The XX Factor

Skinny Jeans and the Problem of Dumb Juries

According to the Sydney Morning Herald , accused rapist Nicholas Eugenio Gonzalez won acquittal with the increasingly popular “skinny jeans defense.” While the alleged victim testified that Gonzalez ripped off her jeans and initiated forced intercourse, he argued that the pants were too tight for him to remove without her cooperation. The jury concurred, voicing doubt as to whether “those kind of jeans can be removed without any sort of collaboration.” If the victim consented to disrobing, then she likely consented to sex, the jury reasoned.

Not so. Over the last 40 years, lawmakers have dramatically reformed the law of sexual assault to prevent such sloppy leaps of logic. Conviction for rape in the United States, Australia, and other industrialized nations now rests largely on lack of consent rather than any physical display of resistance. That a victim complied with a request to remove clothing-whether freely or in response to a perceived threat-should have no bearing on an aggressor’s culpability for the subsequent sexual act. A topless or pantsless person may withdraw consent at any time prior to penetration.

At least those are the rules on the books. Unfortunately, this incident serves as a potent reminder that laws are only as modern as the people they govern-the people charged with their fair and faithful execution. Enlightened laws require enlightened jurors and progressive reforms are no safeguard against stubborn stereotypes about female behavior and sexuality.  Sadly, even in 21 st -century urban centers like Sydney, courts cannot escape the perennial threat of ignorance and intellectual sloth.