The Sexist

Don’t Know If You Were Raped? Ask Your Rapist!

On Friday, "Ask Amy"* advice columnist Amy Dickinson fielded a query from a woman with an ominous pseudonym: "Victim? In Virginia." (Thanks to commenter CC for the tip).

"Victim?" wanted to know: Was I raped?

Amy responded with a laundry list of victim-blaming cliches—and one original piece of very bad advice. At column's end, Amy suggests that the "Victim?" consult another source on the rape question: her rapist.

But before we get to the advice, let's see why our "Victim?" insists on tacking a question mark at the end of her moniker. Take it away, Victim?:

DEAR AMY —

I recently attended a frat party, got drunk and made some bad decisions. I let a guy take me to "his" room because he promised that he wouldn't do anything I wasn't comfortable with. Many times, I clearly said I didn't want to have sex, and he promised to my face that he wouldn't.

Then he quickly proceeded to go against what he "promised." I was shocked, and maybe being intoxicated made my reaction time a bit slow in realizing what was happening. We were soon kicked out of the room by the guy who lived there, who was pretty angry.

I guess my question is, if I wasn't kicking and fighting him off, is it still rape? I feel like calling it that is a bit extreme, but I haven't felt the same since it happened. Am I a victim?

— VICTIM? IN VIRGINIA

Victim?-Blaming Cliche #1: Amy starts off the column with the hope that Victim?'s story will be held up as an example . . . of how stupid she was!

DEAR VICTIM?: First of all, thank you. I hope your letter will be posted on college bulletin boards everywhere.

Were you a victim? Yes.

First, you were a victim of your own awful judgment.

Don't Listen to Her: Amy is gearing up to dole out some super, super bad advice. But she's already convinced this column is a keeper.

Victim?-Blaming Cliche #2: Some think that a "rapist" "rapes" you; Amy prefers to frame the dynamic as the victim "engaging" in "unwanted sexual conduct."

Getting drunk at a frat house is a hazardous choice for anyone to make because of the risk (some might say a likelihood) that you will engage in unwise or unwanted sexual contact.

Don't Listen to Her: By her own admission, "Victim?" already thinks that she made some bad decisions. She is so totally aware of all of the terrible choices she has made that she lists them all out for everyone to criticize—she attended a frat party, got drunk, went to his room, believed him, couldn't fight back—and then plainly admits that her actions were "bad decisions"! Amy doesn't need to help this woman finally realize that she fucked up; she needs to help her realize that she was raped.

Victim?-Blaming Cliche #3: Your judgment was "awful"; your rapist's judgment was merely "impaired."

You don't say whether the guy was also drunk. If so, his judgment was also impaired.

Don't Listen to Her: When it comes to sexual assault, Amy presents alcohol as the great equalizer. Amy notes that alcohol impairs judgment in both the rapist and the victim, but she again fails to answer the question at hand. Here it is: Being drunk can not make you less of a rapist, and being drunk can not make you less of a victim.

Victim?-Blaming Cliche #4: So, you're wary of calling your experience "rape"? Amy is, too. How about we call it "sex" that "shouldn't happen" instead?

No matter what—no means no. If you say no beforehand, then the sex shouldn't happen. If you say no while it's happening, then the sex should stop.

Don't Listen to Her: Our "Victim?" described a clear rape scenario, but shied away from calling it rape. This is not a-typical; victims often have a difficult time acknowledging that they are legitimately victims. Advice columnists, however, have a duty to call a rape a rape. Instead, Amy responds by describing anther clear rape scenario—"no means no"—and failing to call it what it is.

Calm Before the Storm: Finally, Amy calls in the experts:

According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network Web site (www.rainn.org):

"Alcohol and drugs are not an excuse — or an alibi. The key question is still: Did you consent or not? Regardless of whether you were drunk or sober, if the sex is nonconsensual, it is rape. However, because each state has different definitions of "nonconsensual," please contact your local center or local police if you have questions about this. (If you were so drunk or drugged that you passed out and were unable to consent, it was rape. Both people must be conscious and willing participants.)" Go to your college's health department to be tested for STDs and pregnancy. See a counselor to determine how you want to approach this.

