If she was sexually assaulted, why didn’t she say something sooner?

“Me too” has passed, but in its wake, more and more women are publicly accusing powerful men of sexual assault.

2017 being what it is, there are no good guys, left or right. We elected an open sexual predator to lead our country in the paths of goodness and grace, and now republican hero Roy Moore is (please God) on his way out; but Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis CK are beloved of the left, and they too are guilty as hell.  Vox, ABC news and NPR are yielding up their pigs. The Atlantic has suddenly noticed that Bill Clinton is super guilty, and so is everyone who made excuses for him.

So, that’s new. We can no longer pretend that it’s only the deviant left or the hypocritical right who harbor sex predators. It’s everywhere. It’s everyone. And that makes it harder to cling to the old binary political fairytales of good us vs. evil them.

One thing hasn’t changed, though. When a woman comes forward and says she’s been assaulted, we can still come together as a country and tell her it’s all her fault. I wrote this essay back in 2014, at the height of the Bill Cosby scandal, and was discouraged, if not surprised, to see how few edits were necessary to make it relevant today.

Here is what I have learned about sexual assault:

  • If you tell the police you’ve been sexually assaulted, it’s because you’re looking for attention. You should file a civil suit, instead.
  • If you file a civil suit, it’s because you’re looking for money, and are not telling the truth.
  • If you don’t file a civil suit, that shows you don’t have a case, and are not telling the truth.
  • If you tell someone right away, that shows suspicious presence of mind, and proves that you engineered the whole thing to embarrass the alleged perpetrator.
  • If you don’t tell anyone right away, that shows a suspicious lack of urgency, and proves that you are making up the story for no reason other than to embarrass the alleged perpetrator.
  • If you don’t file a civil suit, it shows that you don’t need the money and are just doing it for attention, because people love the kind of fabulous attention they get when they accuse someone of sexual assault, especially if that person is popular or powerful.
  • If you do file a civil suit, it shows that you’re such a gold digger, you don’t mind getting all the horrible attention that no victim in her right mind would want to get, especially if the alleged perpetrator is popular or powerful.
  • If you’re the only one who accuses someone of sexual assault, it shows that your story is unbelievable.
  • If lots of other people make similar accusations, that is suspiciously orchestrated, and shows that your story is unbelievable.
  • If you were in the same room with the person who sexually assaulted you, that shows that you are just as guilty as he is, because you’re in the same room with a sexual predator, and who would do that?
  • If the person you’re accusing of sexual assault is rich, famous, or powerful, then that shows that you’re just looking for attention, and it never happened.
  • If the person you’re accusing of sexual assault is rich, famous, and powerful, that shows that you should have known he is a sexual predator, and you wanted it to happen.
  • If you tell someone right away, they will assume you’re lying.
  • If you don’t tell anyone right away, they will assume you’re lying, because you didn’t tell anyone right away.

If you tell, that’s a count against you. If you don’t tell, that’s a count against you. If you speak alone, that’s a count against you. If you speak as one of a crowd, that’s a count against you. If you sue, that’s a count against you. If you don’t sue, that’s a count against you.

If you tell someone that you’ve been sexually assaulted, it probably didn’t actually happen the way you said, and even if it did, it was your fault in some way, and you should have realized that it would happen, and there is no particular reason anyone should believe you, and if you think the rape itself was painful and humiliating, just wait till you see what you’ve got coming next, when you try to tell someone.

So why didn’t you tell someone sooner?

Clearly, because it didn’t happen. There can be no other explanation.

Here’s a recent tweet from Dinesh D’Souza:

And he’s answered his own question. If she was really sexually assaulted, why didn’t she come forward sooner?

This is why. What he said. When a victim does come forward, she is assaulted all over again.

This is what I’ve learned. If you’ve been sexually assaulted, your only real recourse is not to have been sexually assaulted. Anything and everything you do from that moment forward is evidence against you. The deck is stacked against you as a victim because you are a victim. They very moment you even breathe the phrase “sexual assault,” that’s evidence in the minds of many  that no such thing happened, and anyway it was your fault.

So tell me. What is a victim of sexual assault supposed to do, in order to be believed? What? You tell me.

Your recourse if you have been raped

My friend R. was raped many years ago. It was not a story with any gray areas. She was walking home from work when a large man grabbed her, beat and choked her, tied her up with duct tape, locked her up, and raped her dozens of times over the course of days. She eventually escaped and reported what happened as soon as she was able. The man was caught, convicted, and sent to prison.

She kept it a secret when it happened. She didn’t say anything until the day her story came up much later in the news, and she heard some women discussing  . . . her.

