HERO Opponents Serious About Bigotry, Not Preventing Rape

Southside Place Police Detective Michael Kelly
Southside Place Police Detective Michael Kelly described a 12-year-old Houston rape victim, who was assaulted by an adult man, as a “not necessarily all that unwilling” participant in her own assault.  ABC 13

In October, police say, a man raped a 12-year-old girl in a Houston public bathroom.

Well, that’s not actually what police say. The detective, a man who is paid by taxpayers to investigate crimes and apprehend criminals, described the 12-year-old — who was allegedly lured into the bathroom and assaulted by an adult man, who was caught on security tape — as “not necessarily all that unwilling.”

Not necessarily all that unwilling. A child. An adult man. A sexual assault. Not necessarily all that unwilling. She was shopping at a pharmacy with her mom and grandma.

Not necessarily all that unwilling?

Here’s what a 12-year-old cannot be, when it comes to sexual contact with an adult: willing. It is a legal impossibility. It is an emotional and developmental impossibility. That is why the age of consent in Texas is 17 years old. To protect children, because they cannot, in any sense, be willing to consent to sex with an adult.

The crime occurred October 16 in the Houston enclave of Southside Place, but the story broke Tuesday night, just before the polls closed on Houston’s doomed Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) vote. As the sexual assault story caught on at local and national news outlets, commenters almost immediately turned the story into a referendum on the equal rights referendum, claiming that HERO would not merely allow, but would encourage, sexual assaults in bathrooms. Houston’s ABC 13 even reported the rape as, astoundingly, “sex” between a child and an adult.

HERO failed largely due to the success of transphobic fear-mongering from the right, with Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and others whipping constituents into a fantastical prurient froth about the possibility of transgender people using public bathrooms.

The mainstream media fell hard for the anti-trans narrative, repeatedly picking up the anti-HERO crowd’s favored talking points and describing HERO as a “bathroom ordinance.” In truth, HERO would have protected Houstonians from discrimination based on 15 different protected classes, including race, gender identity and religion. It would not have allowed “men” to prey on women and children in public bathrooms, or to allow “men” to use the equal rights ordinance as a defense of sexual assault.

Of course, I’m not sure if the predator caught on tape in that pharmacy really needs much of a defense anyway, since the cops already seem to think the child he’s said to have raped was probably asking for it.

And this is where the entirety of the right-wing hand-wringing about needing to defeat HERO to protect the helpless women and children from transgender people who need to pee falls wholly and entirely apart. If the people who we are already paying to protect us — the police — are open to idle public speculation about whether a child invited her own sexual assault, we are a long, long way from anything like real concern about rape prevention.

The HERO vote was proof that people are willing to believe that transgender people are sexual predators, despite the fact that there there is no evidence whatsoever that a wave of transgender impersonators are taking advantage of nondiscrimination ordinances in order to prey on anyone at all in public bathrooms.

Transphobic bigotry may have played well with voters, but the truth is that this Houston case shows us that, for all the conservative bluster and bravado about keeping our families safe, we are not at all willing to believe the reality of sexual assault, even when it is caught on camera.

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Andrea Grimes is a writer and feminist activist living in Austin.

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