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He Said/She Said at #TAM2014

I was at the Minnesota Atheists and Humanists of Minnesota All-Star Conference all day yesterday, but I still had people asking me whether I was going to address the talk by Carol Tavris on rape allegations and rape culture that she gave at TAM on Friday night. The short answer is “Maybe”.

The problem is that I don’t have the talk. All I have is the tweets. They’re terrible, by and large, but most of them come from people who are already terrible on this topic. This was a talk given at a conference where the management has historically taken out extra liability insurance to deal with the risk posed by one of its keynote speakers. There’s a certain motivation for the attendees to pull out every dismissive, permissive, victim-blaming message possible from a talk on rape. The tribalism in the tweets is not subtle. I could give a talk on rape myths in front of that audience, and the Twitter feed would still be terrible.

So I’ll wait to see whether the talk is released to a general audience. If the point was to rally the troops, it may not be. And if it stays private, it can’t be used to bolster bad policy recommendations based on its credentials of having been delivered by a skeptic at a skeptic conference. If it does come out, then I’ll see what it actually says. I may write about some of the tweeted messages in the meantime, because they’re common enough to be worth addressing, but I won’t assume those were actually in Tavris’s talk itself.

So…maybe. We’ll see. In the meantime, here’s the tweeted account of the talk. The Storify is here if the embed doesn’t work.

Comments

  1. says

    These tweets make me glad I’ve missed the last three TAMs. I guess this year’s theme was “How far can we go before we’re called an MRA conference?”

  2. HappyNat says

    Assuming the tweets are accurate, I can’t imagine why women would feel uncomfortable going to TAM.

    I also can’t believe this is the most important talk of TAM this year. I mean I’m sure someone debunked big foot Tru Skeptic style.

  3. says

    Assuming the first ~40 tweets are accurate, it sounds like the talk was brimming with cherry-picking and strawmen. I have read a lot about rape culture (and just a few years ago said the term with derision and eye-rolling) and have never seen the phrase “rapecultured” used.

    So par for the course from the antifeminist TAM crowd. Tavris seems to have been right about the bulletproof vest thing; she is in front of the group that has people with a history of violent threats against women.

  4. says

    So now if a woman is too impaired to give consent, her rape claim is to be discounted because she mis-remembers? Nice catch 22.

  5. says

    #1 “How far can we go before we’re called an MRA conference?”

    At least they won’t have to work so hard on the acronym.

    “taMRA” or “TA-MRA”

  6. says

    I very much want to see/hear the talk too. Most of the tweets appear to be triumphs over strawmen, which could be what Tavris actually said but which I suspect is actually better attributed to the tweeters. For example, I’ve never in my life seen someone accused of being “rape cultured” because they were asking questions or doubting allegations, and I doubt Tavris said that.

    If you promote skepticism and critical thinking, you can count on the worst sort of people claiming you’re on their side, because of course they believe they value those things too. People will hear what they want to hear, and assume that when you condemn sloppy thinking you’re talking about their enemies, right up until you clarify that you’re actually talking about them. And then you’re the enemy.

    I’m worried that general statements along the lines of “Consider this, but dismiss that” regarding how to think about sexual harassment/assault are bound to fall on deaf ears by this point, because nobody wants to think that they’re doing it wrong. There’s way too much pressure to pick a side, and once you’ve picked a side, you can count on nobody on the other side listening anymore.

    Heck, I’m sure there’s no shortage of people who think that by deciding to present at TAM, Tavris has picked a side. Whether it does or it doesn’t, that thought makes me sad.

    The whole thing makes me sad.

  7. Pteryxx says

    Re the term “rape cultured” – I vaguely recalled seeing it before. Looks like it came from a widely shared blogpost, Woody Allen’s Good Name. Tavris may have referenced that post. (Emphasis mine)

    The damnably difficult thing about all of this, of course, is that you can’t presume that both are innocent at the same time. One of them must be saying something that is not true. But “he said, she said” doesn’t resolve to “let’s start by assuming she’s lying,” except in a rape culture, and if you are presuming his innocence by presuming her mendacity, you are rape cultured. It works both ways, or should: if one of them has to be lying for the other to be telling the truth, then presuming the innocence of one produces a presumption of the other’s guilt.