Listen to Them: I guarantee that RAINN will be a lot more helpful in this matter than this advice column.

Victim-Blaming RED ALERT:

You must involve the guy in question in order to determine what happened and because he absolutely must take responsibility and face the consequences for his actions, just as you are prepared to do. He may have done this before.

WHATEVER YOU DO, DON'T LISTEN TO HER: There is a lot of bad advice in this column, but this—this is destructive, dangerous, and negligent. Amy takes a rape victim who is incapable of admitting that she was a rape victim, and suggests that she dial up her rapist in order to "determine what happened." He raped her after taking her into a stranger's bed room, pretending it was his own, and repeatedly promising that he wouldn't pursue sex. This guy is not going to help his victim figure out that he raped her! He is only going to encourage the victim to blame herself, stay anonymous, and re-frame the evening as sex. Obviously, rapists should not be consulted on questions of consent. As this column makes clear, we should all probably refrain from consulting Ask Amy, as well.

* Note: Amy Dickinson's "Ask Amy," a syndicated advice column out of the Chicago Tribune, is not to be confused with the "Ask Amy" advice column penned by Amy Richards, published at Feminist.com.

Photo via how can I recycle this, Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0

Comments

  1. #1

    I really encourage everyone to write to Amy and protest this horrible column. I posted my letter here: http://jennyknopinski.wordpress.com/2009/11/27/angry-letter-to-amy-dickinson-of-ask-amy/

  2. Comrade Al Gonzales
    #2

    "Cyber Monday" sounds like a day everyone goes online & has cyber sex. I'm off to the nude beach at Baker Beach, at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. Sunny & 65 in San Francisco today.

    Aloha, everyone, aloha.

  3. Comrade Al Gonzales
    #3

    Amy Dickinson is as qualified to give advise as my dog. She's got a great giggle on the NPR comedy show, but c'omon - Dr Phil has her beat by miles.

    In this case she's obviously wrong on several counts, as you outline above. The worst part of her article is her defense of & excuses for the rapist. She needs a year or so in a re-education camp. The rapist here needs three to five years in a re-education camp. The victim needs counseling.

    There you go. That'll be €70/$100, you can pay the girl on your way out. And thanks.

  4. #4

    Amy Dickinson is The Worst Advice Columnist In The World. And using alcohol or drugs to obtain "consent" is wrong, morally and legally. At the same time, there IS a difference between pulling a knife on a woman and "Baby It's Cold Outside," and sensible people will excuse and justify the latter (thereby harming women) so long as there are those who insist on calling it "rape" on par with the former. Why can't we call each type of sexual assault what it is, instead of forcing every situation into the same one-size-fits-all box?

  5. #5

    Reading the whole article, its just really bizarre how disjoint her advice is. If you took out 3 paragraphs it would be pretty reasonable, but for some reason she decides to simultaneously say it could be rape but its partly your fault.

  6. #6

    I recently did a critique of a totally reprehensible Dear Abby (who writes that, Amy's twin sister?)

    Anyway, her response to young woman considering having sex with her boyfriend for the first time was to print a letter from someone who got pregnant and you know, ruined her life.

    What is this, the 1950? We have something called contraception now, not you'd know from reading her column.

    http://theamericanvirgin.blogspot.com/2009/09/dear-abby-ever-heard-of-contraception.html

  7. #7

    You guys should check out some of the comments. Ri-dic-u-lous.

  8. #8

    @Scott Your first example is battery and rape. I think it's you who needs to learn what rape is.