Not the rapist. Not the rape. They were discussing her — what she had been wearing, what her sexual history was, what she had been wearing, why she had been in that neighborhood, what she had been wearing, whether she had fought hard enough to get away, and why she hadn’t gone to the police sooner. Why had it happened in the first place? What should she have done differently? What had she been wearing?

And how do we know she’s even telling the truth?

I knew this woman. A gentle, generous, self-effacing human being, a lover of babies and kittens, honest to a fault. The women who wanted to talk about her skirt length didn’t know any this, because they didn’t know her. All they knew was that she had been raped.

And that in itself was a reason not to believe that she had been really raped. It must be her fault somehow. How do we know? Well, she says she was raped, and we know what kind of woman says a thing like that.

Bill Cosby’s attorney knows full well this is how people think, and he’s banking his entire defense argument on it.

Cosby is accused of drugging and sexually violating Andrea Constand. Constand is the only alleged victim in this case, but she is one of over sixty women who have publicly accused Cosby of sexual assault. As the accusations have filtered in over the course of decades, literally every circumstance surrounding the accusation is used against the alleged victim.

Last time Cosby was in the news in 2014, I compiled a list of arguments I heard over and over again — arguments that made me wonder if there was anything a raped woman could say, any way she could respond, any action she could take, that would make people believe her, or even give her the benefit of the doubt.

Here’s what I learned:

  • If you tell the police you’ve been raped, it’s because you’re looking for attention. You should file a civil suit, instead.
  • If you file a civil suit, it’s because you’re looking for money, and are not telling the truth.
  • If you don’t file a civil suit, that shows you don’t have a case, and are not telling the truth.
  • If you tell someone right away, that shows suspicious presence of mind, and proves that you engineered the whole thing to embarrass the alleged perpetrator.
  • If you don’t tell anyone right away, that shows a suspicious lack of urgency, and proves that you are making up the story for no reason other than to embarrass the alleged perpetrator.
  • If you don’t file a civil suit, it shows that you don’t need the money and are just doing it for attention, because people love the kind of fabulous attention they get when they accuse someone of rape, especially if that person is popular or powerful.
  • If you do file a civil suit, it shows that you want the money so badly that you don’t mind getting all the horrible attention that no victim in her right mind would want to get, especially if the alleged perpetrator is popular or powerful.
  • If you’re the only one who accuses someone of rape, it shows that your story is unbelievable.
  • If lots of other people make similar accusations, that is suspiciously orchestrated, and shows that your story is unbelieveable.
  • If you were in the same room with the person who raped you, that shows that you are just as guilty as he is, because you’re in the same room with a rapist, and who would do that?
  • If the person you’re accusing of rape is rich, famous, or powerful, then that shows that you’re just looking for attention, and it never happened.
  • If the person you’re accusing of rape is rich, famous, and powerful, that shows that you should have known he is a rapist, and you wanted it to happen.
  • If you tell someone right away, they will assume you’re lying.
  • If you don’t tell anyone right away, they will assume you’re lying, because you didn’t tell anyone right away.

If you tell, that’s a count against you. If you don’t tell, that’s a count against you. If you speak alone, that’s a count against you. If you speak as one of a crowd, that’s a count against you. If you sue, that’s a count against you. If you don’t sue, that’s a count against you.

If you tell someone that you’ve been raped, it probably didn’t actually happen the way you said, and even if it did, it was your fault in some way, and you should have realized that it would happen, and there is no particular reason anyone should believe you, and if you think the rape itself was painful and humiliating, just wait till you see what you’ve got coming next, when you try to tell someone.

So why didn’t you tell someone sooner?

Clearly, because it didn’t happen. There can be no other explanation.

What I’ve learned is that if you’ve been raped, your only real recourse is not to have been raped. Because anything and everything you do from that moment forward is evidence against you. The deck is stacked against you as a victim because you are a victim. They very moment you even breathe the word “rape,” that’s evidence in the minds of many that no such thing happened, and anyway it was your fault.

Your only real recourse is not to have been raped.

***

Photo by dilettant:nikki via Flickr (Creative Commons)

A portion of this post originally ran at the National Catholic Register in 2014. 

No, “Baby It’s Cold Outside” doesn’t need to be updated to emphasize consent

Unpopular opinion time! “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” isn’t a rape song. It’s not even a rapey song. It’s a seduction song, and we used to know the difference between seduction and rape, before we elevated consent to the highest good.

Apparently there is an arch parody that updates the song to emphasize consent. I despise arch parodies, so I refuse to watch it, and you can’t make me.