    Since then I’ve seen the term pop up occasionally in various comment sections, sometimes used mockingly, as is par for the course. A search turned up a few more blog posts and articles using it. At this point I don’t think the phrase itself serves as a dogwhistle either way (yet.) It just isn’t widely used or discussed.

  8. says

    In a he said/she said case of sexual allegations someone has to be lying. They both can’t be right.

    this is, of course, patently untrue. We know that people, men and women, often don’t label things “rape” which clearly are. Because she was too drunk, because she was dressed like this, because she’d made out before, because they are married…

  9. pneumo says

    Skeptic 101:

    No, it does not mean someone has to be lying. One or both could be mistaken, self-deluded, et.c.

  10. says

    @pneumo: Very telling that Tavris thinks it highly relevant that Farrow’s allegations surfaced during a bitter divorce, not even worth mentioning that said divorce involved Allen dating another much-younger daughter of Mia’s. Bitches be lying? Super important. Men with an established pattern of creeperness? Pshaw, boys will be boys.

    @Giliell: That also gives the lie to the whole “but we all agree rape is bad!” retort that is #1 on the list of shitty arguments against the existence of rape culture. Sure, in an abstract sense, we agree that rape is a bad thing. We even have a specific cultural idea of the kind of rape that is almost certainly probably a bad thing, that masked stranger jumping out of the bushes at night and raping a sober, virginal white cis woman at gunpoint. Anything else (and even that, sometimes) we find necessary to dissect and parcel out blame, to nitpick over exact definitions, and to exercise hyperskepticism over the very notion that rape occurs. Even when there’s video and admission, we get the usual chorus of “she was drunk/a slut/dressed provocatively/someplace she shouldn’t have been/enjoying it/just regretful afterward/deserving” and “those poor boys are going to have their lives ruined” and “why rush to judgment over an allegation that might be a lie” and so on. Nevermind that Woody Allen’s career has not suffered one iota for the allegations against him. Nevermind that the worst Roman Polanski gets after a conviction is not being able to pick up his Oscars in person. Nevermind that this whole Occidental College nonsense follows a history of light punishments and cover-ups regarding rape on that campus. Nevermind that the narrative on sites linked by Tavris’s fans there suggest that once consent is implied it can never be rescinded–”She texted him about condoms” means “she lost the right to change her mind.” Nevermind Steubenville, where no action was taken despite ample evidence until Internet hackers forced the issue. Nevermind that those rapists received accolades while the victim received abuse from the community and media. Nevermind that we’ve seen the same scene play out over and over again, in Kentucky and Nova Scotia and Connecticut and on and on. Nevermind all that, there’s no rape culture. We all agree that rape is bad. As long as it’s legitimate, forcible rape and the victim was the perfect color and sex and degree of purity and so on. Otherwise, ‘bad’ is negotiable.

  11. thascius says

    @14-Why would she need to be cautious about Woody’s claims? After all, as the MRA’s so often remind us, women lie about being raped all the time, whereas real rapists (unlike every other type of criminal on earth) never, ever, ever falsely deny it.

  12. says

    Well, to take the question literally, because she’s not an MRA, and because she co-wrote a wonderful book about cognitive dissonance.

    (She also wrote The Mismeasure of Woman. She’s not a common-or-garden anti-feminist.)

  13. says

    @Ophelia Benson:

    Well, to take the question literally, because she’s not an MRA, and because she co-wrote a wonderful book about cognitive dissonance.

    (She also wrote The Mismeasure of Woman. She’s not a common-or-garden anti-feminist.)

    Sadly, similar things could have been (and were) said about Harriet Hall.

