The Power of Words In a Vile Assault
235 Pinelawn, Melville, NY 11747-4250
By Ellis Henican
Words arent just words, of course. They signify all kinds of complex meanings.
And lately, Matt Foreman has been finding himself at war with one especially meaning-laden
word. The word is sodomy.
That word, like the assorted adult acts it has come to signify, is everywhere in New
York this week, which is not to say that sodomy ever truly takes a holiday around here.
But ever since the Abner Louima police-torture case began, the S-word has been tumbling
off the lips - and through the gritted teeth - of decent people all over town. I used the
word in this very space two weeks ago to describe what Officer Justin Volpe is accused of.
And look, there it was again yesterday, right on Newsdays front page: "Cop
Testifies: Volpe Admitted Sodomy."
Which does not please Matt Foreman one bit.
"Sodomy," he said yesterday in an eye-rolling tone of voice.
Oh, Foremans not a prude or a religious zealot. Nothing like that.
In fact, he has been fighting in the gay-rights trenches for a couple of decades now.
He used to run a group called the Gay & Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, battling
bashers from inside and outside the gay community. Back then, he even helped to write the
lesson plan for the Police Academy, teaching new cops how to deal sensibly with gays.
These days, Foreman directs an outfit called Empire State Pride Agenda, which has its
offices on Hudson Street in Manhattan and advocates for the rights of lesbians and gays.
"Louima was not sodomy," he said. "People have a hard time saying what
is alleged to have happened. So they use this euphemism, this word `sodomy, as a
catch-all for anything, I presume, that has to do with the anus. Lets just call this
what it was, a sexual assault, forcing an object up someones rectum."
OK, now is probably a pretty good time for our underage readers to turn the page. We
have a great comics section in this newspaper you kids might like to turn to. Things will
get even harsher right here.
Yes, language is a powerful thing. And it is still not possible, this far into the
Louima case, to type the words "forcing an object up . . ." and not feel some
kind of shudder.
But in New Yorks gay community, the case is echoing in yet another disturbing
way. Just remember the defense Volpes lawyer offered up in his opening statement at
the trial: That the Haitian immigrant was injured having consensual gay sex.
"I dont mean to be flip about this," Foreman said. "But if gay sex
was really producing these kinds of injuries, wed all be dead. Or every emergency
room would be filled with men writhing in agony. It is preposterous the evil stuff that
gets connected to that one potent word,sodomy.
"In other forms of assault," Foreman continued, "you say what happened:
`He was hit in the head with a bat. Why are people so squeamish this time?"
It fact, what is alleged to have happened to Abner Louima really isnt sodomy at
all. Not according to New York law. The other day, Foreman went to the trouble of digging
out the relevant sections of the states penal law. Section 130 defines the crime of
sodomy as "deviate sexual intercourse." That, in turn, is defined as conduct
between persons not married to each other consisting of contact involving the genitals and
the mouth or other orifices. No mention anywhere of broken broom handles.
And unless some even wilder surprises come out of the federal courthouse in Brooklyn,
nobody is alleged to have "sodomized" Louima.
The closest crime under the law would seem to be first-degree aggravated sexual abuse:
"When he inserts a foreign object into the . . . rectum of another person causing
physical injury to such person: by forcible compulsion."
And yet the S-word keeps being used, abused and twisted.
But whats so new about that?
Said Foreman: "Laws against sodomy have been used for centuries to execute, burn
at the stake, hang and torture gay men and lesbians."
And the Bible is often cited as a justification.
"People reach back into the Bible for the sin of sodomy. Why was Sodom destroyed?
Most biblical scholars now think it had nothing whatsoever to do with `sodomy, men
having relations with other men. That wasnt even the point of that story."
The point, he said, had to do with the people of Sodom being inhospitable to strangers
"Really," Matt Foreman said, "if you read the analysis, the so-called
sodomy is a very minor part of it. Of course, if you want to go after something, you can
find anything in the Bible."
Its not so difficult, really.
Just look for the words, carefully chosen words.
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