Some remaining thoughts from readers on the taboo topic:
One of your readers is quoted as writing, “It’s clear to any sane person that a rapist is completely to blame for a rape.” The problem here is that word “blame”—because for most rapes, there are many, many people who think nobody is to blame, because (they think) there was no rape: The person assaulted wanted to have sex, but changed their mind later, or was ashamed, or was just a lying slut with mysterious motives.
This discussion is hard, because some of the answers are incongruously lofty and nuanced relative to the stark evil of rape. But I think it’s too important and the topic needs to be exhausted.
The distinction between the onus for prevention and criminal responsibility is getting muddled: of course the perpetrator is the only person responsible for the crime, and of course, in a specific instance of rape, it is entirely inappropriate to broach prevention at risk of exacerbating the victim’s tendency to feel ashamed. But speaking generally, the major point is that the onus for prevention cannot be placed on the perpetrator, any more than the onus for defeating ISIS can be placed on ISIS. It’s nonsensical. A rapist is not going to heed a listicle of ten ways to avoid sexually assaulting a person, and a PSA on serial killing will never stymie a future Ted Bundy.
Only a decent society and potential victims can take steps to prevent rape. It’s unfair for any responsibility to fall on potential victims, but we live in a world where systemic solutions are slow-moving and imperfect. We have to consider prevention from the individual point of view. Obviously the most controversial subject of prevention is clothing, and I think nothing short of a gender-concealing robot suit would have any effect. But if we care about prevention more than fairness, we should be willing to study the situations around sexual assault and the minds of sexual deviants from every angle, and consider and share every conclusion.
Any final thoughts? Shoot me an email and I’ll post. Update from a reader, who quotes the one above:
[T]he major point is that the onus for prevention cannot be placed on the perpetrator, any more than the onus for defeating ISIS can be placed on ISIS. It’s nonsensical. A rapist is not going to heed a listicle of ten ways to avoid sexually assaulting a person...
I actually think their point about separating responsibility for prevention vs guilt is reasonable, but the argument I quoted is flawed. A big part of the modern anti-rape movement is the realization that many people sincerely do not realize they’re committing rape—for example, with women who are too drunk or otherwise incapacitated to consent.
That’s why you have campaigns like “Don’t be that guy [poster seen above],” which are actually trying to address rape prevention from the male perspective. Their effectiveness seems to be inconclusive so far, but the premise doesn’t seem unreasonable on the face of it.
Anyway, thanks for doing this discussion! It’s an interesting one to have.
I’m not interested in wading into the debate over Chrissie Hynde, but I’ll dip my toe in enough to say that the approach to rape prevention expressed by Katie Russell makes me think of the abstinence-only approach to sex ed. The absolutist approach actually results in more problems (pregnancy and STDs on one side, rape on the other) because proponents refuse to accept the reality of the situation they face (kids like sex / women are vulnerable to rape).
This reader uses an analogy:
A rape and the situation that led to it are two different things. A woman can take some responsibility for what led up to it while laying blame for the rape at the rapist’s feet.
Say you’re driving without a seat belt and someone hits you, ejecting you from the car. If you were belted, you wouldn’t have gotten hurt as bad, or maybe at all. It’s the accident your fault? No, of course not. Could you have foreseen trouble and done something to minimize it beforehand? Absolutely.
That analogy only goes so far, but I think it’s the gist of what people are saying.
Another reader rolls out more analogies:
I have the responsibility of cleaning the snow off of my sidewalk after a blizzard. I am not to blame for it snowing. I have the responsibility for locking my doors and carrying insurance. I am not to blame if I am robbed or my house burns down (unless I set it ablaze myself).
There is a difference between taking responsibility and accepting blame. All people have the responsibility to take reasonable measures to protect themselves, but they are not to blame if they are assaulted or raped. Until people recognize that difference, then there will be tragedies that could have been prevented, if only some people taken precautions.
An excellent and tragic point from this next reader:
I can assure you rape victims rarely feel free of culpability, even when they’ve checked off all the boxes of “things to do or avoid in order to prevent getting raped.” We can speak in generalities about what women should or shouldn’t do, but that by definition puts the onus on the victim versus the perpetrator, which is a difficult argument to hold together.
