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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Advice Column of Shame: On Perpetuating Rape Culture

Dear Emily Yoffe,

If a woman does not consent to having sex and has sex, she is a victim of rape. It does not matter if she was biting, kicking and screaming, or if she was too drunk. It's really quite simple. A woman giving consent equals consensual sex. A woman not giving consent equals non-consensual sex. Non-consensual sex equals rape. That's it.

...

You all know Dear Prudence. What would you think the advice given on this question would be?

"Friend Has Revised One-Night Stand Story:A friend recently called me and said she had a one-night stand after drinking too much. She was beating herself up over drinking too much and going home with a guy she met at a bar. I reassured her that everyone makes mistakes and didn't think much more of the account. However, since then, she has told many people that she was a victim of date-rape—that the guy must have put something into her drink . She spoke to a rape crisis line, and they said even if she was drunk, she couldn't have given consent so she was a victim of rape. She now wants to press charges—she has the guy's business card. I have seen her very intoxicated on previous occasions, to the point she doesn't remember anything the next day. I'm not sure on what my response should be at this point. Pretend she never told me the original story?"

I know that I expected Yoffe to tell this reader to support her friend, listen, offer sympathy and help where she could, and let her false, and frankly catty, assumptions go. I expected a litany of reasons why alcohol should not be used as a way to force shame upon anyone. I thought Yoffe, acting as Prudence, would soothe the friend while setting her straight about what rape really is and offer words of wisdom to help buoy women up. I thought she'd tell the reader that it's not her friend's fault and that the friend had every right to proceed as she felt best.

Wrong.

Instead, she starts like this:

"Trying to ruin someone else's life is a poor way to address one's alcohol and self-control problems."

I admit, that's as far as I got last night. I had to stop so I wouldn't throw my computer across the room. (I would then, of course, blame the computer for breaking itself, since the computer was the reason I saw such angering content. That's how this works, right, Prudence?)

"Trying to ruin someone else's life..."

First, why should this woman care about this man's life? He raped her. Secondly, he ruined his own life when he took advantage of her. So, what Yoffe is basically saying here is that not only is it the woman's fault she had sex without giving consent, the blame will also fall on her shoulders should something bad befall this man due to his actions toward her. That's a lot of blame. I guess it's not enough to be "asking for it," anymore, huh? Now, as victims, we also have to be wary of inconveniencing our aggressors due to our piddly trauma over the event. We need to be sensitive to aggressors' needs. After all, they didn't ask to be prosecuted. We wouldn't want to do anything without their consent, now, would we?

"a poor way to address one's alcohol and self-control problems."

If she only had some self-control, none of this would be an issue. If she'd only had some self-control, she wouldn't have gotten raped. Obviously. Her alcohol problems are the reason she was raped and now she's going to vindictively ruin some poor innocent man's life just because she likes whiskey and can't keep her legs shut.

You asshole.

Why don't we correct this a bit? If he only had some self-control, none of this would be an issue. It is not the woman's fault that someone raped her. I don't care if she's "knee-walking drunk." I don't care if she's blacked out. It's not her fault.

Then, Yoffe manages to get even more insulting.

"Since her first version of the story is that she was ashamed of her behavior, and since you have seen her knee-walking drunk on other occasions, it sounds as if she wants to punish the guy at the bar for her own poor choices."

First of all, her "first" version of the story and her "second" version of the story are the same story. Nothing about her story changed, other than her waking up to the fact that what happened wasn't her fault, a notion her "friend" would do well to keep in mind. I cannot see one bit of difference in the woman's stories. In the first she's ashamed of herself. And that's better, Prudence, somehow? And because she has been brought up in this culture of rape, because she has been brought up to take the blame in a situation as unfortunate as this one, she should be reminded that her first reaction was to blame herself? She should then be blamed by others? Her wrong view of the situation somehow taints the events, making it even more her fault? What if she'd come out the gate not being ashamed? That would have made a difference. That's bullshit.

And what does it matter how often she gets drunk? It still doesn't give any guy at any bar right to have sex with her if she cannot give consent. Would it be better or worse if she never got drunk but had that one night? I don't care if this woman wakes up drunk, takes three shots of vodka for breakfast and drinks nothing but beer for the rest of the day until she wakes up to do it again the next morning. It's still not her fault she was raped.

