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Rape: Still Awkward, or, Dear Prudence: You Suck

Read the top post in today’s Dear Prudence chat. And then join me in a shiny hatefest.

I link to Dear Prudence in my sidebar because her constant slut-shaming (and every other kind of shaming) makes her one of the reasons I do what I do here. She literally never resists the chance to tell someone “Well, guess you should have thought of that before you wound up here, sucks to be you, ha ha!”

In today’s answer, she becomes several of these people at the same time.

We don’t have any details in the letter about what happened, and I’m not a detective or any of the principals involved in the story, which means that the truth is out there and I don’t know it.

What I do know is that if your friend says “I got really drunk to the point of incapacitation, and I had sex with this guy when I didn’t really want to and I really regret it” one day, and a few days later she says “I’ve been thinking about it more, and I think I may have been raped. Maybe he put something in my drink,” the correct response 100% of the time is:

1. Are you okay?

2. Do you want to talk about it?

3. What do you think you’ll do about that?

4. Can I help with anything?

And not “Well, I’ve seen you really drunk before, so you’re probably lying, and also, let’s think of the poor guy here. Do you really want to ruin his life with your trivial concerns that he put his penis in you when you couldn’t meaningfully consent to sex? I mean, where’s your evidence?

Let’s talk about the particular horror of this sentence:

Tell her that she needs to think very long and hard about filing a criminal complaint against this guy if there’s any way her behavior could be construed to be consensual.”

“Construed to be consensual?” What the everloving fuck? Is that the standard now, where if one partner “construes” things to be consensual it doesn’t matter whether it was actually consensual? How convenient.

The letter writer’s friend may in fact have a very weak criminal case.

The letter writer’s friend may well have holes in her memory and be confused about events.

The guy may have been just as drunk, making it a big gray area.

The letter writer’s friend may have gotten really drunk before….guess what? Putting your penis in really drunk people who can’t meaningfully consent is rape! It would have been rape all of those other times, too! Getting drunk doesn’t mean you automatically consent to whatever happens to you.

That’s theoretically why we have police detectives, prosecutors, and ultimately juries. If the lady makes a call to the cops, it doesn’t automatically mean that guy will be thrown in jail forever and ever, no matter what MRAs would have you believe. Maybe there will be some uncomfortable conversations and some fact-checking. If there is really and truly no evidence it will never even go to trial, much less “ruin” the guy’s life.

Whatever happened between the letter writer’s friend and that guy, the standard of what rape is does not depend on having a perfect victim who has never ever been drunk before and who also has never expressed doubt or second thoughts about anything, assaulted by a slavering beast stranger in a dark alley after saying “no” loudly and clearly and fighting back in the presence of several witnesses, calling the police immediately, and making sure there is a full array of damning forensic evidence conveniently on hand. So thanks, Prudence, for sending the message that being less than perfect means that you deserve whatever happens to you and that you better not speak up about it, and reminding us that if you say you are raped everyone will immediately scrutinize your behavior to figure out how you brought it on yourself.

Christ, what an asshole.

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101 comments
  1. FarmerStina said:

    I quit reading Dear Prudence a year and a half ago because in one of these chats a while back she suggested slipping a tranq in the drink of an obnoxious relative. I sputtered for a week about that one and still thinking about it makes me mad. I don’t know what fucked up world she lives in, but it’s not one I care to visit ever again.
    Dear Prudence has no business giving anyone advice on anything and I feel for anyone who accidentally asks her for advice.

    • Straight Dope made a good point about what we euphemistically call “slipping something into someone’s drink.” There’s a legal term for that behavior – it’s called “poisoning.”

      • Canary said:

        Perhaps it would be possible to get that idea through people’s heads. “Don’t poison people” seems like a pretty easy concept to grasp whereas the euphemism doesn’t really convey the idea *at all*.

  2. Lily said:

    THANK YOU. I’m probably gonna say this awkwardly (how appropriate!) but the thing that struck me about it was this: sometimes people try to tell themselves a story that gives them agency … “i meant to do that!” … and realize some time later that it doesn’t fit, and start over. Sometimes women who have been raped do this, since there is a TON of shame lying around waiting to fall on rape victims.

    • Yep. Or possibly one reason the friend may have changed her story was because she actually started remembering events from that night.

    • Allison said:

      I also thought, maybe her friend didn’t go, “I’ve been raped” right away because she was only thinking of rape as a stranger attacking you from the bushes, and when someone or something expanded her definition, she realized that what had happened to her was in fact rape, and adjusted accordingly.

    • Cassandra said:

      Well said, Lily.

    • piny said:

      Also, people don’t always come out with stories like this right away because hey, maybe their friends will betray them and say horrible things to them.

  3. Ensign Perception said:

    The sad part is, the woman does have to think long and hard about making a complaint.

    Because people like Emily Yoffe will tear her to shreds for having the audacity.

    Seriously, UGH.

    • That’s the thing! The offending sentence is actually good advice for ALL THE OPPOSITE REASONS: a trial might be traumatic for you; people will judge you; the police might not believe you; etc. But not “you’re a drunk slut anyway so whatever.”

      I also like how Prudie is all “I know this is an unpopular opinion.” Why do people who spout the status quo always talk about how daring and contrarian they are?

      • JenniferP said:

        Judging by the comments, she has a depressingly popular opinion.

        • You read the comments? You are a braver soul than I.

      • Copcher said:

        That’s totally what I was thinking. She should worry about her own life, and whether or not she wants to deal with people like Emily Yoffe ruining it.

