Dying should not be a side effect of ‘sex’

Francisca Marquinez

Who was Francisca Marquinez? What we can garner from the evidence is that she was choked to death in October 2015. Beyond that, we know little about who she was.

The overwhelming theme of the messages I found through the online condolences book her family set up for her tell the story of a kind and caring woman. Marquinez was “a fun, outgoing and genuine person with positive energy.” She had an “infectious laugh and a beautiful spirit.” She worked for many years in the Human Resources sector and liked to dance merengue and salsa. Her niece Carla says her aunt was “a woman whose happiness shone through.” Yet no news outlet discussed the 60-year-old woman’s personality or life. The media was far more interested in talking about her murderer’s penis.

Marquinez was murdered by her boyfriend, 65-year-old Richard Henry Patterson, in Margate, Florida. Patterson was charged with second-degree murder in October 2015, but was found not guilty in May 2017. The ruling happened almost a year ago and yet there is still far more information available online about Patterson’s genitals than about the woman whose life he took.

The attorney for the accused argued that Marquinez had “accidentally” choked on Patterson’s penis during consensual oral sex. But in all likelihood, this murder was far more gruesome and far less titillating than it was portrayed. The case was referred to in the media as the “penis defense murder trial.” Instead of referring to an “asphyxiation defense” or the “suffocation defense,” the Sun Sentinel called it an “oral-sex defense,” thereby providing legitimacy to an implausible claim.

For Patterson’s defense to be plausible, Marquinez would have had to not realize her death was imminent. Associate Broward Medical Examiner Iouri Boiko, who conducted Marquinez’ autopsy, said that although it was not possible to confirm a cause of death due to the decomposition of the body when it was found by police, it is impossible for it to have been an accidental oral sex scenario. Marquinez would have had to remain absolutely passive while her airways were blocked for more than 30 seconds, until she lost consciousness. In reality, Boiko says, she would have kicked, bitten, or done something else to prevent the blocking of her airway, he explained in court. “It’s the normal reaction.” Even after those fatal 30 seconds, Patterson would have had to keep his erect penis blocking the throat of the unconscious woman for two to three minutes. Only then, after this ongoing blockage of her airway, would Marquinez have finally died.

Patterson waited several days before informing anyone of Marquinez’ death, allowing time for her body to decompose beyond the point where an autopsy could reveal causes of death. Eventually, he called his ex-girlfriend (not the police or an ambulance). During the trial, the jury was presented with a recording in which his ex-girlfriend asked, “Were you arguing?” Patterson replied, “Holly, it doesn’t matter what happened. I’m not telling you what happened because you don’t need to know. Period.” He texted his daughter, saying, “Your dad did something really bad last night,” and that he was “so, so sorry.” He also told his ex and daughter, “I choked Francisca (not, “she choked”). Because Patterson didn’t contact the police, it was his ex-girlfriend who decided to contact a lawyer to defend him in the inevitable trial that would ensue. All reasonable evidence incriminating Patterson was considered less relevant than the star of the trial: his penis.

Due to Patterson’s claim that the size of his penis was a factor in Marquinez’ death, he asked the court to view it as evidence. Assistant state attorney Peter Sapak considered this, asking: “Do we do it in the back? Do we do it in open court? How is the defendant going to be erect when the jury views it? Because a flaccid penis, whether it be a picture or the jury actually seeing it, is completely irrelevant. It needs to be erect.” Patterson’s defense said they were willing to provide a picture of his clients penis next to a tape measure and a frontal picture of Patterson’s naked body.

Patterson’s penis — not the fact that he killed a woman — was the big news story. The media framed the case in a way that would ensure the public read it as funny and titillating. “Massive penis man who claimed his girlfriend choked to death during oral sex is dramatically found NOT GUILTY of murder,” read one headline. Another read, “Murder suspect tries big-penis defense — and it might work.” This narrative — that a woman had consented to her own death — was believed by the media because it confirmed what we’re constantly told: that women enjoy and seek out the violence perpetrated against us, that sex and violence are interchangeable, and that no femicide is so cruel or harrowing that it is above being considered “consensual sex.”