Her own poor choices? Where did she choose to have sex with this person? Nowhere, that's the point. Choosing to get drunk at a bar is now an offense rightfully punished by rape? Whether or not getting that drunk is a poor choice, it doesn't equal should-be-raped-and-shut-up-about-it. In fact, getting drunk has nothing to do with having sex.

"Yes, I agree that men should not have sex with drunk women they don't know."

Apparently you don't, actually.

"But I think cases like the one you are describing here—in the absence of any evidence she was drugged—where someone voluntarily goes home with a stranger in order to have a sexual encounter makes it that much harder for women who are assaulted to bring charges."


Well, isn't that a pretty load of assumptions. How do you know she was going home with a stranger in order to have a sexual encounter? They could have been going back to his place to bake cookies for all you know. And more importantly, it doesn't matter if she did intend to have sex with him. Here's a novel concept: people can change their minds. Women can decide no at any point, at any time. Ask Herman Cain.

If you decide at 8 p.m. that you want a cookie, then you bake cookies, then when they're done at 9 p.m. you decide you don't want one, you can do that. Minds can change. You do not set your path in stone with just one decision.

"makes it that much harder for women who are assaulted to bring charges." 

You know what makes it harder for women who are assaulted to bring charges forward? This column. All the people who think this way. The culture that makes a woman ashamed to begin with. The culture that tells her it's her fault, no matter what the circumstance. People like you telling her she deserved to be raped. That's what makes it hard for people to bring charges forward.

"Talk to your friend. Tell her that she needs to think very long and hard about filing a criminal complaint against this guy if there's any way her behavior could be construed to be consensual. Say you understand her shame, but you're concerned about her drinking, and if she addresses that, she won't find herself in such painful situations."

This paragraph, in fact, is why women find it hard to bring charges forward. Why don't you leave it alone, Prudence, and let the court decide what's consensual and what's not?

And "say you understand her shame?" I'm barely able to type now. She has nothing to be ashamed of. (I'm going to use caps, watch me.)

SHE HAS NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED OF.

(I feel better.)

Her shame is the result of columnists like you, of the world we live in where getting drunk equals deserving rape.

If she addresses her drinking she won't find herself in such painful situations.

If she addresses her drinking she won't find herself in such painful situations.

If she addresses her drinking, she won't deserve to be raped and we can all rally behind her. Is that what I just heard you say?

And how is this parenting related? I have two girls. If anyone ever tells me my kids got raped because of their bad decisions, I will most likely go to jail after my bad decision to beat the shit out of that person. And then I'll tell the person, no, you had it coming. You're not a victim of my fists. When you opened your yap to blame my girls for something that was not their fault, you made a poor choice, and you were punished for that choice. Think very carefully about your actions, and maybe you won't find yourself in such painful situations.

For the full column, visit Slate.

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10 comments:

  1. BRAVO, Darlena. This is an amazing response. I can't even get into "Prudence"'s response without throwing up all over my computer and foaming at the mouth, so I will just say again how strongly I agree with you and what an articulate, fantastic job you did writing about this.

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  2. I myself have been a victim of rape, not involving alcohol or drugs in any fashion.

    I very much appreciate your article on this. It describes very well the feelings that I felt and why I didn't come forward for many years. Too many people think like "Prudence".

    Thank you.

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  3. Devil's Advocate here: What if a woman and her husband both get drunk together and they have sex, even though technically the woman wasn't in a state of mind to consent? Let's say maybe she couldn't even really remember it in the morning. Was it rape?

    And if they got drunk together, the man couldn't consent either. Who was raped? Were they both raped?

    What if the next morning the husband told the woman they had sex, and she didn't care in the least and wasn't upset? Was she still raped?

    Just curious.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I had a friend who repeatedly got herself into situations like this, and although she never claimed to be raped, under your definition she was. She had really low self-esteem and was always throwing herself at guys at bars who she would take home, and then she'd have huge regrets in the morning. It happened at least 4 times during the summer we were roommates. We talked honestly about what she was doing to put herself in these situations, but it didn't seem to change anything. I had started out with a really strong negative opinion of guys who take advantage of drunk women, but was left feeling that women have some personal responsibility to kept themselves safe and my friend wasn't making safe choices. The guys were scumbags, but my friend should have been more careful.

    ReplyDelete
  5. This, THIS is F***ing awesome! I am reposting this on FB and my blog.

    "Devil's Advocate here: What if a woman and her husband both get drunk together and they have sex, even though technically the woman wasn't in a state of mind to consent? Let's say maybe she couldn't even really remember it in the morning. Was it rape?

