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Tuesday, June 05, 2007
 
An Ironic Twist on the Allison Stokke Controversy

About a week ago, a controversy erupted around Allison Stokke, an 18-year-old high school high school senior and one the top female pole vaulters in the country, who happens to be a very attractive young woman. In early May, the blog With Leather posted photos and commented on Allison being an attractive young woman and an outstanding athlete (in that order). He initially removed the photos in response to requests and/or demands from the Stokke family.

But by then, the photos (and the story) were out there and Allison was being bombarded with much unwanted attention: including interview requests, phone calls, staring strangers, etc. The family fought back by sitting for an article in the Washington Post, in which they complained about being "steamrolled" by the wave of attention. And the headline, "Teen Tests Internet's Lewd Track Record," captures the family's narrative: evil internets sports blogs opening their daughter's life up to the world. Of course, the idea of objecting to the wave of publicity surrounding Allison by talking about it in the # 2 paper in the country (and including photographs of Allison with the story) struck many as a questionable strategy. And With Leather responded by insisting that what makes Allison of interest is the same thing that makes Maria Sharapova of interest: She is attractive and she also is very good at what she does, so this is not mere objectification of a woman (draw your own conclusion about that).

The Post story included this statement:

Her father, Allan Stokke, comes home from his job as a lawyer and searches the Internet. He reads message boards and tries to pick out potential stalkers. "We're keeping a watchful eye," Allan Stokke said. "We have to be smart and deal with it the best we can. It's not something that you can just make go away."
Now here is where irony can be pretty ironic, from Ann Friedman at Feministing and Ann Bartow of PrawfsBlawg. Allan Stokke is a criminal defense attorney who has defended men accused of sex crimes specifically by attacking (as he often must) the scope of legal protection that should be afforded the female victim. According to various reports, in one case, Stokke defended one of several teen-agers accused of gang-raping an unconscious 16-year-old girl, in part by arguing that she could not feel physical pain during the attack because she was unconscious. In another case, he successfully defended an Irvine, California police officer who masturbated on a woman during a traffic stop, in part by arguing that the woman, a nude dancer and an "overtly sexual person," "got what she wanted." (The City of Irvine apparently had a different view of the case and settled the woman's civil action for $ 400,000, a substantial amount of money for civil rights actions not involving bodily injury).

My focus here is the irony. Allan Stokke has explicitly pushed an understanding of how the law should treat women (or, at least, certain women) in certain situations. But that view does not apply when the woman in question is his daughter. And he is pushing this different view as to his daughter with respect to conduct (posting photographs and comments without her consent) that is almost certainly constitutionally protected and, in any event, is an order-of-magnitude less severe than the conduct he has defended in the courtroom. I assume, for example, he would not accept the argument that his daughter "got what she wanted" by being an attractive and successful female athlete who should be in the public spotlight. Nor would he accept that his daughter suffered no harm because she did not know who was looking at photos of her on the internet.

I am not suggesting that Allan Stokke should not have made the legal arguments he did; he must use all ethical and appropriate means to zealously defend his clients (although I am not sure how the "overtly sexual person" argument got through under California's rape shield rule). But I am suggesting that such arguments instantiate views in law and society that have broad effects. And those effects often come home to roost.

I am (as those on my mass e-mail list and those who walk past my office well know) the father of a 17-month-old daughter. And I hope my daughter grows up to be a smart, attractive, athletically gifted young woman (much depends on whether she is fortunate enough to take after her mother). I hope I behave towards all the woman I encounter in life (students, colleagues, friends) the way I hope my daughter will be treated throughout her life. And I recognize that the way I behave towards those woman now goes a long way to establishing how law and society will treat my daughter 20 years from now.

(PS: The photograph at right appeared with the Post story and thus, presumably, is one to which the Stokke family does not object).





5 Comments:

Allan Stokke is also quoted in an OC Register article (I corrected a typo in the below quote)

"Defense attorney Al Stokke, pleading on Friday for Judge Richard Toohey to sentence teacher Sarah Bench-Salorioto only three years in prison, made the same argument for leniency I would have: "Where was she when I was 13?"

Stokke, to be fair, wasn't quoting his own feelings (necessarily), but was summing up what he says are studies of the impact on victims of female-on-male molestations. However crude the statement, that is the prevailing sentiment, Stokke was saying.

While men who molest minors use coercion, the typical young male who is seduced by an older woman looks forward to the encounters, helps plan them, even brags about them."


It does seem like the writer of the article picked Stokke's most outlandish quote, but, to me at least, this does appear to indicate what kind of lawyer he is in the courtroom.

I'd like some commentary on this, as I'm not a lawyer, but his statement above (without reading a more full transcript) seems to either be an attempt to obfuscate the gravity of his client's crime or a very poor attempt at a joke (a kind of "wink-wink, nudge-nudge" to the judge). Perhaps it's both?

Blogger Satchmo -- 6/05/2007 2:55 PM  


Howard, I'm wondering if we're just seeing Mr. Stokke confront issues in a way he's never been privy to before. Enlightenment is never a bad thing. And yet I share your concern that the Post route is not the best way to dampen publicity, and in fact seems to be hounding it.

And Satchmo, you don't have to be a lawyer to see the nudge-nudge in that statement. Sexual abuse of children--no matter the gender--is no laughing matter.

