Ashley Madison vs. Jared Fogle: Rape, Sex and Hacking in America

Ashley Madison, Jared Fogle, sex, rape, sexual affairs

We should be asking ourselves why so many consider adultery—which is not a crime—to be similar to a crime such as rape?  Why are we so concerned about the actions, online or off, of our neighbors?  Do we want our lives to be like episodes of The Real Housewives of Fill-In-Your-Town-Here?

The sexual proclivities of both public and private Americans are on display in two concurrent sensational headline stories.  The first involves former Subway spokesperson Jared Fogle’s personal perverse proclivities.  The second, being the hacking of adult meeting site Ashley Madison, and the exposing of names from that hack, including 19 Kids and Counting pariah Josh Duggar.

Many people see both of these as troubling, but here’s the thing: one involves the exploitation of minors, the other involves exposing contact information of private citizens involved in consensual relationships. Yet the media seem to be taking the former far lighter than the latter.  Let’s look at some of the details….

Fogle took a plea bargain where he accepted responsibility for having child porn on his computer and for having sex with several minor girls.  There is no way to re-phrase the term “child porn” but the actual incidents of sex with minors is being characterized as “underage sex” rather than rape or sexual assault.

What, then, do we actually mean by the term “underage sex.”  The implications of the term are that one or both parties in the act was under the age of consent.  Yet the true, legal term for which Fogle is charged is “illicit sexual contact” which is “any commercial sex act with a person under 18 years of age.”  Essentially, Jared Fogle, that trusty, benign family man pitching a healthy lifestyle through sandwich eating, was, through the Internet, searching, bargaining, procuring and paying for sex with minors under the age of 18.

That’s a whole lot more sleazy than the term “underage sex” implies.  Thus, using that term to describe what Fogle did minimizes a criminal act that includes trafficking.  That is far, far uglier than even the term “statutory rape”—also another term for “underage sex.”

The charges go on to state that Fogle went beyond procuring child prostitutes – that he desired to have sex with minors who weren’t child prostitutes, and mentioned this desire to adult women. Why might he do something like that?  For some sort of vicarious thrill or oddly prideful boast?  If he had not been arrested, how long might it have been before Fogle took advantage of his position as a trusted public figure to persuade/pressure some young audience member to have sex with him?  A girl may have gone to Fogle’s room believing herself to be special, and left that room degraded and violated.

And that, my friends, would indeed be far, far worse than “underage sex,” wouldn’t you say?

The second story that seems to be soliciting as many snickers as gasps is the revealing of names obtained by hacking the Ashley Madison adult meeting site.  The ways in which the public are reacting to the hacking is disproportionate to the umbrage taking over the reason for the Ashely Madison site’s existence.

To set the record straight, Ashley Madison is not the only website that facilitates meeting someone for the purposes of “cheating” or “adultery” or “extra-marital affairs.”  There are many sites that allow people to meet for this purpose, along with ones that range from sucking someone’s toes to meeting for coffee.  Whatever one wants to find, there is a site that will facilitate that meeting.  Ashley Madison however was open about its purpose—strictly for extra-marital affairs—and as such, didn’t jumble the straying spouse in among the kinksters, singles, or the polyamourous.  It helped seekers cut to the chase (to use a term.)

Yet the general public treats those seeking extra-marital affairs as if they are Jared Fogle, who has committed actual crimes.  By getting caught up in self-righteous hypocritical anger over the names revealed, the public overlooks the initial criminal act of hacking, which has far more dangerous implications to the public than someone wanting to cheat on his or her spouse.

Think about it: hacking the Ashley Madison site doesn’t just mean that anything we put on line is public info (another oversimplification of the crime.)  It means that hackers could, if desired, get past the cyber security of other companies that may have sensitive information about our health or financial status or anything else that is put “on computers” every day.  The more we as individuals and companies are encouraged to use “the cloud”—which is really a collection of servers hosted on someone else’s physical site—the more vulnerable we are to having our personal lives hacked and the information given to persons who might compromise our ability to gain employment or loans or health insurance.