  14. pneumo says

    Holy Strawperson, Batman:

    Carol Tavris, renowned social psychologist, author, and advocate for evidence-based skepticism, gave a talk called “Who’s Lying, Who’s Self-Justifying? Origins of the He Said/She Said Gap in Sexual Allegations” which was one of the most powerful and controversial talks during the event. Backed with a various array of peer-reviewed scientific research, she discussed sexual assault reports, rape allegations, evidence, memory, bias, justification, poor communication and feminism. Skeptics require evidence to make a conclusion, even in cases of rape allegations. This is intuitive to many of us but is strangely brushed aside by a few self-titled “feminists” whom (at least previously) identified themselves with the skeptical community. Some of these outspoken bloggers are quick to demonize men who have been accused of sexual harassment. No evidence beside what “she said” is needed in their book. That is demonstrably NOT APPLYING SKEPTICISM. The Twitterverse tweeted about Tavris’ talk with several gripes coming from those who were not even in attendance to hear the talk.

    Yes, the bolding was in the original.

    http://doubtfulnews.com/2014/07/skeptics-in-vegas-the-amazing-meeting-2014-brought-cheers-smiles-and-a-call-for-education/

  15. Marius says

    TAM is just looking like a rapists’ self-justification club at this point.
    So applying skepticism = automatically disbelieving claims. Same old bullshit.

  16. Hj Hornbeck says

    Oh, I SO hope this talk gets released to the public! As someone who’s studied the topic and looked into the science behind it, I’d love a chance to critique her studies and interpretations.

    I don’t want to attack a straw-person, though. I’ll wait.

  17. says

    @pneumo, more evidence that skepticism, such as that performed by the TAM crowd, is not much use then… I guess similar faulty reasoning led them to not be skeptical of religion given there is “no evidence a god or gods do not exist”. So you just can’t know, therefore a “true skeptic” must “keep an open mind” … Totally ignoring that disbelief is fine in the absence of evidence and the claims extraordinary, rational even, just like belief is fine when there is only a little evidence but the claims are ordinary. (Neither really fits in these cases as there are reams of evidence against both Shermer and Radford, presumably what she is referring to)

    Ironically a lot of those tweeting about how great the talk was have said outright that Ben Radford / Shermer *have* been wronged. All with little to no evidence, all in the face of statistics that alone show how unlikely the claims are to be false. Heh, “skeptics”.

  18. pneumo says

    @Oolon:

    I would never associate myself with someone who does such a thing. And since I do associate with these men, it therefore follows that they are innocent and bitchez be lying.

  19. Stacy says

    C’mon, gang, nobody in this thread has said “ALWAYS BELIEVE THE WOMAN NO MATTER WHAT” or “OMG CAROL TAVRIS BAD!”

    The usual idiots will be sorely disappointed. Won’t somebody please think of the usual idiots?

  20. drken says

    I will have to watch her talk before commenting on it but one problem I have with equating false accusations of sexual abuse of children with acquaintance rape is that the children were coached. Who does she accuse of coaching false rape accusers? I’ve never heard any stories about rape that mentions the person who explained to them that even though they showed enthusiastic consent, they were in fact raped. It’s usually about the person who explained to her that even if it’s your husband, it’s still rape.

  21. says

    I’ve been hopign to see this one posted online.

    I expect to either be very happy with it, or infuriated. I don’t see much middle ground potential.

    The tweets don’t give me much hope. If they’re a good view of the talk, I’m expecting infuriated.

  22. says

    Some of these outspoken bloggers are quick to demonize men who have been accused of sexual harassment. No evidence beside what “she said” is needed in their book. That is demonstrably NOT APPLYING SKEPTICISM

    This quote is highly problematic since “she said” is, in fact, evidence. Experience tells us that, more often than not, if there’s an allegation, there’s also a crime. Sure, it’s not 100%, but any proper skeptic should realize that that’s no counter-argument.

    Rape and harassment happens every day, whereas false accusations are quite rare. Therefore, a simple allegation is enough for a tentative conclusion and gives us every reason to take the matter very seriously indeed. There’s nothing unskeptical about that.

  23. An says

    I was disappointed to hear that George Hrab not only endorsed the groupthink on Twitter but also:

    “I’m so nervous because I’m such a fan boy!” -about Michael Shermer.

    Ironically the song Disappointed came to mind.