        Re: “I know this is an unpopular opinion,” I feel like sometimes when people say that, what they mean is, “I’ve heard really compelling explanations for why what I’m about to say is wrong, and I can’t argue against them, but I can’t imagine that I’d be wrong so I’m just going to assume that I’m actually right and everyone else is just oppressing me.”

        • renaissancey said:

          Oh my gosh, your second paragraph, YES.

      • Yesyes, reading the post before I read the letter, I had a moment of thinking, “Yeah, if somebody came to me for advice or support after having been raped, especially if it had the markers of “grey rape” I think I probably WOULD tell them that the process of prosecuting rape can be really really hard on the person who was raped, and maybe ask them if they were certain they wanted that, and ask how they would feel if there was a trial and no conviction, while assuring them that I would support them no matter what” and then I read the original advice, and just no. TURRRRRBLE (said with Nixon-like jowl shake) advice, Prudie!

        • GrouchyABD said:

          That is exactly what I was sort of hoping would happen, too! But no. Also, man, I am never going out drinking with Emily Yoffe. I’m just saying.

          • JenniferP said:

            It’s not her “friend’s” job to be the detective, DA, judge and jury, right? I put the word “friend” in quotation marks, because I suspect they won’t or shouldn’t be friends for long.

    • JenniferP said:

      I love that Prudence was all “your friend will be making it harder for ‘real’ victims to come forward” while not acknowledging that attitudes like hers are what makes it hard to come forward.

      • Awkward Niece said:

        I’m guessing that by ‘love’ you mean ‘loathe with the passion of a thousand fiery suns’.

  4. J-Dub said:

    Thank you for raging about this because ever since I read it (here’s where I admit I hate-read every Dear Prudence column because I just can’t resist an advice column no matter how obnoxious the letter writers or the advice-giver [and thanks be to the FSM that this blog exists because it is both interesting and helpful]) I have been raging. Even by Prudie’s usual (abysmal) standards, what she wrote today is awful.
    OH! If you haven’t already read the comments take my advice and STAY FAR THE FUCK AWAY FROM THEM because they will just make you want to scream and throw things. I knew they would be bad before I read them and yet I clicked through because I just never learn, I guess.

  5. Yeah I read that earlier and had a minor rage breakdown at work.
    It’s “advice” like that that kept me from admitting to anyone for years, including myself, that I had been raped by a boyfriend. And kept me blaming myself, and almost backing out from prosecuting, even when I did everything the “right” way and it was clear cut.
    Fuck you, Emily Yoffe.

    • on and the rage, RAGE, at the “it’s impossible to drink to excess and be raped” shit that she kept on repeating. Just, gah.

      • JenniferP said:

        Oh yeah, she just kept digging. Check it:

        (Prudence): This is why it’s a really good idea not to get so drunk you are no longer responsible for your actions. Presumably the guy was drinking, too. So two drunk people voluntarily stumble off to bed, then later she realizes that she actually wasn’t in a condition to give consent, even though she may have appeared to be consenting. I take rape very, very seriously, but as we’ve seen in high-profile cases, many women get slammed with the notion that they’ve consented when they’ve truly been assaulted. If this case is as the friend describes, I think it’s a big mistake for a woman to turn her mistake into a criminal matter.”

        Also, don’t rape really drunk people! kthanxbye

        • Anna said:

          I am just astounded at how quickly she turns around from “many women get slammed with the notion that they’ve consented when they’ve truly been assaulted” to “it’s a big mistake for a woman to turn her mistake into a criminal matter.” What is she even saying? Does she believe that this woman was capable of consent at that time or not? I don’t think she even knows what she believes.

        • Marie said:

          “I take rape very, very seriously”

          Hold on a sec.

          “I take hypothetical rape very, very seriously.”

          Fixed it, Prudie.

  6. I unsubscribed to Prudie after one too many awful blaming clueless sex-negative advices, and wrote her a letter admonishing her as well. I am frankly livid that she has a bigger forum than you do, Captain!
    LET’S GET THAT CHANGED, AWKWARD ARMY!
    If Dan Savage can turn his lovely Savage Love readers into the force that makes Rick Santorum’s name the second choice on the Google, then we can get the Captain’s loving wisdom out there!

    CHAAAAAARGE!

    • scamel from the rock said:

      Delurking to second the sentiment of being really glad Captain Awkward wrote about this! I still hold out pathetic hopes that if we repeatedly and loudly criticize popular columnists who pull this shit, we may start to change opinions! I doubt Prudie herself will change — devoting about a third of her chat to comments praising her for her “bravery” shows how invested she is in this particular call — but the more people who read an answer like that and think “well, hold on now, that doesn’t seem right,” the better.

      I’m thinking of when Jezebel (among others) wrote about an awful response in the seriously weird “Friend or Foe” column at Slate. I had already stopped reading the column, but the few times I’ve checked back since then, Rosenfeld does seem to have started being slightly more careful, even though she got extremely indignant over the “your fault you got yourself roofied” incident. (And even though, now that I read back, that Jezebel response was extremely gentle given the severe terribleness of Rosenfeld’s advice.)

  7. Marie said:

    When I was a kid, I read a Dear Abby column where a junior high girl described being sexually assaulted by her male friends (TW for details). They had been playfully flirting, and she lifted her top a little to show the bottom of her bra. So they came over, pinned her to the ground, ripped off her shirt, and molested her, while laughing. Dear Abby actually told her, “When you showed them your bra, you showed that you were willing to play.” I was in proto-feminist stage — for sure feminist, but I mean how feminist do I have to be we have equal pay now right — and was completely unaware that there were still battles like this to be fought out there. I wrote her a rage-sputtering response (“where the fuck does willing to show my bra become willing to be held down and felt up and obviously they knew she wasn’t ‘willing’ or the holding down part wouldn’t have happened and are you actually saying this Dear Abby ARE YOU!!! I thought you were a grown-up!”) and was somehow shocked again when she never responded.

