Note: The following article contains sensitive content that might be triggering for some readers.
“Couples do stuff like that all time.”
That sentence just about sums up Vine star Carter Reynolds’ psuedo-apology on Twitter after footage of Reynolds pressuring his then 17-year-old girlfriend into sex leaked onto the Internet. In the video, Reynolds seems to be filming his ex, Instagram celebrity Maggie Lindemann, giving him oral sex, but there’s one problem: She clearly doesn’t want to.
“I am really uncomfortable,” she repeats. “I don’t think I can.” But with his pants pulled down, he doesn’t take no for an answer: “Just pretend [the camera] isn’t there.”
In his response, Reynolds calls the video a “HUGE misunderstanding.” He continues, “First of all, Maggie and I were dating at the time. It’s not like she was a random girl or a fan. … It was a private video for no one to see and I had no intention of posting it at all. I shouldn’t of [sic] recorded anything to begin with and I should’ve deleted it right after I took it.” While Reynolds claims that he knows what he did was wrong, he doesn’t seem to apologize as much for the act as he does getting caught for it.
And the Internet response is all but unanimous: This is a clear violation of Maggie Lindemann’s consent. The biggest issue with Carter Reynolds’ statement is that he seems to suggest that people in relationships can’t be raped or have their boundaries violated, and if they do, it’s all part of the deal, the contract you sign when you agree to coupledom.
That is, of course, not the case, but if Reynolds is right about one thing, it’s that it does happen all the time. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 20 Americans are subjected to intimate partner abuse every single minute, and that abuse can take the form of “intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and stalking.” These figures mean that nearly 50 percent of women and 20 percent of men will be the victim of sexual or physical abuse from a romantic partner at some point in their lives.
The biggest issue with Carter Reynolds’ statement is that he seems to suggest that people in relationships can’t be raped or have their boundaries violated.
Despite the widespread prevalence of intimate partner abuse, it’s one aspect of rape culture we tend to ignore, partially due to the widespread victim blaming that survivors experience. Although neither reported being sexually assaulted, both the pop singer Rihanna and Janay Rice, the wife of former Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice, shined a light on our treatment of those who experience abuse and how contingent our sympathy is on their actions. What did they do to upset their partners? How were they behaving? What were they wearing? And most importantly, why did they stay?
However, it’s not just the way that we treat survivors that’s the problem but also the ways in which intimate partner abuse victims have been historically treated by the legal system. Until the late 20th century, the law reflected the popular understanding that “forced sex” as part of woman’s “wifely duty,” as the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network explains.
Back in the 16th century, British Chief Justice Matthew Hall argued that men cannot legally be held responsible for marital rape: “[T]he husband cannot be guilty of rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract, the wife hath given up herself in this kind unto the husband which she cannot retract.”
In 1978, Daniel Morrison became the first husband found guilty of raping his spouse, and before his conviction, “marital rape exemptions” were common in U.S. criminal codes. The Morrison case and a later Oregon ruling further exposed the issue—even though the husband in question was acquitted—leading to states finally criminalizing the act. However, marital rape didn’t become actually illegal in each of the 50 states until 1993—just over 20 years ago. That means it’s possible that a college student graduating in 2015 could legally be the product of marital rape.
If that seems shockingly recent to you, what’s just as shocking is the burden we continue to place on survivors. As RAINN reports, marital rape is “one of the least reported crimes” because of the numerous legal hurdles to prosecution. Court judges usually side against survivors, but even more so against those who experience sexual assault by an intimate partner.
Tt’s not just the way that we treat survivors that’s the problem but also the ways in which intimate partner abuse victims have been historically treated by the legal system.
“Some states have imposed extra reporting requirements on victims, e.g., a shorter deadline (30 days or one year) for reporting the incident,” RAINN explains. “Some states make it harder to prove marital rape than other forms of rape, e.g., by requiring a showing that force or threats were used (when other laws against rape require only a showing of lack of consent). Other states do not criminalize the conduct if the wife is legally unable to consent (e.g., due to a severe disability).”
Although the courts treat marital rape as less grave than other forms of sexual assault, that’s far from the case. Saint Joseph’s University professor Raquel Bergen Kennedy argues that survivors of partner abuse are “more likely to experience multiple assaults and often suffer severe long-term physical and emotional consequences.” And for teens, experiencing sexual assault at the hands of a partner can have particularly long-lasting effects, as the survivor resource website Aphrodite Wounded explains: “They may believe that forced or coercive sex is a normal part of a relationship, or that they deserve it.”
Thus, while Carter Reynolds insists that he and his ex are fine and she’s OK, what we’re really lacking is her side of the story. Maggie Lindemann has yet to speak out about the video surfacing on the Internet, tweeting an opaque messages of support to her followers on Monday.
love you guys always— MAGGIE LINDEMANN (@MaggieLindemann) June 22, 2015
While many of her fans are standing behind her, others are reflecting the worst tendencies of our treatment of rape victims—whether marital or otherwise. “He did not do everything yourself, you had full consciousness and are now calling him a pedophile, say something… he did not abuse you, and all this hatred he is getting is not necessary,” user @butjackz writes. Meanwhile, @twerkingcammmm chimes in: “Watch the video then ask me SHE told him to pull his pants down its not all his fault even though he did wrong too.”
Those might seem like fringe comments, but judging by the number of favorites they got, every troll has friends. These trolls just happen to have friends in the U.S. legal system.
Nothing gives someone the right to violate their partner’s consent—not their relationship status nor the amount of followers they have on Vine. For the millions of Americans who have experienced intimate partner abuse, the Carter Reynolds video isn’t a “misunderstanding” or being blown out of proportion by a click-hungry media. It’s a sobering reminder of what too far many women—and men—go through every day.
For more information about sexual assault or to speak with someone confidentially, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline (U.S.) or Rape Crisis England and Wales (U.K.). You can also visit the Rape, Abuse, and & Incest National Network website at RAINN.org.
Nico Lang is the opinion editor for the Daily Dot.
Screengrab via Carter Reynolds/YouTube