Late last week, an alleged sexual assault in Minneapolis’s Powderhorn Park got a lot of attention; from the Pioneer Press’s original story, it’s not hard to see why:
A mother was skiing through the snowy park with her 13-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son when five juvenile males accosted them. One was armed with a handgun, [police spokesman William] Palmer said. Two of the boys raped the mother and threatened to rape the daughter, but the mother “basically says that’s not going to happen,” Palmer said.
On Sunday, the family released a compassionate statement that — in its commitment to a “great” neighborhood and recognition of the alleged perpetrators as “hurting, scared children who didn’t get the kind of nurture, love and care that they needed” — might be more unusual than the crime.
The statement also included some media criticism:
I do want to correct one major inaccuracy in the news that I have read. None of us were raped, to the best of my knowledge. Yes, I was sexually assaulted but the girls did manage to fight off the boys and escape before anything happened. I really have a huge repulsion at the labeling of us as victims. I see us as strong and capable of taking charge of our safety.
So did an already horrific crime get mislabeled?
Editors at the Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune say the “rape” designation came directly from the police. Pioneer Press editor Thom Fladung notes the attribution to Palmer. At the Star Tribune (where, unlike the PiPress, the word “rape” was used in the headline), assistant managing editor Kate Parry cites the police report, which lists “Crim Sex Cond-rape” and the first-degree Criminal Sexual Conduct statute.
Minneapolis Police Lt. Nancy Dunlap, who heads the Sex Crimes Unit, says there can be a legitimate difference between legal and personal definitions. Legally, “rape” refers to any kind of penetration. Alexandra Ellison, a family friend and spokesman, says the woman was trying to indicate the incident didn’t involve penile penetration.
Normally, those sexually assaulted are reluctant to discuss such details, but Ellison says her friend wants to reduce sensationalism. The “major inaccuracy” comment was meant to signal that her assault was not what some would conclude seeing the word “rape.”
Lt. Dunlap makes it clear she respects the woman’s statement. “[She] is entitled to view this however she wants to — whatever makes her feel better and stronger to help get through this situation.”
Dunlap acknowledges that, given the “none of us were raped” statement, some now wonder whether prosecutors will be able to get a “CSC-rape” conviction. (Three arrestees, all unnamed juveniles, have not yet been charged.) The legal definition gives police confidence, she states: “Anyone who has had the opportunity to read the facts knows we have a solid, strong case that meets the definition of sexual assault, robbery and kidnapping.”