  24. sw says

    This quote is highly problematic since “she said” is, in fact, evidence. Experience tells us that, more often than not, if there’s an allegation, there’s also a crime. Sure, it’s not 100%, but any proper skeptic should realize that that’s no counter-argument.

    LykeX, that’s a very, very lose definition of “evidence”. I’m sure if someone accused you of a crime, and you asked for evidence, the reply of “I just accused you, that is evidence” would be unconvincing to say the least.

  25. says

    @sw:

    LykeX, that’s a very, very lose definition of “evidence”.

    It’s not a loose definition of evidence at all. It’s the normal definition. If you told me “I had eggs for breakfast this morning,” that’s evidence that you had eggs for breakfast. In fact, barring extraordinary circumstances (I know you’re a vegan, I know you’re allergic to eggs, etc.) it would be convincing evidence that you had eggs for breakfast. Eating eggs for breakfast is an utterly mundane occurrence, which means we are all already aware of an enormous wealth of evidence supporting the notion that people can and do eat eggs for breakfast. Such an ordinary and otherwise inconsequential claim need be supported by a small amount of additional evidence; I lose nothing by believing that you ate eggs for breakfast just based on your word. It’s not simply that your word is evidence, it’s that it would be more extraordinary for you to lie about something so trivial–barring, again, extraordinary circumstances like you being a compulsive liar or a small child on April Fool’s Day.

    These are basic skeptical principles: extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence (and the corollary, ordinary claims require only ordinary evidence, because they are already backed by a wealth of evidence), and all else being equal, the more probable and more parsimonious hypotheses are more likely to be true.

    Some skeptics like to treat claims of harassment, assault, and rape like claims of alien abduction and Bigfoot sightings. This is profoundly unskeptical; sad though it may be, and strange though it may be to the privileged, harassment, assault, and rape are depressingly ordinary events, not extraordinary ones. Moreover, social stigma and rape culture being what they are, a victim typically faces tremendous personal cost to make an accusation of harassment, assault, or rape. This reality, coupled with the research showing that false accusations are exceedingly rare compared to actual incidents, and that false accusations of sexual violence are even more rarely directed at specific individuals, makes it far more probable that an accuser is being truthful than not. Failure to consider these factors is a rejection of the notion that our beliefs should be based on sound science and reasoning.

    I’m sure if someone accused you of a crime, and you asked for evidence, the reply of “I just accused you, that is evidence” would be unconvincing to say the least.

    You do understand that the standards of evidence in a criminal courtroom are not the only acceptable standards of evaluating claims or forming beliefs, right? They’re not even particularly good standards; courtroom procedures are weighted in such a way as to (ideally) minimize the possibility of false positives. This is why evidence can be thrown out on technicalities, why the standard for conviction for criminal cases is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Stephanie outlines the Type I and Type II error problem with courts in the very next post. The standard in a civil trial is based on preponderance of evidence, which is closer to the scientific standard (obviously so–there really isn’t a “beyond a reasonable doubt” in science). The stakes are typically lower in a civil case, and so the dangers of Type I vs. Type II errors are more even.

    In our everyday lives, we typically have somewhat more relaxed standards of evidence still, standards that are proportional to the risks of errors involved. If I falsely believe you ate eggs this morning when in fact you ate cereal, I have lost little, and I gain nothing from putting effort into investigating your claim. If you claimed to eat dragon eggs for breakfast, I will probably dismiss the claim outright, finding it so absurd that the possibility of a false negative is not worth the effort of investigating something so outlandish and unlikely.

    And if you tell me that someone put pornographic pictures up in your staff break room, that someone groped you on the subway, that you were raped in college, I’m going to follow the preponderance of evidence from culture and from your statement and believe you. I’m not injecting you with truth serum, I’m not going to put on my deerstalker and look for clues to support your claim, and I’m certainly not going to scoff and dismiss you as an attention whore. It’s unlikely that you’re lying, and even if you are, the risk I incur with a false positive is low. I am not a court of law. Your coworker is not getting fired on my say-so, the police are not combing the subway based on my beliefs, no one is being fined or sentenced because I accept your claim. What do I gain by doubting an ordinary claim?

