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Canada’s Awkward Relationship With Rape Culture

“Women — and this is not to blame victims of sexual assault — are often their own worst enemy.”

It’s hard out there for a rapist, apparently. At least, that’s what a group of pundits and public intellectuals would have you believe. As Canada struggles with the trivializing of sexual violence on the campuses of Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, the University of Ottawa and the University of British Columbia, some people are still looking to dismiss the scourge of sexual assault, often blaming victims and feminists for whatever incidents may occur.

We’ve all heard the term “rape culture” thrown around, and it’s a term that can lose its meaning or significance with repeated use, but as we experience sexual crimes like those committed in Steubenville or against Rehtaeh Parsons–and the delayed and insufficient responses to the crimes–it is inescapable that rape culture persists and, perhaps, thrives.

The opening quotation comes from National Post‘s Christie Blanchard, who argues that, too often, victims of sexual assault are inappropriately coddled by the justice system. Publication bans and sensitivity shown by police officers are, in her estimation, factors that will bring our justice system into disrepute. Never mind concerns about sexual assault often going un-reported, somehow justice will be served (and society protected) by being a little tougher on these women. Her logic is… interesting.

Blatchford’s critique stems from the unpleasant reality that many women are assaulted while drunk, high or drugged. These women–by the very nature of a key component of the assault–are not always able to clearly remember every aspect of the crime. In the case upon which Blatchford is commenting, the accused men, doctors, deny any sexual activity took place. The victims, drugged or drunk at the time of the assault, do not have clear memories of the assault. It would seem the worst sort of He Said/She Said case for prosecutors. Well, it would be if the medical evidence didn’t prove that the men had intercourse with the incapacitated women. A tidbit of truth Blatchford merely waves away as inconvenient to the defense.

It takes a great deal of gall to use such a case to rail against society’s attempts to combat sexual assault. Further, as she continues into the state of mind of victims of sexual assault, Blatchford decides to take the tack that women who drink too much are contributing to their own rape. She writes, “But when they included voluntary drug and alcohol use, 35.4% of the women were victims of DFSA — with themselves as the de facto facilitators.”

This is rape culture manifested: the argument that victims asked for it, that they facilitated it, that they are partly responsible. Blatchford, naturally, does not want to be seen as blaming rape victims, stating, “No one who is drugged or drunk, let alone unconscious, can consent to sex.”

This statement would carry a little more weight if the very next word in her column wasn’t “but”.

There’s a bit of a confluence of events about sexual assault and rape culture occurring in Canada right now. And, interestingly, much of the defenders of rape culture are women. It’s a simple mode of debate. Women decrying women can’t be an instance of misogyny. It’s also as simple-minded as it is simple.

Last month, CBC’s Jian Ghomeshi hosted a “debate” on rape culture on his radio show, Q. Ghomeshi is a repsected and well-loved radio host (even if his background is a little more comical than your average journalist’s). One of Ghomeshi’s guests was the Manhattan Institute’s Heather MacDonald. MacDonald disputed the notion of rape culture on university campuses, for if there was actually such sexual assaults occurring, daddys wouldn’t allow their precious little angels onto campuses. Oh, and if those women just wouldn’t drink so much, they wouldn’t get assaulted. Seriously.

Coming to MacDonald’s defense was National Post‘s Barbara Kay, who had no qualms about blaming rape victims:

A storm of indignation erupted, describing Macdonald as a “rape apologist” for expressing the perfectly sensible view that if girls did not “drink [themselves] blotto” at parties, the entire phenomenon called rape culture would virtually disappear. She is not wrong, but it is politically incorrect to “blame the victim.” No, the only correct view is that “Drinking doesn’t cause rape, it’s the decision of rapists that cause rape,” in Ms Gotell’s words.

This drinking red herring is a favourite of rape apologists (which MacDonald assures us she is not!). Writing prior to the Ghomeshi embarrassment, Globe and Mail‘s Margaret Wente offered a column in which she asked the question, “Can she consent to sex after drinking?” The answer, according to Canadian law, is “no”, yet Wente continued on for a few hundred words in order to blame all these drunk women.

The notion that these drunk, regretful women will just have a bunch of well-meaning guys jailed for alcohol-fueled sex has no basis in reality. Even though a woman cannot legally consent to sex when intoxicated, that doesn’t mean that the cops will actually pursue the crime:

Staff Sgt. Edward Hickey of the Windsor police Special Victims Unit says officers often have a difficult message for women and girls reporting a sexual assault while they were drunk or high.

In a common scenario, the women say they woke up with their clothes off after a night of partying, with a fuzzy memory. One thing they would be sure of is that sexual contact happened while they were in no state to agree to it.

Sometimes there’s hard evidence of crimes like this, such as pictures, video or eyewitness accounts. But if there isn’t, police are often stuck telling them something that’s hard to hear: what you’re saying may well be true, but we don’t have much of a chance in court.

“I’d say, don’t expect any miracles here. It’s a good step, I’m glad you’re here and we’re trying to help you, but don’t have any unrealistic expectations,” Hickey said. “All (the accused) have to do is create a reasonable doubt. One small doubt in the judge’s mind and they win.”

I don’t read Hickey as a callous police officer. I read him as suggesting that, regardless of the existence of a crime, the criminal justice system is still not fully able to deal with sexual assault. Far from coddling victims, we, in fact, do have to tell them to just deal with it. When even those of us who want to help victims can’t, it is just more evidence that we are living with rape culture.

