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Discussion: Was Amy wrong?

December 16th, 2009

Over on Eden Cafe, Laurel, from Licentiously Yours, wrote a post on personal responsibility addressing the situation surrounding Amy Dikinson’s response to a question about possible date rape.  Amy Dikinson writes an advice column for the Chicago Tribune.

Go read Laurel’s post and  the one she links to.  I’ll wait.

Done? Okay.  So!

Here are the letters in question.  First up, the letter from “Victim? in VA”:

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

And the response from Amy: 

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. 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.

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

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

According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network Web site (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. 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.

You can read the post I read on the situation, as well as more letters on the subject to and from Amy, here: Ask Amy: Rape Apologist?

So why am I bringing it up?

I’d like to hear your opinions on this situation.  On the rape, or frat parties, or Amy’s advice and subsequent refusal to apologize for it.  What do you think?

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  1. December 16th, 2009 at 18:00 | #1

    What I think is that she obviously knew she was going to have trouble, but went anyways. I can’t stand all this drama about absolving “victims” from their own bad decisions.

    Is what he did wrong? Probably. Should she be taking some responsibility for her own admitted bad decisions? Absolutely.

    Was he drunk? I don’t care what any of you say, it’s a valid and important question. We (society at large) don’t expect a drunk woman to make good decisions, but if a drunk male does something wrong it’s inexcusable. We’re supposed to feel sorry for her because she willingly got herself drunk and made bad decisions. I can assure you the same point of view is NOT being looked at for the guy in this situation.

    It’s another part of the feminist thinking I can’t stand. “Treat us equal until we do something stupid, and then we’re a victim and you better not say anything against that.”

    I’m an asshole, and I call bullshit. Let the flaming begin!

  2. December 16th, 2009 at 18:03 | #2

    @Melen Aww, you’re only an asshole sometimes. :p

  3. December 16th, 2009 at 18:15 | #3

    I’m actually writing a piece for Eden Cafe regarding this, so I’ll let you know when that is published. I’m such a tease! 😉

  4. December 16th, 2009 at 18:17 | #4

    Wow. I have a post planned on just this blurb. Yes, Amy was wrong. Just because a girl goes to a frat party where there is going to be drinking, she should expect to be raped? Should every girl attending a frat party expect to be the victim of rape, so that if they are, well that’s their fault because they should have seen it coming? By telling her she’s a victim of her own bad judgment, she’s squarely blaming the victim. It is not her fault, no matter what. She told him ahead of time that she didn’t want anything to happen. She said no. And Amy excuses the guy for being drunk? His judgment was impaired? Fuck that. Drunk or sober, no means no and rape is rape.

    Victim blaming is the main reason that people don’t come forward and report their rapes. They’re ashamed and they think it was their fault for being at that party/flirting with him/wearing a short skirt/insert bullshit reason here. For Amy to perpetuate that is just disgusting. Was it a risky situation? Yes. Did she deserve to get raped for it? No.

    I think Amy was very wrong, and I’m totally flabbergasted at her response to this poor girl.

  5. December 16th, 2009 at 18:30 | #5

    I still call bullshit. You are essentially saying that if a female gets drunk and makes bad decisions it’s excusable. If a male does the same thing, it absolutely is not.

    Britni, what you and many others fail to REALIZE is that not pointing out the lack of personal responsibility to someone like this is HURTING her in the longrun, NOT HELPING. Because noone DARES to say anything against a victim, they’re never told the things they really need to hear.

    Such as… Dont go to a frat party, get drunk, and then go be alone with a dude that makes you uncomfortable in the first place.

    It isn’t going to, and the cycle continues.

    Just for clarification, I’ve never suggested the guy involved here should just be let off with no punishment. But it’s utterly IRRESPONSIBLE to not point out to victims that ultimately they are responsible for their own bad decisions. Sure there’s exceptions where the decisions of the victim aren’t relevant to the situation, but this case isn’t one where the victim couldn’t have better protected herself. I mean… frat party? What’d she think, they were going to bake cupcakes?

    This crap about not pointing out the obvious to victims so they can better protect themselves in the future is part of the overall problem. Punish the guilty, educate the victims, no matter how painful it might be. That’s the only way they can avoid being victims in the future.

  6. December 16th, 2009 at 18:38 | #6

    I’m sorry, but putting victim is scare quotes and implying that women need to be called out just because they had a drink and something bad happened… are we living in the 1940s here?

    Women should be able to go to all the parties they want and have drinks. That doesn’t mean they did a wrong thing and should be raped. Rape is rape. The fact that she was drunk or not makes no difference at all and shouldn’t be pointed out or considered.