Sophie has a thought provoking piece on the controversy surrounding Chrissie Hynde—the lead singer of the Pretenders—and her comments regarding a sexual assault she experienced four decades ago. Sophie isolates an interesting irony among Hynde’s critics:
[T]here’s no denying that speaking publicly, as Hynde has done, about how women can be to blame for being sexually assaulted if they’re dressed provocatively is both wrongheaded and extraordinarily damaging to many victims of rape. But Hynde’s choice of words—comparing the outraged responses to her comments to a “lynch mob”—seems to demonstrate that she feels more victimized by the flood of comments and messages and thinkpieces and news hits responding to her story than she does by actually being assaulted in the first place.
Which raises the question: Is attacking Hynde for blaming herself (and yes, by association, blaming others) ultimately productive and worth the cost of revictimizing her? Or is the impulse to shame her and others like her sometimes more about self-gratification than advocacy?
Sophie continues with an incisive indictment of Twitter as a means of expression. Meanwhile, a few readers take on the highly-charged topic of rape prevention:
Chrissie Hynde is refusing to be a helpless victim. There’s a fine line between taking responsibility for what one can take responsibility for, and blaming the victim or letting bad people off the hook … but I believe she is properly walking that line. Chrissie is what a genuinely empowered woman looks like.
Shit happens, for sure. The difference between the empowered person and the victim is that the former refuses to see him/herself as a helpless object. In this instance, Chrissie is deciding to focus on herself and what part she played in the instance, and not merely saying that someone did X to helpless, innocent little her. She is a better, stronger person for her attitude.
And I’m not blaming the rape victim here. I’m applauding how she responded to her rape, by HER deciding to take back some level of control by taking some level responsibility for the obvious mistakes in judgement she made. It’s a hugely self-actualized thing to do.
At UCLA where I work, every year a dean warns young women not to get drunk out of their minds at frat parties or Spring Break, because the stats show that they raise their chances of being raped astronomically. And each year the dean (a female) gets slandered as anti-woman and a rape apologist by the kids who are angry at the fact that humans can be very ugly and that life is unfair.
Another reader has a similar stance on the dangers of college life:
In a perfect world, female students would be able to drink as heavily as they would like with no risk of sexual assault, and no amount of drinking makes them deserve to be raped. In this world, though, alcohol is the most common date rape drug. It shouldn’t be considered impossible to tell students that while a woman incapacitated by drinking is in no way to blame for her rape, she still should be aware that controlling her level of intoxication is a vital part of protecting herself.
Rapists exist and will continue to exist for some time. It’s clear to any sane person that a rapist is completely to blame for a rape. We are right to disagree with the Hyndes of the world when they seek to remove blame from the correct targets and heap it on those who suffer from their actions. But taking that to an extreme—where we ignore realities and withhold advice that could help women—isn’t positive either. We need to find a balance between the two.
All this makes me think of a quote from an article I read recently regarding a rape drug detection device in the form of nail polish that would test drinks for contamination on-the-spot:
“Whilst Undercover Color’s initiative is well meaning, on the whole,” [Katie Russell from Rape Crisis England & Wales] said, “Rape Crisis does not endorse or promote such a product or anything similar. This is for three reasons: it implies that it’s the woman’s fault and assumes responsibility on her behalf, and detracts from the real issues that arise from sexual violence.”
“For us, we work with victims to make them realise that they did nothing wrong,” she added. “Among primary cases, some do ask if they could have done anything to stop it. Products like this suggest otherwise. The emphasis must be placed 100% on the perpetrator.”
That organization isn’t suggesting the devices wouldn’t work for the intended purpose; they are literally saying that they would rather these tools did not exist because they imply even to the slightest degree that a woman might take an active role in protecting herself. They would discourage women from using them—and perhaps allow actual rapes to happen that could have been prevented—in order to protect the sanctity of this idea.
Democratic Chairman Jerry Nadler virtually lost control of today’s House Judiciary Committee hearing.