  9. #9

    @Scott -- your point is valid, there is a continuum, but the example from this Amy column doesn't mesh with either "using drugs to obtain consent" (the fratboy, so far as we can know, wasn't pushing the alcohol on the girl to get her drunk for this or any purpose, for all we know she got drunk on her own accord) or "Baby It's Cold Outside" (as the fratboy was repeatedly told by the victim that she did not want to have sex and then he went for it anyway -- it really didn't sound like a seduction).

    Now, I suppose it is possible that the boy was drunker than she was, intended to respect her wishes, but a half hour later got right up to the point of penetration without a no and kept going. No, that's not the same thing as a violent kidnapping, or even going past a clear verbal no as a hook up session escalated (which is flat-out rape.) The timeline of how they got naked, how fast, what was said and how under the influence she was are all relevant.

    But it is far more likely that the boy was was an experienced drinker taking advantage of an inexperienced drinker. The timeline isn't perfectly clear, but she writes "he quickly proceeded to go against what he promised" and "we were soon kicked out of the room." Moreover, she sounds like she was on the verge of being passed out, a point at which consent is not possible. A slow reaction time? Underwear doesn't come off and condoms on in a split second. Or it does -- but that's right close to rape past a clear no. If she doesn't remember choosing to not say no... that suggests to me that she was too drunk to be hooking up with in the first place. Plus he was lying about it being his room -- very sketchy behavior. If she's too drunk to get back to your own room... too drunk to hook up with.

    Telling someone that you don't want to have sex while going up the stairs, fooling around, getting hornier, and then having sex anyway and regretting it doesn't make the other party a rapist, even if you had a buzz on and they knew it. Really.

    But on the limited information reported, it doesn't sound like that's what happened here. This sounds criminal.

    Now, it may be nearly impossible to prosecute in a court of law, but it is still wrong, deserving of a formal complaint, intervention and counseling of both parties, and not this blame the victim garbage published by Amy.

  10. #10

    At common law, rape was described as "carnal knowledge of a woman by means of force and violence and against her will." The better view is that the phrase "by means of force and violence" was a description of the evidence needed for a conviction and not an element of the offense. Under this view, rape at common law is carnal knowledge of a woman without her consent. (Note however that most states by now have replaced the common law offense of rape with unduly confusing statutory offenses.)

    This case presents the question of whether bad judgment constitutes constructive consent.

    If you answer the question in the affirmative, Bernard Madoff and his mimics are pure as the driven snow.

    Women who feel uncomfortable about a rape prosecution should consider a civil action for assault. And damages.

  11. #11

    One of the most chilling, cold and rotten attitudes from an asshat who wrote to the Washington Post comment following that awful column:

    shlomiesdad wrote:
    The young woman deserves a D- in judgement. She chose to go into the room with him no matter what she said. People need to take responsibility for themselves and not look to be "victims", It cheapens real victims.
    The man was wrong, but, in this case a third wrong of prosecuting him and his serving years in prison with a totally destroyed future is not a fair price.
    If there is a different way of handling it, perhaps through the Fraternity, it should be used.

    "It cheapens real victims?!" I hope somebody rapes that guy in prison one day.

  12. #12

    ...who decides whether it is good or bad advice?

    Warning: "3rd-person opinion" detected!

    Look, the bottom line is that this woman has the right, free and clear, to press charges. She's not even sure that she was raped, first of all. Can she ask around and find overwhelming evidence that she was? Sure. Does that mean that she has to agree with it? No.

    There are plenty of women out there who will help her to say that she was raped. No problem with that. What AD did was to say taht she made bad choices all the way down the line. What YOU are having trouble dealing with is the consequence of bad-choices that end in rape. One big consequence of making a series of bad choices is that you are responsible for what happens as a result.

    True or not?

    It's that simple.