There will still be more who object to the notion that rape culture exists. We are becoming over-saturated with the term, and it is easy to grow weary of these discussions. That seems to be what is happening. As more than one Men’s Rights groups have sought to have Dr. Janice Fiamengo speak on university campuses to denounce rape culture, noting that it’s men who are the real victims, dontchaknow.

The apparent uptick in rape apologias is coming at a noteworthy time. Blatchford’s column, for instance, was published a day after a suspect was arrested in the Amanda Todd case. For those who don’t know who Amanda Todd was, she was a 15-year-old who took nude pictures of herself and was then stalked and harassed online for years before killing herself.

It was her final goodbye, presented in a Youtube video, that really captured people’s attention:

The Todd case mirrors that of Rehtaeh Parsons, except that the police seemed to take it seriously.

My local police force has more of a mixed record. A few years ago, a young women was stopped by cops for walking while black. She didn’t like it (naturally), told them so and was subsequently arrested for her insolence. At the cell block, she was abused, resisted and was eventually stripped by the officer in charge of the cell block, Steven Desjourdy. Desjourdy cut off her top and bra and left her in a cell, half-naked. It appeared to be nothing more than punishment.

There’s video of the incident; it’s horrible. Eventually, the abuse this woman suffered was called out by a local judge, triggering multiple investigations. Desjourdy was found guilty of discreditable conduct by a police disciplinary committee. the Special Investigations Unit charged him with sexual assault and he was prosecuted.

In any other situation, cutting off a woman’s clothing would be considered sexual assault. Desjourdy’s superiors noted that it went completely against the rules of conduct (hence the guilty verdict from the disciplinary committee). Unfortunately, the justice system didn’t agree and Desjourdy was sent free.

This, it would seem, is a further instance of rape culture. But, perhaps you wish to brush this off as just a minor glitch in the system. Sometimes, the guilty go free and there’s no systemic oppression underneath. Fine, but even if we grant that, the response by city councillor Eli El-Chantiry, chair of the police services board, is pure filth:

“The taxpayer of the city is on the hook for approximately a million — so did the SIU have a case?” he asked Wednesday. “The question should be sent to them — are they dealing with those cases on the merits of the evidence or are they dealing with it based on public pressure, they read the paper and they see public outrage about something and they acted?”

I wrote about this yesterday (and went on a bit of a twitter rant last night), but the response by El-Chantiry is just another chapter in rape culture. According to El-Chantiry’s argument, crimes shouldn’t be punished based on justice or public safety, but on a strict cost-benefit analysis. It was not, it would seem, in the interests of the city’s pocketbook to prosecute a man who was found to have (likely) committed a crime by SIU, as well as prosecutors–a man who was found guilty by a disciplinary committee, and a man whose conduct forced the city to concede guilt in a civil lawsuit. None of that matters to the councillor.

To be sure, El-Chantiry isn’t arguing that rape should be excused (neither Blatchford, Kay, Wente, Fiamengo or MacDonald make such explicit arguments, either), but his line of argument leads directly to the notion that, although rape may be bad, the harm that it causes should not be the ultimate concern of prosecutors. It should be of less importance than cost.

Rape, harrassment, assault, stalking, chants–these are all aspects of sexual assault that still must be combated.

Accusations of false allegations, the desire to out rape victims, blaming drugs or alcohol, cops and city councillors looking the other way–these are aspects of rape culture that foster misogyny and sexual violence. Decrying rape culture isn’t about calling men rapists; it’s about treating victims of sexual assault with respect and placing blame for sexual assault solely on the perpetrators. It’s about common human decency.

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81 thoughts on “Canada’s Awkward Relationship With Rape Culture

  1. “Can she consent to sex after drinking?” The answer, according to Canadian law, is “no”…a woman cannot legally consent to sex when intoxicated

    Is this the way the law is actually worded (“drinking” or “intoxicated”)?

    Someone who is *incapacitated* obviously cannot consent.

    But there’s a patch of ground between “drinking/intoxicated” and “incapacitated”.


    • I read the Q&A with the undercover cop in Linky Friday. Then I read this. The cop goes undercover at frat parties. She pretends to act all drunk, perhaps makes a bit of a spectacle of herself acting all drunk. Every party she’s been to she gets taken to a room by a guy (or more than one guy) and they attempt to rape her. It’s never taken more than ninety minutes at a party before this happens.

      Then I read a concern about whether the law saying that an “intoxicated” woman can’t give consent and wouldn’t it be better if it were “incapacitated.” Which has a degree of logical appeal to it — “intoxicated,” after all, is a vague and uncertain word and in our culture at least light alcohol consumption is very, very common.

      And I think, “No more than ninety minutes before someone tries to rape her.” And I leave off at thinking that maybe I’m good with the law written the way it is. If it really is a marginal case, that’ll sort out in the wash. But the incentive ought to be to encourage acting with caution and restraint, and if a man fears being accused of rape enough that he changes his behavior, then maybe on balance that’s a good thing.


      • 1.) I don’t buy that “undercover cop” account. See comments over there for why.

        2.) Not to get too personal or anything, but my wife and I have had sex plenty of times while tipsy (or more). Even before we were married. Guess that makes me a rapist. My wife will be so disappointed in me.

        But, I was tipsy too, and she didn’t explicitly ask me if I was into it. So maybe we raped each other.

        If the law is really written that way, it makes a hash of things. Not to mention, it takes agency away from adults who should be able to decide whether they want to have a drink (or smoke a spliff) and then have sex, without the law being broken and making someone into a criminal.