  7. December 16th, 2009 at 18:40 | #7

    @Eliot Oh you slut! Teasing me like that! I can’t wait to read it!

  8. December 16th, 2009 at 18:46 | #8

    @Saraid
    If you’re referring to my comment, I think you missed my point entirely. I never once suggested that women should have to be concerned about being raped simply because they went to a party.

    However, there’s VERY little information on this. Have you noticed how you’ve all assumed that what she emailed is true without a second of hesitation? I’d suggest you keep up on national news more, where it’s becoming increasingly common that women, very publically, falsely accuse someone of rape. There have been several high profile cases just this year.

    I think it’s highly irresponsible to not be honest with victims to prepare them to protect themselves. It’s also highly irresponsible to take an anonymous message like this and assume it’s the full truth. In my experience, the phrase “three sides to every story” almost always applies.

    It’s the automatic acceptance of anything a woman accuses a man of, and then the intentional ignoring of personal responsibility that pisses me off.

    I question anyone who has to ask a stranger “Am I a victim?”. I’d, personally, want more details before even attempting to answer the question. I don’t know. Neither do any of you. There were very few details in the initial message.

  9. December 16th, 2009 at 18:53 | #9

    @Britni TheVadgeWig Just because a girl goes to a frat party where there is going to be drinking, she should expect to be raped? Should every girl attending a frat party expect to be the victim of rape, so that if they are, well that’s their fault because they should have seen it coming? By telling her she’s a victim of her own bad judgment, she’s squarely blaming the victim.

    No one said women should expect to be raped if they go to a frat party. No one.

    What was said, though, is that the girl should have listened to her gut. She admitted she was uncomfortable with the situation and WENT ANYWAY.

    From where I sit, that’s sheer stupidity. And I’m not going to coddle a victim and pretend it wasn’t. That’s not doing her, or anyone else, any favors.

    @Saraid Women should be able to go to all the parties they want and have drinks. That doesn’t mean they did a wrong thing and should be raped. Rape is rape. The fact that she was drunk or not makes no difference at all and shouldn’t be pointed out or considered.

    I agree with you completely. What the dude did to her was WRONG and women shouldn’t have to be afraid to go to parties and have fun. There is no question about that.

    However.

    There is a plethora of information at any college student’s fingertips about date rape and the horrors of frat parties. I refuse to believe she had no idea this could happen to her. Maybe she made the mistake of falling into the mindset of “This wouldn’t happen to me.” But regardless, she did herself a great disservice by not listening to her own instinct.

  10. December 16th, 2009 at 18:53 | #10

    Ahh some clarification. In my original comment when I said “she went anyways”, I wasn’t referring to the party. I was referring to willingly going to be alone with someone she obviously didn’t trust in the first place. That may have been misunderstood. It’s not going to the party that I think she needs to be talked to about, it’s the subsequent bad decisions, such as willingly being alone with this guy in “his” room.

  11. December 16th, 2009 at 18:54 | #11

    @Melen I’d like to point out that many rapes go unreported because women are afraid of getting responses like that. If people would quit assuming women reporting rapes are lying maybe more rape cases would be reported.

    In order to report them women need to feel safe, and with comments like that women are never going to feel safe enough to report a rape.

  12. December 16th, 2009 at 19:03 | #12

    I never said I assume a woman is lying if she says she was raped. What I’ve quite clearly said is that taking an anonymous letter with no facts as gospel truth is retarded. Stop intentionally misinterpreting my comments. I’m being as clear as possible in this medium. Our legal system isn’t built on sending an anonymous letter constituting proof of anything. You don’t even truly know if a female even sent it. I know, why would someone fake something like that? I dunno, why would a woman accuse a group of guys of rape on national tv and hold press conferences about her “struggle”, and then admit it was all a lie? Humans are just a fucked up species, male AND female.

    My original point was that there is a level of self responsibility everyone has. By saying “all your decisions were absolutely correct”, you are NOT helping the victim, and you are NOT enabling her to better protect herself in the future.

    I find it utterly hilarious all you that preach we need to protect the victims, but are so pigheaded you wouldn’t want to point out to a victim their bad decisions so they can be more informed in the future, and to every extent possible not put themselves in a position of danger.

    At least I would enable them to AVOID those situation and PROTECT themselves. I would not candy coat anything to save their feelings, when it could be their very lives on the line in the future. In that respect, I find it amazing that any of you have a problem with what I’m saying. You’re all essentially saying, because of the victims feelings, lets not be honest and blunt about bad decisions. Lets not better enable them to make better decisions in the future.