    And what does it say about society, what does it say to victims, what is the risk of Type II errors that we incur every time our knee-jerk reaction is to treat this ordinary claim with disbelief and these accusers as liars? What would it say to you if I said “I think it’s more likely that you’re lying than that you had eggs this morning”?

  26. says

    Tom Foss pretty much covered what I had to say about that and in more detail that I was going to. Good job.

  27. pneumo says

    I see on Twitter that the Usual Suspects are now lamenting that people are “complaining about a talk they never heard”.

    Sort of missing the point there, I think.

  28. says

    I wanted to chime in about Carol Tavris’ talk at TAM. I’m a women who strongly identifies as a feminist and agrees with the whole Rebecca side of the Elevatorgate situation (just so you know where I’m coming from). I had considered not going to TAM due to bad behavior on the part of the organizers, but I did end up going. I listened to Tavris’ talk and it was nothing like what people are representing it as. Some people seem to be interpreting it as supporting the idea that women lie about being raped, but that message was nowhere in there. Her messages were the following:
    1) We should be aware of our tendency to pick a side and then justify that position due to cognitive dissonance (i.e. as soon as we decide who we think is telling the truth, we stick to that belief in the face of possible opposing evidence).
    2) We should apply the same skepticism towards memory that we do in eyewitness identification (e.g. Elizabeth Loftus’ work) to recollections about what happened during a sexual encounter. Both men and women can misremember specific details about an event (e.g. did I ask if she was enjoying it, did she seem apprehensive, did he ask me if I wanted him to continue), leading to possible circumstances where the woman believes she did not give consent and the man believes she did. This does not mean either is necessarily lying, as a person can be honest and wrong at the same time.
    3) Whether someone got consent can be an incredibly complex issue, because in most cases people aren’t explicitly and repeatedly asking someone if they want to continue the sexual act. Women especially are often apprehensive about being direct about what they want sexually, and many women (and men) report that they will sometimes initially say no even when they ultimately intend to say yes.

    I don’t see any of these main points as problematic (though I’m open to listening to other interpretations), and when her talk was over, I was one of the members of the audience who stood up to clap, because I thought it was a brave and important talk. What I disagree with is many people’s interpretations, by people who seem to believe Tavris is suggesting that we shouldn’t believe people who say they have been raped. That seems to be a baseless interpretation. I do wish I had thought ahead and videotaped the talk, but I think that some of the talks will be released later.

  29. says

    Masha Evpak:
    I can’t speak to the content of the talk, but I will comment on this:

    We should be aware of our tendency to pick a side and then justify that position due to cognitive dissonance

    That’s a legitimate issue. However, I would think that this bias massively favors the harassers, not the victims. We know that harassment is about as common as the cold, whereas false accusations are a minute fraction.

    This does not mean either is necessarily lying, as a person can be honest and wrong at the same time.

    I’m not convinced this is a real problem. I’m pretty sure I’d be able to remember whether I agreed to have sex with someone or not. I might no remember the exact wording I used to tell someone to fuck off, but I’d remember the gist of it.

    Whether someone got consent can be an incredibly complex issue, because in most cases people aren’t explicitly and repeatedly asking someone if they want to continue the sexual act.

    I’m not convinced it’s as complex as some people want to make it. In fact, the whole matter seems rather simple to me.

    First, research shows that miscommunication isn’t as big an issue as some people want to make it. Most offenders are completely aware of what they’re doing and are using the miscommunication excuse as a way to avoid getting caught, just as they use e.g. alcohol. Emphasizing the miscommunication model provides cover for rapists.

    Second, there are two kinds of people in the world: Those who make sure they’ve got consent and those who aren’t overly bothered if they end up raping someone. If you really care, it’s easy to get consent. It’s a very simple method: If there’s any doubt whatsoever, stop and make sure. If you care more about avoiding rape than getting laid, then this is a complete non-issue. People who actually care about consent just don’t face this problem.

