The Sexist

Ask Amy Responds to Rape Criticism. She Still Doesn’t Get It.

"Ask Amy" advice columnist Amy Dickinson has finally (publicly) responded to criticism of her recent column in which she told a rape victim she was the "victim of your own awful judgment," shied away from using the word "rape," and instructed her to consult her rapist "in order to determine what happened." Today, Dickinson printed a letter from "Disgusted" (Thanks to Heartless Doll for the tip) who wrote:

I am absolutely appalled at your answer to a recent letter from "Victim? In Virginia." This letter was from a college student who got drunk at a frat party and was then raped by a guy she met there. You didn't even seem to care about what happened to this young person. Did it even occur to you that she might have been drugged at this party? You were more focused on blaming her for drinking than answering her question in a responsible way. I am disgusted at your answer and think you owe her an apology.

Dickinson has had a few weeks now to reconsider the advice she gave to a rape victim, and she still doesn't get it. Here is how she starts her response:

To recap, "Victim" asked a very serious question in a very thoughtful way. She said she had gotten drunk at a frat party and went to a bedroom with a guy.

After saying in advance that she didn't want to have sex, she did have sex.

"She did have sex" is not what happened. Rape is what happened. Obviously, the difference between "having sex" and "rape" is lost on Dickinson, which is why she's so unsuited to answer the victim's question—"Was I raped?" The answer is "Yes." Dickinson's answer involved telling the victim she victimized herself, downplaying the guy's role because he was intoxicated, repeatedly referring to the incident as "sex" and providing a definition from RAINN, and telling her to ask her rapist about what happened, but never plainly stating that the victim was raped. This victim came to Dickinson to find out if her experience was rape; Dickinson's advice failed.

Dickinson doesn't see it that way:

In my answer, I told her that "no means no" — before or during sex, sober or drunk (I assume the guy had also been drinking).

I told her that she had been raped, and I included information from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (rainn.org) to further educate her about this.

I told her to go to her student health center and seek medical and emotional support and counseling and to get advice from professionals at school.

I told her that the perpetrator should be confronted by authorities at school because he might have done this before and might do it again unless he is stopped.

Did we read the same column? Dickinson did not tell her she had been raped. She told her she had "sex that shouldn't happen" . . . after she made clear to the victim that her "own awful judgment" is what led to the sex that shouldn't happen. She did include information about contacting counselors and school authorities about this—which is great—but she did not write that "the perpetrator should be confronted by authorities at school." She wrote that "You must involve the guy in question in order to determine what happened." You. The victim. She told the victim to confront her rapist, not the authorities.

Dickinson then apologizes for "the part of my answer that has enraged readers" (I'd argue that most of the answer enraged readers, but fine):

Unfortunately, I started my answer by expressing frustration at her judgment to get drunk at a frat house, calling it "awful." This is the part of my answer that has enraged readers, who have accused me of "blaming the victim."

As a mother (and stepmother) to five daughters — four in college — I have counseled (and worry about) all of my many daughters because of how vulnerable they are if they choose to drink. Drinking to intoxication poses very serious security issues for our daughters and sons, because being drunk impairs judgment and the ability to discern risk.

Because "Victim" wondered where the line was, I tried to draw it for her. My intent was to urge her (as I often urge readers) to take responsibility for the only thing she could control—her own choices and actions—but I regret how harshly I expressed this.

I certainly didn't intend to offend or blame her for what happened, and I hope she will do everything possible to stay safe in the future.

I'm grateful that she chose to share her question with all of us, because talking about it will help others.

Throwing "daughters and sons" in here obscures the point. Informing women and men about the risks of drinking is a very different task than addressing the problem of rape. Yes, drinking can be dangerous for both men and women—when men and women drink too much, they can make themselves sick, get massive hangovers, sprain ankles on the stairs, lose their wallets, and fall off barstools. These are unfortunate side-effects of drinking which the drinker brings upon him or herself.

But when a woman gets drunk, it's also more likely that a man will rape her. Being raped is not a significant risk for a drunk man at a campus party. This is not an unfortunate side-effect of drinking. It's a product of our sexist society, and one that goes far deeper than telling women they have to lay off the sauce because drinking is too dangerous for them. In some ways, our society is safer for men. But that is not every woman's fault. It is a problem that must be addressed by all of us.

