Is every unwanted blowjob rape?

“This case is a little different,” the lawyer told me.

Two or three times a year I’m asked to be an expert witness in state or federal court. The request usually comes from an attorney defending someone the government has accused of breaking one of our many laws about sex.

So it wasn’t unusual when Richard Corey (names and details have been changed; the story is absolutely true) contacted me several months ago. I had worked with the Detroit attorney on two previous cases, and we respected each other.

“This case is a little different,” he said. “An 18-year-old man has accused a 72-year-old man—a long-time friend of the family—of giving him a blowjob he didn’t want. The older man’s been arrested for sexual assault.”

The facts, in brief:
* It was in the younger man’s bedroom, with his mother downstairs;
* The younger man does not claim there was any coercion or threats;
* The younger man was texting his girlfriend at the time, and said nothing to her;
* The younger man did nothing physically to push away or interrupt the blowjob;
* Other than handshakes, there was no previous physical contact between the two men;
* The older man has been married to his wife for 40 years.

The younger man (“Kevin”) is unemployed and lives with his mother, who is on disability. The older man (“Baron”) is a well-to-do landlord who has periodically helped them financially. There’s nothing romantic between the older man and the mother.

When Kevin complained to his mother about the blowjob, she encouraged him to call the police, who took it seriously and completed a rape kit. They called in Baron, who at first denied the sexual contact. When the DNA swab showed otherwise, Baron acknowledged the contact and called his attorney.

The State painted Baron as a pedophile (although Kevin is an adult) who had been “grooming” Kevin for years. All Baron’s previous help for this family? A long-term plot to get to Kevin. All Baron’s non-touch of Kevin all these years? A sinister ploy to gain Kevin’s trust. Kevin’s failure to mention the blowjob while he was texting? Kevin was in shock. The failure of a physically normal 18-year-old to try to push away an old man? Kevin was simply paralyzed by shock.

Baron’s lawyer recited the facts: no resistance from Kevin, no threats from Baron; letting Baron leave without confronting him upstairs or in front of his mom; no history (and no allegation) of Baron mistreating anyone, particularly any child, his entire life.

Ah, said the prosecutor, those predators are clever. They don’t necessarily leave any trail of evidence whatsoever! They often behave just like normal people until the moment of (alleged) assault! And the climax of their argument: He denied sexual contact with the young man until confronted by the evidence!

Enter the sex expert—me. Thirty-five thousand hours of therapy with men, women, and couples, specializing in sexuality. Doctoral work, research, and publication in sociology.

Called by defense attorney Richard Corey, I answered questions for over an hour: Why might a married, conservative Republican man deny sexual contact with a younger man that had obviously happened? Why might a heterosexual young man call consensual sex with a man assault? How do sexual misunderstandings happen, and how frequently? How can we distinguish an unexpected blowjob with an 18-year-old from a pedophile’s years-long campaign of “grooming” a boy?

The government cross-examined me—first by challenging my credibility (Do we really need a big-shot expert to tell us about sex?), then by challenging my facts (Do we really know actual facts about sexual behavior or motivation?), and as a bonus, my actual profession (C’mon, sociology isn’t a real science, is it? And sexology—that’s mostly just teaching people about orgasms, right?).

As I answered each question, Baron’s life hung in the balance.

This being America, Corey didn’t have to prove that Baron was innocent; the government had to prove Baron was guilty. Guilty of assaulting an 18-year-old man in his own bedroom with a blowjob the younger man didn’t want, and was somehow unable to interrupt, even while he texted his girlfriend and his mother sat downstairs.

And the jury was so instructed: they weren’t being asked to decide what happened. They weren’t being asked if Baron was predatory or stupid or selfish, or gay or unfaithful or twisted. Each of the 12 people on the jury was being asked if the government had proven that Baron had harmed Kevin by giving him a blowjob he didn’t want, and which Baron knew (or should have known) that Kevin didn’t want.

This being America, the rules change when the subject is sex. We expect people to say “I don’t want that mortgage” or “I’m allergic to penicillin.” We don’t require people to say “I don’t want that blowjob,” even when there is no danger of violence, no danger of losing employment, no danger of social media blackmail. They can claim the sex was unwanted afterwards. And in this particular case, they can claim that an unwanted, non-coercive blowjob in the comfort of your own home is a horribly damaging event.

And so the jury of twelve adults, taking their responsibility seriously, weighed the evidence and deliberated. And they found Baron guilty of sexual assault.

Baron was released to tidy up his affairs pending the Court’s decision about his punishment. The State could have punished him with lifetime probation, with community service, or with five years of psychotherapy.

They also could have required him to register as a Sex Offender for 2, 5, 10 years, or the rest of his life. In that case he would have had to move out of his house (two blocks from a school), and would have been prohibited from attending Church when Sunday School was in session—even though his crime had nothing to do with children.

In actual fact—and I am NOT making this up—the State could have decided to invoke its indeterminate sentencing option, meaning he could have been sent to jail for the rest of his life.

That outcome did seem unlikely—although entirely possible. Because very few people expected a jury of twelve adults to find a 72-year-old man guilty of raping an 18-year-old man with an unwanted blowjob while the younger man was texting his girlfriend and his mother sat downstairs. But they did.

Baron’s sentencing was scheduled for the afternoon of Thursday, May 25. I don’t know what he was thinking when he awoke that day, but he already knew that the life he had been living was over. The only question was whether he wanted the life that the State was about to create for him.

He answered the question by shooting himself in the head that morning.

And that’s who I’m thinking about this Memorial Day.

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