Q. Friend Has Revised One-Night Stand Story: A friend recently called me and said she had a one-night stand after drinking too much. She was beating herself up over drinking too much and going home with a guy she met at a bar. I reassured her that everyone makes mistakes and didn’t think much more of the account. However, since then, she has told many people that she was a victim of date-rape—that the guy must have put something into her drink . She spoke to a rape crisis line, and they said even if she was drunk, she couldn’t have given consent so she was a victim of rape. She now wants to press charges—she has the guy’s business card. I have seen her very intoxicated on previous occasions, to the point she doesn’t remember anything the next day. I’m not sure on what my response should be at this point. Pretend she never told me the original story?
A: Trying to ruin someone else’s life is a poor way to address one’s alcohol and self-control problems. Since her first version of the story is that she was ashamed of her behavior, and since you have seen her knee-walking drunk on other occasions, it sounds as if she wants to punish the guy at the bar for her own poor choices. Yes, I agree that men should not have sex with drunk women they don’t know. But I think cases like the one you are describing here—in the absence of any evidence she was drugged—where someone voluntarily goes home with a stranger in order to have a sexual encounter, makes it that much harder for women who are assaulted to bring charges. Talk to your friend. 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. Say you understand her shame, but you’re concerned about her drinking, and if she addresses that, she won’t find herself in such painful situations.
Q: Advice Columnist Blathers On About Rape with No Expertise: A friend recently pointed me to an advice columnist make appallingly ignorant assumptions about a third-party report of a potential rape and use that to feed rape myths. What should I do?
A: Commenting on the circumstances of a rape claim without being or consulting a specialist in the topic is a poor way to make a living. Yes, I agree that no one should take columnists offering “advice on manners and morals” seriously. But I think cases like the one you are describing here–in the absence of any evidence that one specific version of events is the truthful–where someone offers condemnation based on personal opinion only, makes it that much harder for women to be heard when they talk about rape. Throw her to the wolves. Tell her editors they need to think long and hard about having such a person represent them. Say you understand she’s a cheap hack, but you’re concerned about the baseless dismissal of possible rape, and if she’d refrained from doing that, you wouldn’t be writing.
Seriously, this is some of the most infuriating advice on the topic of rape that I’ve seen. As Ray noted when she tweeted a link to the article, about the only way to make it worse would be to include some bad evo psych.
No, I don’t know that a rape occurred. I don’t know that one did not occur either, and neither does “Prudie” or the person who sent in the question. All we know is that someone who occasionally drinks to the point of memory loss originally said she blamed herself and her drinking for unwanted sex then later said she hadn’t had enough to drink to account for the situation.
There is nothing about self-blame that tells us rape hasn’t happened. Self-blame is common even among victims of violent rape by strangers. Nothing about a lack of clarity on details indicates that rape hasn’t happened. Rape is a traumatic experience, the details of which are often unclear, even without the complicating presence of intoxicants. Nothing about hesitating to call an event “rape” means rape hasn’t happened. Surveys meant to determine the frequency of both raping and having been raped turn up much higher incidences of rape when legal definitions are used instead of the word “rape.” And beyond all that, nothing about the presence of judgmental friends means rape hasn’t happened.
So, no, we don’t know that rape didn’t occur. We do know that this person called a rape crisis center about her circumstances. We do know that she’s considering subjecting herself to a criminal justice system that is notoriously hard on those who allege rape. We do know that false reporting of rape is quite rare and generally happens to get the accuser out of trouble or as retaliation for some kind of bad treatment that isn’t rape. We also know that would-be rapists are encouraged to find “drunk women who [seem] ‘innocent’ and ‘vulnerable’“.
In other words, we have good reasons to consider the possibility of rape. Given that, this answer is a travesty. “Knee-walking drunk” is not consent. It is, in fact, blatant evidence of the inability of the person in question to give legal consent. Without consent, “sex with drunk women they don’t know” is rape, plain and simple.
Then there’s this idea that it’s up to “Prudie” to determine whether there is evidence of rape prior to the complainant going to the police. It is their job, not hers, to attempt to determine whether evidence of drugging exists–beyond whatever experience already lead the complainant to say she must have been drugged. It is their job, not hers, to attempt to determine whether legal consent was given (not whether it might “be construed to” have been given, since rapists are notorious for construing consent where none exists). Then it is the job of a prosecutor to determine whether that evidence warrants prosecution and/or a plea deal. Finally, if it comes to that, it is the job of a jury to weigh that evidence. “Prudie” doesn’t get to claim any of these jobs for herself. She doesn’t have the training for them either.
To cap it all off, “Prudie”, without knowing whether rape really did occur, offers the old bromide that the woman in question just needs to drink less to make all her problems go away. It’s possible, but not terribly likely, that this is the case here. What is more likely is that “Prudie” is unthinkingly adding to the litany of those who blame rape victims by suggesting rape would be preventable if only they didn’t drink.
There isn’t one bit of this answer that isn’t horrible. Please, go ahead and write to Slate’s editors (email@example.com) and tell them so. Feel free to use any or all of this post to tell them why.