Sexual Violence Legal News Online
Commonwealth v. Roy Dumas, Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Worcester
Nature of the case:
Rape of a child, rape and indecent assault and battery.
Facts and Issues on Appeal:
The defendant raped and sexually assaulted the victim multiple times over the span of a year. The victim was either fifteen or sixteen years old at this time. The victim held devout religious beliefs which included the notion that the spirits of her ancestors watched her and could harm her if she misbehaved. The defendant told the victim his sexual abuse was a “test” that her ancestors needed him to perform and that if she did not submit to his demands, she and her family would be harmed or punished. The defendant had full knowledge of her beliefs and used this threat of harm to continue the rapes and keep the victim quiet. He was convicted on multiple charges of rape and filed an appeal.
On appeal, the defendant made two arguments. First he argued that the victim’s uncertainty of her age at the time of the crimes was insufficient to show she was under the age of consent for the rape of a child conviction. Second he argued that there was insufficient evidence of force to sustain the rape convictions. The court disagreed, reasoning as follows:
Ruling & Rationale:
First, the victim’s uncertainty of her age at the time of the crimes was not, in itself, insufficient to prove that she was under the age of consent. Rather, her expression of uncertainty was for the jury to use in determining the weight of the evidence on the issue of the victim's age. Therefore the jury could conclude that she was under the age of consent in spite of her uncertainty.
Second, the evidence was sufficient to prove the element of force because force need not be physical and can consist of express or implied threats. Here, the defendant knew of the victim’s religious beliefs and used that knowledge, as well as his position of authority over the victim, to cause her to submit to his actions out of fear that she and her family would suffer harm and be punished by the spirits of her ancestors if she refused his demands. The rapes would not have occurred but for the victim’s “reasonable” fear of harm if she did not submit.
Most states' adult rape laws require the prosecution to prove force in addition to penetration and lack of consent. While force is not required to prove child rape, the use of force against a minor victim can lead to tougher charges and longer punishments. Because the requirement of force undermines law's protection of autonomy and bodily integrity, advocates in many states are actively lobbying legislatures to abolish the requirement of force as a baseline definition of adult rape. This case is a good example of another way concerns about the difficulty of proving the element of force can be addressed in the judicial branch of government.
By relying on cases such as this one, advocates and prosecutors can argue in favor of broader judicial interpretations of force such that constructive and nonphysical exertions of power and authority are sufficient.
Prosecutors in particular should proactively use this case to advance the idea that force should be determined by the relative powerlessness of the victim in every sense of the term including: physical, psychological, intellectual, sociological, age and position of authority.
The facts in this case emphasize the victim’s unique religious beliefs, which can affect both children and adults, especially in certain communities. That the perpetrator's threat regarding retribution from the victim's ancestors could not have come to fruition is of no consequence. In other words, the fact that a victim's fear may be objectively unreasonable is irrelevant.
This case can be used to help define force to the advantage of vulnerable populations where cultural and religious beliefs may be leading women and children not only to submit to rape, but also to remain silent in the aftermath.
Submitted By: Katherine Ramsey -- Law Student
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