February 13, 2007

“An overtly sexual person”

Posted in Feminism, Law, Sex at 7:45 pm by The Lizard Queen

Here in America, who you are doesn’t affect the treatment you receive at the hands of the law or in the courts… that is, unless you’re an exotic dancer:

No one disputes that an on-duty Irvine police officer got an erection and ejaculated on a motorist during an early-morning traffic stop in Laguna Beach. The female driver reported it, DNA testing confirmed it and officer David Alex Park finally admitted it.

When the case went to trial, however, defense attorney Al Stokke argued that Park wasn’t responsible for making sticky all over the woman’s sweater. He insisted that she made the married patrolman make the mess—after all, she was on her way home from work as a dancer at Captain Cream Cabaret.

“She got what she wanted,” said Stokke. “She’s an overtly sexual person.”

That last phrase makes me so uncomfortable. Will the “she was asking for it” argument ever lose its potency? Because, while I wasn’t in that courtroom, it doesn’t quite sound like Park’s story holds water:

In the wee hours of Dec. 15, 2004, Lucy (only her first name was used during the trial) finished her final shift at Captain Cream in Lake Forest, not far from the Irvine Spectrum. Management had let her go after an incident involving a female customer in a bathroom stall. According to court records, there had been a small amount of cocaine, kissing and breast fondling.

Meanwhile, Park was on patrol in the southwest portion of Irvine. Prosecutors believe he was craving a sexual rendezvous, and so he watched for Lucy’s white BMW to leave the strip club parking lot, then tailed her, waiting for an excuse for a stop. Park insisted he’d been cruising on the 405 north and coincidentally saw Lucy’s vehicle weave and speed.

Kamiabipour, the prosecutor, shook her head in disbelief. She knew the facts—that the officer had waited at least eight or nine minutes before stopping the stripper on a secluded section of a highway that was out of his jurisdiction.

“He was stalking her,” she said.

Four months earlier, Park had stopped Lucy under similar circumstances. That time, he’d ignored a plastic drug baggie he’d found in her car and her suspended license. But the stop wasn’t a waste of time. After friendly chit-chat, the officer had scored Lucy’s phone number. Telephone records show that Park called the stripper the next morning. She told him she was too busy to meet.

On the witness stand, Park explained that he’d called Lucy out of concern for a citizen’s safety. He also shrugged his shoulders when Kamiabipour slowly listed the first names of nine Captain Cream female employees—Annette, Denise, Rashele, Marlia, Brandi, Andrea, Deborah, Laura and Shannon—whose license plates he’d run through the DMV computer in the weeks prior to his sexual encounter with Lucy. (Another coincidence, according to Stokke.) Jurors also learned that Irvine Police Sgt. Michael Hallinan had previously warned Park as they left work to stay away from the strippers.

But wait–there’s more: Park said he didn’t know it was Lucy in the car, but “Records show he ran the bosomy, 5-foot, 110-pound dancer’s license plate before the stop, did not call for backup despite the potential for an arrest and failed to tell his supervisor or dispatch that he was leaving Irvine. Several Irvine officers testified that Park’s behavior that night was odd.” Furthermore, “After an exhaustive police internal affairs investigation, [Irvine city officials] felt it was prudent to give Lucy $400,000 to make her civil lawsuit go away.” Finally, “on the night Park tailed Lucy out of the city, the global positioning system in his patrol car had been disconnected without authorization.” But all that information couldn’t stand up against the character of the woman making the accusation:

It wasn’t a surprise that [defense attorney Al] Stokke put the woman and her part-time occupation on trial. In his opening argument, he made it The Good Cop versus The Slutty Stripper. He pointed out that she’d once had a violent fight with a boyfriend in San Diego. He mocked her inability to keep a driver’s license. He accused her of purposefully “weakening” Park so that he became “a man,” not a cop during the traffic stop. He called her a liar angling for easy lawsuit cash. He called her a whore without saying the word.

“You dance around a pole, don’t you?” Stokke asked.

Superior Court Judge William Evans ruled the question irrelevant.

Stokke saw he was scoring points with the jury.

“Do you place a pole between your legs and go up and down?” he asked.

“No,” said Lucy before the judge interrupted.

“You do the dancing to get men to do what you what them to do,” said Stokke. “And the same thing happened out there on that highway [in Laguna Beach]. You wanted [Park] to take some sex!”

Lucy said, “No sir,” the sex wasn’t consensual. Stokke—usually a mellow fellow with a nasally, monotone voice—gripped his fists, stood upright, clenched his jaws and then thundered, “You had a buzz on [that night], didn’t you?”

As if watching a volley in tennis, the heads of the male-dominated jury spun from Stokke back to Lucy, who sat in the witness box. She said no, but it was hopeless. Jurors stared at her without a hint of sympathy.

In his closing argument, Stokke pounced. He called Lucy one of those “girls who have learned the art of the tease, getting what they want . . . they’ve learned to separate men from their money.”

I don’t have words to express the disgust Stokke’s argument inspires in me. Yes, strippers dance provocatively for money. It’s not a crime. Men aren’t forced to watch or forced to give their money away, and I have a very hard time believing that Park was forced to ejaculate on Lucy. Still, the jury decided that Park had not committed a crime. I can’t really blame the members of the jury; I want to believe that they made their decision as best they could. I do blame our society, however–this society wherein a woman’s character, job, sexual history, and even clothing can ultimately mean that a man won’t be held responsible for harassing or even sexually assaulting her.