        I don’t really think “incapacitated” should be *that* much harder to prove than “intoxicated” if needed, should it? “Witnesses state that the alleged victim was stumbling and slurring.” Being unable to clearly speak or easily walk are pretty unambiguous external indicators of ‘incapacitation’.

        Maybe if I am feeling crazy later, I will write about why the risk of false accusations of rape bothers me so, despite the fact that I agree that the number of false accusations is almost certainly dwarfed by the number of rapes that never result in justice.


      • Agreed, , that a false accusation of rape is a very bad thing and a prosecution of what was in reality consensual sex as rape would be a Kafkaesque horror. By now, I think you know that I have a very strong commitment to the idea of due process and good criminal procedure and its power to sort out crime from not-crime.

        What I want is for police and prosecutors to NOT say, “They both say that she was drinking a lot, so clearly that means that she wanted sex and so her complaint today is just regret, not really a report of rape. At least, it wasn’t rape rape.”

        As for the link, maybe you don’t believe the cop. Fine. Do you believe that women get raped at fraternity parties (or similar sorts of drunken gatherings)? Because I believe that happens with some frequency, and I’m not talking about too-many-drinks-and-she-regretted-it-later.


      • Think about this from the other perspective: reporting a rape can be a harrowing ordeal. The idea that women regularly have a bad hangover and some regret and decide to subject themselves to what comes along with reporting a rape to account for all that is pretty absurd.


      • “What I want is for police and prosecutors to NOT say, “They both say that she was drinking a lot, so clearly that means that she wanted sex and so her complaint today is just regret, not really a report of rape. At least, it wasn’t rape rape.”

        I think we all want that. Moreover, I have a hard time believing that this is being said very frequently by police and prosecutors today. Rather, what these articles seem to be saying is A.). Getting blotto puts one at greater risk for getting raped and B.). If a rape occurs, a victim whose memory is hazy due to having been blotto is at a disadvantage when being considered as a credible witness, as a blotto witness would be in any other legal proceeding as well. So getting blotto puts a victim at disadvantage both before the fact, and after. Which is not particularly controversial IMO.

        And just because I don’t buy the “cop”‘s account doesn’t mean I don’t buy that rapes occur in frat houses. And regular houses. And hotels, and laundromats, and libraries,and etc. They occur all the time, everywhere. Frankly, although I don’t buy the “cop” story as true, I’m sort of glad it’s out there as an urban legend, so guys at a party might worry or wonder if that seemingly-drunk girl is really an undercover cop. I half-suspect *that* was the intent of the story.


      • Glyph,
        it is a campus police officer’s job to get women to shut the fuck up about rapes. That’s why you have such low incidence on school campuses. They’ve got ten ways, from guilt to shame to “think of the consequences” to “do you want your name drug through the mud” to “you don’t have solid evidence”.

        Fuck, they’ll try ’em all!


    • If I think about it as an abstract manner I share this concern. I read somewhere that the rule should be “If they can’t drive they can’t consent”, which given how low a blood alcohol is needed to impair reaction times would mean there are people who are unable to consent and you can’t even tell. In that scenario it looks like you are arguing that enthusiastic consent is actually rape if one person had two glasses of wine in the last hour.

      Then I do a reality check, prosecution is not going to happen if the victim never raises a complaint and the odds of that happening if she chose to have sex with me while sober enough that I can’t even tell she’s been drinking are low enough not to worry about.


      • Yes. The key legal definition should be “informed consent”.
        That means if she doesn’t think you’re fucking her, it’s rape.
        Likewise, if she’s too out of it to be thinking straight, it’s rape.
        Reaction time shouldn’t have much to do with anything, except if someone is really that quick at sex.


      • I should clarify my reaction times comment. I didn’t mean to suggest it had any relevance to rape. The point was that the stage at which you are affected by alcohol at all is a long way before the point at which you or anyone else can tell you are drunk and what is unsafe for driving is closer to the first than the second. Reaction times was an example of those kind of low level effects. Which is a lot of words to explain a comparison I concluded isn’t relevant in the real world.


    • seems to cover it.

      My (limited) understanding is that this law (in Canada, remember) is more based in common law–that the law doesn’t explicitly state “intoxicated”, but that the law is applied to mean “intoxicated”.

      Of course, the scenario you describe is super common. In that scenario, I’ve been the offender and the victim, and been in a situation where each party would be both victim and offender. The interview the Windsor cop demonstrates how rarely the law can actually be applied, so the the scenario you describe is not really one to worry about. We’re no where close to prosecuting the rapes we should be able to, so we’re really far away from an unfair application of sexual assault charges on a Glyph-type character.


  2. It takes a great deal of gall to use such a case to rail against society’s attempts to combat sexual assault. Further, as she continues into the state of mind of victims of sexual assault, Blatchford decides to take the tack that women who drink too much are contributing to their own rape.

    I am willing to accept this sort of argument, but I have to ask one question first: why?

    I honestly do not really understand the victim-blaming argument as it is most commonly deployed. If I left my car on a dimly-lit side street and it got broken into, someone might suggest that in the future I park on busy streets. If I walked down an isolated alley in a high-crime neighborhood and got mugged, someone might suggest that I not walk alone through such areas. In both of those cases, the presumption is not that I deserved it or that the person who stole my car or mugged me is not a criminal who deserves arrest, prosecution and punishment. The presumption is that every individual ought to take an active role in mitigating their own exposure to high-risk situations. If it is true that there are situations that expose women to a high risk of sexual assault, why is it morally impermissible to issue warnings in those situations. In fact, if what we really care about is less sexual assault, as opposed to say advancing some ideological position, it should morally impermissible to not issue warnings.