    You are simply, like so many women, having real issues dealing with Reality, especially when you suffer as a consequence of it. You've got three choices. One you are never responsible for the bad things that happen to you, they are ALL a matter of someone elses' evil, vindictive criminal nature. If it wasn't for that, no bad things would ever happen to you. Choice two, you are ALWAYS responsible when that happens. Third, sometimes you are, and sometimes you aren't and that is decided by a complex quagmire of "rules" which end up with you being responsible for what happens to you "sometimes" and "sometimes not". And you can then argue about when you are and when you are not and whether the rules are wrong, on a case by case basis, or generically or whatever. But the bottom line is that sometimes you're going to hate the outcome, much as this girl does here.

    But unless you can slough off all responsibility for what happens to you, then sometimes you actually *are* responsible for what happens to you. If a man puts his penis inside you, that's a concrete act. The rest of it is mind-games. God forbid that a woman is ever responsible for a penis inside her when she doesn't really want it there.

    Yet in the next breath you'll happily tell every man in prison getting gang-raped that he's responsible for what is happening to him.

    It's a cold hard fact of life, dear. Sometimes shit happens and it happens to you. That's how it is. Whether you like it or not. Only question from here is whether you can deal with that or not. Go back to square one: she can file charges and go from there.

  13. #13

    Her problem is that if she files charges against the guy and loses, if the prosecutor declines to pursue the case, if she actually gets into court and loses, then she will have to accept her responsibility that much more concretely.

    This way she can always comfort herself with that doubt. It may very well have been rape, but clearly it wasn't a case where she really didn't want to have sex with the guy, had real problems with it. She's in that nebulous space where so many people find themselves in where if it had happened just a different way at a different place in a different time, she would have been into it. That and sure why would she want to drag herself through the hell of a rape prosecution unless she's absolutely sure of it.

    This is why maybe one out of every 4, maybe even every 10 sexual-assaults are ever reported, a fact that I'm sure pisses you off to no end. But you are not her and she is not you. Deal with it.

  14. #14

    ...here's another story to console you.

    Two 14 year old girls are walking down the street in LA in broad daylight. One lives in the area, the other is visiting from out of town. They leave a corner store and they are enjoying their ice-cream cones. A car with 4 guys in it rolls up to them and asks them for directions. Middle of the day, broad daylight. The girls approach the car, two guys jump out of the car and snatch one of them, take her off to a house, choking her along the way until she passes out and she vaguely remembers getting raped by several men while someone else photographs the whole thing. Within a couple of hours she's dropped off back on the same streetcorner where her friend is standing in stunned amazement.

    She looks at her friend and says, "this never happened." And they continue walking on down the street.

    It must be a true story, I read it in the WP. Front page a while ago. I read that after I read the story of that girl who was kidnapped and held for 18 years out in California, again snatched off the street (this time by the wife of a convicted rapist out on parole), and the Elizabeth Smart case, where the handyman came back in at night and took her from the middle of a slumber party, and she agreed to go with him quietly because he threatened to kill the other girls and her family if she made any noise. Then he tied her up to a tree and raped her regularly for 8 months.

    If you don't think that this kind of shit happens on a regular basis, you're out of your fucking mind, and worrying about THIS CASE is just nonsense. Drunk girls getting sexually-assaulted in frathouses is a national legend. Frathouses still have parties, girls still get sexually-assaulted at them. It's an ongoing issue nationwide, probably worldwide. You realy want something to worry about, worry about all the guys who would never make it to college much less be admitted to a fraternity who are out there right now preying on young girls. Not to mention the guys who *are* educated and who STILL prey on women, who are trusted by the girls at Spring Break and the stepmoms and take advantage of both the moms and the kids, girls *and* boys.

    In contrast to all that, this letter just disappears into insignificance. When she firms up her understanding of the situation, the police will be happy to take her claim and act on it. At least she knows the guy.

  15. #15

    ....I can understand the perspective that says that she must not have really wanted the guy to not have sex with her. I think it's a stretch to put those words in her mouth, to say that her actions spoke for her, but still. If she really cares about not being raped, she wouldn't take the chance of getting raped, and if she did take precautions, didn't want it to happen and it still happened then she should be clear about it. But then she would have to also deal with the fact that she is a rape victim.

