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Sun-Times Columnist Argues Sex Workers Cannot Be Rape Victims

By Rachel Cromidas in News on Sep 14, 2015 3:10PM

Let's get one thing very clear right now: Having sex with someone who is not consenting, not able to consent or being threatened with their life (say, at gunpoint) is rape. It's not confusing.

But Sun-Times Columnist Mary Mitchell had a seriously difficult time understanding this uncomplicated and unfortunate equation in a column last weekend. She wrote about a West Side sex worker who said she was raped at gunpoint after being lured into the home of a prospective client who did not intend to pay her, according to court records.

The man, Roy Akins, 29, has been charged with aggravated criminal sexual assault in the case. He allegedly hired the sex worker through the website on Aug. 9 and asked her to meet him at his home in Austin. He told the woman he would pay her $180 for her services but instead raped her while holding a gun, according to prosecutors. Akin was ordered held in jail on $750,000 bail at his most recent court appearance.

The case suggests that law enforcement officials took the woman's allegations seriously enough to bring criminal charges against the man. That's a very good thing, considering that anachronistic, pearl-clutching views of sex workers sometimes prevent them from getting help from police departments when they are victims of a crime. This woman went to the police and, it seems, that risky move could lead to some justice for her.

But the Sun-Times' Mitchell doesn't see it this way.

"A recent case involving a prostitute and a john is making a mockery of rape victims," Mitchell writes in the first line of her column, kicking off a 500-word ode to victim-blaming, sex worker-shaming and sexism:

When you agree to meet a strange man in a strange place for the purpose of having strange sex for money, you are putting yourself at risk for harm.

It’s tough to see this unidentified prostitute as a victim. And because this incident is being charged as a criminal sexual assault — when it’s actually more like theft of services — it minimizes the act of rape.

No, Mitchell, you're making a mockery of rape victims—and sex workers, though it sounds like she doesn't have a problem doing just that—when you say raping a sex worker at gunpoint is "more like theft of services."

Mitchell's column, posted online Saturday morning, is already seeing backlash around the Internet from feminist writers who take issue with her many unsympathetic missives against the unidentified, 24-year-old woman. Mitchell makes a common, classic out-of-touch columnist mistake by comparing the sex worker's case to the case of a 26-year-old Willowbrook woman who was brutally attacked and violently raped in her home by a home invader earlier this month.

The woman "did nothing to bring about this terrible, terrible ordeal," Mitchell writes, making her stance clear: Rape survivors, if you did anything at all to put yourself at risk of sexual assault, like enter the home of a stranger, then you're no victim in her book.

The column serves as a disappointing reminder that these outdated views are still mainstream and pervasive.