    As a precautionary point, I just want to add that I’m not talking about those extreme examples of people blaming assaults on how someone is dressed. That is absurd. Full stop. I’m specifically talking about things like drinking to the point of blacking out or drinking slightly less and putting yourself in an isolated situation with a man that you don’t fully trust.


    • what said. I really don’t understand why it has to be an either/or thing.

      I plan to make sure my children respect the idea of consent, and understand that meaningful consent is not possible if someone is incapacitated. I don’t want my children to risk being rapists.

      I also plan to make sure they understand and respect the idea that being incapacitated and alone with people they don’t know/trust extremely well is a generally bad idea. I don’t want my children to risk being raped.

      Why must these two statements necessarily be in conflict? If someone is emphasizing one, why is it wrong to say don’t forget about the other?


    • Doesn’t when such warnings are issued matter?

      Is it not different to tell a woman before she leaves for the night, “Make safe choices,” than it is to respond to a victim reporting a rape, “You should have made safe choices”?

      As the feature pic indicates, part of the problem is that it is often only the women who are being told to alter their behavior.


      • “part of the problem is that it is often only the women who are being told to alter their behavior.”

        Except for the part where, y’know, people who can be shown in court to have forcibly commited sexual assault get sent to jail. That seems like a pretty strong statement that those people should also alter their behavior.


      • By that logic, being raped is telling the woman to change their behavior. Do we need to belabor the point by shaming that afterward?

        Come’on, dude… this is a ridiculous argument. Do you think there is something wrong with telling men, “Don’t rape”?


      • – pretty sure the feature pic is a ‘shoop. And I don’t think that only women are being told to alter behavior – once upon a time that was true, but by the ’90s at least, when I was in college, we certainly were being talked to about consent/intoxication (I recall there were jokes made about about the only safe-sex approach being to get a partner to check off each allowable act on a signed and notarized legal document, before any sexual activity could proceed. Not saying they were good jokes, but they certainly indicate that the obtaining of explicit and advance consent was being presented as normal and required.)

        And I agree that telling a specific rape victim “you should have done things differently” is insensitive and frankly, cruel. I am sure they will be telling themselves that every day for a long time, they don’t need anyone else to. But that is not what is prompting the OP. The OP is, as I read it, complaining about articles/columns intended as advance warnings – that is, they are the equivalent of saying “All readers, make safe choices whenever you leave for the night; here are some statistics and anecdotes to tell you what those choices might be, and why they are so.”


      • How does the frequency of those articles compare to the frequency of articles advising men on safe choices?

        As you note, adjusting male behavior quickly became a joke. That means something, no?


      • Can’t comment on relative frequency. Unknown. But “don’t rape” and “don’t put yourself in risky situations where you are statistically more likely to be raped” are both valid messages, regardless of their relative frequency.

        And just because people make jokes doesnt mean that the underlying messages aren’t being taken seriously.


    • I imagine the difference is that there’s not a large contingent of society that frequently claims you secretly wanted your car broken into, or that says “hey, that thief couldn’t help himself–I mean, you were driving a Bentley!”.


      • Sure. “The victim wanted it” is pretty unique to rape and not particularly what I was referring to. I was referring more to the “Was reckless”, “Was partly to blame (due to carelessness or failure to take partial precautions)”

        “Were/Are you trying to get robbed?” or similar comments are not unheard of, though are usually said sarcastically or semi-sarcastically.

        So it depends, to some extent, on which specific statement we are referring to.


    • Consider the context. If a car theft or home invasion was reported on an online news site, you would never see commenters flock to the story eager to speculate about what the victim did to invite a thief. There wouldn’t be commenters delivering unsolicited public safety lectures to future theft victims. (Note that these lectures are always made in a patronizing, judgmental tone, as if the person is talking to a child. This is true regardless of whether the writer is a man or woman.) Lastly, Barbara Kay wouldn’t be castigating theft victims on a regular basis.

      We women know the risks and precautions; they’ve been drummed into us since we were little. The reality is that sexual assault takes place when victims are young, old, drunk, sober, dressed in revealing clothes or clothes that cover their bodies, at night or in broad daylight, etc. Following a nebulous set of rules doesn’t guarantee one’s safety. The only common element in these attacks is the rapists.

      I know a lot of people don’t see these “precautions” as victim-blaming but it is. When you’re bombarded with it for years on end and then you’re assaulted through no fault of your own, how can you not remember all those judgmental voices that basically told you that it’s your fault if you’re raped? The message is that you’ll be blamed or disbelieved if you tell anyone. It keeps victims suffering in silence and lets their attackers carry on with impunity.


    • jr,
      What you’re basically suggesting is that women can’t have the freedom of sexuality that men have. What you said above (I’ll letcha walk it back) is that a woman can’t go out on a date with a guy she doesn’t trust. That a woman can’t go to a party without jumping through hoops. Without being HARASSED by the very thought of rapists around the corner.

      Frat houses do the party thing every weekend. They could have full video of every room in the house and the premises. This seems like far less of an invasion of freedom to me.


  3. On the one hand, I do understand warnings to young women to take care; they live in a predatory world, and whey you are the prey, it is in your own best interest to be aware and cautious and to protect yourself.

    But the reason we’re telling these women to take care is because of that predatory culture. They are not to blame for it. You can go to a party, drink a coke that’s been roofied, and never do anything beyond attending a social event and still end up raped. Women get raped wearing burqas, they get raped sober, they simply get raped. And groped. And looked on as meat for sexual conquest.

