Today in Rape Culture

[Trigger warning. Cross-referenced with Rape Is Hilarious. Thanks to Shaker Elke for the heads-up.]

Today, we welcome a repeat offender, CNN's Rick Sanchez, last seen diminishing the gravity of "date rape." Here, he introduces a segment on a story out of Ohio, in which a woman was raped in broad daylight, but no one stopped to help (though several people did call 911). Now, there is a lot wrong with this segment (which I will leave you to dissect in comments), but in Sanchez's introduction, he says one of the most ghastly things I've ever heard in all the terrible reporting about sexual violence that I've seen:

[Full transcript of entire segment below. For the record, I used CNN's show transcripts.]
We're going to take you now through something that's very interesting. It's a terrible and puzzling story. A young man, a teenager, is in jail today in Toledo, Ohio. The reason he's in a jail in Toledo, Ohio, was because of an alleged sexual assault. The case is still pending in large measure, but people call it out-out rape, and he has told police, "I was doing what I was doing," but here's the punch line, right?! It all happened in plain view of witnesses, in broad daylight, next to a street while people were driving by!
The punch line? Wow.

I can think of fewer turns of phrase that are less appropriate to use in relation to a story about sexual violence than "but here's the punch line."

Even leaving aside the particular insensitivity of the specific phrase, the entire construction of the premise is horseshit. No well-informed anchor should be expressing surprise that a woman was raped in broad daylight, in front of witnesses, without physical intervention. It's dishonest to treat such a thing as a rare event, to regard the details as a "punch line," or a "catch," or any other euphemism that suggests they are remarkable.

In the five years I've been doing this, I've written up numerous stories of women being attacked, sexually or otherwise, in front of witnesses who failed to help (and calling 911 isn't failing to help, btw). (Apparently the recent gang rape in California has already fallen completely out of Sanchez's head.) Even given the most charitable interpretation of Sanchez's grim "punch line" term, that he intended merely to indicate a shock rather than a joke, it's still wildly inappropriate and irresponsible.

Talking about every one of these cases as if it's extraordinary is an eminently useful way of concealing the rape culture. By denying the iterations of its manifestation, by persistently ignoring the evidence of connectivity, we can shake our heads gravely at each totally unique and unrelated incident, thus collectively freeing ourselves from any responsibility for addressing a cultural problem.

Which always works out pretty well for rapists.
RICK SANCHEZ: We're going to take you now through something that's very interesting. It's a terrible and puzzling story. A young man, a teenager, is in jail today in Toledo, Ohio. The reason he's in a jail in Toledo, Ohio, was because of an alleged sexual assault. The case is still pending in large measure, but people call it out-out rape, and he has told police, "I was doing what I was doing," but here's the punch line, right?! It all happened in plain view of witnesses, in broad daylight, next to a street while people were driving by! Right?

BROOKE BALDWIN: Right. That's the thing. It's one of those stories that certainly was on our radar, and it made me think, what would you do if you were driving by? You would hope you would stop and do something. But that's the thing. No one did anything as far as getting out of a car. Imagine, especially, ladies, you're 26, you're walking -- this woman was walking to the library, like you said, broad daylight. This guy popped out of nowhere, takes a pair of scissors to your neck, forces you to the ground, and rapes you. No one stops to help.

SANCHEZ: And this is that area, by the way -- I'm drawing a picture for folks, and we'll be able to see part of it. It's like the easement between the sidewalk and the street, right?

BALDWIN: Right. Broad daylight, again. One woman who drove by did call 9-1-1. Here is a portion of that call. Listen.



CALLER: I think there is somebody either taking advantage or raping somebody on Royalton by Birchell, about two streets more west or something. It's a black guy is taking off the pants of a white woman and they are laying on the sidewalk.

UNIDENTIFIED 911 OPERATOR: You say this is a black male?

CALLER: Yes. With a white girl on the ground and her legs are all exposed. He's between her legs.

UNIDENTIFIED 911 OPERATOR: You didn't see any weapons, did you?

CALLER: No, I didn't.


BALDWIN: So we should point out, you know, yes, we reached out to that woman to try to have her on. She was so emotional she broke down on the phone. She relives it every day. It happens next week. She has nightmares.

SANCHEZ: And it was hard to make the call. I understand --

BALDWIN: They're not quite sure if it was consensual or not.