    I'm not saying that it adds up to rape but the fact is that there are many ways for a set of numbers to add up to the same thing, especially when you can change the #s and change the math at will. But the math has to work out to rape for her, not for you. It's just not fair of you to try to force someone else to think that she's been raped, no more than it is fair for someone else to force you to have sex with them.

  16. #16

    If this same female student had gotten behind the wheel of a car in her inebriated, judgment impaired state and killed your child, would you still call her a “victim?”

    Risky behavior begets sad consequences. That's not sexism, that's just a fact of life. We do a disservice to young women to tell them otherwise. Amy was right on. A “victim” is somebody who has no options. This girl had options: don’t get drunk to the point where your judgment is impaired, and then put yourself in harm's way and expect other judgment-impaired people to watch out for your safety.

    This victim mentality sets women back 50 years.It implies that we are all children who must be protected from our own bad judgment.

  17. #17

    Advice columns are horrible whenever they dole out advice on topics as serious as rape. The only thing Amy should have done was give advice on how to get 1 on 1 counseling at the girl's school. How can ANYONE call this not rape, or rape based on an anonymous 2 paragraph email.

    All she should have done was tell the girl what rape is. Let her know that her feelings and thoughts are serious and tell her to get help from a trusted source immediately - before the facts get lost and muddled. Advice columns should be left to topics like what to wear to a dinner party.

  18. #18

    @ jf1: HUH?!?!

  19. #19

    Call what happen to this girl 'rape' is an insult to women everywhere that actually are raped.

    When drunk or high, why are women freed from the consequences of their actions and choices while men are not?
    It is violent sexism against men.
    Young men have their futures and careers ruined by women who have to be *coerced* into believing what happened to them was rape! A denial of their own judgement and experience - a violation of the very core of feminism!

    Non-verbal communication overrides verbal communication.
    Sex starts with kissing and finishes with intercourse.
    Do not start something you do not intend to finish.
    Taking your clothes off and getting into a bed with someone implies consent.

    If you walk into a room you can walk out of it.
    "I was drunk" is not an excuse to turn regret into rape.

    When you are raped, there will be *no doubt* what happened.

  20. #20

    DEAR RAPEIST,

    I WANTED TO ASK IF I WAS RAPED (:

    DID YOU RAPE ME ):??

  21. #21

    Gerri:

    What if the intoxicated woman got behind the wheel of a car in her intoxicated state AND THE CAR RAPED HER?

    The victim mentality does not imply that we need to be protected from our own bad judgement. It says that we are affected by the bad judgement of OTHERS. THE PERSON WHO RAPED HER. You're the one saying that her bad judgement had anything to do with this. The woman is a victim of rape, because SHE WAS RAPED.

    I really should be able to go into a room alone with someone. And if I have told him that I don't want to have sex, I should feel comfortable in thinking that I won't be forced to have sex. No matter how drunk or sober I am, expecting that to be the case does not imply a lack of judgement.

    Drinking at parties is poor judgement? Going to a frat party is poor judgement? They're things that people like to do! They're things that men can do without people telling them that they have bad judgement for doing so. No woman should ever get to imbibe alcohol at a party with college-aged men because they might rape her? And if she does so, oh my god, it was poor judgement on her part?

    Yes, people should learn to stop drinking when they've had too much, but in this case she is making a decision to go into a room with someone who assured her that they would not have sex. I don't think you'd need to be that drunk to do so. Unless you're advocating that women should not allow themselves to be alone with men because no men are trustworthy, which seems pretty misandrist.

  22. #22

    "If this same female student had gotten behind the wheel of a car in her inebriated, judgment impaired state and killed your child, would you still call her a 'victim?'"