Dickinson wants the victim to know this: "I hope she will do everything possible to stay safe in the future." The effect of that statement is that she hopes the victim won't keep doing what male college students around the country can do without fear—drinking, making friends, going to house parties, being alone with a classmate. I hope she can find the strength to ignore that advice. If we succeed in convincing women that this behavior is dangerous, we will also convince men that only bad girls do these things. How can you be held responsible for victimizing a bad girl? As Dickinson's advice has shown, everyone knows that bad girls victimize themselves.

I agree that "talking about it will help others." I'm just so glad that it's not only Dickinson who is talking about this. Change.org is also hosting a petition to ask Dickinson to revisit her remarks (again).

  • http://whereisyourline.org Nancy Schwartzman

    I'm so glad that someone in Amy's position decided to "draw the line for her", after the fact, and in an advice column laced with shame and blame. What fantastic boundaries to propose. I urge you not to have alcohol in college, or to attend frat parties created and sponsored by the institutions you attend? Eschew "college culture" instead of working to transform male behavior, or demanding that men do their own work. Since we still cling to the notion that short of kicking, screaming and fighting, the rest is all consent, I advise all young women to avoid socializing all together. Sex is for marriage, anyway.

  • http://heartoffalsehood.wordpress.com L

    Wow, I think Amy's response to the criticism is the definition of crazy-making -- redefining words, totally recasting the situation to make her look like she's being attacked, and so on. I'm glad all this is happening in writing so we can look at her first response to "Victim" and remember that she really did say all those terrible, victim-blaming things.

  • http://pplm.org Martin Quinones

    Damn, Amanda! You're good as hell at this.

    Mad props.

  • Skipper

    A woman is raped and she decides to write to an advice columnist about it? Good God! I really hope the woman has family and friends that she's been speaking to, rather than expecting a newspaper advice columnist to help her deal with what happened.

  • Ashley

    Hm, this blatant denial of victim-blaming reminds me of the AU Eagle! Is admitting you made a mistake really so difficult?!

    I second the 'mad props' to Amanda, however.

  • TMc

    UNBELIEVABLE!!! In college I was a peer counselor to rape & sexual assault victims. If Amy's were in use, less victims would have come in for treatment. Something that is already extremely under-reported because of this very thing. Ms. Ask Amy should remember that KARMA is a B*TCH - she told us herself that she has daughters, college-aged. I hope for those girls' sake that karma doesn't skip a generation...

  • TMc

    somehow the word "definition" that I had typed in after "If Amy's___ were in use" was left out. I'm sure it doesn't make sense without it! .
    PS - I failed to mention that Amanda did a great job with this posting/article.

  • Angry Al Gonzales

    Amy is like Bush & Obama - she thinks something is true because she says it. As Arianna Huff wrote today: "Not only is Obama continuing Bush's war, he's continuing his method of Magical Thinking: the idea that simply saying something is true is the same as its being true. We're getting more eloquent words this time, to be sure, but the same tragic result: endless wars of choice."

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arianna-huffington/sartre-meets-afghanistan_b_383529.html

    Someone needs to tell these people that just saying something does not make it true. Amy's first answer gave no indication she thought this girl had been raped, & Amy's recent answer is ever worse:

    "After saying in advance that she didn’t want to have sex, she did have sex" - "did have sex", not "was raped". Amy apparently believes consent is not essential for consensual sexual activity.

    If it was not consensual, it was rape. Since it was not consensual, it was rape.

  • Emily H.

    "But when a woman gets drunk, it’s also more likely that a man will rape her." I suppose maybe this is true, but I'd want to question whether it's *as* true as we tend to think it is -- given that it functions so often as a scare tactic to tell women drinking is horribly dangerous. Drinking is a factor in a high proportion of rapes, but on the other hand drinking is almost ubiquitous when people are out socializing at night. So it'd be surprising if a lot of rape victims, and rapists, didn't have alcohol in their blood. When a rape is reported in the news and the victim was drinking, we tend to hear about it endlessly, even if she was just sipping a beer.