Blogger gorjus -- 6/05/2007 3:38 PM  


Howard,

Thanks for the excellent post, as well as the sensitive comments at the end.

What you call irony I think Ann Bartow and I would consider hypocrisy. I do not mean to discredit Al Stokke for zealously protecting his daughter. I would do the same.

But I do wish that the WaPost had been more zealous in their own journalism. Perhaps the author thought that by disclosing the ironic flip-side, sympathy for Ms. Stokke would be diluted. But I hope that this experience has made him more conscious about the effect of his arguments on the community of women and victims of sexual assault--a community that includes his daughter.

Anonymous Dana Nguyen -- 6/05/2007 8:59 PM  


Dana:

I avoided using the word "hypocrisy" here because it is a loaded term that does not necessarily apply. The reality is that attorneys make many arguments on behalf of their clients that they do not adhere to (and need not adhere to) in their personal lives (this is, by the way, similar to the arguments that both John Roberts and Samuel Alito made to distance themselves from some of their more conservative pre-bench advocacy during their respective SCOTUS Confirmations). By talking instead about irony, I was trying to take Stokke's personal beliefs and ideas out of the mix and just focus on the consequences of what he has done professionally on the personal.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 6/05/2007 10:41 PM  


"THE TRUTH ABOUT THE ALLISON STOKKE PHENOMENON" - March 31, 2008

(ALL PEOPLE IN AGREEMENT, PLEASE FORWARD AND POST THIS POSTING AT YOUR WILL ON ALL SITES REGARDING MISS STOKKE)

I had not heard about Allison Stokke or the internet fame she has attracted until today. I was actually searching online for information about another person named Allison and I stumbled across many of the websites, pages of blogs, TV interviews, pictures etc about this young woman.

I have spent most of the day reading about the whole sensation and the attention her, her family and boyfriend have endured and I would like to make reiterate some of the remarks I have read and bring up some new food for thought - things I have thought about a lot in American society that have not really been mentioned in any of the things I have read regarding Allison Stokke's phenomenon.

All in all, let me just say that this whole thing is a huge testimony to the statement I have not heard anyone refer to, and that is:

"THE DUMBING DOWN OF AMERICA"

I'm sure we all agree that the internet is now a dangerous place. It is a place where people we never see or meet can hide in the privacy of their own homes and comment on, post pictures of, watch videos of and truly affect the lives of people they may or may not know. I think these people need to:

"GET A LIFE"

It is clear and evident that Allison Stokke is a beautiful young woman with much talent. It is sick that all these people have made her into a sex symbol online without her consent and have created this phenomenon.

"DON'T YOU BLOGGERS AND ONLINE TIME WASTERS HAVE ANYTHING BETTER OR REMOTELY CONSTRUCTIVE TO DO WITH YOUR LIVES? AND IF THIS IS IT, YOU ARE A POOR EXCUSE FOR A HUMAN BEING".

Does seeing an attractive girl in athletic attire really make you want to go ahead and ruin people's lives because it turns you on that much? And if you are turned on that much, you've probably had very little experience with women of any kind.

Furthermore, your comment and websites about whether or not her boyfriend is a 'douchebag' is even more appalling. You are all

'OBVIOUSLY JEALOUS"

to the point that you'd spend your life trying to ruin her boyfriend too. You do not know her boyfriend and you do not know her. You idiots should no better than to

"JUDGE A BOOK BY IT'S COVER"

I'm sure she is a very nice young woman and I'm sure she has much better judgement about people and her boyfriend than you lonely computer geeks and internet bloggers ever will.

"I WOULD LOVE TO SEE YOU GUYS POST YOUR OWN PICTURE WHEN YOU WRITE THIS STUFF - BUT WE KNOW YOU WON'T BECAUSE YOU'RE COWARDS".

If Amanda Beard wants to pose nude for Playboy let her. Leave this young girl alone. If Allison Stokke one day decided to pose for Playboy too, then we are all terrible judges of character, but we know that won't happen.

"HER AGE HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH ANY OF THIS"

I have read on many pages, that if Allison was in her 20s or older, none of this would be a problem.

"THAT IS GARBAGE"

Stop and think what kind of harassment the internet, media and you blogging idiots give movie actors, models and celebrities. America has become used to bringing down celebrities and posting pics, videos and comments about women and men we see in movies. Paparazzi is a HUGE problem in America and in Hollywood etc, don't bring all that into the life of a young and talented high school girl from California...

"AS HUMANS WE HATE TO BE MADE FUN OF - REMEMBER HOW IT FEELS TO PICKED ON A T SCHOOL OR WORK BY A FELLOW STUDENT OR CO-WORKER? WELL TIMES THAT BY A MILLION AND YOU MIGHT BEGIN TO UNDERSTAND HOW ALLISON AND HER FAMILY FEEL".

America is in the age of celebrity scandals, stolen sex tapes, celebrity madness and worship, internet porn, anonymous blogging etc etc etc.

To all you perverted, sick and lifeless internet bloggers and Allison Stokke sickos:

"DO SOMETHING CONSTRUCTIVE OR SOMETHING THAT WILL HELP OTHER PEOPLE LIVES - BETTER STILL GET A LIFE OF YOUR OWN-

YOU GUYS ARE ABSOLUTELY PATHETIC"..

Anonymous Anonymous -- 3/31/2008 3:24 PM  


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