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Was It Rape or Just Repellent?

Bob Green pays a price, but was it for a crime or inappropriate betrayal or extortion?

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, September 18, 2002.

Local groups are planning, in their way, to stage another Take Back the Night march here in Boulder. It rings increasingly strident and off-kilter as the years pass, and has almost become a traditional annual gathering of the same folks. The same scary statistics, watered down to include appreciative glances, herald that at least a quarter of the females in Colorado have experienced sexual harassment, which is substituted for sexual assault, which is implied to mean rape. No accurate or meaningful glossary of terminology exists to meld popular usage to legal definitions, but may be that traditions like Take Back the Night are good in and of themselves in that it keeps the focus on the relationships between the genders and civilized behavior.

Bob Greene, a highly regarded Chicago columnist, was fired last week by his newspaper for having sex with a girl, then a Junior in High School. The girl was over the legal age for such a thing, and no rape charges were ever filed, which is fine given that it was over a decade ago, anyway. The girl had been brought to the paper by her parents so that she could interview Green, and not long after that he took her to dinner and then to a hotel. He mentioned her in his column. The facts, if such they are, are slightly different in every newspaper story.

This would be of overpowering unimportance except that recently the young woman, now at least twenty-seven, tried to contact Green, who eventually contacted the FBI, who is said to have contacted the woman, after which Green resigned. Heroically, the newspaper which has profited from his presence has announced they will no longer carry his column. Bob Green, at the height of his popularity, got hammered as badly as Fatty Arbuckle once did.

But is Green guilty of anything? Other than to his wife, we assume. The comparison with Arbuckle is wrong, because that once regaled silent screen comedian raped and assaulted women, perhaps underage and in any case either unwilling or unable to resist effectively. Arbuckle got off easy, to most modern minds, although many insist he was set up, as Hollywood stars have sometimes been.

This is not to be compared to the Green scandal, so called. What is bad about the Green thing is he perhaps betrayed his wife and may have seduced a teenager half his age. It was not illegal, but it was wrong for someone in authority to do. The FBI has no authority over rape charges. One plausible hypothesis is that the woman threatened Green or his family. But nobody knows why the FBI was called, or what jurisdiction it has over an inappropriate but ancient adultery between two legally consensual people. That is the gorilla over any argument one way or the other.

But what, to my mind, is unassailable is that far, far too often much older people have inappropriate affairs with altogether willing if barely legal adults under their care. We all know of high school teachers and college professors who had affairs with their own students; some women students essentially brag of such things as readily as their strutting, balding stud muffins. It is my opinion that no teacher of any degree can at the same time have a sexual relationship with a student without, at least, the grade curve being warped or energies misplaced to the detriment of the class as a whole. Not only is it hard for the student to break it off without being punished, or the teacher without scandal, it’s just wrong to me, even if the woman is forty and the professor sixty, the genders or ages reversed. Forget the sex aspect, there is an objectivity lacking here.

Yet, was Green an adult in authority over that girl? He couldn’t fire her; he couldn’t tell her to do anything. Was it rape? We don’t know. For that matter, is any of this – absent the resignation – actually true? Green was pretty vague in his resignation, and no evidence has appeared one way or the other.

This is sensitive territory, if we’re all being truthful. I myself have taken advantage of my past positions to ask women out, including employees, which could easily be seen by them as a veiled demand that they go out with me, although I was as often refused. I have, in my mind, seduced women much younger, although I have failed far more than succeeded, and by any recent standard of sexual harassment I, as a member of my gender and generation, have been guilty in my life. I can say I always took no as an answer, however much I whined. And man, can I whine.

I don’t like it when law and popular definitions diverge, and when the media – which profits from the confusion – does nothing to meld the two to facilitate meaningful conversation. You can read the story about Green and conclude many different things that, shockingly, correspond almost exactly with the prejudices, fears, and self-justifications that lace our own lives.

The worst conclusion is that Green raped a kid, or inappropriately seduced her. But there is no definition of ‘inappropriate seduction’ in law, and they were both of legal age, meaning that she could make the decision. There is no evidence of rape, and after ten years or more there is unlikely to be any. On the opposite extreme, you can see a hypocritical gold digger trying to extort a past lover and, thwarted, threatening blackmail and false accusation, counting on the public believing a then young girl. There is no evidence for any of this, one way or the other.

But the web and the newspapers are alive with coverage of this ancient event, bespeaking a million recollection scenes played out in the minds of men who are guilty, or think they might have been, and women who may have been victims, or want to pose as such and take advantage of it. Or vice-versa. We don’t know. Or, worse, we do know and want to bank the fires of memory so that we can go on.

In a world bulging with the need for updated glossaries of terminology and standardized definitions of medical, technical, and ethical issues, none squeaks louder than sex and the relationships between the genders. We can’t have a conversation about sexual harassment, much less rape, much less a trial for rape, if we have different definitions that conform to our own defenses.

Hey -

I know I am pulling this out of left field for you, time wise, but I ran across a statement you made (in the context of comparing Roscoe Arbuckle with Bob Greene) doing a search, and I wanted to know how you arrived at this:

"The comparison with Arbuckle is wrong, because that once regaled silent screen comedian raped and assaulted women, perhaps underage and in any case either unwilling or unable to resist effectively."

Women? Raped? Assaulted? When did he do this, and other that that circus of a trial that NO ONE puts any stock in anymore (even though they exonerated the man), what evidence do you have of it?

I can find you evidence that he drank heavily, and that he was on morphine in 1917-18, but I think this was the only time he was even ACCUSED of rape. Most of his contemporaries remembered him as quite gentle, in fact.

Stereotypes die hard, but they should be easy enough to kill after 84 years - unless someone brings up erroneous information!

Robert

Robert McCrary
Environmental Compliance Officer
Clemson University
mccrary@clemson.edu

Hello Mr. McCrary,

I don’t have whatever I used to write that at hand, I don’t think. But I did reread it and I did say:

“The comparison with Arbuckle is wrong, because that once regaled silent screen comedian raped and assaulted women, perhaps underage and in any case either unwilling or unable to resist effectively. Arbuckle got off easy, to most modern minds, although many insist he was set up, as Hollywood stars have sometimes been.” You neglect the last portion.

While Arbuckle got off after three trials, and the case wasn’t remotely good enough against him, and Rappe was not up for beautification, and the pendulum has swung back to honoring him deservedly as a great comedian, there is room to wonder. Mutual exclusives aren’t valid (not an excuse for no evidence at hand, I admit), but because the initial fabrications about Rappe turned out to be, to say no more, false, that doesn’t mean the white robe passes to Arbuckle. There is no white robe here, as in so many other of these cases. Both negative descriptions of the principles could be true.

Still, nothing at hand to prove me correct, and your note has wobbled me, so I ask your permission to post your letter beneath that piece on Green.

Best wishes, dc