Ohio Supreme Court Narrows Standard for Rape in Case Involving 2-Year-Old

An Ohio woman's conviction of raping her son has been overturned following the state Supreme Court's decision to narrow the definition of rape.

The decision has enraged victims' advocates who say the court did not care about the long-term impact the abuse may have on the child. The case has sparked outrage leading people to question what this ruling means for future child sex abuse victims.

Miranda Smith, 30, was charged with raping her 2-year-old son in 2019 even though she did not sexually penetrate him, but had her son penetrate her. Rape and sexual assault cases have been infamously difficult for suspect arraignment as prosecutors have a high burden of proof to convince a judge or jury a crime happened beyond a reasonable doubt.

Smith pleaded no contest to multiple sexual offenses but argued that she did not technically rape her son. She did not deny that she instructed the 2-year-old to vaginally penetrate her with a sex toy and that she filmed the act and sent it to her boyfriend. She was initially sentenced to 10 years to life.

Smith's attorney, Max Hersch of the Ohio Public Defender's Office, argued that Smith was guilty of gross sexual imposition under state law, but not rape.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the definition of rape is "the penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim."

Justice Patrick F. Fischer wrote, "Smith argues that there was insufficient evidence to support her conviction because there is a legally significant distinction between engaging in sexual conduct with another and causing another to engage in sexual conduct. Given the plain and unambiguous statutory text, we agree."

Since Smith did not penetrate the boy, her conviction was overturned.

Court gavel
An Ohio woman's conviction of raping her 2-year-old son has been overturned following the Ohio Supreme Court's decision to narrow the definition of rape. Getty Images

The Ohio Supreme Court's unanimous February 2 decision determined that "although [Smith's] actions were grounds for a charge of gross sexual imposition, they technically do not constitute rape as defined by state law," according to Dan Trevas of Court News Ohio. "A conviction for rape requires evidence that the accused inserted a body part or object into another person, not that the accused compelled another to insert a body part or object into the accused."

The court agreed with Smith's argument about the legal distinction, and ruled that the court could modify its judgment to reflect that Smith is guilty of gross sexual imposition without scheduling another trial. The lesser offense of gross sexual imposition could reduce Smith's sentencing.

Amy Dudley, the director of YWCA Dayton's Center for Survivors of Sexual Violence said the fact that child sex crime survivors' trauma affects far into their adulthood, and may cause more issues than the initial abuse.

"If we can say that a 2-year-old was complicit in (Smith's) sexual conduct, what does that say for older survivors?" Dudley said to the Ohio Capital Journal.

More people took to Twitter after Smith's conviction was overturned, upset with the justices' decision.

User @RoverMack argued that the child was still subjugated to sexual assault.

"So the question remains. Why would anyone in CPS consider the lesser charge justified for the victim," he wrote. "A two year old is still a victim of sexual assault. Disgusting ruling Ohio judge. Again, no accountability in biased courts."

Another user argued that forcing someone to commit a sexual act on another person should be considered rape, especially when children are involved.

"Disgusting. Because the 2 year old was coerced into doing whatever the act was to the women, it could not have been considered rape of a child, but gross sexual imposition. Are you kidding me? She filmed it and sent it via her phone to her boyfriend. Was this her own child," @SaysDana wrote.

Newsweek has reached out to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center for comment.