    This relates back to the earlier point: If you really care about getting consent, then memory doesn’t enter into it. Obviously, you’ll make sure you’ve got consent and you never need to remember exactly who said what because it just doesn’t become an issue.

    The cases where non-consensual sex occurs without intent to rape are extremely rare and basically limited to cases where both people are severely intoxicated. That can itself be solved by only having sex when sober; simple as shit. For a person who really cares about not hurting other people (as opposed to just wanting to get away with it), this is not an overly harsh burden to carry.

    This whole aspect of the conversation is, as far as I’m concerned, part of the ingrained apologetics of rape culture. We, as skeptics, need to fight against it, not endorse it.

    Why is it that we never see cases where a person is arrested for beating someone unconscious and then claims that the victim agreed to a boxing match? Isn’t it possible that the victim really did agree to this and just doesn’t remember? He’s had severe head trauma, after all. Or maybe he’s lying about it, to get even for the loss?

    If a mugger is arrested and claims that the victim just gave him the money, as charity, why doesn’t the judge believe him and let him go? Maybe the supposed victim misremembers or just regretted giving away so much? Or maybe it was an honest mistake?

    In every other situation we recognize that this argument is complete horseshit. Of course a criminal is going to say he did nothing wrong. Of course he’s going to claim that it was all above board and consensual. In every other situation we recognize that the victim’s memory is clear enough to at least tell the difference between a crime and a consensual encounter.

    So why is rape different? Doesn’t it make you wonder? Why is this one, particular crime the exception to the rule? What does your skeptical instincts say about unique exceptions that invalidate all the established rules? Doesn’t this make you want to take a closer look?

  30. says

    I agree with you on a lot of points, and I also agree with much of what the articles you linked to say. We live in a culture in which women are blamed for their rapes, and many men who rape get away with it. This is abhorrent and I’m glad that people are working to fix it. However, I disagree with some of your responses to what I said.

    I’m pretty sure I’d be able to remember whether I agreed to have sex with someone or not. I might no remember the exact wording I used to tell someone to fuck off, but I’d remember the gist of it.

    Miscommunication probably doesn’t occur when a woman tells a man to fuck off. However, women aren’t taught to be so bold, and are often expected to be polite even when they are uncomfortable. This is of course a major problem; one way that I hope our culture changes is to make women feel more emboldened to speak up when they are uncomfortable.

    However, I would think that this bias massively favors the harassers, not the victims. We know that harassment is about as common as the cold, whereas false accusations are a minute fraction.

    It’s true that rape and harassment are common, and that deliberate false accusations are a tiny percentage. I know that trying to exaggerate the number of women who make false accusations is a tactic made in defense of rapists. But there’s a difference between deliberate false accusations and accusations of rape in cases in which memory distorts what really happened. And I think that the principle behind questioning one’s memory and trying to fight one’s cognitive dissonance is most important in the case of someone who has been accused of rape. The desire to view oneself as a moral person is extremely in conflict with being accused of rape, so a man has an extreme bias to explain away his behavior and believe that he didn’t commit rape, and emphasizing the principles of distorted memory and cognitive dissonance could be very helpful in trying to explain to someone that, despite what he believes/remembers, he did commit rape.

    First, research shows that miscommunication isn’t as big an issue as some people want to make it. Most offenders are completely aware of what they’re doing and are using the miscommunication excuse as a way to avoid getting caught, just as they use e.g. alcohol. Emphasizing the miscommunication model provides cover for rapists.

    The research described in the links you posted is only about men who are willing to admit to raping (albeit as long as the term ‘rape’ isn’t used). It’s important research but it leaves out all of the men who have had sex with a woman who wasn’t consenting but don’t realize they’ve done that. Maybe there are no men who have unknowingly raped someone. Maybe there’s an enormous amount of men who have, or maybe it’s an intermediate number. Your claim is that the number is very low, but the problem is that the format of this study is such that it leaves out all of those cases, and so we can’t speak to that. Given that many people feel uncomfortable about discussing sex, especially with strangers, and we live in a culture in which the messages about what sex should be like for a woman are not exactly painting a clear picture of what an enjoyable sexual experience is like for women (e.g. not necessarily pleasurable, ends when the man is done, is mostly done for the pleasure of the man since women aren’t supposed to enjoy sex, and other messages that come from mainstream porn), I think it’s reasonable to assume that cases of miscommunication do happen, and the frequency of these cases is not addressed by any of the studies mentioned.