    Instead, lets just assume all anonymous letters of supposed rape are real, and all men are walking rapists.

    Makes me sick.

  13. December 16th, 2009 at 19:23 | #13

    At any rate, I’m going to ignore any further comments. I will finish with:

    – The best way for a victim to not be a victim again is education. Be that how not to act at a frat party, or some sort of defense classes, as long as it addresses the issues it should be done. Avoiding pointing out stupid decisions does not help the victim. In fact, you’re setting them up to be a victim again.

    – Accusations of rape should be taken seriously. Yes, rape is under reported. It’s also a verifiable fact that women have lied. Are the numbers anywhere near close? Of course not. However, it’s not intelligent to take a strangers word as gospel truth without some sort of factual investigation. False accusations of rape ruin mens lives. This is the same argument as being a victim. Being a victim can ruin someones life. Neither are right. Both are legally punishable, for good reason. Sticking your head in the sand and ignoring the facts of the situation doesn’t help anyone in the future. Women need to feel more comfortable in reporting rape. I don’t know how to accomplish that, I’ll be honest. On the flip side, the facts cannot be ignored that women do, occasionally, falsely accuse men. It should be taken equally as important their ruined lives, if they’re truly innocent.

    – The response to this letter was right on, and I’m still stunned that any of you have a problem with it. The person writing back clearly stated they made a bad decision. Then went on to state “no means no” and to back that up with information from rainn.org. In this she was reinforcing that if she said no, that’s all it takes. She also pointed out that if she was passed out, it’s still rape. She then went on to suggest STD and pregnancy testing, and counseling. It was also stated that the guy should face consequences for his actions. How is this wrong? It seems like solid advice to me. Definitely get tested, definitely talk to a therapist or something similar. Once again, HOW is this wrong? It sounds like all the correct advice was given, when the initial letter was so low on details.

    Honestly, I hope the original letter writer took the columnists advice. If she did, maybe she has some hope of normalcy as time goes on.

    I mean, if I travel to New York City, walk down a dark alley, and get mugged and end up in the hospital, should everyone tell me all my decisions were ok and that I’m a victim and did nothing wrong? No. More than likely I’m going to be told I’m an idiot for walking down a dark alley in New York City. Seeings as both can be life threatening, I think the reactions should be the same. Education.

  14. December 16th, 2009 at 21:03 | #14

    Melen,

    I wasn’t intentionally misinterpreting your comments. I’m sorry if any offense was taken on your part. I was just trying to voice an opinion.

  15. December 16th, 2009 at 21:25 | #15

    Warning: Giganto comment coming up…

    Was Amy wrong? No… just ham-handed as fuck in how she handled her reply. I’ve taken the liberty of editing her letter:

    “First of all, thank you. I hope your letter will be posted on college bulletin boards everywhere.

    “Were you a victim? Yes. No matter what — no means no. If you say no beforehand, then the sex shouldn’t happen. If you say no while its happening, then the sex should stop. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network Web site (rainn.org): [insert rainn.org quote here]

    “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. 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.

    “And to ensure nothing like this happens to you again, take a few precautions to prevent “bad decisions” next time you go to a party! Bring friends with you, and promise each other not to let each other get too drunk, or wander off with any strange people. Never go up to a man’s room, unless you actually plan to have sex with him (and you let your friends know where you’re going). If you need help getting home, either call a cab or walk home with your friends, don’t have someone you don’t know walk you home.

    You don’t say whether the guy was also drunk. If so, his judgment was also impaired, and if you can’t trust yourself to make good decisions when you’re drunk, you definitely can’t trust the judgement of a drunk person you hardly know!

    There now. If Amy had used a little tact in how she phrased her letter, this wouldn’t even be a controversy. Amy would’ve gotten a pat on the back for giving the poor victim valuable advice with which to protect herself in the future. Instead? She’s a “rape apologist” even though her original version of the letter basically made the exact same points my edited version did.

    Anybody who disputes the FACT that getting shitfaced drunk at a college party, and then going off to some strange guy’s room, is a stupid thing to do is living in another universe. 20 years ago, when I was a freshman in college, a new friend of mine gave me a rundown on what to do and what not to do at a frat party. The central point of her advice? Go with a trusted friend. Leave with the same trusted friend. Do not lose track of the trusted friend at any point in the evening. Why did she share this advice with me? Because she got shitfaced drunk at a frat party her freshman year, she accepted a strange guy’s offer to pass out in his room, and she woke up with him in the middle of having sex with her.