    I suspect there’s a small subset of men here; but they are here.

    I was raped just after I turned 16, in the back seat of a car. I was stoned, but not drunk. I said no, and he ignored me. It’s the only time I feared being pregnant. And I got a nasty social disease from it, too.

    Yet it wasn’t until several years later that I realized I’d been raped, too. I’d gone out on a date, with someone I’d dated twice before, after all, and rape was someone jumping you down in what has been called forcible rape. I had a nightmare about it a decade or more later, woke screaming. I told my husband about it, (out of shame, I’d never told anyone before), and he was the one who told me I’d been raped. I had not realized it until that night.

    So perhaps the bright spot in all this ugliness is that some other girl who goes through what I did will realize that it is rape, and dare to risk the nightmare of asking for help from law enforcement, have the courage to go through a trial and the public humiliation. But I suspect most will do what I did, not realize it was rape and keep silent.


  4. “more than one Men’s Rights groups have sought to have Dr. Janice Fiamengo speak on university campuses to denounce rape culture, noting that it’s men who are the real victims, dontchaknow.”

    It’s interesting how the writer here attempts to describe the pervasive problem of society trivializing the experiences of rape victims, and then doubles back and trivializes the experiences of male rape victims.


  5. As far as I’m aware you can’t rob someone and say that the person deserved it because they were drunk, drugged, or otherwise out of commission. Robbery is still robbery regardless of how intoxicated the victim is at the time of the crime. It seems to me that logically, the same should apply to rape.


    • This is true. Though we do collectively tell people to lock their cars, though. When I talked about a guy who randomly showed up in our living room, I was asked more than once why we don’t lock the doors.

      The line is actually somewhat thin between advising precautions and blaming victims. In the case of rape, perhaps there has been so much victim-blaming historically that we ought to simply not advise precaution because that feeds into a culture of blaming the victim*. That would make it unlike how we treat other crimes, though, and not more like how we do.

      Suggesting that not taking precautions contributes to the crime, though, is something we really shouldn’t do. Regardless of the crime.

      * – I mean that as stated. Not as I might say “perhaps” in a hypothetical sense. I honestly don’t know if “we” should collectively do that or not. My own stake is that I will tell my daughter to take precautions for her safety, and I will tell my son not to rape and to avoid even ambiguous situations.


      • The problem is that rape victims have historically bared the entirety of the blame for being victims of a crime or at least a decent amount of it. Ideally people should take precautions but you shouldn’t ever blame them if they become victims of crime. Nobody deserves that.


      • If someone didn’t lock his house and then got robbed while he was out, I think that after about 5 minutes of commiserating it is perfectly fine to dope slap him and call him an idiot for failing to lock his house. Just about the only thing that makes it inappropriate when it comes to rape is the very personal nature of the crime. When your house is robbed, it is still just stuff. When you are raped, it is not just stuff, but your very person, which is bound up in your identity and such.


      • People shouldn’t have to lock their cars or their homes.

        That aside, if someone just had something stolen from their car, the comparative advantages and disadvantages of locking their car has probably crossed their mind. I’m not sure they need reminding.


      • People shouldn’t have to lock their cars and homes only in the sense that in utopia, they won’t have to because there will be no crime. It is still incredibly boneheaded to not do so.

        And it also often turns out when asked what they were thinking when they did something so stupid, that they weren’t.


      • I’ve lived in such a utopia before. We never locked anything in Arapaho, and the worst we had was that late night visitor. People can leave their cars running and their keys in the ignition.

        Meanwhile, I stopped locking my cars back home because I got tired of my windows getting smashed in.

        It says more about the community than whether a car is locked, or not.


      • I live in such a utopia now. Most people in rural Maine don’t lock their houses or their cars. The more urban areas, it’s more common. In a small town, where everyone knows everyone, someone who locks up is considered a bit of an odd duck.


      • I do not have the good fortune to live in such a utopia, but I have friends who do. One of my friends makes and sells bread, and often delivers the bread directly to neighbours’ kitchen counters while they’re out.


    • , I’m not sure that’s a defense. My friend is a prosecutor and he used to be saddled with these cases. He hated it, for much the same reason the cop in the article I’m sure hates it. If you’re drunk and get mugged and can’t identify your assailant for beans you’re putting the police in a similar position as the rape victim does. Hard to make an arrest (or get a conviction) if your description begins and ends with, He look like a man.


      • my wife and I watched “In Living Color” the entire time it aired. She loved it. Her English along with the four other languages she speaks is excellent. Her mom on the other hand could have played Ms. Swan :)


      • ward,
        The difference being — muggings happen in dark alleys, or in other places where you don’t have witnesses to “who did dat?”.
        If we had folks signing out before “heading upstairs” at a frat house, well, at least we’d know who put tab A in slot B.


      • You’re right, , these sorts of cases are going to be very difficult on law enforcement to prosecute. And it’s quite possible that the difficulties of such cases would lead to acquittals (“presuption of innocence” and all that).

        What I really like about your comment is that even while you note that the case is difficult (possible to the point of being unwinnable), you never use that unfortunate fact to suggest that a crime was not actually committed. This is how we need to look at these things. There are restrictions on the justice system, but we don’t have to use those restrictions to turn around and deny a crime happened or blame the victim.