    It was a depressing long fall from “Feminism, that’s a fun thing I say I am” into the cavernous pit of FEMINISM: a needed thing, because everybody is awful.

    • JenniferP said:

      I can tell you the exact moment I decided to leave the Catholic church. I was about 13 or 14. The priest gave a sermon about marriage, and talked forever and ever about this story where the man was an addict and an abuser, and the woman thought about leaving him many times, but NO, SHE STUCK IT OUT and eventually years later he got clean because of her love and faith in him and wasn’t that a great story of love and redemption? What if she had divorced him? She never would have had the joy of having the marriage she wanted after all those years?

      13 year old me knew that was a crock.

  8. JenniferP said:

    Oh god, I hadn’t read all of the link, just her preliminary answer, so I missed this one:

    “Q. False Accusations: I have a real issue with the “I was so drunk I can’t consent” argument, as a guy. My issue is this: A rape accusation, whether real or not, can ruin a man’s life—it can ruin his professional and personal relationships among other things. Furthermore, the court of public opinion is far too quick to convict men (think Duke lacrosse team) without proof. The woman should ask herself if she really was raped or she really just drank too much, and unless she’s 100% sure that she was raped, she should learn a lesson from this, not make her fellow one-night-stander into a victim.

    A: Another great point. No one should have to defend himself against a false accusation like this. You are right that the consequences can be disastrous.

    Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Have a great week.”

    A cop coming and talking to a guy about the events of last weekend might ruin his whole day, so even if someone stuck his body parts into your body parts without your consent, think twice about being such a downer! After all, you were drunk!

    Emily Yoffe, I’m basically lumping you in with MRAs at this point. Jesus.

    Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaate.

    • renaissancey said:

      What the ACTUAL FUCK. This whole thing makes me want to cry, not least because when you start telling women they can’t accuse men of rape if it happens while they’re drunk, then it’s not much further to “never accuse men of rape at all.” And if you’re me, it takes you four years to realize that hey, that one time you were making out with a guy and wanted to stop and said so, but he ignored you and had sex with you anyway? That was rape, even though you knew him and even though you were already making out with him.

    • “A rape accusation, whether real or not, can ruin a man’s life”

      Jesus fucking Christ won’t somebody think about the poor rapists.

      • JenniferP said:

        A detective might show up when they were planning to golf or something!

        • KL said:

          This made me laugh the bitterest laugh. Thank you, Captain Awkward.

  9. Rosie said:

    Construed to be consent? Have I been living in a magic princess world where we were PAST that being a defense? I think I have. :(

    “Her voice said no, but her ensuing blackout said yes!”

  10. Becks said:

    And what if it was the exact same situation- but the “friend” was a guy and the rapist was also a guy. How might that have played out in Prudie’s little world of slut shaming…

    • JenniferP said:

      Probably just as horribly.

      • BlackHumor said:

        Just as horrible, but an entirely different flavor! I’m guessing it would be somewhere between “men can’t be raped” and gay-bashing. (But who knows, maybe she could invent an new and exciting way to be horrible!)

  11. TeaBQ said:

    Good to know that if you (possibly) have drinking problems that means you can’t be raped! ’cause you’re a drunk!

    Yeah I… can’t even. There’s rage. Lots of rage.

  12. You know, as a victim of something that even Emily Yoffe would call rape, I find that calling rape while drunk, well , rape and supporting the victims of it does not diminish what happened to me at all.

    Well maybe she would not call it rape, but most would. I was 5 and wearing at t shirt and pants the time.

  13. Tim said:

    Let’s just ignore what the rape crisis hotline said, ok? Because I’ve seen you get falling-down drunk before, and therefore it’s your fault.

    /sarcasm

    Yeech. This is world-class victim-blaming.

    • LSG said:

      Double points for the person who smirked (I can tell through the computer screen), “Emily, I just want to offer my support for the points you made about the “victim” of this so-called rape. I know you’ll get bombarded with a lot of offended armchair (and maybe even actual) advocates for rape victims, but women, taking ownership of our bodies means owning up to the responsibility of when we screw up.”

      YEAH, WHAT DO THOSE ALLEGED ADVOCATES FOR SO-CALLED RAPE VICTIMS KNOW. PSHHH.

  14. wondering said:

    Priceless. She shouldn’t prosecute because it “might ruin the guy’s life”, and not a single person spouting that crap considers that someone just irrevocably changed hers forever.

    • Exactly. Unsurprisingly, this seems to be a theme. It drove me batshit crazy when Polanski was arrested and there was so much uber-dispassionate (read: heartless and sexist) talk about what a loss it would have been not to have art made by a great artiste like him. It just made me want to smash things and yell:

      AND WHAT!?!? ALL THE GIRLS HE, AND MEN LIKE HIM, PUT THROUGH HELL NEVER HAD ANY POTENTIAL FOR GREAT ART THEMSELVES???

      What, exactly, did they think it meant to that 13 year old girl’s ambitions and ability to maximize her own talent that she was lured into being violently raped by being told that she had potential? Or (hulk smashingly quite likely) did they never stop to consider that victims may have great art to give the world as well?

