Maine Republican 1st District Congressional hopeful Ed Thelander speaks at a lobstermen's rally on the Portland waterfront on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

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Susan Young is the Bangor Daily News opinion editor.

I’m generally not a fan of rules, however unofficial, about what can and cannot be said. However, there are a few comparisons that just shouldn’t be made. For example, very little compares to the Holocaust. Unless you are talking about events where millions of people were systematically murdered because of their religion, ethnicity, or other defining characteristic, don’t say it is just like the Holocaust.

Rape is a violent crime, mostly perpetuated against women. Because allegations of rape are too often not taken seriously by law enforcement and others, it is one of the most underreported crimes in the U.S.

One in six women have been raped in their lifetimes, leaving them with emotional – and sometimes physical – scars that will never fully heal.

Child rape is even worse.

So, when Ed Thelander, who is seeking to represent Maine’s 1st Congressional District,  compared regulations on Maine’s lobster industry to rape, specifically child rape, I was horrified. Sure, new restrictions that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has put on the table are extreme, but to compare them to the violent sexual assault of women and children is way out of bounds.

“NOAA wants to rape you and your family, and they are saying pick a child,” Thelander said at a rally in Portland in support of Maine’s lobster on Wednesday.

“You don’t negotiate with a rapist, and that’s what’s happening,” Thelander added, saying he had negotiated a lot in his time with the Navy.

Later on Wednesday, during a televised debate with Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree, when asked about them, Thelander said: “My comments were over the top and I apologize for that.” But, he added, he’s passionate about the issue and the people involved.

Comparing regulations – even ones that are poorly developed – to rape is not only hyperbolic, but also offensive, so Thelander’s apology was appropriate, but he should have offered it earlier without being asked about his comments late in the debate.

Beyond being offensive, comparing government regulations to rape, which Thelander is far from the first politician to do, minimizes the harm done by actual rape.

“But ‘rape’ is not a colorful substitute for something that’s feels unpleasant or exploitative. Rape has a very specific meaning,” Prachi Gupta, wrote for Cosmopolitan in 2016, citing the FBI definition of the crime. “And like rape jokes that mock victims and make light of a violent crime, these comments that use it to mean something else almost always betray a lack of understanding and empathy around sexual assault and further trivialize a crime that’s already so overlooked in society.”

Simply put, if you’re not talking about actual rape – and its life-altering consequences – don’t talk about rape.

As for being passionate about lobstering and its regulation, there are lots of reasons to be frustrated with NOAA and the increasingly stringent rules it has placed on lobster harvesting. The rules are meant to protect North Atlantic right whales, which are an endangered species.

The problem is that there is not sufficient data on the interaction of the whales and lobster gear. Too many right whales are dying, most often from collisions with boats. But, some are getting entangled with fishing gear, both off the coast of Canada and the U.S., as well. According to NOAA data, however, it is often unclear where this gear comes from and, lobstermen point out, a right whale has not been known to be entangled in lobster gear for nearly 20 years.

So, the basic question is why stronger regulations, which likely mean allowing less rope in the water and putting more areas off-limits to lobster harvesting for parts of the year, are needed when it is unclear that whales are currently getting entangled in lobster gear.

This is a somewhat complicated question that can only be answered through more assessments and data analysis.

This work is essential, and frankly, overdue.

But, it is nothing like a violent sexual assault.

We need to have difficult discussions about some really complex topics. We can and must do this without resorting to vile and inappropriate comparisons to horrific crimes.

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Susan Young

Susan Young is the opinion editor at the Bangor Daily News. She has worked for the BDN for over 25 years as a reporter and editor.