Today’s impeachment hearing was supposed to be a check-the-box session for House Democrats—a formality, really: Its purpose was to televise the evidence against President Donald Trump that party lawmakers presented in a voluminous written report released last week.
What it turned into, however, was the weirdest, most chaotic hearing of the entire impeachment saga so far.
The witnesses were not exactly household names: two staff lawyers for Democratic House committees, Barry Berke and Daniel Goldman, and one serving Republicans, Stephen Castor. They were there to discuss the findings of the House Intelligence Committee, a necessary but decidedly anticlimactic step ahead of the introduction of official articles of impeachment. Democrats could unveil those charges by the end of the week, and the full House could vote on them before Christmas.
He returned home a year ago feeling sad and anxious. We tried to be supportive, but he felt slighted and he’s not over it.
About 10 months ago, my young adult son returned home, appearing distraught over a broken relationship. Before this, he had moved back to his university city to be with his girlfriend, who was entering her final year, and he spent four months trying to get a job and develop social networks, and being committed to the relationship.
It appears he was unsuccessful on all fronts, and my previously sunny, gregarious kid slumped into a mood matching the cold, dark winter weather in which he was living. He returned to sunny California just prior to Christmas, but struggled with sadness, anxiety, and generally feeling lost. It was clear to me that the issue was not simply a breakup and he should have come home much sooner. My other two sons returned home for the holidays, and we tried to make the best of a difficult situation. My other sons are several years older, one is married, and both live far away and are established in their careers.
Trump’s defenders suggest that White House aides could exculpate the president—but the evidence suggests otherwise.
Speaking with George Stephanopoulos on ABC this weekend, Representative Matt Gaetz—one of President Donald Trump’s most relentlessly enthusiastic congressional supporters—had an unexpected suggestion for how the president should proceed in the impeachment inquiry. Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget and acting White House chief of staff, should testify before Congress, Gaetz argued—along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and perhaps even the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. All three men have so far refused to cooperate with House requests for information. But, said Gaetz, “I think it would inure to the president’s advantage to have people testify who could exculpate him.”
Don’t let his butt-dials distract from his cunning.
It can sometimes seem as if Donald Trump has outsourced the defense of his presidency to an erratic buffoon. Rudy Giuliani is the self-styled security expert who can’t stop butt-dialing. He is the trusted attorney whom journalists routinely bait into damning admissions. The man once hailed as America’s mayor is now widely viewed as a walking gaffe.
In the pages of Adam Schiff’s impeachment report, however, an entirely different character emerges. That Giuliani is a savvy operator who rolls his bureaucratic opponents with ruthlessness and ease. He is the master of what Ambassador William Taylor branded the “irregular channel,” which appears to have been a very profitable piece of turf. Giuliani’s unofficial perch in the Trump administration seems to be the basis for a booming business. Butt-dials aside, he should be regarded as one of the most outrageously effective influence peddlers of all time.
The University of North Carolina agreed to pay the Sons of Confederate Veterans $2.5 million—a sum that rivals the endowment of its history department.
On the eve of Thanksgiving, the University of North Carolina Board of Governors agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by the North Carolina division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) over a Confederate monument that had stood for more than a century on the university’s flagship campus, in Chapel Hill, before demonstrators toppled it in August 2018.
The settlement might, at first glance, appear to be a workmanlike solution to a vexing issue. It ensures that the monument, commonly referred to as Silent Sam, will no longer adorn the university campus. Under the terms of the consent decree, the SCV will take custody of the monument and receive $2.5 million in “non-state funds” for a “charitable trust” to care for it. In a statement to the UNC community, which for more than a decade has been riven by the controversy over the monument, UNC Interim Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz applauded the Board of Governors for “resolving this matter.”
Brexit poses an existential dilemma for the region.
BELFAST—I’m driving across Europe’s most divided city, where politics is existential and fear often only a few streets away.
We’re heading west toward the River Lagan from the largely Protestant east, the flags of illegal paramilitary groups hanging limply from lampposts. Sitting beside me in the car is someone who describes himself as “an active loyalist”—loyal to the British Crown and state and opposed to a united Ireland—but, like other unionists I spoke with, asked not to be identified for fear of retribution. He is a member of the city’s Protestant working class, which has united in anger at Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s prospective Brexit deal with the European Union, principally because of the de facto customs border that it proposes between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, in order to avoid one with the Republic of Ireland.