      (which isn’t to say that survivors can’t still create great art – I also hate the myth that victims are forever broken – let’s just not pretend that this kind of trauma isn’t a deterrent and obstacle to doing so)

      • wondering said:

        I hear ya – that’s why I said “irrevocably changed her life” because I did not want to say that my rapist ruined my life. But dancing around the language does allow people to ignore or dismiss the very real effects of being raped. It supports the construction of “being accused of rape ruins a man’s life FOREVARRRRR” while the victims get blamed, shamed, or expected to get over it. If your trust of others is ruined (forever?) you’re just called a man-hater. (They’re not all rapists, you know, and it is hurtful that you are distrustful.) Wheeee!

  15. Oh, thank god! I love advice columns, so I read Dear Prudence, but shit like this gets me so riled up! And then a lot of times the commentators agree with her stinking thinking! I feel so alone in my viewpoints sometimes, so I am glad you all exist and are thinking these things! *GROUP HUG TO ANYONE WHO WANTS ONE*

  16. LSG said:

    I love advice columns, even rotten ones, so I regularly read Dear Prudence — and her advice has been so actively destructive lately I just want to smash things.

    Did anyone else read a few weeks back, when a teacher wrote in saying she (I think she?) had a teenage student who came in to school with a bruise on his face, and admitted to her that his father had hit him, but insisted it had only happened once…and Prudie told the teacher not to call the police, because IT MIGHT RUIN THE FATHER’S LIFE. He could get FIRED! He’s probably really, really sorry now! And the teacher seemed sure that he was usually a loving father!

    That was the point at which I consigned the column to the depths of hell. And I see a number of parallels with today’s chat — except that in that case, the follow-up comments were all horrified people pointing out the wrong wrong wrongness of that advice, and in this case the follow-up comments that were published are all patting themselves on the back for their edgy, daring “sluts be lying” perspective.

    • J-Dub said:

      OMG yes, I remember that one, and was horrified by Prudie’s response though the commenters at least took her to task for what she said. (I mean, doesn’t the teacher in that situation have a LEGAL obligation to report potential abuse, in addition to the moral obligation?) Usually, though, the comments there are atrocious (which, sadly, doesn’t stop me from reading them). One of the worst ones I read yesterday was some dude saying that he’d rather every “real” rapist go free if it meant ensuring even just one innocent man wasn’t arrested wrongly. (Not that I’m for people getting arrested for crimes they didn’t commit, but, you know…)

      • Bex said:

        I actually don’t know of a state where teachers AREN’T mandated reporters for that sort of thing. I kind of figure, between a teacher and an abusive asshole, I’d rather the teacher kept their job. At least teachers are TRYING to do something good for the world and other people.

    • cyranothe2nd said:

      Yep. I couldn’t stop thinking of Penn State and the parallels between her advice and that shitastic situation. Prudie is grossgrossgross.

  17. Esti said:

    HOLY FUCK THANK YOU.

    I was *shaking* with rage after I read that column today. The first response was bad enough, but then she ran two or three follow-up comments, all of which thanked her for her “bravery” in standing up to those slutty lying rape accusers who just wanted to blame someone for their bad decisions.

    It makes me so angry that this woman has a platform to say things like that over and over, and that there are victims reading it. It makes me so angry that the overwhelming number of commenters then back up those views. It makes me so angry that the knee-jerk is “but WHAT IF IT TECHNICALLY WASN’T LEGALLY A RAPE YOU LYING SLUT” when in every other context people seem capable of separating what the law says from whether their friend who is hurting deserves love and support. It makes me so angry that if you don’t call it rape the day after, no one will believe you when you come to realize that’s what happened. It makes me so angry that if you call it rape the day after but later — perhaps because of victim-blaming asshats — you express any doubt, that ALSO means that no one will believe you. It makes me so angry that wanting to talk to the police about something you think might have been rape is always automatically assumed to be you trying to RUIN HIS LIFE and excuse your sluttiness. It makes me so angry that everyone latches onto one of the tiny number of cases in which men were acquitted of rape as proof that false accusations are a big scary threat while ignoring the millions of cases in which, despite the enormous hurdles to reporting, charging, and successfully prosecuting a date/acquaintance rape case, someone was convicted of rape because their victim was too drunk to consent. It makes me so angry that the victim being drunk means they need to take responsibility for their actions or can’t be trusted to remember what happened while the perpetrator being drunk means they can’t be at fault and they didn’t realize anything was wrong. It makes me so angry that people who are so concerned about how awful it is to be accused of rape have so little empathy for how awful it is to BE RAPED.

    And beyond everything, it makes me so intensely angry that sexual assault is routinely discussed this way in liberal spaces. I expect this shit from Fox News and from MRAs and from conservative blogs. But it’s pervasive in liberal spaces, coming from people who identify as liberal. It’s the people on our side who say this shit half the time. It’s Democrats, and Occupy movements, and progressive commentators, and it’s women. And it’s heartbreaking every single time.

    • kate said:

      “It makes me so angry that the victim being drunk means they need to take responsibility for their actions or can’t be trusted to remember what happened while the perpetrator being drunk means they can’t be at fault and they didn’t realize anything was wrong. It makes me so angry that people who are so concerned about how awful it is to be accused of rape have so little empathy for how awful it is to BE RAPED”

      Gold star.

  18. Yan said:

    That chat question has been bothering me in a very insidious way since I read it. There was a gut reaction of wanting to rage/hatred for the bad advice, but there was something more, too. My brain was trying to come to grips with just why the “what if both people are too drunk to consent? Is it rape?” line of “reasoning” bothered me. There’s a bit of logic to it, but the twisty kind that ties you in knots.