To imagine that Francisca Marquinez likely fought for her life, as a man — someone she once loved — used his penis as a murder weapon is heartbreaking. Those 30 seconds when she was aware that she was going to die must have been terrifying. Why would a jury acquit a man of such a gruesome femicide? The answer to this question lies in porn culture.

In porn culture, there is no form of violence against women that patriarchy does not legitimize as a “kink.” In porn culture, causing harm to women is not only presented as arousing, but also as desired by women. A 25 billion dollar industry is not marginal — it represents that which permeates our culture’s sexual psyche. Even if we don’t personally consume pornography, the men we have sex with often do, meaning the sex we have is still shaped by porn, as is society’s understanding of gender roles in sex, more broadly.

Maree Crabbe, the coordinator of a violence prevention program called, “Reality & Risk: Pornography, young people, and sexuality,” writes in The Guardian,“Even if we don’t watch it ourselves, porn demands our attention because its prevalence, the nature of its content, and its impact make it a cultural influence we can’t afford to ignore.”

In porn, women are paid to pretend they genuinely enjoy whatever is done to them, even if they are in pain… Or perhaps, precisely because they are in pain. Porn performer Anthony Hardwood explained to Crabbe why the shift towards more aggression has come to dominate the industry and that there is financial incentive to sustain this trend:

“[The directors] wanted to get more energy, more rough. It’s like we want to kill the girl on set. You know, the customers love it. They buy the movies. They want the scene like this. You have to be very rough with the girl.”

A comprehensive study on pornography, published in 2010, found:

“Of the 304 scenes analyzed, 88.2 per cent contained physical aggression, principally spanking, gagging, and slapping, while 48.7 per cent of scenes contained verbal aggression, primarily name-calling. Perpetrators of aggression were usually male, whereas targets of aggression were overwhelmingly female. Targets most often showed pleasure or responded neutrally to the aggression.”

When porn is selling this violence and aggression as “sexy,” and the idea that women enjoy this torture, what impact does that have on society? If porn directors and male performers are degrading and abusing women on set, what makes us think viewers won’t emulate this behaviour?

Contrary to ideas popularized by liberal feminism (for example, that “consent” justifies everything and that all activities related to “sex” are potentially “empowering”), we cannot glamorize violence against women as “a sexy kink” on one hand, then act horrified when society follows suit. As Meghan Murphy writes, “No progressive person today would argue, for example, that if a black person ‘consents’ to slavery, slavery can be empowering or liberating.” Yet when it comes to women, no violent act is too repulsive, degrading, or vicious to be considered inexcusable, so long as there is “consent.”

“The last thing these two adults did together was oral sex. He thought that’s how she died,” Patterson’s lawyer said during the trial. “The humiliation of having to tell people was just too much for him.” In other words, a man who, during his trial, focused on trying to show his genitals to a jury, and used his alleged “big penis” as a defense against a murder charge, wanted this jury to believe he was too shy to call an ambulance or the police while Marquinez lay dying. And they believed him.

Tragically, this is not the first time that a jury has found it plausible for women to “consent” to being murdered in the name of sex.

In 2015, a 49-year-old man said that his 91-year-old neighbour had suffocated during a “sex game” in Porto, Portugal. His semen was found on her body and it was revealed in the autopsy that the woman had died from asphyxia. The woman’s body had “extensive genital injuries,” but the local newspaper called the woman’s death “a tragic accident.”

In 2011, Cindy Gladue, an Indigenous mother of three daughters, was murdered by a john who stabbed her in her vaginal canal, leaving a perforation that was more than 11 centimeters long. She did not die immediately. Gladue was placed in a bathtub where she bled to death after hours of agony. Her murderer, Bradley Barton, was found not guilty of first-degree murder in a trial wherein Gladue’s disjointed pelvis was physically shown to the jury. The jury preferred to believe that the fact she was a prostituted woman somehow justified her death and that being stabbed in the vagina could be “an accident” following “consensual sex.”

