Writer to Rape Victims: Sometimes, It’s “Too Late to Say No”
As long as we're all airing our half-baked theories about why rape happens, Kathryn Holmquist has got an idea: Rape happens because girls think they can say "no" whenever they want. According to Holmquist, the date rape problem begins with girls who want to get physical—girls who deliberately drink, flirt, and engage in "deep kissing" in the club—and then don't want to have sex. She writes:
When the action moves to the uncontrolled environment of a car, a park or a private home, the rules blur. When a boy goes "too far", this is date rape. It can be devastating, with the girl feeling betrayed and no longer trusting her own instincts. She may live with the emotional pain of it for years. And all because she believed that it's never too late to say no.
Well, that's an interesting approach. Personally, I would think that telling boys and girls that they must respect their sex partners' stated boundaries, no matter what, would help us all avoid rapes. Remember: Rape is sex without a person's consent. A reasonable person would argue that the problem here is the person who forces a non-consenting person into sex. According to Holmquist, the real problem is the person who refuses to consent to the raping:
The worst advice you could possibly give would be to tell her that she can always say no, even when she is no longer in control. Girls, just like boys, need to be told about the likely consequences of their actions.
To Holmquist, telling girls that they can't say no after they've crossed an arbitrary purity line—after they've gotten into the car, kissed too deeply, wore too short of a skirt, had one too many drinks—will encourage girls to remain completely chaste until they're ready to go all the way. While this theory would do absolutely nothing to prevent rape, it would help reduce reported rapes: If we adopt Holmquist's logic, girls who are sexually violated will no longer recognize their experience as rape, because they've been told that even the most modest of sexual activities—kissing!!—implies consent to the kitchen sink.
This is not to say that "ladies" don't get date-raped. Nor am I saying that girls who behave in a certain way deserve what they get. What I am saying is that girls, if they want to act like boys—getting drunk and being sexually predatory—have to understand that a boy, if he is that way inclined, may take advantage. And boys, for their own protection, need to understand that a drunk girl who he thinks wants sex, may turn around the next day and accuse him of rape. Both are responsible for this tragedy.
Actually, boys can get a valuable heads-up on that rape accusation a lot earlier if "drunk girls" are simply allowed to verbalize their lack of consent before the rape happens. And girls are a lot more likely to escape from an unwanted sexual situation if they're not robbed of the only recourse they've got. As LiveJournal user nacbrie points out, saying "no" is often the only way that victims can "opt out" of a given sexual scenario, on account of the physical and cultural power imbalances that are generally at play in rape. So as long as we're holding girls responsible for their own rapes, can Kathryn Holmquist be held accountable for some tragedy, as well? Because anyone who thinks that the best strategy for reducing rape statistics is to make young girls complicit in their own rapes is a tragic figure indeed.