    Watching TV last night, I realized that what struck me about the comment wasn’t the comment itself but the cultural context of it, specifically the “dating” world as portrayed by mainstream entertainment media. Leaving out all serious legal and serious discussions of rape, FBI definitions, advocacy, etc., and looking just at television last night: There is a culture that says it’s okay to have sex with a woman too drunk to consent. That says that drunk women are easy, and that it’s a joke to pick one up in a bar and take her home. That encourages men with no social skills or sociopathic tendencies to “solve” their dating problems by picking up drunk women. It solidifies the predator/prey philosophy of dating which defies consent culture at its very core. And this is mainstreamed to the point that it can play in primetime television without much comment or concern.

    THAT is the context in which the original LW questions her “friend’s” assertions about what happened to her, the context in which Prudie’s bad assvice is given, and the context in which chatters supported that bad assvice.

    So yeah, Prudie’s attempt at advice couldn’t have been worse (not to mention well over-stepping, as the LW was not the victim, but the kind of friend you hope you never have — so all the victim-blaming and judgement was done at, what, third-hand??) but what really disturbed me and stuck with me was that context. That’s what was bothering me most — that it is rape and rape via inability to consent has been normalized in a way that is appalling.

    • Gadfly said:

      This seems spot on.

  19. JenniferP said:

    Thanks for this!

    I think it’s Emily Yoffe’s total lack of awareness of the culture surrounding this and the way she went automatically to “that lying drunk liar will ruin someone’s life, you’d better stop her” and the idea that a messy, gray area situation might “ruin it for *real* victims” if brought forward, like women have an obligation to be raped only in very clearcut ways or else they need to STFU.

    Calling the cops, undergoing an exam and questioning isn’t exactly going to be fun times for this lady. But what if an investigation showed that while she was very, very drunk, the guy was sober and knew exactly what we was doing? What if he DID put something in her drink, or buy her tons of drinks to get her to that point? If he’s above board an investigation will clear him. If he’s not, it will find it out. Since that is stuff that internet advice columns and friends can’t know for certain, why the horror at trusting it to the pros?

    I’ve trashed several comments that talk about the letter writer’s obligation to “protect the community” from “women like this,” once again as if the problem is women and not rapists. Y’all are barking up the wrong tree.

    • piny said:

      Thank you for writing this! I was incensed by the column.

      Rapists don’t only target drunk women because they’re made out to be sluts who wanted it, although that’s definitely a factor. They target them because they actually are incapacitated. Once a woman has had a few drinks, her guard is down. It’s easier to drug her drink or get her to accept more drinks. Then, when she’s really intoxicated, she can be attacked.

      This picture people have of mutual drunken sexytimes is accurate in the sense that it really is quite common–hello, social lubricant–but definitely not accurate in that it has no relation to rape as it happens or as women believe it to have happened. When two people get wasted and have sex, they generally don’t get terribly upset about it. When women say they were assaulted, they generally were.

      And really, outside the forboding, ice-tipped peaks of Slutshamia, this woman’s history of blithe public drunkenness should give credibility to her story. Drunken sex with strangers has probably happened before, and apparently not caused her any lasting shame. Why is this so different? Why does she feel so terrible? The idea that she must be prone to making false accusations…because she’s never made false accusations before…is ridiculous.

    • piny said:

      Also, what if she’s not the first woman who’s complained about him?

      • RedSonja said:

        We know that’s not the case, since apparently complaining about a man apparently ruins his life forever and they end up homeless in a ditch. /sarcasm

    • Yan said:

      I just saw one of the ads that made this so clear to me again, for some new show on MTV. A girl with the wobbly stance meant to read as “drunk” tells a guy, “I like your shirt.” He responds, “I like your potentially compromised judgement.”

      This is supposed to be entertainment?

      • Stephanie said:

        Wow.

    • kate said:

      I totally agree. People get all screwed up about what their roles are when it comes to this. If you’re the cop or the prosecutor, your role is to figure out what happened and whether there is sufficient evidence for a conviction in the context of a system in which the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty (which is as it should be).

      As a friend, your role is how you can support your friend through an awful experience, and help her figure you how SHE wants to handle the aftermath. Your role is not to wonder about the “poor guy” and think up excuses for why he had sex with her even though she was seriously out of it. Leave the doubt and investigating to the authorities.

      A lot of people, Emily Yoffe being a prime example, act like if you couldn’t get a conviction for rape, it wasn’t “really” rape, and we shouldn’t even acknowledge it as a rape to the victim herself, I suppose because that will give her grandiose ideas or something. (Yeah, ’cause women get all puffed up thinking of themselves as rape victims). But that acknowledgement is so, so important; the victim needs to hear “no, that was not ok, you didn’t deserve that.” Including, if need be, “I don’t care how drunk you were, he had no right to do that to you.” THAT is the friend’s job.

      What’s the downside of calling it what it is? That then the “poor guy” who “only” had sex with a woman who was obviously out of her mind might have to face uncomfortable questions about whether he got her that way on purpose (either by plying her with drinks or putting a rape drug in her drink), or knowingly took advantage of a woman who was too out of her mind to qualify as a willing partner? (All of which are extremely common scenarios, after all).

      Personally, I think it would be fabulous if EVERY guy who had sex with a woman who was in no condition to consent got a little chat with detectives from the sex crimes unit afterward, and had to stew a bit whether there was going to be an arrest and prosecution. Then guys might stop acting like having sex with women who aren’t mentally with it and actively on board with the agenda is an ok, perfectly mainstream thing to do.