    The Meet the Predators article says that most rapes are committed by repeat rapists, which is a statistic that is affected by the very fact that these rapists rape repeatedly. If you have 100 people, 2 rapists that have each committed 10 rapes, and 10 rapists that have committed one rape each (which is a similar situation as the actual statistics presented in those articles), you can either emphasize that most rapes are committed by just a few people, or you can emphasize that most rapists commit only one rape each. Obviously even one rape is horrific, but I don’t understand why that article would choose to focus on the fact that there is a small proportion of people who are raping repeatedly, rather than focusing on the fact that there are many men out there who have raped “only” once. And again, this is completely leaving out the population of men who may be unaware that they have had sex with a woman who didn’t consent (a population that you say doesn’t exist but I say may exist). If I’m right, then these men who believe they are good people (and probably agree that rape is bad) are exactly the kind of people who are most likely to be able to be changed by teaching them about the importance of consent and how to make sure you get it. You’re unlikely to be able to stop men who know they are committing rape, but by teaching the whole population of men the intricacies of consent and how important it is (and how not to encourage other men to have sex with woman who aren’t committing, not to laugh at rape jokes, etc), we could actually make some change in the number of non-consensual sexual encounters. The education would have to start early and happen often, both through formal education (sex ed) and by changing the kinds of messages that the media puts out about sex.

    The cases where non-consensual sex occurs without intent to rape are extremely rare and basically limited to cases where both people are severely intoxicated. That can itself be solved by only having sex when sober.

    Telling people not to have sex while drinking is about as helpful as telling them to be completely abstinent. The reason that most people believe that sex ed (with complete information, as opposed to abstinence only education) is vital is that we know that people are going to have sex and so they need to be taught how to do it safely. It’s similarly unreasonable to tell people to be completely sober when having sex. Sure, that’s probably best, but we have to be realistic about what people actually do. Many college kids drink and many college kids have sex, and social interactions frequently combine those two activities. Are we suddenly going to change the social atmosphere and have people stop combining alcohol and sex? No. Let’s instead be more realistic and figure out practical ways that people can make sure they’re engaging in consensual sex even when alcohol is involved. Certainly there are clear cut cases: if he’s had two beers and she’s had 10, it’s a recipe for disaster. I think the more tricky cases are the ones in which each have had some alcohol but it’s not clear how intoxicated they are–people react differently to different amounts of alcohol and it can be difficult to tell how affected they are by it. Furthermore, in a party setting, you don’t know how much the other person has drank (they may not know themselves) and it can be difficult to tell apart intoxication from behavior that’s the result of being in a high energy atmosphere (e.g. a person who’s had one beer but is dancing wildly due to being surrounded by a bunch of people who have had much more). There’s different kinds of intoxication (alcohol, hallucinogens, stimulants), people can take them in different amounts and combinations, and different amounts of time can pass making them more or less intoxicated at the moment of sex. My point is that condemning sex when alcohol is involved doesn’t get us anywhere.

    Why is it that we never see cases where a person is arrested for beating someone unconscious and then claims that the victim agreed to a boxing match? Isn’t it possible that the victim really did agree to this and just doesn’t remember? He’s had severe head trauma, after all. Or maybe he’s lying about it, to get even for the loss?

    If a mugger is arrested and claims that the victim just gave him the money, as charity, why doesn’t the judge believe him and let him go? Maybe the supposed victim misremembers or just regretted giving away so much? Or maybe it was an honest mistake?