  6. I think the notion of telling men not to rape women, or at least framing it in that matter, is not particularly productive. In part because, when a rape occurs, usually it’s the case that one of the two wanted it to happen. I’m not sure what we can do about that other than taking legal action. That’s on the books. The clean-up work here is being very clear what we’re talking about when we’re talking about rape (that we’re not just talking about pinning women down and having your way with her, but also women who are incapacitated or out-and-out drunk… more on this below), which I think we’re doing a better job of doing though I can agree that there is more work to do..

    But the part about how we tend to keep the discussion focused on women’s behavior, that part is true and extremely important. But rather than focusing on rape, or even “rape culture”, it should be a broader message about how to treat women more generally.

    A young me that had been told “Don’t rape” would have been puzzled and offended. Because of course I wouldn’t do that.

    A young me that had been told “That includes having sex with women who are really drunk, even if they seem willing and able.”… then I would have wanted to know how “drunk” we’re talking as “drunk” means a lot of things. That would be progress.

    But what a young me really needed is more talk about how to treat women generally. Don’t decline to have sex with a drunk woman because it’s rape. Don’t do it because it’s wrong. Don’t do it because even if she might wakes up in the morning and be glad it happened, she might wake up in the morning and be horrified. Whether she was sufficiently drunk that what occurred was rape or not, you did something you shouldn’t have done. That’s not on her, even if what happened was entirely legal. That’s on you. You took advantage. That is not treating women with the respect that you should.

    If I have a son, I plan to talk a lot about that. There was not a whole lot of talking to me about that. Perhaps because it wasn’t needed. For the most part, it wasn’t. I tended towards sexual timidity. The thing I was primarily taught about sex before marriage was, from one end, “Don’t do it” and from another “The only people who don’t have something wrong with them.”

    To the extent that we have bad people doing bad things, that’s what we have a criminal justice system for. To the extent that we have otherwise good people doing bad things, we have a cultural problem. One that extends beyond rape. I would argue, one that extends beyond “rape culture” as well.


    • If I have a son, I plan to talk a lot about that. There was not a whole lot of talking to me about that. Perhaps because it wasn’t needed. For the most part, it wasn’t. I tended towards sexual timidity. The thing I was primarily taught about sex before marriage was, from one end, “Don’t do it” and from another “The only people who don’t have something wrong with them.”

      Nice. I did that with my sons. But it’s not just sex; it’s things sexual that need to be talked about. Attraction. Looking. How we talk about women (and how we talk about men, too) in a way that’s respectful. Boys need to know about periods, and girls need to know about boners.


      • This is where modeling can be oh-so-important. Conversations are important, but how children see their parents interact with one another can also be really influential. One of the best things Will or I or other dads can do is to have our sons see us treat our wives with respect and dignity.

        I’ll concede that I don’t know if and how this is different for same-sex couples.


      • A friend worked for Dr. T. Berry Brazelton. I went to her office and for a lunch date, and got to spend a few minutes chatting with him. At the time, he had a TV show, and he’d often say something like this, “The most important thing a father can do is love the mother.”

        I didn’t much like the ‘most important thing,’ and told him so; because it sort of missed the point of both parents modeling respect; he said yes, but without that, the message got lost. Particularly, it got lost for fathers who thought they deserved to be treated with respect, but sometimes didn’t put enough thought into treating their families with respect.


      • , relatedly but tangentially, if you have a daughter you should treat your wife the way you want your daughter to be treated by her future husband.

        One of the things that I had to deal with early in my relationship and marriage with Clancy was that her father’s treatment of her mother was not very good. Not physically abusive or anything, but he had a steamroller of a personality and she was very accommodating.

        The result was that my wife made a vow to herself to never ever be steamrolled. This created problems with false positives. Early on, she would misinterpret a lot of my own words and actions straight into that context. Notably, I have gotten the impression that it has factored into her sisters’ lives as well. I suspect that it would hurt their father gravely if he knew the extent to which his behavior represented a cautionary tale.

        I hope that my own behavior becomes a standard of expectation for whatever man or woman my daughter(s) marry.


      • I’ve been having a similar conversation with a colleague who is working through a very rocky patch in her marriage (really, addressing what has been a relationship-long pattern of dysfunction). They have a daughter together. She’s 7 and rather astute for her age. We’ve been talking a lot about things and one of the points I made to her was that she was obviously free to choose whatever sort of behavior and treatment she would accept, but she also had to consider the model she was creating for her daughter. If she simply rolled over and accepted mistreatment from her husband, she risked sending the message to her daughter that that is what a wife does.

        Very complicated shit.


    • Excellent comment, Will. I think that nails it a lot better than the “rape culture” meme. That kind of rhetoric, even if there’s some truth to it, feels over-the-top the same way “All taxes are theft!” or “the evil one-percent” is over-the-top. It makes people, particularly the ones who most need to hear it, tune you out. Not very helpful all-in-all.


    • “Don’t decline to have sex with a drunk woman because it’s rape. Don’t do it because it’s wrong.”

      Like I feel the need to push back at this, and I think this kind of advice leads to further misunderstanding and bad behavior by young men.

      Having sex with a woman who is drunk isn’t inherently wrong. To say that it is wrong by definition is problematic for a few reasons:

      1. It’s disingenuous. I bet there aren’t more than one or two readers here — male or female, straight, gay, or transgendered — who haven’t had sex after having had a few drinks *with their current spouse or long term significant other.*

      2. It’s self-defeating. Tell it to a young man that if you want, but don’t be surprised if afterwards — say, after the first female friend/gf/fwb explains that they’ve had sex drunk and have sometimes even really enjoyed it — decide that you must be wrong about your whole “self-examination about how they treat women.” Think: how you treated pot after you found out it didn’t do what everyone older than you swore it would do.

