“He was charged with the atrocious crime of statuary rape.”

The pictures (not statues) this conjures up are strangely hilarious illustrations of futility.

I was going to ask, Who would the complainant be? But I have friends who are sculptors, and I’m pretty sure they would lodge strenuous complaints if someone had his will with their work. Yeats might say that accidental damage to a carved lapis-lazuli medallion is actually an addition to the design, but suspicious stains on a clay sculpture would be bound to corrupt, not enhance, the artist’s original intent. (Susan, do you want to weigh in on this?)

My student was writing about a case that involved different age-of-consent laws in Kansas and Nebraska, and a marriage that took place between a 22-year-old man and his pregnant 14-year-old girlfriend. The marriage was legal in Kansas (then); but after the couple had re-crossed into their home state of Nebraska and their baby had been born, the man was arrested for statutory rape, the infant as Exhibit 1.

  • “Statutory”: per definition in statute, or law.
  • “Statuary”: of a statue.

I think my student most likely was unfamiliar with the word “statute.” I suppose it does look a little funny, with those alternating ts. If “statute” was not in her vocabulary, then “statutory,” a word used several times on the fact-sheet students were to use as the basis for their essay, might not have registered correctly in her mind. (How she got through a college-prep program in high school without ever encountering the word “statute” is a matter for concern, but not for the current discussion.)

How, then, might she have gone on to write the word in her own draft? I’ve just done my little SpellCheck ritual in Microsoft Word: I typed in “statutory,” “statuory,” and “statutary.” The first option came back as correct (no surprise!). Both other options got the suggestions “statutory” and “statuary”—in that order: that is, for either of the misspellings, “statutory” was the first suggestion. I disabled Auto-correct a long time ago (if you type a lot of Middle or even Elizabethan English it drives you nuts!), but I would imagine that Auto-correct would insert the first of the choices, not a later one. So I must hold Word blameless in this sentence.

Ergo (argle), “statuary rape” is my student’s very own creation, and thus her very own  responsibility.

I’m not sure how many readers would agree with her that statuary rape is an “atrocious crime,” but I would assume we are all appalled to some extent.

It actually makes me think of Titus Andronicus‘ Lavinia and the Venus de Milo as flesh and marble versions of the same event (although I don’t have any evidence that Venus got that way because a couple of vicious brothers were trying to prevent her from accusing them of rape). Certainly statuary amputation in an effort to cover up statuary rape would be an atrocious crime.

Disarmed merely by accident, I trust.

The statutory age of consent in Kansas has since been raised a few years, by the way—after the case my students (and also The New York Times) wrote about drew public attention to that relic of frontier days. Statutory rape is, in the cases it’s designed to address, an atrocious crime indeed, robbing children of their childhood and indeed of their personhood to satisfy the desires of adults.

Statuary rape, while not illegal so far as I am able to determine, should also be considered a crime. The David may have stirred the blood and hormone levels of hundreds of thousands of young adolescents over time, but let us continue to keep him admired, desired, and unmolested.

“Practitioner of perverse sexual acts” should not be one of the meanings of “art lover.”

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About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

2 responses to ““He was charged with the atrocious crime of statuary rape.”

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