For the record, I don’t even especially like the original song. It’s okay, as far as cutesy duets go. It does an adequate job of capturing a familiar relationship between a man and a woman. As with any song, you can make it come across as creepy and criminal; but you can also make it come across as it was originally intended: as playful.  The couple is literally playing a game, a very old one, where the man wants what he wants, and the woman wants it too, but it’s more fun for both of them when he has to work for it a little bit. It’s a song about persuasion. That’s what seduction is, and that’s what makes the song interesting: the tension. If there is no tension, there is no song.

Here are the full lyrics. The woman’s lines are in parenthesis. If you’re convinced this song is a rape song, please do read through the lyrics before you read the rest of this post!

You’ll note that the only protests the woman makes are that her reputation might be soiled. She doesn’t say that she wants to go, only that she should. This is because  . . . I’m dying a little inside because I actually have to say it . . . she actually wants to stay. As women often do, when they are already in a relationship with a man they are attracted to and with whom they have been spending a romantic evening, and whom they have been telling repeatedly that they are actually interested in staying.

Most critics get hung up on the line, “Say, what’s in this drink?” The assumption is that he’s slipped a drug into her cocktail (or, occasionally, that he’s spiked her virgin drink with alcohol). Okay. Or maybe, at the end of an evening of dancing and drinking, he’s added a little more liquor than she’s expecting. Or maybe he hasn’t done anything, other than give her the “half a drink more” she just asked for, and she’s playfully making an excuse for what she’s about to do:  Whoo, what’s in this drink? I’m acting all silly, but it can’t be my fault, mercy me!  This was a standard trope of that era. Anytime something weird goes on, you blame the bottle.

Again: there is no indication, unless you take that one line out of context, that there is anything sinister going on. There is overwhelming evidence, if you listen to the whole song, that it’s a song about a pleasurable interplay between the sexes.

Heck, if we’re going to give this song the darkest possible reading, and single out one line while ignoring the context, why not call it the False Rape Accusation song? After all, the woman says, “At least I’m gonna say that I tried!” You see? She’s calculating a malicious plan to claim that she didn’t give consent, so that when her family and neighbors look askance at her for spending the night, she can make it seem like it was against her will!

Humbug. This is what happens when we’re all trained to see consent as the highest good. This is what happens when we’re trained to ignore context. People who can’t tell the difference between persuasion and force are people who have forgotten why consent is so important.

Consent isn’t valuable in itself. If it were, then it would be a holy and solemn moment when we check the “I agree” box when signing onto free WiFi at Dunkin’ Donuts. Consent is only a good thing because it’s in service to other things — higher things with intrinsic value, such as fidelity, free will, self sacrifice, respect, happiness, integrity, and . . . love. These are all things that you can’t have unless you have consent.

But when all you look for is consent, and you ignore the context, you get two human beings who see each other in rigid roles — business partners with black and white contractual obligations. In short, you have what modern people say they despise about the bad old days: love as a business arrangement.

My friends, I firmly believe there is such a thing as rape culture. When we wink and smirk and say, “Boys will be boys,” we degrade both women and men, and we teach women that they have a duty to give men whatever they want so they’re not a tease or a downer. We teach men that they can’t control themselves. We teach women that they can’t really say no, and that if they do, they’ll be scoffed at or blamed or disbelieved. When we tell the world that “no means maybe,” we’re setting the stage for rape.

But is this song doing that? Or is it just a little vignette of that deliciously warm in-between place, where reasonable people can have fun together? Because when we step outside, and make everything black and white, then, baby, it’s cold. So cold.

We degrade both men and women when we tell them that sex is just another contractual obligation — and that there’s no difference between a violent encounter between strangers, and a playful exchange between a romantic couple, and a violent exchange between a romantic couple, and a loving relationship in marriage, and a violent relationship in marriage. We’re told that the relationship doesn’t matter, and that the actual behavior has no intrinsic meaning. The only thing that matters is consent. We think that focusing on consent will ensure that no one will be degraded or taken advantage of; but instead, it has won us abominations like “empowering porn” and 50 Shades of Gray and even the suggestion that children can give consent.  It wins us a generation of kids that asks things like, “How can I tell if she consents or not, if she’s not conscious?” (A real question I read from a high school kid; I’ll add the link if I can find it again!) These miseries are not a side effect; they are the direct result of a culture that elevates consent to the highest good.

It’s not only promiscuous, secular types whose lives are impoverished by the cold rule of consent. I’m a member of a group of Catholics where one young woman wrote for advice about her husband, who, she tearfully reported, kissed her without first asking consent. This made her feel violated.

It was her husband.

Who kissed her.

And she thought he needed to ask consent every time.