    Drinking can slow your reflexes, sure, but on the other hand many drunk people get very aggressive, quick to lash out at any perceived offense, and even violent. That's why there are so many bar fights. A drunk woman in such a condition isn't going to be helpless in the face of a sexual assault. Most alcohol users on any given night aren't unconscious or falling off their chairs. The original letter writer is a fine example; she was able to clearly articulate that she didn't want to have sex, and say no to the man's advances. That's far *more* than it should reasonably take to stop a sexual encounter.

    I think the reason the specter of alcohol abuse is such a big deal in these debates is that drinking sounds like such an irresponsible, hedonistic thing to do -- it's easy to assume any woman who got drunk was out flirting with everyone and writhing around on the dance floor (and that bad guys would leave her alone if she stayed sober). For some people, this looks like a quick solution -- "you girls should just behave yourselves and stop drinking!" I'm sure Amy would like to believe that her many, many adorable daughters will be safe forever as long as they stay away from that horrible alcohol. That's just not how it works. The risk factor that counts is whether there's a rapist around.

  • http://kelly.hogaboom.org/ Kelly

    "The risk factor that counts is whether there’s a rapist around."

    This.

    Reading Amy's original response made me angry and sad. I wrote her directly and signed an online petition (for what that's worth). Reading this response is depressing (I notice she chose to print a letter that claimed Amy "didn't even care what happened" to the victim - awesome! Let's respond to THAT, because anyone can "prove" they care oodles and oodles and oodles!, without addressing the things they actually SAID).

    Rape apologists make my stomach hurt. Anyway Amanda, thanks for the update, and thanks for taking action.

  • http://www.survivingdating.com Deborrah Cooper Advice Columnist

    Wow, this Amy woman needs to be fired. Her mind has been seriously poisoned along with millions of other women that believe rape is somehow the fault of the victim - that she shouldn't have been where she was, she shouldn't have done what she did, she shouldn't have worn what she wore, she shouldn't have had a drink.

    Sigh.

    Where are the scathing criticisms from this columnist of the mentality of men that would dare to violate a young woman's body when she was vulnerable? Why not protect and care for her and see that she got home safely - as you would want some guy to do if this were YOUR SISTER or YOUR MOTHER in a vulnerable state?

    Sadly, college campuses have become one of the most dangerous places for young women to be, as campus rapes are frighteningly common. Even when the perpetrators are identified, many go unpunished and even uninvestigated as campus administrators sweep them under the rug and police seem to have the attitude "boys will be boys."

    Glad to see another soldier picking up her shield and sword. You go Amanda!

  • http://chalicechick.blogspot.com CC

    At least the real Ann Landers would admit that she needed lashes with a wet noodle.

  • Lynne

    I lived in New Orleans for almost a decade. A few years after I moved I heard about a tourist who had been beaten by NOLA cops for refusing to move off the parade route. My first reaction was, "Idiot. When the cops tell you to move, you *move*! Everyone knows this." Thankfully, my second thought was, "Wait a second. That's not right." I just needed to get out of that culture to recognize how wrong certain aspects are.

    I feel like the same thing has just happened. My gut reaction was to place some responsibility on the victim. Yes, she was raped, but she put herself in a position to be raped.

    And then I read this: "Being raped is not a significant risk for a drunk man at a campus party. This is not an unfortunate side-effect of drinking. It’s a product of our sexist society, and one that goes far deeper than telling women they have to lay off the sauce because drinking is too dangerous for them."

    And a new wrinkle formed in my brain. I get it now. Thank you.

  • Gerri

    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. 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.

  • Kate

    "A “victim” is somebody who has no options."

    This is the stupidest thing I've heard in a long time.

    By this rationale, if a rapist broke into my house and attacked me RIGHT NOW I would not be a victim because I have the "option" of wearing my gun in a shoulder holster while I'm sitting at my desk. Or of having a couple of live-in bodyguards, or owning an attack dog, or living in a convent, or wearing an electrified chastity belt, and since I have not exercised these "options", CLEARLY I would not be a victim.

    The only "option" that will always, always prevent rape is the "option" rapists have to NOT RAPE PEOPLE. Why is this so difficult to understand?

  • Comrade Al Gonzales

    Gerri believes a woman has to kill herself or it's not rape. Very evolved, Gerri.

    Three years in a re-education camp!

  • SunlessNick

    "Dickinson’s answer involved telling the victim she victimized herself, downplaying the guy’s role because he was intoxicated"

    Funny how when the victim is drunk it increases her responsibility, but when the rapist is drunk it decreases his.

