Michael Pena, the cop who was found guilty of sexually assaulting a woman at gunpoint, but notably not found guilty of rape, was sentenced to 75 years to life yesterday. This is the maximum sentence for sexual-assault-not-rape, and means he won’t be eligible for parole until he is 103. As the Post gleefully points out, he will almost certainly die in jail.
I’m happy that the woman he attacked has been able to see justice served. But I’m also struck by the coded language in all of the descriptions of her and the attack. It is made very clear that she is the “right” kind of victim—a school teacher, not drinking, not selling sex, not doing drugs, cisgender, petite, young and “innocent.”
The petite brunette wore a frilly lavender blouse, and her high-pitched voice quavered as she rushed through her statement.
“She was a young woman at the time of the incident looking forward to teaching underprivileged little children their ABCs, unaware of the evil incident that was about to undertake her,” said Carruthers.
Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. said Pena deserved the max. He is expected to announce this month whether Pena will be retried for rape.
“Today’s life sentence underscores the brutal nature of the defendant’s attack on an innocent, young woman,” Vance said. “I commend the victim for her bravery throughout this process.”
Both of these papers have, in the past, outed and shamed rape survivors that don’t fit that model when they have attempt to bring their attackers to justice. Please believe that I am NOT trying to criticize the woman Michael Pena raped—I can only imagine how difficult this has been for her, and how much strength taking this to trial has required. I’m simply saying that this, too, is part of rape culture, and part of how so many people get away with rape. Sorting women into good/worthy/”innocent” and bad/trashy/”impure” creates a class of women that it’s “okay” to rape, because they were probably asking for it.
These women tend to be people who are less valued by society in general: poor women, women of color, sex workers, trans women, undocumented immigrants, etc. So rather than be pleasantly surprised the Post and Daily News are not being total monsters to Michael Pena’s accuser, I see it as part and parcel with their usual victim blaming. Because the crime occurred beyond the shadow of a doubt, and because they can’t make it her “fault”, they will crow about the chastened “sex fiend”, all while creating an environment where they have the backs of people who do that and worse to women they find unworthy of defending.