Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Advocates Say Jackson County Judge's 'Fifty Shades' Comment Trivializes Rape

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Advocates Say Jackson County Judge's 'Fifty Shades' Comment Trivializes Rape

Article excerpt

A Jackson County judge's comment likening testimony in an ongoing serial rape case to the novel "Fifty Shades of Grey" could have a chilling effect on sexual assault and rape victims' willingness to report abuse in the future, advocates said.

Meanwhile, a Washburn University School of Law professor specializing in ethics called the comment "innocuous" but questioned its appropriateness.

Following testimony Wednesday from a woman who said Jacob C. Ewing forced her to have sex though she didn't believe she had been raped, Judge Norbert Marek Jr. pondered aloud whether the situation was more like the popular erotic novel than a crime.

"Is this 'Fifty Shades of Grey' or 50 shades of illegal?" he asked before sending the charges to trial.

Ewing, 21, faces sex crime charges that include five counts of rape, eight counts of criminal sodomy, one count of attempted rape, aggravated indecent liberties with a child under the age of 14, two counts of aggravated battery and two counts of aggravated sexual battery. The alleged crimes occurred between 2014 and 2016. He was first arrested in May.

Marek's comment was disappointing and unprofessional, said Michelle McCormick, director of the YWCA of Northeast Kansas' Center for Safety and Empowerment. The comment was the topic of discussion at the center following news reports of the hearing, she said.

Pop culture references of any kind made about rape normalize and trivialize the serious crime, she said.

"This has such a huge impact on those who have experienced sexual violence," she said. "It makes it seem like it's part of our normal, everyday culture."

Rape is one of the most unreported crimes, McCormick said. In the U.S., one in five women will be raped, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with nearly 40 percent of those occurring among women ages 18 to 24. More than half of those will go unreported, McCormick said.

The specific reference to "Fifty Shades of Grey" was troubling because the book's sadomasochistic themes have damaged the organization's efforts to educate the public about sexual violence and rape, she said. …

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