This is where the pendulum has swung. We’ve pathologized the normal, healthy, give-and-take of love. We’ve taught people that there is no such thing as context: that’s it’s fair game to ignore the entire relationship and to reduce each other to business partners.

Now, if you’ve been victimized or abused, then this is probably not going to be your favorite song. You’re free to find it creepy, and you’re free to change the station. But we don’t heal from abuse by turning the whole world into an isolation ward. Healthy relationships, where the context does allow for some interplay and ambiguity, should be the norm, and they should dare to speak their healthy name.

And one more thing (and I could write volumes about this): not everything is a lesson. Not every pop song is a primer for how to behave. I tell my kids that it’s our duty to be aware of what the world is teaching us, for good or ill; but just because we’re learning something doesn’t mean there was a life lesson intended.  Sometimes art, including pop art (like pop songs) is just giving you a slice of human experience, and when it feels familiar, then it’s done well, period.

No wonder people have no idea how to stay married anymore. They expect everything to be a lesson, and they expect those lessons to be black and white. They think that life is going to give them crystal clear boundaries. They think that it’s always going to be obvious what they can expect from other people and from themselves.

I’m not talking about sex, here; I’m talking about love, and about life in general — life without context, life without tension, life without ambiguity, life without play. Baby, it doesn’t get any colder than that.

***
Image: Pedro Ignacio Guridi via Flickr (Creative Commons)
This essay ran in a slightly different form on Aleteia in 2015.

This post is not about Bill Cosby.

If you want to talk about Bill Cosby (or Bill Clinton, or Woody Allen, or Roman Polanski) please find a conversation somewhere else. This post is about what you are supposed to do if you’ve been raped. What’s the next step?

Reading comments by self-identified Catholic conservatives in the last few days, this is what I have learned . . .

Read the rest at the Register.

Bite this, CNN.

don lemon

So I very, very reluctantly watched the clip of someone apparently named “Don Lemon” interviewing the woman who says that Bill Cosby raped her when she was 19.

Gawker transcribes the really hair-raising part of the interview, as follows:

Lemon: Can I ask you this? And please, I don’t mean to be crude, OK?

Tarshis: Yeah.

Lemon: You said this last night, that he — you lied to him and said, “I have an infection, and if you rape me, or if you do — if you have intercourse with me, then you will probably get it and give it to your wife.”

Tarshis: Right.

Lemon: You said he made you perform oral sex.

Tarshis: Right.

Lemon: You — you know, there are ways not to perform oral sex if you didn’t want to do it.

Tarshis: I was kind of stoned at the time, and quite honestly, that didn’t even enter my mind. Now I wish it would have.

Lemon: Right. Meaning the using of the teeth, right?

Tarshis: Yes…I didn’t even think of it.

Lemon: Biting.

Tarshis: Ouch.

Lemon: Yes. I had to ask.

I know I’m supposed to be horrified at the idea that everyone is still, still focusing on telling women that they should have done a better job of defending themselves.

I’m supposed to be horrified that that message far outpaces the messages that men should not rape, must not rape, must not joke about rape, must not fantasize about rape.

I’m supposed to be horrified that that message far outpaces the tremendously useful message that men who hear another man talking about rape, joking about rape, or doing something that seems even a little rapey should beat the shit out of that other man.

But the thing that got me was . . . this is CNN? We’re now talking about biting penises on CNN?

Try this one weird trick for ending the war on women

You know what would cut through 99% of this crap, where we find ourselves arguing about whether or not saying, “Yes, I want to have sex with you” counts as sufficient consent, and whether or not “bystander intervention training” is sexist, and who’s waging a war on whom, and who’s winning?  Try following this simple rule:

If you are not married, assume there is never consent; and if you are married, treat your spouse like a person, not a thing.

I know I know I know. I know all the things, about marital rape and patriarchy and women’s sexual autonomy and the microaggression inherent in chivalry and bias against dads in family court and alllllll the things.

I also know there will be a neverending fountain of confusion and recrimination as long as we treat sex like something that can just happen between anyone at any time, and if we just figure out the right new rules, then no one gets hurt.

We already have figured out the rules. It’s called abstaining before marriage, getting married, having children if you can, and working hard at staying married.   Trying to figure out sex in any other context besides heterosexual marriage is like trying to grow tomatoes in a post-tomato cage era.  Congratulations, you’re free! And now you’re going to fall over and die.

Girls Cannot Give Consent

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Even if she puts on lipstick and arches her eyebrow.

In the third world, they stone a girl to death for being raped.  In the United States, we just give her rapist and de facto murderer a slap on the wrist, and reassure the world that she was asking for it.