SANCHEZ: Exactly. It's easy to blame people. Why didn't you immediately go over there? Sometimes you're so uncomfortable with things you see, you're not quite sure what to make of it.

BALDWIN: What's going on? Is she consenting or not? The bottom line, there were a number of people who passed by in cars. They were honking at the suspect, 15 years old. He did not stop violating this woman.


SGT. SAM HARRIS, TOLEDO, OHIO POLICE: People had seen you and you knew you were interrupted and why did you continue? And the only explanation he could say is that I wanted to finish.


BALDWIN: "I wanted to finish." Now, that suspect was caught just hours later. Here he is pixilated. He's a juvenile. Police claim he hid confess to not only raping this woman, who was a total stranger, but also to stealing her cell phone afterwards. Why did he do it? Apparently, he told police he saw the woman walking alone, made up his mind he wanted to have sex with her.

He did sit in juvenile court with his mom by his side where he was arraigned on charges of rape and robbery. He has no criminal record. Prosecutors will try him as an adult, which means a much heftier sentence if he's convicted.

SANCHEZ: There is absolutely no evidence that you have seen that would lead us to believe that his defense might be that she consented in any way, correct?

BALDWIN: Not that I have seen.

SANCHEZ: It was as described by police at this point, and what seems to sound to us -- not a legal definition, but certainly a common sense definition -- of an admission he's given about this.

BALDWIN: Absolutely. And people just passed by.

SANCHEZ: What do we know about the woman?

BALDWIN: We know that was she was 26. Apparently there are reports from others that she lived in a home, she suffered from bipolar disorder and also Asperger syndrome on the spectrum of autism, which makes it worse.

SANCHEZ: That's makes her probably more of a victim in this case than what we originally even thought of.

BALDWIN: It's tough for any woman. It's just tough for anyone.

SANCHEZ: Let's do this -- hang out here, if you can. We're going to do some more on this story. I think it's important.

In just a moment, if you stick with us, I will talk live to one of the women that you heard moments ago, one of the women that actually witnessed the sex crime as it was happening. What did she see? What did she do?

She's going to take us through her story -- a difficult story, we understand, and we consider her courage for coming on and wanting to share this. But stay there and we'll get through this in just a little bit. We'll be right back.


SANCHEZ: Let me go back to the story that we were sharing with you just moments ago that has so many people in Toledo, Ohio appalled. I want to show you the crime scene. This is where it happened. See it right there? Broad daylight. You don't see a lot of cover. It's not like there are bushes somebody can hide behind, as it was described by police. It's out in the open. If someone is on that sidewalk doing something and motorists are driving by, they will see it. It's a busy cross street in Toledo.

The alleged rape of a woman by a 15-year-old boy occurred there in broad daylight, cars going by. The victim says she was screaming. How could it happen? Cars honked and said, stop. According to one description police gave us, the suspect looked up and then continued.

Joining me now from Toledo is Ashlee McCoy. She knows this neighborhood. In fact, she grew up in the neighborhood. She was driving by that day as well, and she is one of the people who saw this happen. Also joining us is Brooke Baldwin who has been drilling down on this story as well.

And before we even start the interview, we also should say we have tried to contact the other side. We called the attorneys.

BALDWIN: We reached out to the defense attorneys, as well.

SANCHEZ: No comment so far.

BALDWIN: No comment so far.

SANCHEZ: All right, let's start with you, if we can, Ashlee. What time was it? What did you see? Describe for our viewers what you saw that day.

ASHLEE MCCOY, WITNESS: It was 2:30 in the afternoon. I was driving down the street with my kids and my babysitter. And, you know, he had noticed something up above on the sidewalk. And I looked and we were like, wow, that's crazy.

SANCHEZ: Can you see a monitor right now?


SANCHEZ: All right, I'll describe it for you. We are looking at a corner intersection. There seems to be a fire hydrant there on the right.


SANCHEZ: And there is a street. And it looks like the street goes straight, but there is a left turn. Can you tell our viewers where this incident was happening so we get a better idea?

MCCOY: It was right before a corner.


MCCOY: On the left-hand side.

SANCHEZ: Right. MCCOY: On the side of somebody's house, on the sidewalk.

SANCHEZ: So we are looking basically then as you describe it, I think the picture we're looking reflects the area we are talking about. It's not like it was behind a bush. It wasn't behind, you know, a placard or -- it was literally out in the open.

MCCOY: Yes. Yes.

