On the use of the word ‘rape’

We’ve just come off air and I want to address an issue that has obviously upset some of you… the use of the word rape.

We cannot approve comments on this blog which refer to Roman Polanski as a rapist.

Roman Polanski admitted having sex with a minor, which under California law is also called statutory rape. He arranged a plea bargain with his victim’s lawyers, so in exchange for pleading guilty to the charge of sex with a minor, (also known as statutory rape in California) the greater charge of rape was dropped.

He has not been convicted of rape, therefore to call him a rapist is legally incorrect and he could arguably be within his rights to sue the BBC for defamation if we publish a comment which identifies him as such. Especially as any defamation case would not be held in California, but here in Britain where the charge of statutory rape does not exist.

I know that to many of you there is no difference in your mind between statutory rape (sex with a minor in California) and rape. However, legally, there is.

That is why we are not publishing any comments which call him a rapist. We are not diminishing the crime Polanski admitted to – the very serious crime of having sex with a minor, or statutory rape – but for the reasons spelt out above, and because both the blog and our programme are read and listened to all around the world, we can’t allow the use of the word.

22 Responses to “On the use of the word ‘rape’”

  1. 1 Justin from Iowa
    September 28, 2009 at 19:37

    Most rational people understand, and we thank you guys for the clarifying comments as the discussion progressed. Thanks!

  2. 2 Tom D Ford
    September 28, 2009 at 20:27

    “Mad”, how often do you guys stop our posts because of legal reasons like that?

    I know that US Laws and British Laws are different about Free Speech and I have often wondered if a post was not allowed because of that.

    So would you post about that, in general, please?

    • 3 Madeleine Morris
      September 28, 2009 at 21:46

      Hi Tom,
      It does happen occasionally. The UK has much tighter laws about libel and defamation than the US. I know this can perplex our US contributors especially who are used to being able to speculate more about people on blogs and discussion forums.

      Because the BBC, including WHYS, is based in the UK, cases of defamation could be brought in this jurisdiction. That is why we have to apply British standards of law, despite the fact that we are discussing a Californian case.

      Contrary to what some (not approved) comments said today, if we approve defamatory statements it is the us, the BBC, who is liable to be sued, not the person who actually wrote it. The publisher is responsible for the comment.

      Here’s a link if you’re interested in finding out more, including what can constitute defamation in the UK: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/bbcinternet/2009/03/bbc_moderation_the_law_and_cen.html

  3. September 28, 2009 at 20:46

    legally, i understand bbc’s position. put it in any other language, the gravity if the offence is not diminished. it sad that people are questioning the propiety of his arrest. how relative is morality to us. aren’t there that are universally acceptability, or have we just lost our humanity. sanctity is key

  4. 5 Kat in Vancouver
    September 28, 2009 at 21:54

    I respect the BBC’s legal position on this matter and the fact that the British Government has more control over public speech than the American or even Canadian Governments.

    But shouldn’t this deepen the discussion into the area of free speech? (This is a point I brought up and this comment was deleted before) What about the freedom of the press in the UK. I mean blogs are in nature global and the fact that domestic laws dictate local discussions should definitely be a topic of another show. Very interesting.

  5. 6 Tom D Ford
    September 28, 2009 at 23:39

    @ Madeleine Morris
    September 28, 2009 at 21:46

    Thanks, Madeleine, I’ll take a look at that.

    I am always aware that I am a guest on this BBC site and that you guys have different laws. I tend to be more free wheeling in the US style, about politicians being fair game for pretty much any form of speech and I probably let that carry over, or spill over might be the better metaphor, when the topic is not about a politician.

    I have noticed that sometimes my posts take a very long time to moderate compared to others and I have wondered what kinds of discussions go on about them and who gets asked, like lawyers, or who else.

    • 7 RightPaddock
      September 30, 2009 at 15:24

      Tom D Ford writes “I tend to be more free wheeling in the US style, about politicians being fair game for pretty much any form of speech and I probably let that carry over, or spill over might be the better metaphor, when the topic is not about a politician.”

      Well you must be the only one Tom, Americans treat their politicians with far greater deference than the British, or just about anyone else.

      Look at the furore that ensued when a congressman called Obama a liar, British Prime Minister’s are called far worse than that very week, you should take a look at Question Time broadcast from Westminster, Canberra, Ottawa or just about anywhere – only Germany treats its politicians with similar deference as you do in the USA.

      Would the US media ridicule the political class as happened in the UK over the expenses rip offs, I think not, there’d be indignation but deference would moderate the tone of any criticism.

      In my opinion Its that deference, also known as kow towing, that results in your penchant for assassinating your presidents – an action born of frustration.

  6. 8 Tom D Ford
    September 28, 2009 at 23:54

    I suggest that you WHYS guys post this page about “How Messages are Checked…etc” every once in a while when folks complain a lot about censorship:


    Knowing about your process helps in understanding why some posts don’t end up as posts.

  7. 9 T
    September 29, 2009 at 04:33

    Thanks for clarifying BBC defamatio laws. That in mind, here’s another angle on this case. Because of the sensationalist nature of it, are we going to be obsessed with this for weeks like when Michael Jackson died?

  8. 10 vijay pillai
    September 29, 2009 at 12:07

    with plea bargaining , the legal mindfield can let a worst crimianl escape charges so much so even one who committed worst crime by society’s standard of judgement can be treated with certain degree of accetance of crime of a lesser nature and hence to be carefull not to use word meant for the real crime.

  9. 11 Dennis Junior
    September 29, 2009 at 13:10

    Thanks, Madeleine for the clarification of the rules in the United Kingdom…I think that you may have forgotten something; About that he has yet been charged, indicted in a superceeding indictment in the State of California…

    Also, Roman is also; Presumed innocent until Proven Guilty…..