    Yup. She was raped under very similar circumstances as “Victim? in VA”. And she took full responsibility for being stupid enough to put herself in that situation. And instead of carrying on about how women should have the right to go anywhere and do anything with no risk of anything bad ever happening to them, she took the very pragmatic approach of realizing shitty people do shitty things sometimes, and made sure that neither she nor any of her friends ever ended up in that situation again.

    Sure, Amy might have been tactless, but she had a valuable point to make nonetheless.

  16. December 16th, 2009 at 22:03 | #16

    Saraid :

    Melen,

    I wasn’t intentionally misinterpreting your comments. I’m sorry if any offense was taken on your part. I was just trying to voice an opinion.

    I understand, it’s no problem. And it’s not my intent to be offensive either.

    There’s no dispute that those who commit assault are responsible for their own actions. Maybe a part of this argument is a lack of understanding. There is no excuse, the rapist is at fault. My point is more, we have to use common sense. All of us, not just women. And common sense would dictate that when you’re drunk and someone already doesn’t seem right, going into a closed room alone with them is not the best move in the world. Offend her, if needed. Hurt her feelings, if that’s what’s required to make her understand, but get the point across that the first line of defense is in intelligently making decisions.

    Going to a frat party, apparently alone, getting drunk and then willingly being alone with someone that’s already pressured you is not intelligent at all. That doesn’t mean she’s responsible for the rape. It means that this could’ve been prevented by taking a couple of seconds and mentally asking “Is what I’m about to do stupid?”. It means with the proper education, hopefully it wont happen again. Being blunt like this before it happens, and running the risk of offending people, still seems like the better action to take, than saving peoples feelings. If it prevents an assault, I’d call it a win.

  17. December 16th, 2009 at 22:32 | #17

    Rayne,

    When I went to read the background posts and replies, I was appalled that anyone would have had a problem with Amy’s initial responce. Amy never said it wasn’t rape, or that the letter writer was repsonsible for the fact she was raped. What she did do was to point out the ways in which the letter writer made it easier for the rapist to commit his crime. Wha the fuck did Amy do that was so wrong? I can’t even fault her for the lack of tact (as mivox pointed out). The letter writer was stupid. While I do believe that stupid should hurt, it shouldn’t lead to rape. But to not call her on her stupidity at the same time we throw the book at the rapist is to do her a disservice.

    I’ve never personally been to a frat party (thank God), and I find the idea that guys would deliberatly set up women to rape them sickening. More depressing, I’m not terribly surprised that some do. It shoudn’t be a surprise to anyone over that age of 13 either. From the letter writer’s own words, she knew she was in a dangerous situation and was making a choice that wasn’t smart. I hope the guy who raped her goes to jail for a very long time. I hope she hets a clue hat and doesn’t put herself in that potition again. It’s not a contratiction to hope for both those things.

    One last thing. Melen is right about one thing more. This letter is hinky, very hinky. I find it hard to believe that the writer doesn’t know she was victimized. More believable would have been someone asking why they feel soemhow at fault for what happened (a depressingly typical rape reaction). There are cases of false rape accusations, and everyone need to take that possibility into account. This letter, however, has all the feel of a made up case designed to be either a poster child for being safe; or designed to provoke the very reaction it got, for the purpose of emasculating Amy in the press. It got a visceral reaction and prompted this thread. Something to think about.

    Dave

  18. December 16th, 2009 at 22:34 | #18

    Damn, I screwed up the tags again.

  19. December 17th, 2009 at 05:33 | #19

    OK, I spent the best part of 20 years in what could loosely be termed the personal security industry. One of the first things we explained to clients was the two best ways to avoid becoming a victim.

    1. Don’t look like a potential target.

    2. Don’t put yourself in situations that make you a target.

    The young lady in the original letter broke both the rules, people need to be held accountable for their actions, be it committing a rape, or setting one up

  20. December 17th, 2009 at 07:53 | #20

    @dweaver999: Don’t misunderstand me … I didn’t personally have a problem with Amy’s response. I just thought she could have easily rephrased her response in such a way as to avoid controversy, without missing her original point. 😉

    @daddy_keep: I read a book entitled “The Gift of Fear” which made the same points you do, in many, many, more specific words. A good lesson to everyone: Listen to your gut reaction.

  21. December 17th, 2009 at 10:18 | #21

    @dweaver999 I fixed them for you. 🙂

  22. Joji
    December 18th, 2009 at 22:00 | #22

    I have to side with dweaver on this, it was definately rape but it could have been prevented with a little caution.

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