The ReBrook Gambit

A few weeks ago, there was a rape trial in West Virginia where the defence attorney took victim-blaming to phantasmagorically obscene heights. Here’s the abridged version [Source|HT]

A jury found Thomas H. Gravely, 31, of East Bank guilty of sexually assaulting Charleston prostitutes, despite a graphic argument by his defense attorney that women willing to sell themselves for sex cannot be raped…he [Gravely] confessed to picking up at least 15-20 prostitutes and holding a knife to their throats or choking them while he had sex with them.
“You cannot rape the willing,” ReBrook said. “They got in those automobiles with the intention of having sex for money.
“I would be horrified if any of the women in my life were raped, but I’m talking about decent, honorable women,” ReBrook said, and then dramatically raised his voice. “Not whores who have sex with many, many men for money.”
…”Finding this man guilty of rape lessens the dignity of every other woman,” ReBrook said. “What they have done is turn sex into something disgusting”…
They are not like your wife, your girlfriend or your daughter,” he said. “They are street tramps. And what happened to them was, at least in part, their fault.”

At first, I had the natural revulsion, followed by a “why are we still living in the minus-a-millionth century?” reaction. It’s just so over the top — even from the perspective of a hypothetical attorney arguing the victim “had it coming”. Then I realised that this might ultimately be a positive story.

ReBrook chose this legal strategy because he thought Charleston, West Virginia really was living in the minus-a-millionth century. A few decades ago it might have well worked. I know there are plenty of places in the world where it will still work. But in this ordinary town from what Sarah Palin would have described as “real America”, ReBrook’s plan backfired. And spectacularly too. The fact that he overestimated the misogyny of the jury (and by so much) gives some hope yet.

But the most telling aspect is in the line I bolded. As Peter Singer argues in The Expanding Circle, moral progress is about bringing more and more beings into the ingroup — since we can commit atrocities against the outgroup so easily.

I think the reverse is also true: most cases of moral regress seek to dehumanise by drawing a sharp distinction between the ingroup (where you and the speaker are) and the outgroup. They try and contract the circle. It’s just so rare that someone has the chutzpah to put it so blatantly. As horrible as this example is, it’s important to recognise that any time anyone asks you to contract your circle (and sometimes it’s done in a way that’s very subtle and easy to miss), they are just pulling a slimier version of the ReBrook Gambit.

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The thinly-veiled identity of lives and rants in Sydney. Views not his own, provided by hivemind. All my original work on this blog is licensed under a CC BY-NC License.

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