I nearly spat my Starbuck’s apple cider on my computer screen when I read a recent update in the NY Post about a North Carolina woman, Cynthia Shackelford, who had successfully sued her husband’s mistress for $9 million due to the “severe emotional distress” triggered by the affair with her husband. Really? We’re suing mistresses now? I remember a few weeks back when the blogs were having a field day with rumors of Fantasia being sued by the wife of her alleged boyfriend. The sites kept citing “criminal conversion,” an old-fashioned law that never left the books in North Carolina (Fanny’s hometown), and six other states. The law allows wives to sue their own husband’s mistresses, and in order to win the suit, the wife must prove that she was validly married and that her husband had sex with the accused. I thought all the talk about going after mistresses was unlikely blog chatter. Um, I guess not. My initial reaction was probably like many people’s: “What’s his mistress got to do with you?” As much as we like to say, “she should have respected my vows!” The other woman didn’t take any vows. Your husband did. Blaming the mistress follows an all too disturbing pattern that lots of women exhibit, which is to blame the other woman while overlooking the man who’s at the center of your drama. If anyone inflicted emotional distress, wasn’t it the man who stood up in a church, or at least before a judge, some family and friends, and vowed to be true? But then I slept on it. And this morning on the train to work I rolled the idea around in my head. Perhaps part of the reason adultery is so rampant (allegedly half of married men cheat, according to published reports) is that there aren’t any real repercussions for the mistress. Cheating men live under the threat of divorce, a huge financial and emotional loss, but the mistress, at most might get some harassing phone calls from the wife, maybe cry to Nina Simone’s “The Other Woman” and suffer a little emotional distress from the man who keeps promising to leave his wife, but never does. That’s pretty minor in comparison to what a wife goes through, no? I mean, we’re talking a wrecked marriage, stress on the kids, health concerns, financial losses for whatever he’s spending on his mistress, etc. What real incentive, other than moral outrage, The Golden Rule, and karma (admittedly, that combination is what keeps me away far, far, away from married men) is there to keep a woman from a married man? The other woman still doesn’t owe the wife a thing, but perhaps if there was an added detriment to being a jump-off, less women would be inclined to become one. Or at least that was what Shackelford had in mind. She told the Post she hoped the ruling would deter other would-be mistresses of married men and encourage people to respect the sanctity of marriage. Do you think being able to sue a mistress will do that? Discuss. Read more:
Demetria L. Lucas is ESSENCE’s Relationships Editor and the author of ABelleInBrooklyn.com, where she muses daily on dating and relationships. Follow her on Twitter at @abelleinbk
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