Exploiting female voters' fear of rape

Is Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Kerry Healey's new ad cautionary, or scaremongering?

Published October 20, 2006 1:50PM (EDT)

There are certain issues typically relied on by politicians to snag the female vote: reproductive rights, domestic violence and education. Then there's the tack used by Republican Kerry Healey in Massachusetts' gubernatorial race: Drawing on women's fear of being raped in a shadowy parking garage. The candidate -- currently serving as lieutenant governor alongside pro-zygotist Gov. Mitt Romney -- has aimed to steal a chunk of female votes from Democratic opponent Deval Patrick with what critics call a "nasty" new television ad, the Associated Press reports.

The spot shows a woman walking to her car in a parking lot so dimly lit the camera even appears to employ a dramatic green-hued night-vision-like setting. When she gets to her car the woman tenses as though someone -- an attacker, presumably -- is there. We hear a female voice-over: "If anyone you knew actually praised a convicted rapist, what would you think? Deval Patrick did." Then we're shown a snippet of Patrick calling convicted rapist Benjamin LaGuer "eloquent" and "thoughtful."

The ad seems to have struck a genuine nerve -- or else Patrick's camp is awfully good at swiftly producing outraged viewers on short notice. "We are appalled. We are disturbed. We are disgusted," Democratic state Sen. Marian Walsh told the Globe. "For many of us it is the ugliest, nasty, most disturbing commercial we have ever heard or seen." Some deemed the ad sensationalistic and unforgivably misinformed. "Her ad is yet more pandering to the stereotype of sexual predators and who women should fear when it comes to rape, which is not a bunch of strangers lurking in dark parking lots," said Mary Lauby, executive director of Jane Doe Inc., an anti-domestic-violence organization. "It is not strangers jumping out of bushes."

It's true that the minority -- an estimated 26 percent -- of sexual assaults are committed by a stranger. Also true, though, is that Patrick heeded LaGuer's claims of innocence and called for his parole; Patrick also donated funds to have a DNA test conducted to exonerate LaGuer, according to the Boston Herald. When a DNA test confirmed LaGuer's guilt, the politician did some vigorous backpedaling and rescinded his support. It was an astronomical, potentially career-ending goof, in which Patrick bought into a rapist's claims of innocence and an unfair trial. (It's worth noting that some other big names did, too, including Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel.)

Healey's ad employs a strain of anti-intellectual, alarmist thinking I'd expect from, say, an episode of "Oprah." It's also tasteless, exploitative and disingenuously protective. Unfortunately, there are no obvious winners in this particular ad battle. But if Healey was hoping to distract from the real campaign issues, she seems to have succeeded, at least for now.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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