Rape Apologism in Advice Columns

Note to readers: I’m going to be quoting some rather icky rape apologist and shaming language here, for reasons of critique. I feel like I should warn you so that you can, you know, not read this if you would rather not be exposed to that sort of thing.

Recently, Ouyang Dan pointed me in the direction of “Ask Amy,” an advice column at the Chicago Tribune. We were actually talking about columns to use for the “Dear Imprudence” feature at FWD, and we were marveling over the sea of fail that is “Ask Amy.” Practically every column provided material for dissection and discussion. One, in particular, jumped out at me. I was so astounded by it that I actually wondered, in all seriousness, if the Tribune had really published it.

It was incredibly horrific. Really, words can barely describe the horror.

The headline in the archives, “Rape question a matter of consent,” did not bode well. I suspected that I might be on the verge of reading something very infuriating when I clicked it, but I have a tendency to go ahead and read things which I know will upset me, so I clicked through.

The lede of the column is a letter from a reader who attended a frat party and was raped at the party. Describing the circumstances, she says that she said “no” repeatedly, and asks: “…my question is, if I wasn’t kicking and fighting him off, is it still rape?” The letter closes “Am I a victim?” The reader also mentions that she had been drinking, and that she felt like her reaction times were slowed by the alcohol.

How does Amy respond?

Perhaps she says “you’re not a victim, you’re a survivor.” Perhaps she says “yes, you were raped, Victim? In Virginia.” Perhaps she refers the reader to some resources, like a rape crisis center in Virginia which might be able to provide assistance. Perhaps she points out that rape is rape, whether or not “kicking and fighting” are involved, that coercion comes in many forms. Perhaps she says that even if you have been drinking, you have a right to not be raped.

Nope. Here’s what Amy said:

…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.

Yeah. That’s right. You stupid slut, you made your bed, now go lie in it. Everyone knows that going to parties at frat houses will result in rape, or sex that you will regret, and no self-respecting lady would ever attend such a party, for this very reason. Frat houses, of course, are not under any obligation to reform their culture, or to take steps to ensure that all party attendees have a reasonable expectation of personal safety.

Amy goes on to suggest that perhaps the man should get a pass because his judgment was impaired. And that the rape survivor “must involve the guy in question in order to determine what happened.” Yes, ladies, that’s right, when you are raped, the first thing you should do is to go talk to your rapist, and talk. Because you need to find out what happened! How will you know if it’s not mansplained to you?!

Oh, she grudgingly says that “no means no” and makes a passing reference to consent. But she makes sure to call it “sex,” not “rape,” and she makes it very clear that this horrible slutty stupid writer clearly got what she deserved. I mean, who goes to a social gathering without expecting rape?

I’m sure that Amy’s response will make this rape survivor feel so much better. It’s terrific to reach out for help and to be slut shamed and informed that you’re stupid. And to be told that your letter should be “posted on college bulletin boards everywhere” as a lesson to all the other slutty, stupid college students who are foolish enough to think that they deserve bodily autonomy drunk or sober, in any location, with anyone.

Yeah, rape is a question of consent. And agency. And will. And in this case, it’s clear that the rape survivor lacked all three. She clearly did not have consent, she lacked agency, and she did not have will. She was, in fact, raped.

Why are we constantly putting the thrust of the blame on rape survivors, rather than the people who rape them? Why is it always the fault of the stupid slut/trans woman/nervous college student/sex worker just for existing, rather than the fault of the rape culture which makes people think that it is acceptable to rape people? How can an advice columnist think that it is in any way a good idea to shame a survivor, to tell her that she should go talk to her rapist to “decide” what happened, and to not provide her with any resources beyond a tepid recommendation to go to the college health clinic?

What message does that send to rape survivors needing help who read that column? It tells them that they should stay silent. They should not speak up. They should not ask for help. Keep on staying quiet, rape survivors, because no one wants to hear your stories. Don’t speak up, because if you do, you will probably be shamed and informed that it’s all your fault. (Shouldn’t have gone to that party. Shouldn’t have worn that skirt. Shouldn’t be a sex worker. Shouldn’t be trans. Shouldn’t have flirted. Shouldn’t have had that second drink. Should have been more careful. Should have tried harder. You deserved what you got.)

Your society, the cultural values which surround you, they are in no way responsible for what happened to you. Nope. It’s all your fault.

Way to enforce rape culture, Dear Amy.

(More commentary on this from Amanda Hess at the Sexist, ginmar at A View From A Broad, and Hortense at Jezebel.)

5 Replies to “Rape Apologism in Advice Columns”

  1. Yeah, I couldn’t help but think that as I read the Dear Amy letter; it was just a reinforcement of commonly held beliefs about rape.

  2. Disgusting. The part I can’t get over, of course, is the genius behind the concept of confronting the rapist to “determine what really happened.” It’s a perfect plan, really, seeing as one cannot trust the judgment of womenfolk. Especially those that commit the crime of Partying While Female.

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