The LMPD and Himpathy

So, in light of my recent prediction of hope for women’s rights in 2020, particularly in Louisville and Kentucky, I thought it only fair to balance that hopeful outlook with some soul-crushing cynicism, just so people don’t think I’ve had my personality replaced.

Enter the recent Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting article and podcast and a follow-up LEO article by my friend and fellow cynic Dan Canon. The KyCIR story details yet another rape case that was mishandled by Louisville police and dismissed despite what seems to be a mountain of evidence. A drink at a hotel bar and a bummed cigarette lead to a woman waking up in her hotel room disoriented and with blood-covered sheets. She panics and, through a series of phone calls, the hotel is alerted and calls 911. Five officers arrive, interview her, fail to take the bloody sheets as evidence and call the accused several months later to get “his side,” and then the prosecutor declines to press charges.

Seems like we have heard this before.

This case is a bit special, though, in that there are actual recordings of the police being chummy with the accused rapist over the phone (they never brought him in for an interview).

Listening to those recordings and other details from the case are depressing, revealing just another example of how the police’s investigation and the attitudes of the officers are rife with rape myths. Early on, the officers asked the victim how much alcohol she has had to drink, later noting that people in hotels often drink too much and then mischaracterize a consensual sexual encounter as rape. They immediately suspected that the victim was lying, even though false rape reports are extremely rare. They discounted her injuries, even her vaginal bleeding — stating that it could have been caused by a tampon (not that she was wearing one) — and certainly did not consider her clear psychological injuries, instead describing her as “stupid drunk.” 

The victim-blaming is clear here. 

Even the victim’s hospital discharge paperwork gave her advice on how to avoid being sexually assaulted, as if she were the one who made a mistake that night by drinking in a hotel lobby and talking to a man. I would ask why the alleged rapist didn’t get any advice, but he pretty much did — from the police who were supposed to be investigating him. 

I could go on and on about how this case was mishandled and what it means for Louisville, a city that already dismisses more rape cases than other cities of its size. But that’s already been covered so I wanted to put on my nerd/professor hat and use this case as a stunning example of a concept known as “himpathy.”

Himpathy was coined by Kate Manne in her book “Down Girl” as “the excessive sympathy sometimes shown towards male perpetrators of sexual violence.”

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Himpathy causes people to be more concerned with the (typically male) perpetrators of sexual assault than the victims and typically expresses itself as an unreasonably large fear that a man will be falsely accused. A recent example of himpathy comes from a Maine high school where three female students were suspended for bullying because they put Post-it notes on bathroom walls stating: “There’s a rapist in our school, and you know who it is.” The female students placed the notes because they felt that the school had not responded properly to complaints of sexual assault. The notes garnered media attention, and when a male student, not named in the note, complained of feeling targeted, the female students were suspended. This is a classic case of himpathy: swift action is taken to protect a male student who felt uncomfortable, instead of responding to three female students who felt uncomfortable enough at the school to place notes warning others.

Himpathy is thick on the ground in this country.

You can see it in the light sentencing of convicted rapists such as Stanford University rapist Brock Turner and so, so many others. Or, in (recently impeached) President Trump’s push to provide more protections for accused rapists under Title IX. 

In the Louisville case, you can see it in the interviewing police officer’s desire to reassure the accused and provide other explanations for what happened to the victim that make him innocent of any transgressions. The officer actually suggested to the accused that perhaps another man came in her room after their “consensual” encounter, and that third man is the rapist. In contrast to the hostility and apathy shown to the victim, which made her feel frustrated and even afraid, the accused was so pleased with his interview, he offered to buy the officer a cup of coffee.

Here’s where the professor hat comes off. 

What the actual hell?

Reading the KyCIR article was like reading a letter from my doctor telling me I’m dying of cancer. Every word felt like a punch to the gut, but I could not stop reading each excruciating detail of the terminal diagnosis. 

I want to believe that this case is an aberration. But I know too much to believe that. I’ve read too many reports, articles and books about how rape is treated in this country (and around the world). Maybe our new governor will do something to start to turn this rape culture around. But, considering our mayor’s “confidence” in LMPD despite KyCIR’s reporting, I really don’t have much hope this time. •

Dr. JoAnne Sweeny is a UofL law professor.

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