Think I’m exaggerating?  Cherice Morales was fourteen when her 49-year-old teacher began to rape her.  Three years later, she killed herself. The reason her story is in the news is because her rapist, Stacey Rambold, got 30 days in jail for the rapes.

After Morales killed herself, Rambold was supposed to complete a sex offender treatment program, but he didn’t.  His case was revived when it was revealed that he was, among other offenses, having unsupervised visits with minors.  His sentencing judge, Judge G. Todd Baugh, who never met the victim, said that she was “as much in control of the situation” as Rambold was, and that she was “older than her chronological age.”  “It was not a violent, forcible, beat-the-victim rape like you see in movies,” he said.  (What kind of movies are you watching, your honor?)

Yesterday, after there was an outcry, the judge apologized for his statements about Morales.  He says that he doesn’t know what he was trying to say, and that his statements are not relevant to the sentencing.  But he isn’t rescinding the sentencing, either.  Thirty days is what the man gets, minus one day already served.

In this raw and profane piece in xo jane, a woman who suffered repeated statutory rape starting at age 13, reminds us why there are laws about statutory rape in the first place:

The fact is, a 14-year-old girl may be capable of agreeing to sex with a 49-year-old man, but she doesn’t have the emotional and mental maturity to consent.  I was 25 before I realized that every man I’d slept with as a teenager was a pedophile. It seemed to me that since I’d courted the attention, that I was fully culpable. What teenager believes she is not mentally or emotionally capable of full consent? I thought I was an adult, although when I look at the picture of myself from the time period above, I see a child.

I thought I was the exception for these men, the girl so precocious and advanced that it superseded social norms. I thought that I was “older than my chronological age.”

Well, what do you expect from the modern, secular world, right?  What do you expect from a culture that simultaneously glorifies and degrades human sexuality?  Of course you’re going to have needy girls and lecherous men.  Of course there will be suffering and heartache, and innocents will suffer and predators will go free.

But surely we Catholics know better than that, yes?  Surely the Church on earth, imperfect as she is, is a safe haven for the young and vulnerable.

Well, just yesterday I ran afoul of a prominent Catholic writer, a professor who often works with college students.  The last time I talked to him when he said in public that the way to deal with a teen mom who’d given birth at age fourteen is to tell the “slut” to “keep her legs closed.”

No long ago, I was speaking to a Catholic priest about how difficult life seemed when I was a teenager, and he went into a long reverie about the teenage girls that cross his path.  “Those short skirts, that heavy eye makeup—” he said . . . “Ohh, they know exactly what they’re doing.”

Think rapists come from nowhere?  Think they would dare to do what they do, if it were not for men like these?  You don’t have to be a rapist to be part of the problem.  All you have to do is make sure we all remember that the girl is to blame.  No matter how young she is, the girl is always to blame.

  • It’s her fault because she knows how to look like a woman (even though she’s not).
  • It’s her fault because she wears padded bras and skanky clothing (even though her body is tender and unfinished on the inside).
  • It’s her fault because she knows all the moves (because she’s been trained since toddlerhood to writhe to a beat, because that’s what makes the adults in the house point the camera at them).
  • It’s her fault because she works hard to look sexy (even though she really only wants to look pretty, and sexy is the only pretty she’s ever been shown).
  • It’s her fault because she’s loud and dirty because she knows it gets her something (and she knows that something is better than nothing).

It’s her fault because she’s learned that she has power, and she does wield it (because the only time men speak to her is to say two things, “Do what I tell you to do” and “I want you.”  If you were a lonely girl, which would you rather hear?).

The xojane writer tells us,

[I]t doesn’t matter if a young girl is saying yes, it’s an adult man’s job to say no.

And she’s not just talking to Rambold and other men who happen to have a thing for young girls.  She’s talking to all adults who should know better:  the judge, the defense attorney, the professors, the priests, the therapists, the school principles, the combox snipers, men and women.  She’s speaking to us.  To me.

What do I say when I meet a young girl in trouble?  What do I see when a teenage girl sashays by in skintight jeans, made up like a porn star?  Do I see a girl?  Or do I grimace and avert my eyes from just another young slut who’s out to ruin the world?

What do we tell girls, besides, “Do what I tell you to do?”  Do we tell them, “You are still young”?  Do we tell them, “Stand behind me, and I will protect you”?  Do we tell them that there is still hope, there is a way to get love and attention without being used?  Or do we tell the girls that it’s their fault, always their fault?

I don’t want to be the background music for the song and dance of the likes of Rambold and Judge Baugh, who say that there is no such thing as innocence.  Keep on saying it, and it will come true.

***
photo credit: Cat Eyes via photopin (license)

This post originally ran in 2013. I’m reposting it in light of recent conversations about Maria Goretti.