      I mean, seriously — no one is suggesting that the BAC level for consent to sex should be the same as for driving a car, just that you shouldn’t have sex with someone who’s not mentally present and letting you know he/she wants it, too. That’s NOT too much to ask of a guy (or woman), even if they’re drunk, too. Decent people do it ALL THE TIME — that little hesitation to check in with the status of your partner, to make sure he/she’s right with you on this; that moment when you use your slightly wicked smile to elicit an equally wicked smile from your partner; that intent eye contact that asks “are we on?”

      Does anyone really believe that we have a problem in our society with over-zealous cops, judges, and prosecutors all ganging up to prosecute cases where consent was dubious but there is no affirmative evidence of one of those scenarios? Seriously? Because that is what it would take for rape accusations to “ruin the lives” of “poor guys” who didn’t do anything really wrong.

      • Canary said:

        “People get all screwed up about what their roles are when it comes to this. ”

        Yes they certainly do. Great post.

  20. RedSonja said:

    I would also add that the whole reluctance-to-inconvenience-a-man-on-the-weekend was also referred to in the Penn State child rape tragedy. That was Paterno’s stated reason for not IMMEDIATELY informing his supervisors that children were being raped on campus in the locker room.

    I think there’s a larger social statement here about men’s leisure time being prioritized over all other things, and daring to cut into that makes you overreactionary, or a buzz kill, or a shrewish bitch or nagging harpy, but frankly I’m too depressed to try and tease it out.

    • zweisatz said:

      Ehm, did anyone seriously consider his career when it was already clear that he was raping teenagers? How fucked up do you have to be to react this way?

  21. Marie said:

    Can I just say, reading through this comment thread, and all the previous ones, that I really like it here a lot? Insightful comment to total dick ratio is, like, 100 to 1 on the worst days.

    I mean, it’s really nice here. Thanks, Captain, for all the behind-the-scenes moderation you must be doing to keep it that way.

    • JenniferP said:

      Thanks! Honestly, I don’t get that many assholes compared to stories I’ve heard and stuff I’ve seen at other sites (I’ve had a peek at the Feministe moderation queue, for example, and lordy does it suck in there). But a year of systematically and preemptively deleting the ones who show up without attention or comment might have something to do with that. Also the fact that 50% of them think I’m a dude.

      As always I remain a disciple of Anil Dash on these matters.

      • Diamond Shoes said:

        Seconded. The blog is great but the commenters really make this place awesome. Thank you for your hard work on that.

  22. Jason said:

    I may come at this situation from a different perspective- full disclosure: I used to be a criminal defense attorney, and handled multiple sexual assault cases, of a number of types.

    Rape cases, whether straightforward, or gray (and as has been pointed out several times, we really don’t know anything about this scenario, other than what was in the original letter. Everything else has been a series of assumptions.), are really awful things to litigate, from either side. It is tough for prosecutors to prove their cases, particularly in “drunken rape” cases. Cross examination of a complaining witness is not happy fun times, either.

    I can relate from my own experience that depending upon the jurisdiction and the people involved in the investigation, sometimes allegations take on lives of their own, regardless of what happened. There can be collateral damage, both to the accuser, and the accused. Not saying that a report shouldn’t happen, just that going into it with eyes wide open is the best course of action. In the US, the quality of the response to allegations of sexual assault differs not only on jurisdiction, but frankly minute to minute, depending upon the responder.

    BUT, that all said – Prudie’s advice was shit-tastic. She should not have addressed the legal issues, particularly knowing nothing about them. This was a friend seeking advice about how to handle a friend’s conversation- going right to “don’t report a possible sexual assault because you’ll blow up the guy’s life” was not the right first step.

    • JenniferP said:

      Thanks for this perspective, my friend!

      I’m going to speak really honestly now:

      When it was me? A drunk person who had consented to some things, but not others and had a patchy memory? The crisis counselor sat me down and said “What do you want to do?” The police detective sat me down and said “I believe you, but if you were my daughter I’d tell you to handle this administratively (through the university), because cases like this are very hard to make, and it can tie up years of your life without getting the result that you want. (+ some details about what would happen next and what the process was like should I go that route, presented professionally and neutrally).”

      Through the university, the guy had to get counseling for a while and could never be in my classes or live in my dorm. His life was not “ruined,” nor was mine, and I think the system, such as it was, worked for both of us. The only people I ever got blowback from were people who think like Prudie – super-invested in convincing me that what happened was Not Real or in showing me that it was all my fault.

      • Jason said:

        I’m sorry you went through that, but it sounds like the system did work for both of you.

        In my experience, the legal system does an awful job of dealing with sexual assaults, especially those in the “grey area”, where booze/substance is involved. The law is a very inflexible instrument, and does not always do what it’s supposed to do.

        • JenniferP said:

          Right, exactly, which is why “You have a 100% airtight legal case for rape that you will win and the guy will go to jail” is not the standard (especially among friends) for deciding how to talk about assault or even how to proceed. There are a lot of stages, like “Hey, are you okay?” before we get to “that legal thing might not work out how you want it to.”

  23. jess said:

    Honestly, I think the biggest error in Prudie’s response was the way she discussed the one night stand as this obviously horrible error that the woman made. Regardless of the issue of consent, the answer shouldn’t be, “that wasn’t rape, it was just bad judgment.” Why are “rape” and “terrible judgment” the only two options here? A one night stand shouldn’t automatically have to constitute bad judgment on the woman’s part…It’s also fine to decide that one night stands are not for you, of course, but that shouldn’t mean that having one in the first place is some terrible crime to regret and do penance for.

