Dear Joe,

(Edit: this post is a response to an opinion piece by Sen. Joe Benning which was posted today on VTDigger.)

As a lawyer, I’d expect you to have a better grasp of the details of grammatical meaning – since knowing those details is such an important element of legal work.

Despoil: To steal or violently remove valuable or attractive possessions from; plunder: “a church despoiled of its icons.”

Senator Benning is trying to excuse his callous use of the word “rape” in reference to the Lowell wind project by insisting that he meant something other than what he said, while helpfully implying that victims of violent assault have no right to feel offended at his word choice.

Rape: “The act or an instance of robbing or despoiling: violent seizure.”

But, see, “despoiling” and “spoiling” have two vastly different meanings – violence is not part of “spoiling.”

If he feels that the wind project spoiled the area, he should say so. But, the Lowell mountain wind project was a development project that followed the laws of the state. The project owners bought land, filed the paperwork, did studies, and built their project – just like every hotel developer, condo developer, strip mall developer, etc. in the state.

If this project were a hotel or a mall, the project would have required the exact same types of work – blasting out ledge, building a road, etc. The only difference between this kind of project and a more typical development is that (a) it won’t involve dozens of cars per day trekking up the mountain to buy cheap crap from China, to slide down snow on little sticks while decked out in the latest winter fashions, or to roll little white balls into cups and (b), it doesn’t involve acre upon acre of impermeable paved surface that will result in massive water runoff issues.

I do not believe I’ve ever heard Senator Benning, or any other elected official refer to more conventional building projects – with higher impact on their local environments – using the same offensive language, so I have to wonder if the Senator’s hyperbolic “concern” is more for the environment, or for the Senator’s personal sense of aesthetics.

To make things worse, Senator Benning has decided that, since he’s worked with people who have been raped, he has the right to throw the word around casually (after condescendingly insisting that the word isn’t really what it is, because the law currently uses another, broader, term), without concern for those who might find the word used in a casual manner to be hurtful – such as, say, rape victims suffering from PTSD.

Ms. Barnes, as a lawyer I’m well aware of the impacts of “sexual assault,” the term that long ago replaced the word “rape” in our criminal statutes. I represented one of the first altar boy plaintiffs molested by a priest. I’ve lost count of the number of sexual assault victims I’ve represented in juvenile and divorce proceedings. I’ve served on the Caledonia County Task Force on Domestic Violence and as chair of Vermont’s Human Rights Commission.

Senator, that’s no different from a person using an ethnic slur because they know someone from the ethnic category. (Would you claim that your community has been “gypped” out of the financial benefits of the project, Sir?)

I’m not insensitive to the tragedy of sexual assault, but raping a pristine ecosystem has nothing to do with sexual assault.

Senator, your are correct that putting up windmills has nothing to do with sexual assault – which is why comparing the windmills to sexual assault (aka: rape) is so offensive to those who have suffered deep and lasting trauma.

Ask the victims who are out here, reading your remarks – seeing their experiences belittled by comparison to a construction project – whether you are being insensitive. I’d wager many will answer a resounding yes. Some will even say your remarks, and your defense thereof, are deeply offensive.

You may have learned this in law school, but perhaps not, so I’ll provide a gentle reminder: the offender does not get to decide on behalf of the “offendee” whether or not something was offensive.

Claiming “I was only [being hyperbolic/joking/using words for effect/etc.]” doesn’t fly.

With all due respect, your demand for an apology is unwarranted.

I love the use of “with all due respect.” Nice touch.

For those not “in the know” – that particular turn of phrase is used to give the speaker an “out” for being disrespectful. It’s frequently used by subordinates in the military to insinuate a complete lack of respect for the superior to whom the phrase is uttered – since the subordinate does not feel any respect is due. The superior, however, cannot punish the subordinate for insubordination, since he/she cannot prove the intent behind the word “due.”

Thank you Senator, your message has been received: you neither respect us, nor care about any pain you may have caused.  

8 thoughts on “Dear Joe,

  1. If our elected representatives would refrain from perpetuating “rape culture.”

    Men, we have a crucial role to play in this. We benefit from male privilege every moment of every day. We may not ask for it, but it’s there. So let’s use it to confront rape-supportive behavior, rape jokes and rape culture whenever we can. Let’s listen when we’re told we’ve done something that inadvertently supports rape culture, rather than getting defensive.

  2. … is that there’s a difference between the dictionary definition of a word, and the word’s impact on people.

    “Rape” is one of the most fraught words in the language. First and foremost, it refers to a violent, traumatic crime perpetrated almost exclusively against women by men. Therefore, men have a responsibility to be extremely careful when deploying the word in political contexts. Indeed, they’re better off avoiding the word entirely.

    And “Clueless Joe” still doesn’t get it.  

  3. Comment to op-ed:

    Second, one blogger for a Dem-leaning site refers to many opponents of Big Wind as the “Tin-foil Hat Brigade.” This, of course, is an allusion to insanity and schizophrenia. I consider this guy’s comments sophomoric, adolescent and manifestly more objectionable that Sen. Benning’s use of “rape.”

    Campaign against those who support wind development now takes it to a personal level. And, he is also wrong. Attempting to make the case that the mentally ill are being dissed here is a huge laugh & belies the real issue of intolerance of blogger(s) who simply have a difference of opinion & who use the tools of sarcasm & lampooning which have been used from day 1 in newspapers as well. Although originally there may have been individuals of questionable sanity who started the tradition, it is now assigned to those who continue the tradition in the political arena who do nor wear hats & who’s sanity is not an issue.


    This stereotype is popular in pop culture, with tin foil hats making appearances in movies such as Signs and Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder.

    Windy Joe sez:

    She has demanded an apology using an official party press release. Her press release mirrored an earlier blog essay, written by an anonymous blogger who seeks relevance through savagery with acerbic wit.

    Savagery??? Please.

  4. and hysteria-laden rantings are just that. Windy Joe continues to swiftly make his rounds of the op-ed sections in the news cycles. Now it’s in BFP.


    So those “anonymous” faceless bloggers achieve new fame at the hands of the candyass crybabies for the high crimes and misdemeanors of messing with the antiwind claque & having the audacity to call it as it is.  

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