Get our free newsletter
“Ask Amy” advice columnist Amy Dickinson has finally (publicly) responded to criticism of her recent column in which she told a rape victim she was the “victim of your own awful judgment,” shied away from using the word “rape,” and instructed her to consult her rapist “in order to determine what happened.” Today, Dickinson printed a letter from “Disgusted” (Thanks to Heartless Doll for the tip) who wrote:
I am absolutely appalled at your answer to a recent letter from “Victim? In Virginia.” This letter was from a college student who got drunk at a frat party and was then raped by a guy she met there. You didn’t even seem to care about what happened to this young person. Did it even occur to you that she might have been drugged at this party? You were more focused on blaming her for drinking than answering her question in a responsible way. I am disgusted at your answer and think you owe her an apology.
Dickinson has had a few weeks now to reconsider the advice she gave to a rape victim, and she still doesn’t get it. Here is how she starts her response:
To recap, “Victim” asked a very serious question in a very thoughtful way. She said she had gotten drunk at a frat party and went to a bedroom with a guy.
After saying in advance that she didn’t want to have sex, she did have sex.
“She did have sex” is not what happened. Rape is what happened. Obviously, the difference between “having sex” and “rape” is lost on Dickinson, which is why she’s so unsuited to answer the victim’s question—-“Was I raped?” The answer is “Yes.” Dickinson’s answer involved telling the victim she victimized herself, downplaying the guy’s role because he was intoxicated, repeatedly referring to the incident as “sex” and providing a definition from RAINN, and telling her to ask her rapist about what happened, but never plainly stating that the victim was raped. This victim came to Dickinson to find out if her experience was rape; Dickinson’s advice failed.
Dickinson doesn’t see it that way:
In my answer, I told her that “no means no” — before or during sex, sober or drunk (I assume the guy had also been drinking).
I told her that she had been raped, and I included information from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (rainn.org) to further educate her about this.
I told her to go to her student health center and seek medical and emotional support and counseling and to get advice from professionals at school.
I told her that the perpetrator should be confronted by authorities at school because he might have done this before and might do it again unless he is stopped.
Did we read the same column? Dickinson did not tell her she had been raped. She told her she had “sex that shouldn’t happen” . . . after she made clear to the victim that her “own awful judgment” is what led to the sex that shouldn’t happen. She did include information about contacting counselors and school authorities about this—-which is great—-but she did not write that “the perpetrator should be confronted by authorities at school.” She wrote that “You must involve the guy in question in order to determine what happened.” You. The victim. She told the victim to confront her rapist, not the authorities.
Dickinson then apologizes for “the part of my answer that has enraged readers” (I’d argue that most of the answer enraged readers, but fine):
Unfortunately, I started my answer by expressing frustration at her judgment to get drunk at a frat house, calling it “awful.” This is the part of my answer that has enraged readers, who have accused me of “blaming the victim.”
As a mother (and stepmother) to five daughters — four in college — I have counseled (and worry about) all of my many daughters because of how vulnerable they are if they choose to drink. Drinking to intoxication poses very serious security issues for our daughters and sons, because being drunk impairs judgment and the ability to discern risk.
Because “Victim” wondered where the line was, I tried to draw it for her. My intent was to urge her (as I often urge readers) to take responsibility for the only thing she could control—-her own choices and actions—-but I regret how harshly I expressed this.
I certainly didn’t intend to offend or blame her for what happened, and I hope she will do everything possible to stay safe in the future.
I’m grateful that she chose to share her question with all of us, because talking about it will help others.
Throwing “daughters and sons” in here obscures the point. Informing women and men about the risks of drinking is a very different task than addressing the problem of rape. Yes, drinking can be dangerous for both men and women—-when men and women drink too much, they can make themselves sick, get massive hangovers, sprain ankles on the stairs, lose their wallets, and fall off barstools. These are unfortunate side-effects of drinking which the drinker brings upon him or herself.
But when a woman gets drunk, it’s also more likely that a man will rape her. Being raped is not a significant risk for a drunk man at a campus party. This is not an unfortunate side-effect of drinking. It’s a product of our sexist society, and one that goes far deeper than telling women they have to lay off the sauce because drinking is too dangerous for them. In some ways, our society is safer for men. But that is not every woman’s fault. It is a problem that must be addressed by all of us.
Dickinson wants the victim to know this: “I hope she will do everything possible to stay safe in the future.” The effect of that statement is that she hopes the victim won’t keep doing what male college students around the country can do without fear—-drinking, making friends, going to house parties, being alone with a classmate. I hope she can find the strength to ignore that advice. If we succeed in convincing women that this behavior is dangerous, we will also convince men that only bad girls do these things. How can you be held responsible for victimizing a bad girl? As Dickinson’s advice has shown, everyone knows that bad girls victimize themselves.
I agree that “talking about it will help others.” I’m just so glad that it’s not only Dickinson who is talking about this. Change.org is also hosting a petition to ask Dickinson to revisit her remarks (again).