    If this same male student had gotten behind the wheel of a car in his inebriated, judgment impaired state and killed your child, would you blame your child? Amy is! She's saying that because the rapist's judgment may have been impaired, it's less of a crime.

  23. #23

    Laura-- Going to a rowdy frat party just might really be exercise of bad judgment. If somebody takes a stroll into the jungle with full knowledge that there are terrible and deadly beasts out there that are known for killing people, because the stroller through the jungle likes taking strolls in jungles -- that just may be some pretty bad judgment. That is, unless getting eaten was the intention (I'm assuming it wasn't). Likewise, petting a hungry bear isn't a wise thing to do, either. Also likewise, going to a frat party knowing that there may be dangerous people present may not be the wisest of choices.

    I'm not saying Victim? in Virginia was not raped. I'm also not saying she was raped. I'm saying she was not raped if she gave consent before the intercourse and was raped if she did not. Implied consent may also be valid, but in this case is unclear. Regret after does not mean rape before. It is entirely dependent upon whether she consented at the time. It sounds to me like she was just "going with it". I honestly can't tell.

    Going with the jungle metaphor again, people taking strolls don't hunt and devour themselves. Though the whole scene could have been avoided by making different decisions (as the writers recognize, both Victim? and the writer of this article). People make mistakes. And I say this without blaming Victim? in Virginia. I'm just saying it is beneficial to protect oneself in the face or prospect of danger. You can not trust the hungry bear.

  24. #24

    Also, Ask Amy is still a horrible advice column, along with Dear Abby, or Dear Prudie. Those things are just horrible places to seek help in general, with the only benefit being anonymity. I recall one person asking for advice about his relationship with his girlfriend, who had recently taken to beating him (yes, she beat him), and the response was to break it up immediately. No talking or communication to repair things attempted at all, just more breaking. (This second comment/post is completely separate from the article on this page and situation involved.)

  25. #25

    Sorry, I should specify, the columnist said that the man's relationship should have been broken up after the first hit (it all started by play fighting, which then escalated to any time she was angry, until he got knocked into some boxes or other items, at which point he asked the columnist). The hitting obviously should've stopped, but reconciling also should've started (whether they stayed or parted).

  26. Comrade Al Gonzales
    #26

    Any woman who goes to a frat party is placing a sign on her back - "rape me". Are women still so stupid they do not recognize simply facts like that?

    Virtually every frat house on every campus is the scene of a reported rape every few years. Those are the reported rapes. Unreported rapes? Probably every party ever given at every frat house.

    Don't be stupid - don't go to frat houses. That would prevent 100% of frat house rapes.

  27. #27

    Don’t be stupid – don’t go to frat houses. That would prevent 100% of frat house rapes.

    Know what would be even more effective, since apparently women are "so stupid" they keep going to frat houses?

    Banning frathouses!

    Funny how you don't advocate THAT, isn't it?

  28. #28

    @Frank&Earnest: The trouble with your jungle analogy is that a rapist is NOT THE SAME as a panther. Jungle panther survive by hunting. If they kill someone, they are acting on instinct, and are morally blameless as they are not sentient beings. In the same vein, a potential human target of a panther would not be morally wrong if they shot the panther in self defense.

    A man who rapes a woman is NOT a panther acting on instinct to survive. Humans are sentient beings with empathy for others and (hopefully) personal morality. A rapist ignores the feelings of his victim in favor of his own desires. How drunk do you have to be to not notice your sex partner is an unwilling participant? Nonverbal communication DOES go a long way.

    Yes, all humans (men AND women) have strong sex drives. BUT THEY ARE NOT SLAVES TO THOSE INSTINCTS! To say a rapist is equivalent to a hungry bear is to say that they can not be held accountable for their actions. Your equation is Woman + Liquor + Man = Sex, regardless of consent or control. I've been drunk hundreds of times with men I knew well and men I hardly knew at all. And not one of them has ever raped me.

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