      3. It’s border-line misogynistic: “Sure, my date wants to have some type of sexual relations now, but we’ve both been drinking. It would be ok if it were just me drinking, of course, but she’s a girl. Girl’s just don’t have the capacity to make decisions like this after a few drinks. They get all confused.”

      I’m the last person to defend having sex with someone who is inebriated to the point that they cannot give consent, or to the point where they can “voice” consent without having a clear idea what is happening. But there is a hell of a lot of real estate between that and when you and your date/gf/spouse have have a few cocktails.


      • Having sex with drunk women might not be inherently wrong but it can be legally problematic. In most of the developed world, intoxicated people are deemed as incapable of giving sexually consent. Having sex with a drunk person falls under the legal definition of rape, which is having non-consensual sex. This includes sex with a person legally deemed incapable of giving sex. So advising people not to have sex with drunk people is sound legal advise.


      • In this context, I mean “drunk” means “drunk to the point you feel like their judgment might be significantly impaired.” I’m not talking about tipsy or .08.

        And yes, context does matter here. Especially including relationship status and recent sexual history. If you’re not pretty sure they would sleep with you sober, don’t sleep with them drunk.

        The point I am driving at is that it doesn’t have to be illegal in order to be wrong. If you are at all taking advantage of alcohol for the sake of sexual access, you’re in the wrong regardless of whether or not we call it “rape.”


      • I think Will’s right here.

        And I don’t think it matters if you’re a man or a woman, either; it matters that you understand that someone inebriated won’t have their normal restraint, and that can be a good think but it can also be a very bad thing. If that restraint would normally be there, then the sex, not matter the gender of your partner, is disrespectful.

        Respect matters.


      • Possibly a useful approach – emphasize that as impairment rises, so does the duty of care around consent. At a certain point, the impairment is enough that the only way to meet that duty of care is to say “Let’s wait until we’re more sober” (phrased perhaps more delicately).


      • A little pushback to your pushback. The law (in Canada) is that, roughly speaking, drunk people (men and women) can’t legally consent. Many of us have had sex while drunk with people who are drunk. That we all, retroactively, consider that sex consensual (assuming we do) does not change the fact that according to the law, the drunk parties were not legally able to consent.

        There was a case in Canada a few years ago. A man was accused of rape by his significant other (I can’t remember if it was his girlfriend, wife or common-law wife). He had sex with her while she was unconscious (if I remember correctly, there may have been an asphyxia aspect to this). He claimed that she gave consent before she was unconscious. She claimed rape.

        The case went to the Supreme Court and, IIRC, the determination was that someone who was unconscious could not consent, and “pre-consent” was not good enough.

        I see a lot of parallels between that case and the idea of having sex with drunk people. There’s maybe an idea that people who are in a committed, sexual relationship can consent while drunk, but (in Canada), it seems to me that that’s just not the case (otherwise “pre-consent” would be ok, too). Basically, you’re taking a chance if you’re having sex with someone who’s drunk. It may seem odd to people, but it is the law.

        And, again, as the OP notes, there is just about no way to enforce it. So people who are concerned that they could be charged with sexual assault because they got drunk with their wife and then screwed is living in some weird dream land.

        The dreamland where we throw drunken screwin’ spouses in jail is not the world we’re in. We’re in a world where Toronto’s chief of police warns women not to dress like sluts. We’re in a world where we have to ask the Supreme Court if you’re allowed to nail an unconscious woman.


  7. I very much agree with and appreciate this post.

    It should be perfectly obvious why it’s wrong for someone to say that women who get drunk are contributing to their own rape. It’s wrong because it’s tantamount to saying that men are allowed to get drunk, but women are not. Men are allowed to get high, but women are not. Men are allowed to go out to bars on their own, but women are not. Men are allowed to walk home when it’s dark, but women are not. If women violate any of these restrictions, they are subject to being raped. And if women restrict their activities to the point where they abide by all these restrictions, they may still be raped, and will still be blamed for it.

    I reject this idea. Women have all the same rights as men. If they are drunk or high, and the victim of a crime, they are still the victim of a crime. Society’s focus should be on three things: capturing and prosecuting the criminal, supporting the victim, and discouraging other people from committing such crimes.

    Fighting “rape culture” contributes to all three objectives:

    1) When we reject the idea that rape victims are to blame for being raped, we make it less difficult for them to come forward and press charges; we improve their interactions with the police because the police are not insinuating that it’s their fault or that they’re inventing things; we make it socially unacceptable for lawyers and judges to reject rape charges on the basis that a woman was “asking for it” because “she was dressed skimpily” or “she was at a bar” or “she had had relationships with multiple people”. All these things will contribute to more successful prosecutions.

    2) We support the victims, because – due to the way our society thinks about rape – it’s automatic for them to blame themselves. The last thing they need is people around them saying the same thing.

    3) Most – as in, 90% of more – of rapes are by acquaintances or friends, not by random strangers in dark alleys. If we can install in men the understanding that sex with a drugged and/or unconscious person is rape; sex with a falling-down-drunk person is rape; getting someone drunk with the objective that, if they’re drunker, they may be more willing to have sex with you, is rape. The best way to prevent rape is for men to understand this, and to refrain from raping people.


    • “It should be perfectly obvious why it’s wrong for someone to say that women who get drunk are contributing to their own rape. It’s wrong because it’s tantamount to saying that men are allowed to get drunk, but women are not.”