    "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?”"

    No, but if she was walking while drunk and someone deliberately ran her over with a car (which is the real analogy to what happened) I certainly would.

  • Anonymous

    Seriously, haven't you people every heard of "personal responsibility"? The girl got drunk, went with a (probably) equally drunk man to a private bedroom, said "No sex" and (more than probably) involved herself in sexual foreplay with him before having sex with the man. She could have walked away, I don't remember seeing where she said she was forced down. She could have chose to never go into the room with him in the first place. This girl wasn't raped, she was stupid. Amy was right to scold her. It is every person's personal responsibility to make protect themselves. She decided to forgo that responsibility. If you ask me, I'd be willing to bet that this so called "Victim" was more upset that she let herself get drunk and allowed herself to have sex with a man she barely knew and wanted to publicly shift the blame on the man. I have no sympathy for a girl who willingly gets drunk and just as willingly goes with a man to a bedroom and then cries rape when she has sex with him. I'll grant that she did not give her consent in her words, but unless he forcefully took her, which she made no mention of, then odds are she was the one to open her legs to him and as the saying goes, "actions speak louder than words." So, sorry to all you opinionated, sexist, fools who cry out that she was raped and that Ask Amy is a horrible person for what she said, but Amy was right. The only way I can see to call this girl a "Victim" is in the context that she was a victim of her own lack of judgment and personal responsibility. If she hadn't gone to the frat party; if she hadn't gotten drunk; if she hadn't gone into the room with him; if she hadn't opened her freaking legs then she would never have had the sex that she was complaining about. Sure, the guy was probably being an opportunistic bastard, but she let it happen. When all is said and done, she allowed herself to have sex. And she was ashamed.

  • http://angryfeministdoc.blogspot.com Erica A

    Some comments should come with a trigger warning. Ugh.

  • Rita

    @ Emily H.:
    "Drinking can slow your reflexes, sure, but on the other hand many drunk people get very aggressive, quick to lash out at any perceived offense, and even violent. That’s why there are so many bar fights. A drunk woman in such a condition isn’t going to be helpless in the face of a sexual assault."

    Well, maybe not you or the women you know, but that sure as hell doesn't apply to everyone. Not everyone reacts the same when they're drunk. Some people become extremely aggressive, others completely lose the inability to take control of their own bodies and their surroundings, and when it's the latter, it makes her the ideal prey for a rapist. And no, not all rape victims are drunk or drugged during the time of their assault, but that doesn't mean one can't take precautions. Nobody's saying women shouldn't drink when they're out in public, but they should avoid getting to the point that their judgment becomes clouded, especially if they're alone. I agree that it's sad that men can get wasted at a bar with no worries that they will get raped, but unfortunately that's the world we live in. It's better to be safe than sorry. And I'm not saying the victim got what she deserved by getting drunk, NO ONE deserves to be raped or abused in any way, ever. Which makes Amy's response towards her situation so shockingly insensitive, to say the least, and probably exposes what an archaic mindset she must have regarding the subject of rape. I wouldn't send her to the Middle East to counsel rape victims!

    @Anonymous: First off, only a coward would make such a callous comment under the name of "anonymous". Second, newsflash buddy, this ain't the 17th Century. Inebriated women are never fair game, ever. The decisions they make aren't with their heads, it's the alcohol talking, so it's never really "consensual". If you're a man, then I seriously hope you think twice before going to bed with a drunk girl.

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  • Chris

    Sorry Amanda, couldn't find another place to post this!

    Amy Dearest,

    Obviously you are not qualified to speak on the subject of college students and rape. I am. Not because I am a health professional or even a victim, but because I was there to pick up the pieces when I was in college and a very drunk college girl I barely knew, didn't even like, was raped. I was there while they washed the mace out of her eyes, and did the rape kit.

    And I can tell you that despite the fact that her rapist was "impaired" to the point where he fell down the stairs, despite the fact that she had not "fought back" we,(a bunch of 20 year old college students, drunk as could be, 26 years ago), all KNEW exactly what had happened. There was NO doubt in anyone's mind that she was raped. Several people testified, the judge agreed, the jury agreed, and he spent 7 years in jail.