    And if they got drunk together, the man couldn't consent either. Who was raped? Were they both raped?"

    Yep, they raped each other. Once this was established, they probably would drop charges anyway, or else they'd both go to jail. But frankly, people wouldn't be silly enough to charge if they knew they were both culpable for the same act for the same reasons. So...not really a dilemma actually.

    "What if the next morning the husband told the woman they had sex, and she didn't care in the least and wasn't upset? Was she still raped?"

    Yep, she was. This also wouldn't make it in court though, since she wouldn't press charges, so ALSO not a dilemma.

    "I had started out with a really strong negative opinion of guys who take advantage of drunk women, but was left feeling that women have some personal responsibility to kept themselves safe and my friend wasn't making safe choices. The guys were scumbags, but my friend should have been more careful."

    There is a HUGE difference between saying women should take care of themselves and women deserve to be raped based on their actions. Men are not mindless sexually addicted robots, folks. THEY are still fully culpable for taking advantage of a woman who does not fully consent. Men have a choice about whether to rape or not, REGARDLESS of the actions of women.

    Your friends PERHAPS could've avoided rape if she had acted differently. But this really doesn't matter, because the rapes could've most DEFINITELY been prevented (and subsequent rapes of different women) if those men had CHOSEN not to rape. Your friend is not in ANY way to blame for her rape. Only rapists are culpable for rape.

    Seriously, you should hear yourselves. You're making excuses for rapists...

    ReplyDelete
  6. Jill pretty much covered it, but yes. This blog is based on a situation where the woman in question wanted to press charges, even thinking she may have been drugged. She did not give consent.

    In the case of a husband or wife, yes, you can be raped by someone you've married. Consent is a time-by-time basis unless other arrangements between the two parties have been made, but like Jill said, it's probably a moot point where charges are concerned.

    I would personally like to err on the side of the victim, as a man (or woman) could probably just go ahead and wait until their partner could give consent.

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  7. "I would personally like to err on the side of the victim, as a man (or woman) could probably just go ahead and wait until their partner could give consent."

    Not to go all extremist on you but lets follow that thought through shall we. Worst case scenario here, because really the only reason anyone has an issue with the view of 'if she was in any way inebriated or had her judgement potentially impaired, she said no' mentality is to protect men from being wrongfully accused of rape.

    Woman goes to a bar. Has a couple of drinks but isn't drunk and throws herself at a guy, invites him back to her place, is obviously a consenting party and then wakes up the next day and calls the police on charges of rape. Just for fun.

    In a culture where a woman could seriously post a response like the one Prudence Yoffe did about a woman who didn't give consent, how do we not live in a world where we can say 'you know what buddy, that'll teach you for having sex with someone you didn't know very well' to the guy wrongfully accused? Women should be responsible for making safe choices and protecting themselves (which I think is not a bad idea on principle, but should not and does not in any way infer that somehow it's her fault if she didn't) but men are not responsible for ONLY having sex with someone they know for a certainty wants to have sex with them and isn't going to try to put them in jail for rape?

    Am I the only one who thinks that's crazy?

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  8. I would think that it's not really an easy thing for a woman to bring those types of charges to court. The system (at least here) does not make it easy. She'll have to testify against him, she'll have to have her ducks in a row and back up to prove it. She'll get backlash from society, in particular anyone who knows the man. It would not be a walk in the park for her to do this.

    It would be much easier for her to be like, 'welp, I was an idiot, and I won't do that again.' The victim in question went so far as to tell her friend that she thinks she might have been drugged. It affected her deeply enough for her to seek counseling on the issue. She's clearly given this a lot of thought and time on her end and she is prepared to go forward. Charging someone with rape isn't like getting free candy. It's tough to do.

    And I stand by the statement that any sex, without consent is non-consensual sex and any non-consensual sex is rape.

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  9. Sorry Dar I'm new to the world of blog comments, and forget that quoting someone means you're debating their point.

    I meant to use your point as the starting point for mine, not make a counter argument.

    Put more simply I think we should always err on the side of the victim. Because, for all the excellent reasons you stated, the likelihood of a woman victim-blaming the man is small, but even if you take it to that extreme......

    then read from paragraph 3 onwards and it makes more sense :)

    Main point being to Yoffe: how can you possibly say 'VICTIMS should have taken responsibility for themselves' and not also at least say 'CULPRITS should be responsible for making absolutely sure they're not going to end up being CULPRITS'

    ReplyDelete

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