      Except that this is not what I’m hearing these days on the risk management front. What I’m hearing is that there is growing opinion that is wrong for someone to discuss the *risk* of a woman drinking too much.

      These are two very different things, but I worry that they are being conflated.

      Case in point: I had lunch this past week with an ex-collegue who now works at one of Oregon’s state universities, and she was telling me that they have been forced to stop student-fee funded educational programs for incoming freshmen women to discuss the various activities that can put them at risk for assault. It had simply become too controversial.

      It’s interesting to note that theses educational “pods” had not been killed by the conservatives on campus, but by liberals who view such risk education as “victim blaming.” From what I understand, there is also a movement to kill an on-campus evening transport program for females only (for things such as a woman realizing she’s had too much to drink, and wanted a chaperone back to her dorm for safety). It has not yet been successful (and hopefully IMHO it won’t be), but it too is being targeted for being “victim blaming.”

      As a risk manager, this makes me worry that the focus on “rape culture” is not always productive to the cause of reducing instances of rape.


      • Just to be clear here, the problem with focusing on how to be safe is problematic for a couple of reasons. First, it continues to be used by defense to shift blame to the victim; how she was dressed, how much she drank etc. And secondly, it focuses efforts to stop rape on the victim instead of on the rapists.

        That said, I strongly feel that not telling women how to avoid rape is wrong, tantamount to not telling kids how to avoid STDs. People are always better when they’re armed with good information. And safe rides for inebriated people should be for people; my son was seriously assaulted walking home drunk from a college party and at least smart enough to recognize not to drive.

        The problem in my problematic is that whatever a drunk person does wrong, rape is still rape, and there aren’t really good ways to both respect the rights of a rape victim and protect a person’s rights in court at the same time. And as Will pointed out on somewhere here so eloquently, we do not spend nearly enough tine talking to young men about what rape really is in a realistic way.


      • It’s a bad idea for anyone to drink too much, especially in public, because they will be less able to escape other people trying to harm them, and more likely to harm other people. There are, of course, gender differences in the attendant risks: men are more likely to try to harm others, when they drink too much.


      • I had lunch this past week with an ex-collegue who now works at one of Oregon’s state universities, and she was telling me that they have been forced to stop student-fee funded educational programs for incoming freshmen women to discuss the various activities that can put them at risk for assault. It had simply become too controversial.

        I think there’s better ways to run educational programs aimed at reducing rape – in particular, as I mentioned, focusing on telling male students that sex with drunk, or incapacited people is rape. Warming women not to get drunk, or not to walk alone in the dark, isn’t a particularly effective way of achieving that end, and it does imply that women who do those things and are raped bear responsibility for it.

        I do think programs that allow women to call someone to walk with them in evenings/at night if they’re feeling unsafe are worthwhile programs to have.


      • Ayup. Definitely getting the idea that we’re not focusing on seemingly obvious solutions.
        Also, that we pretty much suck at actually giving good advice.

        (One component of “good advice” is asking: “do you trust your friends? Are they likely to accept blandishments as an incentive to let you go off alone?” Etc. etc.)


      • A woman walking alone at night is also putting herself at risk of getting mugged. While no one is going to excuse the mugger because the victim made herself a target, certainly women should be advised how not to put herself in that situation.


  8. Thank you very much for this post. Male voices are so important to the conversation about rape culture. Sadly, we still live in an age whether women’s voices are given less weight than men’s and on this topic we are too easily dismissed by those who deny that rape culture exists.

    I was pleased to learn that the Halifax police laid charges against a 19-year-old man for uttering online death threats against Rehtaeh Parson’s father, Glenn Canning. According to The Star, “Canning also said police told him the accused is one of two teens facing child pornography-related charges in connection with his daughter’s case.” In other words, it’s one of her alleged rapists. From Mr. Canning’s blog:

    [Rehteah] mentioned last year a friend of hers was raped under similar circumstances by one of the same boys. I jumped at that because it would help support her case but Rehtaeh’s friend wasn’t interested in coming forward or talking to the police. She said she watched what had happened to our daughter and there was no way she was going to put herself through that. Who can blame her? Isn’t that why most rape victims say nothing? Because it’s never about the rapist, it’s always about the victim.

    So tragically true. When you look carefully at articles written by people who poo-poo rape culture, you notice that perpetrators are all but erased from the picture. This is no accident. It’s a way of shielding them although I’m sure the writers aren’t consciously aware of it. These columns always carry a disclaimer that goes something like this: “Rape is wrong and the perpetrators should be punished BUT…” One hundred percent of the time victim-blaming follows.


  9. “Can she consent to sex after drinking?” The answer, according to Canadian law, is “no”, yet Wente continued on for a few hundred words in order to blame all these drunk women.

    Can men?


    • Nope. Someone who is drunk cannot consent. The criminal code does not distinguish.

      Now, you may then ask why I wrote “Can she…”, it’s because that was the headline of the column to which I linked and quoted“. It was Margaret Wente (in this case, though MacDonald and Kay were right there, too), who set up the female vs. male paradigm. Further, it’s women who get called out for causing or contributing to or facilitating their rape by being drunk. I don’t hear a lot of that talk about male victims.

      Of course, I don’t hear a lot of talk about male victims at all. And that’s part of the problem–we don’t take sexual assault seriously when men are the victims. This is just another aspect of rape culture and society’s apparent unwillingness to really take sexual assault (regardless of the gender of the victim) as seriously as it should.


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