    These aren’t good analogies. Boxing matches are rare; people giving strangers money is rare. Consensual sex is not rare at all. Most sex is consensual. I think a better analogy is: two friends are hanging out and are hinting/joking all day about a book that one has that the other wants to borrow. At the end of the day, the book is taken. The borrower believes that the book owner agreed, whereas the book owner says they were only joking and says that the book was stolen. This is a scenario in which two people each believe that they did the correct thing, both agree on the basic act that took place, and the only question is whether there was consent. And yes, if I was speaking to two people who had been in this situation, I would believe that a miscommunication might have occurred.

    That being said, I am NOT saying that when a woman accuses a man of rape, that we shouldn’t believe her. I think believing the victim is the best place to start. In cases in which the rape happened under physical duress, explicit coercion, or has other features that suggest the man knew it was rape, certainly, let’s call it rape and start the legal proceedings. I’m speaking about cases in which the woman says that the sexual act occurred under circumstances where she was uncomfortable but not explicit in her desire to stop what was happening. In those cases, we can still believe the victim but I don’t think that the corollary of that is to assume that the man is lying when he says that he believes he had consent.

    In every other situation we recognize that this argument is complete horseshit. Of course a criminal is going to say he did nothing wrong. Of course he’s going to claim that it was all above board and consensual. In every other situation we recognize that the victim’s memory is clear enough to at least tell the difference between a crime and a consensual encounter.

    We have a legal system in America that assumes people are innocent until proven guilty (or at least it’s supposed to). Both criminals and innocent people are going to say that they did nothing wrong, and only the criminals will be lying. Assuming guilt will lead to the incarceration of innocent people too.

    Doesn’t this make you want to take a closer look?

    I really want to understand your position better. I know that I am surrounded by rape culture and I’m sure it’s affected some of my thinking. I look forward to reading your responses.

  31. johnmarley says

    @Masha Evpak (#33)

    I’m a women who strongly identifies as a feminist and agrees with the whole Rebecca side of the Elevatorgate situation (just so you know where I’m coming from).

    FYI, bringing up an incident from several years ago, that should have been a minor blip if not for a few obsessive assholes, may not be the best way to establish your bonafides. Othewise, what LyleX said @ #34.

  32. says

    FYI, bringing up an incident from several years ago, that should have been a minor blip if not for a few obsessive assholes, may not be the best way to establish your bonafides. Othewise, what LyleX said @ #34.

    I don’t understand the point that you’re trying to make with your comment. Can you please clarify?

  33. PatrickG says

    @ LykeX:

    The cases where non-consensual sex occurs without intent to rape are extremely rare and basically limited to cases where both people are severely intoxicated. That can itself be solved by only having sex when sober; simple as shit. For a person who really cares about not hurting other people (as opposed to just wanting to get away with it), this is not an overly harsh burden to carry.

    I completely agree with Masha Evpak when xe says:

    Telling people not to have sex while drinking is about as helpful as telling them to be completely abstinent.

    Your solution is simple, but it’s also extremely black and white. Many people drink. Many people have consensual sex. The two are not mutually exclusive. My partner and I are fully capable of consensual sexual activity while under the influence. We have had extensive conversations about consent, we’re careful about explicit, enthusiastic, and ongoing consent while sober, and doubly so while intoxicated. I presume that other mature adults are capable of the same.

    Also, you’re directly stating that anyone who has non-sober sex is by definition willing to hurt people or trying to get away with things. I don’t know if you meant such a sweeping statement.

    Otherwise, I agree with your points.

    @ johnmarley:

    FYI, bringing up an incident from several years ago, that should have been a minor blip if not for a few obsessive assholes, may not be the best way to establish your bonafides

    This is a really bizarre statement to make. I discovered FTB, SkepChick, and various other sites precisely because of E-gate. My understanding of the Deep Rifts™ is heavily influenced by an event with high impact on the atheist community. Particularly because the assholes are obsessive, and keep bringing it up.

    Why not use it as a handy signifier of which side of the Rift you’re on? What exactly are you trying to say here?

  34. Sili says

    This was a talk given at a conference where the management has historically taken out extra liability insurance to deal with the risk posed by one of its keynote speakers.

    I’d love to hear more about this.

  35. Orky says

    The talk by Dr. Carol Tavris is now available on youtube channel skeptic magazine. Here is a link.

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