This Week In Rape Culture
Anonymous has stepped in to help popularize a rape case against several politically connected young white men in Maryville, MO. One winter night, they lured two teenage white girls they knew from school to a house, plied them with alcohol, sexually assaulted them, and left one unconscious on her mother’s doorstep in the freezing cold when they were done with her. Both girls, Daisy Coleman and Paige Parkhurst, have publicly shared their personal accounts of the incident, and the prosecutorial misconduct that followed. The community of Maryville itself has also come out looking monstrous because of the widespread retaliatory bullying and violence the girls suffered; the boys were held blameless even though they had apparently been terrorizing girls in Maryville for years. At least ten more girls have come out to say the boys also sexually assaulted them.
Meanwhile, Slate’s Emily Yoffe, otherwise known as “Dear Prudence” from her advice column of the same name, published an article yesterday urging parents to warn their college-bound daughters of the connection between binge drinking and rape, as though that’s a new idea. Here’s the money quote:
Let’s be totally clear: Perpetrators are the ones responsible for committing their crimes, and they should be brought to justice. But we are failing to let women know that when they render themselves defenseless, terrible things can be done to them. Young women are getting a distorted message that their right to match men drink for drink is a feminist issue. The real feminist message should be that when you lose the ability to be responsible for yourself, you drastically increase the chances that you will attract the kinds of people who, shall we say, don’t have your best interest at heart. That’s not blaming the victim; that’s trying to prevent more victims.
“Let’s be totally clear . . .” that rapists are responsible for raping; that’s why Yoffe wrote a whole article warning women not to drink, instead of one warning men not to rape. Clear as mud. Maybe it’s just me, but the tone of Yoffe’s advice is a near-perfect echo of comments by a Fox News guest, defense attorney Joseph DiBenedetto, who summarized the Maryville case thusly: “nobody forced her to drink . . . what did she expect to happen at 1 a.m. in the morning after sneaking out? I’m not saying . . . that she deserved to be raped, but knowing the facts . . .” By that logic, rapists never sexually assault sober women in their own homes where they’re supposed to be. We know better. Rapists rape their family members, their friends, their schoolmates, their teammates, their coworkers, their fellow prisoners; rapists assault people at home, at work, at the gym, in prison, in the locker room, and at church. The “ability to protect yourself” from a rapist doesn’t exist, not really. Even if it did exist, it’s still infinitely easier for perpetrators to simply not rape than it is for potential targets to keep from being raped.
Nobody thinks it’s a problem if a parent wants to tell her precious child the best ways to stay safe, as far as she knows. That’s personal, to that parent, that child, and that family. And it should stay that way, because it is simply not done for the same reasons as public advice-giving is. Public hand-wringing about how girls can stay safe isn’t personal, and it’s not geared to keeping safe women the advice giver loves. Instead, it’s evidence of the stubborn insistence of our culture to hold an aggressor blameless for rape in every possible instance, both when it comes to men, i.e. “she/he was asking for it”, and women, i.e. “every boy/man would kill to have a teacher like that”. Public advice that pays lip service to rape as “bad”, but that proceeds to interrogate the victim/survivor’s identity, actions, and attributes immediately contradicts itself. Advice framed like this ignores that rape is not a hurricane. Rape is a thing rapists do. Rapists have agency; rapists can choose. Accordingly, commentators need to direct their public advice to rapists, not their victims.