(h/t Feministing)

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7 Comments »

  1. […] by Evil Bender on February 13th, 2007 If you’re a woman and you have sex, remember that the law thinks the burden of proof should be… After all, being “sexy” means you must be asking for it, right? And guys are just guys, […]

  2. DavidD said,

    It certainly reads like this police officer was very lucky to be found not guilty. It’s not as if the victim’s story was ignored because she “was asking for it”. I read elsewhere he lost his job. She got quite a settlement in her civil case. The standard for a criminal conviction is different. I doubt that her job in the adult entertainment industry was the sole factor in the jury finding they didn’t believe her beyond a reasonable doubt. Who knows? Maybe it was 11-1 for conviction, only there was a Henry Fonda airing his doubts about it that turned the tide away from the expected result. Only I’m sure Henry Fonda wouldn’t take on this story. So it was some convincing scumbag instead. Real life is so different from the movies.

    If it’s perfect vengeance people want, movies are a better place to look for it, some of them.

    If in general press reports told enough of the story, we could forego a lot of expense on trials. Having been in handcuffs twice myself, I’m glad that’s not the way our legal system works. Who do you suppose is wrong more often, people who base their conclusions on the press or 12 people at a trial?

  3. DavidD said,

    I was looking at the OC Weekly article you linked to again. You know, people like a story where there’s one reason why something happens. It’s human nature. Read all these opinions people have on the internet or in real life, and people are forever getting behind one reason why something happens while others get behind another single reason. Then they argue. In fact most things happen for many reasons, including almost all the ones people come up with.

    The story at OC Weekly is written as if the author is in the minds of the jurors. It’s simple, he says, the officer got off because of the victim’s job, because there were a lot of men on the jury, because no one remembers the last time a police officer was convicted of a felony in Orange County, and because the jury seemed to side with the defense attorney in his attack on the witness. Pick your favorite one. Maybe he’s right, but maybe he’s wrong. Maybe he can’t read the sympathies of 11 men and 1 woman from wherever he was. Maybe he can’t judge the ability of this jury to ignore the questions the judge disallowed and discount the defense attorney as the partisan that the attorney is.

    It makes a nice story that women in the adult entertainment industry can’t get justice in our patriarchical society – here, look at this example, but what really happened here and what really happens to women in the legal adult entertainment industry? I find it hard to believe that the legal system is their enemy in general.

    Police officers are certainly predators sometimes, and they have tools to make them better predators than civilians. There’s that stretch of interstate near me named for the victim of a highway patrolman who raped and murdered her following a traffic stop there. That’s a reminder. There’s the fact that women in general are in more danger than men. Frankly I’m glad I don’t have to face that danger myself. But I’m perfectly happy to try to change society to eliminate that danger. I made my decision some time ago to live my life to end poverty and to end strife. A lot of people have other things they’d rather do.

    I don’t see an imperfect legal system as anyone’s enemy in this. How someone gets to be like this police officer did in being sexual aggressive is an open question not addressed by this story. What actually was wrong with him? How much is biology and how much is culture? Maybe the conservatives are right and we should ban all strip clubs, pornography and make Janet Jackson wear a burka, among others. Maybe that’s going too far. Maybe the problem is all in the predators. Knowing how brutal people can be, how much restriction of freedom is acceptable?

    I don’t see simply answers to that, not real ones.

  4. Dave said,

    I for one, do blame the jury. Sure society may have done it’s share to make the defendant the way he is but, from a legal perspective, I think it’s important to preserve a person’s right to argue whatever they want in their own defense. The purpose of our legal system is to have those arguments reviewed by a jury of peers to determine which ones are absurd or simply don’t hold water. It seems to me that the jury in this case failed in it’s duty.

    I’m really not sure how a group of twelve, reasonably thinking, individuals could all have come to the conclusion that this man was innocent. This may be one case where inconvenience outweighed justice. I once heard an interview with a Juror on “This American Life” who helped put a man away for life that she knew was innocent. She said that she was closing on a house that week and had to get back to finish paperwork so she didn’t have time to stay and argue her case. I’d be interested to find out how long the jury deliberated in this case.

    Perhaps one misogynistic juror with a sense of moral superiority and nothing better to do stuck his ground while the rest of the jurors just wanted to get back to their lives. Or perhaps the defense busted out the Chewbacca argument… There’s no way to argue against that one.

  5. Argh, I wrote up a comment and it got swallowed by the tubez… trying again…

    Dave: would “the Chewbacca argument” be, “Strippers don’t pull people’s arms out of their sockets when they lose”? 🙂

    DavidD: I appreciate the 12 Angry Men reference. And indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if reasonable doubt came into the equation here. For the most part I like the way our legal system is set up, and I have no issues with it in and of itself, though I often take issue with those who abuse it. I know that the media tends to present overly simplified versions of stories. I appreciate that while the prosecutor tried to get the jury to disregard Lucy’s story because of her job, the Irvine PD made what I think was a wise choice in firing Park, since if nothing else he certainly wasn’t protecting and upholding the law the way he was meant to. The aspect of this story that I can’t let go of, though, is the fact that the burden of proof, as EB put it, still rests so much on the woman in rape cases. Part of that is the nature of the beast–issues of consent boil down to “he said/she said” situations quite easily. Still, though, I find it frightening that there could come a time where I would have to defend myself against accusations that because of what I was wearing, what I was doing, how I was dancing, etc., I deserved to be raped, I had it coming, I was asking for it. And the reason prosecutors continue to use those arguments in rape trials is because they continue to be effective. I shudder to think. And no, there’s no simple solution, but I think increasing people’s awareness of it and talking about it is a start.

  6. dregan said,

    hehe, no that’s not it. It’s actually the Chewbacca Defense check it out on wikipedia if the link doesn’t work.

  7. Ohh… riight… I totally knew that. I was just, um, testing you… 😉 (Actually, I have seen that before, just in the past couple of days–haven’t seen the episode, though.) You’re right–there really isn’t any way to argue against the Chewbacca defense…


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