During the trial, it was revealed that Barton’s search history included pornography that sexualized violence against women. The judge described finding pornography depicting  “gaping vaginas and extreme penetration and torture,” but this evidence was not permitted in court because it was obtained unlawfully by the police. During trial, Barton’s defense argued that even though Gladue must have gone through “an awful final hour of her life,” the jury should not let that gruesome factor “poison” them against Barton. The jury agreed.

The harm caused when we glamorize and sexualize violence committed against women is serious. If there ever was a line separating violence against women on porn sets and violence against women off set, misogynist men are effectively erasing it.

Recently, porn actress Nikki Benz filed a suit alleging she was abused on set. While she had consented to working with a co-star, Ramon Nomar, on a particular shoot, the director, Tony T.  inserted himself in the scenes, as if he were an actor, participating in abusing Benz. She said she called “cut” several times, but was ignored, as Tony T. said to her, “Open your eyes bitch… Open your fucking eyes.” Water was poured on the walls and floor in order to cover up her blood. Benz’ suit explains: “[Tony T.] would film with one hand and choke Benz with the other hand. Nomar stomped on Benz’s head. Between Tony T. and Nomar, Benz was hit, slapped, choked, and thrown on the ground and against the wall.”

Benz is not alone in her experience. Porn performer Leigh Raven documented the abuse she experienced on set in March. And while we need to stop this abuse, we also need to address the broader impact of this imagery. Murphy writes:

“When the industry is creating porn specifically to show women being punished, women in pain from various sex positions or from being throat-fucked, women crying and vomiting from blow jobs, and women being demeaned verbally, in explicitly misogynist ways, it doesn’t only matter what is happening on set. It also matters that men around the world are masturbating to these scenes, these ideas, these words, and these images.”

We live in a world wherein the sexual desires of men are considered more important than the lives of women and girls. It will take decades to untangle and repair the damage that has been done to countless women and girls whose pain has been rebranded as pleasure and as harmless “kink.” But if we are the ones being humiliated, hurt, and tortured, whose kink is it? Whose pleasure is being entertained?

Amidst the salacious details, I’m haunted by the everlasting pain that remains with the families of these woman. While judges and juries let men off the hook for murdering women through so-called “consensual” sex acts, the families of these victims are left with a grim reality.

In the Chicago Tribune, Sharon Cohen writes:

“For more than four months, Ronggao Zhang has walked to his missing daughter’s apartment almost every day. At first, he stood outside, hoping she would show up one afternoon. But even after he was told she’d been kidnapped and was presumed dead, he’s continued his routine. ‘It brings peace and comfort to my heart,’ Zhang explained in Mandarin, through a translator.”

Zhang’s daughter is Yingying Zhang, a Chinese visiting scholar at the University of Illinous at Urbana-Champaign who was kidnapped and is believed to have been murdered by fellow student, Brendt Christensen. He has been charged with kidnapping resulting in death “in an especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner, in that it involved torture or serious physical abuse to the victim.” Christensen’s internet history showed that he searched “the perfect abduction fantasy” and “planning a kidnapping” on fetish sites.

For those who believe violence against women is legitimate fantasy or consensual role play, “accidental” death could be perceived as a fetish gone wrong. But to the family of every one of these women, it is a trauma that will never leave them. Zhang’s mother Lifeng Ye, said of her daughter’s kidnapping:

“We don’t know where she is, and I don’t know how to spend the rest of my life without my daughter. I can’t really sleep well at night. … I often dream of my daughter, and she’s right there with me. I want to ask the mother of the suspect, please talk to her son and ask him what he did to my daughter. Where is she now? I want to know the answer.”

How many women will lose their lives? How many more families will be destroyed? How much more pain and suffering must women endure in the name of male pleasure and entertainment? One woman is too many.

Raquel Rosario Sanchez

Raquel Rosario Sanchez is a writer from the Dominican Republic. Her utmost priority in her work and as a feminist is to end violence against girls and women. Her work has appeared in several print and digital publications both in English and Spanish, including: Feminist Current, El Grillo, La Replica, Tribuna Feminista, El Caribe and La Marea. You can follow her @8rosariosanchez where she rambles about feminism, politics, and poetry.