    I am scratching my head at how anyone could have missed the last 50 years, years that have enlightened an entire country about what rape truly is. I am disgusted that that person could crawl out from under her rock to be handed a public forum to spew "expert" advice with the approval of an editor who is clearly not doing his\her job. That educated (?) people living in the modern age could know less than those college students knew 26 years ago is appalling.

    In your world, it is apparently justifiable to rape a woman if she's drunk, partying with guys, in a strange place. Yes, these are stupid things. I wonder if it were your daughter who did something stupid and was then violently attacked, spent the night in the hospital while they stripped her naked, packed up her clothes, gave her a very uncomfortable exam, combed her pubic hair, took pictures, asked that every ugly detail be described, would you then say she "engaged" in unwanted sexual behavior. Just exactly how does someone engage in unwanted behavior of any kind, anyway? The very definition of ENGAGE is characterized by a deliberate choice to participate. Clearly your ignorance extends to your use of language.

    I wonder, how far does your belief extend? If a woman partying is justification for raping her, we might as well ask what she was wearing, how many boyfriends she has had, if she's a virgin? Might as well just go ahead and hand out the burkas, stones, beating sticks, first thing in the morning. After all, men cannot be expected to control themselves, so blaming victims for being too drunk, too sexy, too stupid... yup, that's the way to solve the problem of violence against women.

    Good one, Amy. I hope you are very proud, and I pray you never get a call in the middle of the night when one of your daughters is at college.

  • firebee

    I agree with anonymous, and i am a female. you have to take responsibility for your actions. going into a bedroom when intoxicated with an equally intoxicated frat boy is a recipe for disaster. nowhere in the original response did amy say that she deserved it. what i would like to know is why did she go to the bedroom with him in the first place? if the topic of sex was brought up before ever entering the bedroom, then she must have known what his intentions were. the victim herself stated that she didn't know if she was raped or not. that to me says that she probably had reluctant consensual sex with him and then regretted it when she sobered up. this should be a learning experience for the young woman involved and any other female anywhere. if i were to listen to most of the opinions posted in this comment section i would feel confident to:
    1.walk down a dark alley late at night
    2.not pay attention when walking through a deserted parking lot
    3.hitchhike across the country
    4.date a serial rapist who has been reformed by our prison system
    5.go to mike tyson's hotel room with him at 3:00a.m.

    hasn't anyone here heard of a little thing called common sense??

  • me

    To say that one should take reasonable precautions for safety is NOT blaming the victim. It's not a moral judgment. Sure, some people use it as a judgement in order to blame the victim sometimes, and those people are jerks, but that doesn't mean it always is.

    If I leave my life savings in a bag on the street, it's completely immoral for someone to take it. But hey, I won't whine and complain when someone asks the perfectly reasonable question "why did you do something so stupid?" Whoever took my money was still wrong, but I wouldn't expect as much sympathy.

    That said, women have a right to get drunk, and go to frat parties, and expect not to be molested. And everyone ought to try to make sure they can do that. But they have to deal with the realities and limits of life too.

  • Eve

    To quote Madeline Albright
    "There is as pecial place in hell for women who do not help other women!"
    From myself, the mother of college and high school daughters SHAME on her! How typical of a sexist woman!

  • kristin

    The point ladies....THE ENTIRE POINT OF THIS ENTIRE ARTICLE RIGHT HERE: no one, no where, no how deserves to be raped. No matter what i'm doing anywhere and any way, do i deserve to have someone do something to my person that i was not ultimately able to consent to.

    i should be able to run through a crowd full of people completely naked and not be raped because i didn't consent to it.

    Rape is not the result of some uncontrollable animalistic urge that has no moral reason or reflections. rape is the choice of the rapist, and an action by the rapist, and has nothing to do with anything the victim says or does....and should never be considered as such you freaking idiots!!!!

    how on earth you can say she deserved it just for being in a room with a guy drunk...how on EARTH YOU COMPLETELY IGNORE THAT HE DID THIS TO HER boggles my effing mind. how in teh hell can you say she deserved something that had everything to do with HIM taking HIS desires over her consent and comfort.....HOW?!!?

    I pray none of this happens to you, but what could possibly help you understand and empathize better than being in that persons shoes. I hope none of you get "too drunk" ever in your life...oh wait...rapes happen completely sober out on the streets to random women/men all the time.....weird.

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