    On the issue of consent – this seems to be clearly a gray area to me. If the woman was drugged or unconscious, then she couldn’t have consented. Or if she was plastered and he was sober, then he may have coerced her in a malicious way. Or if she doesn’t remember what happened, then that’s obviously really scary. But if they were both just drunk, and she consented in the moment and then regretted it later, it seems to me that the real tragedy is that we live in a society where a woman is made to feel so ashamed for having sex, that she must insist she couldn’t really have consented in the first place.

    But the thing here is that we don’t know what happened, and as a good friend, the right response is, “I’m so sorry you had a scary/unhappy sexual experience, lets talk about it,” NOT, “You deserve to feel shitty because you made the obvious mistake of having a one-night stand.”

    I think that if we, as a culture, did not make women feel so ashamed for having sex EVER, then more women would feel empowered to own their desires, and would have an easier time saying “yes” when they mean yes, and “no” when they mean no, and cases of “gray rape” would hopefully decline.

    • Esti said:

      So I agree that we need to stop shaming women for having one-night stands and that empowering women to own their sexuality would be awesome. But this kind of response gives me pause because it treats sex positivity as the crucial issue in a discussion of a potential sexual assault, and that seems like a really inappropriate place to insert that focus.

      Maybe this woman said yes (or was silent) when she meant no, and then was too ashamed to admit it later (though it doesn’t seem likely, since the LW said that her friend had drunken hook-ups in the past that she did not consider to be assault). But centering that possibility in the discussion ignores what the woman is saying now — that she thinks it was rape. And while I really, really don’t think you meant it that way, it also makes it sound like you think the reason “gray rape” happens is because women don’t know how to say no clearly enough.

  24. Canary said:

    One more thing to say to the victim. Let her know that you will still be her friend and that if you also know him, not his anymore. No one needs to make nice socially with her attacker later. The more thoroughly he gets cut socially dead in her group the easier it will be for her to heal. If you don’t know him still let her know that you will be there for her, no one needs to lose any friends over being hurt.

  25. MHM said:

    We should all sign a collective response letter. But how does one do that on the web?

  26. roo said:

    I’d never noticed the phrase “gray rape” before this column. It’s strange. I was thinking– it sounds a lot like the sort of rape that isn’t “RAPE rape,” as Whoopi Goldberg might put it.

    I think what I’m trying to say is I don’t like this phrase.

    Am I wrong? Is it useful?

    • Canary said:

      I am trying to figure out a way to say that that doesn’t imply that it isn’t rape. The non violent kind that leaves you wondering if it really happened or if you are insane or over reacting. How about rape without physical injury? That way we all know that we aren’t minimizing it but we get the other women’s vague weird mixed feeling that she needs to heal through.

      • roo said:

        I think I have an understanding of what the phrase means. I guess it’s the same issue as the phrase “date rape”– it seems useful to have a name for rape that happens in a certain context, but any modifier seems to diminish the offense.

        • Chantelle said:

          Yeah, I don’t like the term “grey rape” since rape is never grey. A particular situation may be grey if it is not yet clear if it was rape (e.g. we don’t know what happened), but if we establish if something is rape, it’s rape… there is no grey rape.

          • Ensign Perception said:

            Personally, I think terms like “grey rape” are useful to qualify types of sexual exploitation and “ickiness” that are rarely societally accepted as “real rape”. Latoya Petersen talked about this as “an epidemic of not rape” in a very powerful essay a few years ago: http://www.racialicious.com/2008/12/21/original-essay-the-not-rape-epidemic/

            Major trigger warning on that link by the way.

    • IrishUp said:

      I’m with you, roo.

      The whole concept of “gray rape” sits firmly on top of the primary assumption that (perceived) female bodies are public property and exist in a state of Constant Consent that can only be revoked if EXPLICITLY DONE IN EXACTLY THE RIGHT WAY (spoiler alert: for 99.999% of circumstances, the there is no exactly right way).

      There is no way to invoke “gray rape” without validating that assumption.

      If we made the radical assumption that these same bodies belonged soley to the human beings that occupied them, and that said humans were in a state of “No” unless specific permission was granted by said owner, there would be no “gray rapes”. Note that we assume this about ALL THE THINGS that don’t belong to us. We do NOT have cultural narratives about “gray muggings” – even if hir wallet was visible, “gray car thefts” – even if the doors were open and the keys were in the ignition, “gray convenience store robberies” – even if the clerk left the till open and wasn’t paying attention. Et cetera, ad nauseum.

      • roo said:

        ” We do NOT have cultural narratives about “gray muggings” – even if hir wallet was visible, “gray car thefts” – even if the doors were open and the keys were in the ignition, “gray convenience store robberies” – even if the clerk left the till open and wasn’t paying attention. Et cetera, ad nauseum.”

        Exactly.

        The rest of the input here is helpful– thank you, all. A lot of food for thought. Weary, angry thought.

        • piny said:

          I think your basic revulsion remains valid, but I don’t agree. We do have “grey theft,” “grey violence,” “grey kidnapping,” “grey blackmail,” “grey murder,” and “grey torture.” And our definitions of those not-quite-crimes break long the same lines of oppression. And there are many instances in which we blame victims of, say, police brutality for provoking the behavior. And sometimes they provoke it merely by being who they are or for living where they do.

          Incidentally, my home cities started going after business owners for failing to prevent drug dealers from doing business in and around their premises. The owners had to pay to provide private security, or face massive fines for failing to do the police’s job. I don’t think it lasted long, but it took a few years and several lawsuits to stop the practice.

