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Tuesday, December 01, 2009  

Awful Judgment Indeed

The Trib's Amy 'Ask Amy' Dickinson is getting a lot of heat for a badly-fumbled response to a rape victim asking whether she was raped. If you read the column, it's very clear to me that she was, but Amy just punts the ball back to the victim by restating the criteria for rape and leaving it at that. Among the answer's failures, that one seems paramount. The poor woman wanted to know if she'd been raped, she sought Amy Dickinson out for advice, and she got basically no help in that area at all.

Amanda Hess has said all that needs to be said about her further advice to consult the rapist to "determine what happened." I'm most scandalized, actually, by the set-up. Here's the letter:

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?

If there are gray areas in the matter of consent, this doesn't fall into them. But what's Amy's lede?

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.

First? First? Getting drunk at a frat house has some predictable and justified consequences: hangovers, taking back things you maybe shouldn't have said, embarrassing pictures, the clap. But rape is not one of them. Rape is not a reasonable punishment for getting drunk and hanging out with boys. Even frat boys are human beings with enough free will to avoid having forcible sex with other people should they so choose.* Frat houses are not open cities. A young woman who goes to a frat party and gets drunk has no one but herself to blame if she actually does something stupid, but she is the last person to blame if she gets raped.

And how does one "engage in...unwanted sexual contact?" Let's try that in the old style book: "the homicide participant engaged in unwanted getting-shot-in-the-head late last night." I mean, what the hell? It's possible to consent to an act you don't really want to do, and surely women the world over (and men too) know what this is about. But the scenario as described--and as warned against by Ask Amy--is not halfheartedness or reluctance, but actual absence of legitimate consent.

This really should not be that hard to think and write clearly about. But whenever you add young women and alcohol, everybody starts getting bashful about stating what ought to be obvious. Now life is risky, relations between the sexes are especially risky, and our culture of consent as the coin of the realm is really, really risky in all kinds of ways. But it is telling and depressing that the conventional response to these risks is to load ever more responsibility on women and their institutional protectors (families, universities, social service providers) to warn them away from situations that ought not be dangerous. I would really like to see a high-profile push to get women to turn bastards like this guy in, to press charges, and to redistribute the fear a little more toward the boys. After all, if both law and custom treat frat houses (or any other place where unsupervised women consume alcohol) as legal gray areas and sexual free-fire zones, that's exactly what they'll be. For every lecture college women hear about sticking close to friends, counting their drinks (a good idea, seriously!), and not going behind closed doors with a guy they don't want to have sex with, I wish the guys heard one about behaviors that will get their backward-baseball-capped asses thrown in the pokey.

* UPDATE: Just to be clear, I don't have anything against members of fraternities (though man, AZD house in Hyde Park had a penchant for super-racist party themes). I well understand the impulse. What I object to--and what I think thoughtful frat guys ought to object to--is the depiction of fraternities and their parties as some kind of steel-cage rapefests. There's a reason that "getting drunk at a frat party" is a canonical blame-the-victim scenario, and it's because the culture thinks almost as little of frat boys and their parties as it does of the women who visit them. I would be pissed about this, honestly, if I were a member of a fraternity. It shouldn't just be feminists arguing that men are capable of stopping themselves from committing rape.

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posted by Benjamin Dueholm | 9:33 AM
Just to be clear, "frat party turned rape" is as clear an example of "a few bad apples" as I have come across in my short time on this planet.
During my time in college, the Greek male community had a higher average GPA than non-Greek males. The average number of hours spent in voluntary community service was much higher, the number of arrests per person was lower than non-Greek males, the graduation rate was higher, the dropout rate was lower, and the post-graduation employment rate was higher.
In short, virtually every statistic showed that "frat boys" are better citizens and better college students than their GDI (God-Damned Independent) peers.

But the Alpha Beta image lives on.
I don't doubt it, Alex--which is what should make this sort of talk from Amy Dickinson all the more infuriating. She manages to demean a rape victim by saying that she failed to write off a whole group of fellow humans as nothing more than predatory animals.

I have no data or anecdotes to back this up, but I kind of doubt that women are in more or less danger at dorm, apartment, and house parties than at fraternities. But somehow "frat parties" are the place where true rape is considered nigh-impossible because it's like the sexual equivalent of Beirut in 1983. It's crazy.
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