on degrees of severity

By Kimberly Miller

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Would you be willing to convict someone accused of a date rape if you knew he would serve the same sentence as a person convicted of attacking a woman he did not know?

This is the problem facing more and more juries these days when confronted with the prosecution of a college student accused of date rape.

One Tucson lawyer believes creating degrees of rape, like murder, would increase the amount of convictions for people accused of crimes like date rape by giving the jury a choice of a lesser punishment.

“Nobody wants to convict someone of rape and send them to jail if what happened was not a rape but another type of sexual-related offense,” said Tucson lawyer Stanton Bloom. “You just can’t treat somebody that breaks into a house, rapes someone and beats them almost to death the same as someone who has been dating someone for a while and then has some form of a rape happen.”

Bloom is defending Peter Michael James, a Delta Tau Delta member who is accused of raping an 18-year-old female student in the fraternity house, 1550 N. Vine Ave., after a football game in November.

He said although he is not necessarily in favor of making degrees of rape, he thinks it would help the prosecution get more convictions by giving the jury the chance to convict someone of a lesser degree of rape. He said often times the prosecution cannot prove a rape happened.

“Rape is rape,” Bloom said. “I’m not saying it isn’t, but there are degrees of rape and (the differing degrees are) not recognized by the law. It almost helps my client that he is being accused of rape to its fullest extent because the prosecution can’t prove it.”

Bloom said rape, like murder, should be judged in differing degrees.

“What’s murder all about?” Bloom asked. “Murder is just as complicated as rape but we have degrees of it. They break it down to degrees like, intentional, premeditated, reckless, with force and under what circumstances did it happen. This makes it easier for juries to convict and it could work with rape.”

But Mary Koss, a professor of family and community medicine and co-chair of the American Psychological Association Task Force on Violence Against Women, said the analogy between rape and murder is flawed.

“He is suggesting that we make degrees valid on whether the rapist knows the victim or not,” Koss said. “Is it less severe if you kill your wife than a person on the street? It just doesn’t make sense.”

Koss said since the late 1970s almost all 50 states have revised their rape laws to include degrees of rape in terms of the levels of violence used but not on whether the victim knows the rapist. Koss stressed that these changes did not affect the number of rapes reported or convictions made. In a national study of more than 3,000 female college students, Koss found only 8 percent of campus rapes are reported.

Harry Hueston, assistant chief of police for the University of Arizona Police Department, said having degrees of rape is not the solution for obtaining rape convictions.

“First of all, you’re dealing with a crime that’s rarely reported, rarely prosecuted and rarely are convictions made,” Hueston said. “When the criminal justice system gets to the point where they are prosecuting the same number of rapes as murders then we can look at a proposition like having degrees.”

Hueston said Arizona State law has a variety of sexual assault crimes on record with differing provisions and penalties. But no provisions are made for stranger rape vs. date rape.

Koss said degrees of rape should not be based on the relationship of the victim to the attacker because the consequences of each situation are the same.

“There is a widespread misconception that there are lesser consequences after a date rape than after a stranger rape,” Koss said. “But women raped by people they know are just as likely to suffer the same problems after a rape as someone who is raped by a stranger.”

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