Mary Mitchell Credit: Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Back in my college dorm there was a joke I heard told more than once with misogynistic relish. It’s the one about the rich older gentleman who meets a beautiful young woman at a party and takes her aside.  

“You’re stunning,” he says. “I’ll give you $10,000 if you’ll sleep with me.” She gives it a moment’s thought and accepts. “That’s wonderful,” he says. “But let’s make it $5 instead.”

“What do you think I am!” she snarls. “Some hooker?”

“We’ve established that,” he says. “Now we’re negotiating the price.”

Why did I think of this old story when I read Mary Mitchell’s Sunday column in the Sun-Times? I suppose it’s because they are similarly contemptuous. 

Mitchell wrote about a prostitute who showed up at a man’s home expecting to sell sex for $180. Instead she was raped at gunpoint. Remarkably, the woman went to the police and the man was arrested and charged with aggravated criminal sexual assault. 

“It’s tough to see this unidentified prostitute as a victim,” Mitchell wrote. “And because this incident is being charged as a criminal sexual assault—when it’s actually more like theft of services—it minimizes the act of rape.”

If unwilling sex at gunpoint isn’t rape, what is? Rape, Mitchell said, is what recently happened to a suburban woman who was sexually assaulted and stabbed repeatedly by an armed intruder in her home. But if rape is all those things and only those things—a break-in, a weapon, massive injuries—rape has virtually been defined out of existence. 

Imagine the defendant in this case, instead of being held on $750,000 bail—which is what happened—making whatever trivial bail a theft-of-services charge would require and going home to advertise for another prostitute. Next time, maybe he uses the pistol on her. And the time after that . . . ?

Every once in a while the media bring us a familiar story. Somewhere in America, or maybe it’s Mexico, women start to disappear. Just two months ago, Michael Johnson of Chicago’s far south side, already in prison for beating and raping a prostitute, was convicted of murdering a young woman; three other murder charges remained pending. 

There may be some irony in a man being charged with rape for having forcible sex with someone who showed up at his door to have sex with him. I think Mitchell was flummoxed by this irony. But there’s irony in a lot of things, and it’s no reason to shrug off a violent crime.