We use the Internet for far, far more than just hanging around and meeting potential partners for adulterous trysts. Yet, we ignore that reality and the need to protect our truly private information for our own convenience and give a collective “oh, well” when it happens.

For a moment though, let’s consider those potential and actual “cheaters.”  Why should we care about who they are?  Why should we be concerned about whether or not Mr. and Mrs. Whitebread have decided to have an open marriage, or if Mr. Whitebread  wants to have a fling with someone who isn’t his secretary?  Why should we be concerned if Mrs. Whitebread is polyamourous and her husband doesn’t care (or is polyamourous, or bisexual, or likes to suck on women’s toes?)

Why should we care what people negotiate or not in their marriages?

Some might be thinking “Oh, if I were married, I’d surely be checking to see if my husband’s name is on that list.” All I can say to that is, if that’s what you’re thinking, your marriage is probably in trouble with or without Ashley Madison.

More importantly we should be asking ourselves why so many consider adultery—a consensual act that, while still a crime in some states, generally isn’t prosecuted anymore—similar to the violent and non-consensual crime of rape?  Why so we allow ourselves to be uber-focused on the salacious actions, online or off, of our neighbors? Do we really want our lives to be like episodes of The Real Housewives of Fill-In-Your-Town-Here?

None of us can really understand what goes on in the heads of people who decide to “cheat,” unless we have been in the position ourselves at one time or another.  None of us can attest to why anyone else’s marriage fails, with or without adultery.  What goes down in a marriage is between the people in that marriage, and by publishing the names of Ashley Madison clients, the hackers pried into the marriages of many people it had no right to pry into, simply for the perverse pleasure of making a whole lot of people suspicious of their partners and potentially putting the jobs of many private citizens on the line for a non-crime.

Thus the actual crime of hacking into Ashley Madison’s servers is, in some ways, as sadistic and twisted a crime as Jared Fogle watching child porn and having sex with child prostitutes.  Let’s stop conflating and confusing concepts and be clear about what crimes are committed when they are committed.

Fogle Federal Court papers can be found via the Indianapolis Star.

Tish Grier is a writer and longtime blogger living in Easthampton, MA.  Even at middle-age, Tish is still a girly girl who enjoys blogging about fashion and beauty.  She also writes essays about her formerly dysfunctional life and wants to let everyone know that things change.  You can read her at High Fashion Average Woman. Tish is also a contributor to Midcentury/Modern on Medium.

Image via Wikimedia Commons/Mike DelGuadio/CC License

 

  • http://www.danaseilhan.com Dana

    I don’t think people consider adultery just as bad as rape. They barely think rape is a big deal. I think they’re angry because adultery requires lying and putting your non-cheating partner at risk of STDs and potentially the shunting off of resources if you wind up with a child-support case. I don’t think those are invalid things to be angry about.

    It ISN’T really a “relationship between consenting adults”. If you’re married or partnered and fooling around then you’re dragging someone along with you who never consented to what’s happening.

    If YOU are into that sort of thing, wonderful I guess, and it’d be nice if you’d reveal your identity so that future prospective husbands are warned. If you have an open marriage that’s a different matter and not adultery as long as you’re abiding by the rules of your relationship. And that’s another thing that bothers me about the adultery question, “poly” people identify way too much with it. Makes me wonder if you really believe half the crap you spew about “multiple loves”. I don’t think I have ever met a poly person who didn’t act for all the world like they felt guilty about it.

  • A J MacDonald Jr

    homosexuals have equality but adulterers don’t?

  • Mr_Gone2Rio

    The general public can’t distinguish between sex with minors and adultery? The press goes light on the Jared story but is outraged by the Ashley Madison cheaters? Where’s your evidence for these contentions?

    This column seems intent on grinding some axe against monogamy. Fine. If you think people should be able to have affairs without moral rebuke, more power to you. But the distorted reasoning you’re trying to advance here isn’t making much of a case for your position.

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