      • piny said:

        I mean, I think the mortgage fraud epidemic was an instance of “grey theft.” Not because it isn’t illegal, willful, shameful, or damaging, but because the authorities blame the victims. They shouldn’t have been out all homeowning like that.

        • IrishUp said:

          piny- I get what you’re saying; sure, a lot of times, a crime has extenuating circumstances, or the law hasn’t quite caught up with the technology or culture, etc. And what is and is not torture is often contested. So things are not always clear cut. But I’m not sure these fall into cultural narratives.

          For instance, I had my car stolen – keys in it and doors unlocked (hence my eg). The officer took my report. The car was reported stolen. The people who were found IN the car were brought up on charges. I received only the barest minimum of ribbing (gently, at that) from the officer who took my report, and somewhat more from my friends. Who all helped give me rides while I had no car. At NO time was there any kind of “script” about how this was all really my fault.

          There are a elaborate rules in our (US Western) culture has about when it is and is not permissible for a woman to enforce hir own boundaries. We don’t have those byzantine criteria for when our car is or is not drivable by someone else.

          Victim blaming and rape culture go hand in hand, no doubt. And I see the victim blaming in your mortgage crisis example as being analagous; each stem from narratives that support kyriarchy – bootsraps and lazy poor and you should’ve thought of that before missy, and all that.

    • Esti said:

      I think it can be useful to acknowledge some category of sexual encounters that are on a legal borderline between rape and not-rape, but that are clearly not fully consensual. I’m primarily thinking of situations involving intoxication or coersion where it may not be possible to legally prove that the victim was so drunk/high/afraid to be incapable of consent, but where judgment/motor skills/whatever were compromised in a way that makes any consent that was given questionable. Rape is at its root a legal concept focused on the perpetrator’s knowledge and actions, and I think we need some way to acknowledge Not Okay Sexual Experience (for the victim) even where the situation is not beyond reasonable doubt a crime (for the perpetrator). The fact that the legal system must, of necessity, draw a hard line between rape and not-rape doesn’t mean that we should all be forced to adopt that binary when discussing our individual or collective experiences.

      That being said, I’m not sure whether gray rape is the term that best captures that idea. I can see the arguments for it (I think it can be helpful to affirmatively use the word rape to affirm the victim’s experience, while acknowledging it doesn’t neatly fit legal definitions of that word and/or that the victim may have difficulty categorizing it in their own mind), but it obviously creates the potential for abuse of that ambivalence by the “rape-rape” folks and also can make people feel as though their experiences are being minimized or questioned.

      • Canary said:

        “Rape is at its root a legal concept focused on the perpetrator’s knowledge and actions, and I think we need some way to acknowledge Not Okay Sexual Experience (for the victim) even where the situation is not beyond reasonable doubt a crime (for the perpetrator)”

        I agree, we really do.

  27. Chantelle said:

    @ Ensign Perception

    (TW for rape)

    Thanks for the link. It was interesting and a great discussion of the nuances of sexual violence. But I don’t see how it gets us to “there is such a thing as grey rape”. Something is not “not sexual violence” if it is not rape. Something can be called sexual violence and still not be rape and that doesn’t make it ok (not that you were saying that – I am just pointing out that just because a patriarchal society does not know how to make sense of a sexually exploitative situation that does not fit into the narrow confines of being held down and physically forced to endure penetration, that does not mean that those situations are “grey” anything.)

    Basically, I am saying that to use the term “grey rape” is to give in to the discomfort that society has with calling rape “rape” and which is reluctant to acknowledge and address a spectrum of sexual violence. The fact that there are various forms of sexual violence that need to be given space (i.e. acknowledged and discussed as being wrong and destructive) does not mean that there is now something called “grey rape” – rather we need to be able to make clear the nuances of that spectrum while also acknowledging that rape is rape.

    Sorry if this discussion is a derail. And Ensign Perception, I hope that doesn’t come across as an attack on you – but as someone who has worked in the anti-violence sector for many years, this is an important issue to me that always get me fired up.

    • piny said:

      I think I like concepts like rape culture better–they help to highlight the social pressures that amount to mundane coercion, but at the same time they allow us to talk about incidents of harassment and assault that may not qualify as rape but do qualify as abusive and dangerous. And they also allow us to talk about dichotomies like Whoopi Goldberg’s without accepting them.

  28. JenniferP said:

    Hello, commenters who are rushing here to act as defense attorneys for the potential rapist because you are so sure of the facts and want to cross-examine the letter writer’s friend in absentia!

    1. I’m deleting all your comments.
    2. Read this.YOU ARE THESE PEOPLE.
    3. Eat a bag of dicks.

    • Psst: if you leave dickbag comments on that link, *I’ll* delete them, too!

      • FarmerStina said:

        Yay for comment moderation! I would be happy to cook up those dicks for all those who want to play defense attorney. I’ve got a great slow cooker recipe!

  29. Jai said:

    I don’t think the issue here is whether or not the LW’s friend was actually raped, or if sometimes people are wrongfully accused, it’s more to do with the horrible advice from Dear Prudence. There’s no way for us to know what actually happened. If any of my friends confided in me that they might have been raped, I’d be patient and supportive until they had figured it out for themselves, no matter how weird the context might have been. I would hope that they would do the same for me, and think well enough of me to give me the benefit of the doubt.

  30. Sheila said:

    I just wanted to say that I found this column on a day when I desperately needed it – my PTSD and internalized guilt and I have been a party of three a lot lately. It’s amazing how much it helps to hear people say over and over, “it’s not her fault,” even if the “her” they’re talking about isn’t even me.

    So, thank you.

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