Quite a few people in my business have seen the response by syndicated advice columnist Amy Dickinson to a young woman in Virginia (my home state) who unfortunately wrote Ms. Dickinson late last month for guidance after she was raped at a fraternity party, but under circumstances that made her feel as if she was to blame (wholly or at least in part) for what happened.
Basically, “Victim? In Virginia” attended a fraternity party, drank some alcohol, and was then talked into going into a bedroom by the guy who eventually raped her. She made it clear to him that she didn’t want to have sex, and made him promise that he wouldn’t attempt sex with her.
An unwise move? Probably, but not necessarily inappropriate for the age and life experience this woman apparently had to work with, particularly under the fog of alcohol. Not surprisingly, once this rapist had her behind closed doors, all bets were off as far as he was concerned, and he raped her in a state of intoxication where she could scarcely figure out what was happening, let alone successfully resist.
Following this nightmare, “Victim?” reached out to Amy Dickinson. Ms. Dickinson might have meant well, but the cold fact is she displayed a dangerous lack of understanding as to the dynamics of non-stranger sexual assault in her answer, not to mention how to counsel and advise a survivor of such an experience. Her biggest missteps, in my view, were these:
1. She began her her response to this victim by chastising her for “awful judgment,” reminding her that, after all, going to a fraternity party and getting drunk is really inviting what Dickinson describes as the possibility of “engaging in unwise or unwanted sexual contact.”
It ought to be axiomatic that “unwise” and “unwanted” aren’t the same thing. Last I checked, after all, one does not “engage” in unwanted sexual contact any more than one “engages” in being robbed at knife point. Conflating these two things- unwise and unwanted sexual contact, exposes Dickinson’s bias against young women who make choices she finds repugnant.
2. She noted that the victim didn’t say whether or not her rapist was “also drunk.” Because, she says, “if so, his judgment was also impaired.”
I’m sorry, but I’m choking on this. It’s because frankly I know what I’m talking about, and a syndicated advice columnist clearly doesn’t. Rape doesn’t come out of a bottle, folks. Claiming that this guy’s alcohol impaired judgment somehow brought forth this act is akin to saying that a gun found on the sidewalk turned a normally law-abiding citizen into a rampaging murderer. Alcohol doesn’t create the desire to commit acts like rape. It only loosens the chains that might hold a sober rapist back for fear of taking the risk of something like getting caught. The guy who did this is a rapist. He was a rapist at .00 BAC, and he was a rapist at whatever level he obtained before he committed the act. (And incidentally, if he was truly so intoxicated as to be somehow delusional, he wouldn’t be able to obtain or maintain an erection and complete the act.)
3. Ms. Dickinson counsels the victim to seek out the truth of her victimization by involving ”the guy in question to determine what happened.” This is terrific. Involving the rapist- the guy who has already lied to this girl repeatedly and violated her- in determining “what happened” is not only futile but toxic. Dickinson appears to buy into the myth that accidents happen, boys will be boys, and drunken sex will sometimes look and feel a lot like rape even though it’s really no one’s fault.
Nonsense. Rape isn’t an accident, and there isn’t an accidental rapist lurking in every boy or man. Rather, good and recent research suggests that there are relatively few men who are capable of rape, but they do it over and over again. This truism is one that -finally- Ms. Dickinson recognizes when she notes “he might have done this before.” But she appears to believe that what he’s done or what he’ll do again is at least half the other party’s fault. And worse, that a good heart to heart with one of his victims might help avoid this kind of behavior in the future.
No, ma’am. A guy might be a dog. He might be a player. He might be a cad. But unless he’s a rapist, he’ll recognize terror, struggling, semi-consciousness and the simple word “no” (which this victim reports telling him many times) for what they are: Signs that, to quote Susan Serandon from Thelma and Louise, ”she ain’t having fun.” This guy ignored those signs, because unlike most guys, (and like all rapists) he doesn’t give a damn what his prey is feeling. What she wants, after all, really isn’t the point.
A great group of anti-sexual assault professionals I’m a member of called CounterQuo suggested that I write a response to the papers where she’s syndicated, and thankfully some very good editors at CQ toned it down and added some great points. If it makes some difference and serves to educate Ms. Dickinson, we’ll have done a day’s work. BTW, check out CounterQuo- we’re changing the conversation.