A “safe” alternative to opioid painkillers turns out to be not so safe.
Gabapentin was supposed to be the answer. Chronic pain afflicts about a fifth of American adults, and for years, doctors thought it could be treated with prescription painkillers like Oxycontin. But as the drugs began killing the equivalent of three planeloads of Americans every week, opioid prescriptions fell off precipitously. Many doctors embraced gabapentin, an anticonvulsant drug traditionally used to prevent seizures, as a way to treat neuropathic pain while avoiding triggering life-threatening addiction.
From 2012 to 2016, prescriptions for gabapentin increased 64 percent. It’s now the 10th-most-commonly-prescribed medication in the United States. Baclofen, a muscle relaxant, has become another popular opioid replacement. Though gabapentin and baclofen can cause a boozelike “high” for some people, they’re far less addictive and less likely to be fatal when taken in large quantities than opioids are.
The making of Bombshell and the eerie similarities between Roger Ailes and Harvey Weinstein
Charlize Theron received the script for Bombshell, the new drama about the women who exposed sexual harassment at Fox News and brought down Roger Ailes, in the summer of 2017. Two months later, the first Harvey Weinstein story broke. In certain Hollywood circles, people had been aware that a Weinstein investigation might finally make it into print, but nobody could have foreseen the magnitude of the fallout or the movement it would ignite. “There was something in the air,” Theron recalled one morning in October, tucked into a corner table at a Hollywood restaurant. “I didn’t have an inkling of how big it was going to be or how long it was going to last.”
Among the things that ultimately drew Theron to the Ailes story—what led her to sign on to star and produce Bombshell—were the women at the center of it: the formidable blond protagonists of Fox News. There was Gretchen Carlson (played by Nicole Kidman), the former Miss America and longtime anchor who filed the initial lawsuit against Ailes, accusing the Fox News chairman of making sexual advances and then retaliating against her after she rebuffed them. There was Megyn Kelly (Theron), the network’s biggest star, who came forward with allegations against Ailes in the weeks that followed. And there was a young female producer (a composite character played by Margot Robbie) who seeks out Ailes in hopes of landing an on-air position, only to be cowed into showing him her underwear during a one-on-one meeting, among other indignities.
A conversation with the evangelical pastor and theologian
Shortly after I met my wife, Cindy, in 1989—she was living in New York City at the time, while I was living in Northern Virginia—she told me about a new church she was attending in Manhattan: Redeemer Presbyterian. The young minister, she told me, was “the best pastor in America.”
His name was Timothy J. Keller.
Since that time Keller, 69, has become one of the most consequential figures in American Christianity. When he founded Redeemer in the fall of 1989, fewer than 100 people attended; in the aftermath of the attacks on September 11, 2001, Keller was preaching in multiple services in three different venues each Sunday to about 5,000 people—mostly young, single, professionally and ethnically diverse. He has written about two dozen books, several of them best sellers. And unlike that of many popular ministers, his reach extends farbeyond the Christian subculture.
Afghanistan has long been the overshadowed war, eclipsed in public attention by the invasion of Iraq and a dozen other stories. Even so, the American occupation of Afghanistan grinds on, with an end seeming remote and any kind of positive resolution even more so.
It’s bitterly appropriate, then, that on Monday—with more hearings in the impeachment of Donald Trump and the release of a long-awaited Justice Department inspector-general report into the Russia investigation sucking up attention—The Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock delivered a devastating suite of articles about Afghanistan.
Based on a tranche of thousands of documents obtained by the Post in litigation, as well as some previously released memos, the report shows that for nearly two decades, America’s leaders—Democrat and Republican; civilian and military; elected, appointed, and career civil servant—have lied to us about how the war in Afghanistan is going. Yet while this story risks being overshadowed by the fresher stories coming out of Washington, there’s a straight line between the years-long dissembling about Afghanistan and the chaos of the Trump administration today.