We weren't sure on what was happening. We just seen two people having sex, and that's what it looked like. We didn't see no signs of struggle or a cry for help or anything.

I had laid on my horn because we thought it was two teenagers. So I laid on my horn to tell them, you know, get up, that's not right.

Well, we had a drove off and the person that I was with -- he said that, you know, that's just weird. That doesn't seem right. So he had went back to the scene, and that's when the police and the fire trucks and all that was there.

SANCHEZ: Wait. The person who was riding in your car with you after driving by...


SANCHEZ: So when you first drive by your impression was, this is weird, but maybe it's just two people having sex. Let me just go on.

MCCOY: Oh, we thought for --

SANCHEZ: Later on -- go ahead.

MCCOY: I said, we thought for sure that it was just two people having sex. There was no other -- you know, anything that indicated that anything else but them having sex.

SANCHEZ: So interestingly enough, other motorists went by and reported to police as in the sound we shared with viewers moments ago that, to them, it was a rape. Obviously that could be because they saw something you didn't see when you went by, right? You didn't all go out at the same time. I get that.

MCCOY: Right. Right.

SANCHEZ: I get that.

Has there been a lot of criticism in town? Have you felt like, my god, maybe I should have been more on top of this? I should have been more aware?

MCCOY: Well, yes, there's been a lot of criticism. But I had my kids in my car, so even if I did see something that showed she was being raped, I probably would have just called 9-1-1 because I had my babies in my car.

SANCHEZ: That makes sense.

BALDWIN: Ashlee, let me ask you this, and I don't know if it was perhaps female intuition eventually that you thought, you know, this probably wasn't consensual sex. Something wasn't right.

Do you think -- because I feel like there have been a lot of stories the news lately where we wonder after the fact, why didn't someone speak up? Is there something you and perhaps all of us can glean from this kind of incident?

MCCOY: I didn't think anything of it. I just thought it was consensual sex. There was no signs of her being raped as far as any struggle or a cry for help.

SANCHEZ: What about now?

MCCOY: I laid on my horn.



BALDWIN: Now do you wish you had stopped?

MCCOY: Yes. I mean, of course. But I -- like I said, there is nothing else I could have done besides call 9-1-1 because I had my kids in my car.

SANCHEZ: One more thing -- I have to ask you one more thing, because I heard you say "I laid on my horn," which doesn't sound like a quick beep, toot-toot thing. You laid on your horn.


SANCHEZ: So it was a loud sound?

MCCOY: Yes. And basically it was just like telling them to get up and move because that wasn't right, because I thought they were just young teenagers having sex on the sidewalk.

SANCHEZ: Right. But my question is when you laid on your horn, that act was taking place, what was his reaction? What happened?

MCCOY: His reaction was he just looked up and he just continued doing what he was doing.


MCCOY: She just -- it was nothing different.


SANCHEZ: —the alleged perpetrator, a high school freshman. I want you to hear what the police officers are saying about this accused.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SGT. SAM HARRIS, TOLEDO, OHIO, POLICE DEPARTMENT: If someone's brazen enough at age 15 to grab an unknown female off the street in the middle of the day, I think the chances of his actions continuing are very likely.


SANCHEZ: That was sergeant Sam Harris of the Toledo Police Department, 33 years on the force. He is my next guest. We're going to talk about the kid in a moment, this high school freshman.

First, though, let me ask you this, if we could, Officer. What is a citizen's duty in a case like this? Broad daylight, crowded street, if I were to see something like this, or here -- better yet -- suppose my wife were driving down the street and she was to see this, how would you want her -- how would you want her to respond?

HARRIS: Just exactly as the caller whose 911 tape you played. Call the police immediately. Supply them with as much and complete information as they can, and then let the police respond from that point on.

SANCHEZ: At what point, Sergeant, would you want someone who feels capable of going in there and trying to either break it up or save this young lady?

HARRIS: Well, we don't encourage people to become involved in a physical nature on their own, due to the risks they may entail on their own. In this case...

SANCHEZ: Ever? Ever?

HARRIS: Well, you know, it's a personal decision. I would like to think that, if a young, virile male was to, you know, be able to stop the assault, they would, but, in this case, the suspect was armed with a pair of scissors, which he had already threatened the female with, his victim.

And if he was brazen enough to threaten and rape a female on a city street in broad daylight, who's to say what he might have done had someone tried to intervene?

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