    ~Dennis Junior~

    • September 29, 2009 at 13:37

      Where have you been. He WAS indicted. HE entered a plea of guilty. HE ran before sentencing. There is no question of guilt if he admitted it. We, in America, would preface everything with the ‘alledged crime’ if none of the above had not happened. He jumped bail which is also a crime.

  10. 13 patti in cape coral
    September 29, 2009 at 14:11

    I understand why you could not publish the word rape. I had a comment that was blocked yesterday too. I’m not sure exactly why, I didn’t use the word rape, but maybe it was too speculative about a mother allowing her 13-year-old daughter to go unsupervised with a 44-year-old man, then receiving monetary compensation from the man who had sex with her. I said it in a different way. I’m not sure if this will be posted either, but I’m not offended. It’s difficult sometimes, to try to say what you mean in a way that doesn’t get anybody in trouble or offend.

  11. 14 James in LA
    September 29, 2009 at 16:25

    For clarification, there is no difference between “statutory rape” and “rape.” The basis of rape is sex without consent, regardless of the reason for that lack of consent. Us Californians have decided as a state that the age someone must be to consent to sexual intercourse is 18. In the eyes of the law, kids younger than this age are not of sufficient maturity to provide fully-informed consent. Sexual contact with someone younger than 18 in California is, yes, illegal (with some caveats).

    So when you say “I know that to many of you there is no difference in your mind between statutory rape (sex with a minor in California) and rape. However, legally, there is.” this isn’t exactly true. Both have committed a felony, and both must register as sex offenders (although there is a push to remove this requirement for statutory rape). Would you be more comfortable with the term “STATUTORY” rapist? The fact that the charge does not exist in the UK really is irrelevant, as the crime was committed in California.

    That being said, BBC world news is far more informative than most news programs in the US, and I thank you for this. I rarely miss it.

  12. 15 Tom D Ford
    September 29, 2009 at 16:43

    There was an article recently about people suing people for what they posted on the internet. I suspect that has gotten the BBC to tighten up their moderation practices. I would expect that other social networking type sites will tighten up also.

  13. 16 Dennis Junior
    September 29, 2009 at 17:04

    September 29, 2009 at 13:37 Contributor!!!!

    Yes, Joane I understand what you are taking about…But, the point is that he is in custody of the Swiss Authorities and; The United States authorities will have to do a extradition request to the Switzerland Justice System and the case: Could take a while to accept and/or reject the request…..

    ~Dennis Junior~

    • September 29, 2009 at 18:12

      True but do you really think they will reject behind the bank scandal? The so called hiding of assets. Now, I have a real problem with that one. What I have in my account, not in America, is none of your business. The Swiss have always operated this way and now, because we’re broke, America decides to ferret out the people taking advantage of the system?
      I think he should face the finalization of this case, long over do but I tend to wonder about California’s ulterior motives in conjunction with the US gov.
      My dad told me i should have been a lawyer. I have this thing about ‘smelly’ situations,not finding ‘conspiracy theories’ but adding 2 + 2 and coming up with more than 4.
      Another one of those things that make you go HMMMMMM!!!

  14. September 29, 2009 at 18:28

    actually, i laugh at the blind categorization of the term “Minor” and “Major”.

    I dont know about the background of the case you are referring to.. but my question is about categorizing of a people as minor/major.. are we slaves to the law? or we pragmatic enough to understand the situation as it is?

    Suppose, if a person rapes a girl, just one day before she becomes major, in what way will the court deals with it? How do the law explain this wierd situation?

    The rule of law has been one of the most abused system of this world.. because there is a law, there was a subversion.. and also, law should only be a guiding factor, and should not enslave humans..

  15. September 29, 2009 at 20:02

    One day before, on the day, the day after, 20 yrs after, 40 years, etc. It is a crime. A vicious Heinous crime. Use another word. THAT one means ‘crime.’ Against one’s will. When she/he said ‘NO’!!!! It is a crime. This is not a rule of law, that is in a text book to cover many things. This is a legal code, here, on the books like you cannot commit murder, you cannot steal. All have statues on the books for varying degrees of the infractions with which a person can be tried. It isn’t done. It is wrong. The slaves are the people, mostly men, who think it is perfectly fine to violate anyone or anything they please. Not true.
    To violate someone usually means you are less than a man(Usually the perp is a male) and this is the only way they can try to prove they are one.

  16. 20 James in LA
    September 29, 2009 at 20:57

    Senthil, as I mentioned in my post, there are caveats. However, as we are human and not animals, certainly if a person’s reputation and freedom on the line they can wait one day to have sex with a “minor.” Otherwise, they risk the judgement of the court. Simple. Law is not relative. It is absolute. However, if a law is unjust, then it is incumbent upon us to change it, and correct the wrongs it has inflicted. This is a moot point however. Few people would agree that there are extenuating circumstances involved when a 44-year-old man drugs and has sex with a 13-year-old girl. If the law protects my precious daughter from a similar fate, I’ll gladly enslave myself to it.

  17. 21 Eric Boysen
    September 30, 2009 at 14:53

    Maybe we should call Mr. Polanski a “statutist.”

    Even if you were to grant a 13-year-old full sexual license, if the allegations of the use of drugs to obtain the victim’s compliance are true, that would prevent the victim’s consent. Also, I understand that the victim in the Polanski case asked to be taken home, which does not sound like consent to me. Personally, I think that running out on sentencing should invalidate a plea deal and require reinstatement of the original charge.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: