Ann Dickinson is a syndicated columnist for the Chicago Tribune. On Nov. 27th, her column “Ask Amy” featured the following question and answer:
DEAR AMY: I recently attended a frat party, got drunk and made some bad decisions. I let a guy take me to “his” room. He promised he wouldn’t do anything I wasn’t comfortable with.Many times, I clearly said I didn’t want to have sex. He promised he wouldn’t. Then he proceeded to go against what he “promised.” I was shocked, and maybe being intoxicated made my reaction time slow in realizing what was happening. 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
DEAR VICTIM?: First, 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 because of the risk (some might say likelihood) you will engage in unwanted sexual contact.
You don’t say if the guy also was drunk. If so, his judgment was also impaired. No matter what: No means no. If you say no beforehand, the sex shouldn’t happen. If you say no while it’s happening, the sex should stop.
According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network website ( www.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.”
Go to your college’s health department to be tested for STDs and pregnancy. See a counselor. You must involve the guy in question to determine what happened and because he must take responsibility and face the consequences, just as you are prepared to do. He may have done this before.
There are SEVERAL problems with this response to “Victim? in Virginia” (ViV). First of all, Amy Dickinson begins her answer by suggesting that the victim publicize her experience on “college bulletin boards everywhere.” Why? So people can learn from her “mistakes?”
Amy goes on to highlight ViV’s “victim status” by asserting, “you were the victim of your own awful judgment.” Really, Amy? Awful judgment? Was that necessary? While risk reduction is always a positive thing, I liken it to the flu: A person can eat healthy, exercise regularly, practice good hygiene, get a flu vaccine, and STILL GET THE FLU. Likewise, someone can forgo all of those risk reduction techniques and NOT GET THE FLU. Drinking at a fraternity party does not increase one’s risk of being sexually assaulted. Furthermore, NOT drinking at fraternity parties will not prevent one from being sexually assaulted.
As a philosophy student, one of the many logical rules drilled into our heads was, “correlation does not imply causation.” In other words, perhaps Amy is right in saying that sexual assaults happen somewhat frequently at fraternity parties. That does not mean that because someone attends a fraternity party that they will get raped. It doesn’t mean that because someone is drinking that they will get raped. It also doesn’t mean that abstaining from those to activities will prevent rape. Amy is attempting to make a sweeping generalization about the victim’s judgment based upon her own biases.
Sadly, this is not an uncommon phenomenon. A sociological study done by Ashley Wenger, found that,
“In general, if sexual assault victims fail to achieve ‘legitimate victim status,’ …victim substance use is one factor that is likely to detract from the victim’s status. For example, female victims tend to be viewed as less credible, and held more accountable, if they were intoxicated rather than sober at the time of the assault.Intoxicated victims are viewed as more “deserving” of such punishment because they had placed themselves in a high-risk situation.”
By taking this position early on in her response to ViV, Amy is perpetuating the idea that victims who place themselves in “high-risk situations” are at least partially to blame for the incident. She is also negating anything positive that she says to the victim later in the response. She does recommend seeking a counselor and finding resources at RAINN.ORG, which is certainly positive. Unfortunately, since research has proven that the first response to a victim is usually the one that stands out most to them, any later redeeming comments by Amy are completely useless.
Amy goes on to ask about the perpetrator’s level of intoxication during the attack. My question is, WHO CARES? Is a drunk driver who kills someone any less to blame for their actions because they were drunk? NO! In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Because they were drinking they are more responsible because they made the CHOICE to get into a car. This perpetrator made a CHOICE to force himself upon an unwilling woman who was intoxicated. There is no fault here beyond that of the perpetrator. A common rape myth is that men lose control of themselves and “can’t help it” when it comes to their sex drive, especially while intoxicated. This is a complete falsehood. Rape is about POWER and CONTROL. It is about the perpetrator’s desire to violate the victim. Rape is not about sex.
Even while intoxicated, the victim clearly communicated MANY TIMES that she did not wish to have sex with this man before going into a room with him. He “promised” that he would not do anything she was not comfortable with. Considering that he quickly “broke his promise” once he had the victim alone, it is clear that this attack was planned. The victim admits that her reactions were slow. She writes that she was (understandably) shocked at the man’s actions. I fail to understand how Amy could feel anything but compassion for this victim.
The victim writes that she “hasn’t felt the same” since the incident. This is a common reaction for victims of rape and sexual assault. Amy does not attempt to reassure the victim, she merely criticizes the victim, suggesting that she confront her rapist to “find out what happened” (as if he would actually ADMIT it?). Amy also fails to suggest that the victim pursue legal recourse (reporting the incident to the police, filing a complaint on campus, etc.) Even if the victim was not interested in pursuing this option, the columnist should have offered it as an option.
This entire column made my blood boil. Here is a syndicated columnist perpetuating rape myths and flagrantly blaming the victim. There is a website (link below) with a petition asking Amy Dickinson to correct her victim blaming article and issue a formal apology. I’m also providing a link to the original column in the Chicago Tribune. I highly recommend signing the petition and writing an email to Amy (and her editors) criticizing this incredibly inappropriate advice and commentary.
Ashley Manta is a graduate student at West Chester University. She can be reached at AM641472@wcupa.edu.