Nate Parker and The Issue of Rape

I’ve just finished reading several articles about the Nate Parker controversy relating to his having been accused of sexually assaulting a woman in 1999 when still a teenager and while being a student at Penn State ( one of the most thoughtful was one in Slate). Parker was cleared and his co- writer, Jean Celestin, who was then his classmate was also accused, convicted and given a 6 months sentence. He was eventually cleared upon appeal. After reading all these points of view I am left with a question: Is our reaction to Nate Parker, the actor, writer, director of the movie Birth of a Nation, a movie about a rebellion led by Nat Turner, meant to make a statement about the history of African Americans, based on his case or is it a product of our current heightened stance to the word rape? In our long efforts to bring rape to the forefront, combat its having been ignored and eventually lessen its occurrence, we need to be mindful about reacting more from a reflex than with thought. The victim committed suicide in 2012, and the Women’s Law Project who is representing her, appears to have seized upon Parker’s new status to revive the case. While I can’t blame them, neither am I willing to be blind to their timing. At issue is not only the fact that to them the case was unfairly thrown out because the night before Nate Parker and the victim had had consensual sex, he and Celestin the articles state harassed her after she complained to the authorities. As far as I could find out, Nate Parker did not repeat his offense. Although what he did was then quite prevalent among university students, and is compounded by the fact the victim was drunk and not quite conscious when the violation occurred, it’s a given it cannot in any way be condoned.
The progress that has been made in the area of sexual assault has to be hailed since not that long ago, rape as an offense was not on anyone’s radar. In the US we do not distinguish between levels of rape as do some other countries, Sweden, for example. Our legal system and our culture have come to regard rape as rape regardless of the level of violence or of circumstances, including any notion of premeditation. And when the word and the offense are associated with a famous person, we seem to respond with strong emotions and instant judgments. The result is that instead of clarifying the case in question, instead of helping us better understand the issue of rape, and hopefully move towards changing the laws to be more appropriate to the circumstances, we forego the thought the issue needs and leap into the illusion of understanding. In the end, in the case of Nate Parker the issue is no longer his guilt or innocence, or even how much he’s achieved since that night, but our reaction to the word rape. Justice is not served by knee-jerking and the cause of rape victims not advanced. Without approving of what Nate Parker did, he did not force himself at gunpoint, the victim may not have been totally conscious but she was not cowed under threat of loss of life, nor was she tortured in any way as are so many. Not all rapes are the same and we need to distinguish if, when and how violence was used, and in what way the victim was made to comply with the offender’s wishes or dictates. The particulars of the Nate Parker case, as far as I read, are different than those of any number of criminal cases, and certainly if we look at circumstances, at great variance with the behavior and pattern of someone like Bill Cosby. In that instance what makes those cases so disturbing was what surely appears to be premeditation. If we believe that rape is serious, then we need to better understand the offense and work to change the laws to better reflect circumstances and include several levels of gravity.