Is it your fault someone does something you did not consent to?

a little background;
A woman got too drunk, and fearing for her safety, she called the police to assist her in getting home safely. The police raped her.
Rachael Larimore, writing for Slate, excoriates her for

drinking too much and going home with a stranger isn’t a wise idea”
“were it possible for her to go back in time, she would gladly give up the few hours of carefree drinking”
“it does require the exercise of common sense.”

Personal Failure, bless her little heart, jumps all over Larimore,

Rape is the fault of the rapist. She says, and Going home with a “strange man" is also not consent.

Somebody asked my opinion on this. OK.

First get this out of the way; I hate that like night follows day trivializing comparisons spring up between property crime and rape. It implies that a woman has a possession that can be taken from her, instead of is a person whose rights and dignity are violated. These comparisons are prefaced by protestations that raping is much more serious than stealing a laptop, or a bike, or uncovered meat. That's wrong. Rape is not more serious than theft—it is qualitatively different. That some people can't see that is a problem.


Now. Distinguish between doing things, ourselves, and making suggestions for other people to do things. Telling someone else what to do can be insulting and requires tact. Telling someone what they should have done, after the fact, is blaming and hurtful and in most instances should not be done.

Worst is the implied, and false, assumption that some course of action exists that completely eliminates the possibility, with the corollary that the person being criticized chose to not take that imaginary course of action.

Some people profess to believe that Larimore's “suggestions” do not imply consent, but I find that disingenuous. There seems to be more in play, as below.

As for actually doing things ourselves, everyone agrees that we can do things that increase the likelihood that something bad will happen to us.
Yes, everyone agrees that doing those things is stupid. No one argues otherwise.
Matvejevna, in one of these bike stealing comparisons, says

Did I, ... consent to give my bike away? No.
Was it my own fault that my bike got stolen? Yes,
This is a pretty fine hair to split. You did not consent to it but it's your own fault anyway? You would say it was, I would say it wasn't. How does that work? What do you mean exactly when you say “it's your fault”? These words can evoke different things:

you are at fault
you are to blame
you are responsible for
you bear responsibility for
you asked for
you deserve
you got what you were asking for
you got what you deserved
you had it coming, for doing something stupid.

It seems different people have different things in mind when they say “It's her fault.”

Since everyone agrees that there are certain things that can increase our chances of being harmed, and that doing those things is stupid, there are really two other questions being asked here, and both relate to the nonexistent course of action mentioned above.

1) Should a person ever or never do any stupid thing?
Possibly others would answer that no one should do anything stupid. My answer is that yes, not only is it inevitable that all of us do stupid things in our lifetimes, but that making such mistakes is a useful and necessary part of growth.

2) When you do something stupid, should you or do you deserve to be punished? Here I would answer no, and this seems to be the heart of the matter.
Authoritarian types are big on punishment, retribution, vengeance, divine judgment. Woman did something stupid, she deserves the consequences, i.e it's her fault she got raped.
Egalitarian types like me are big on freedom, including the freedom to make mistakes, learn from them, change and grow. Woman made an error in judgment, she doesn't deserve to get raped for it. i.e. it's not her fault.
Excepting the crazies, both sides agree that the rapist is at fault and that is what should be condemned, but effectively he gets a free pass because people ignore that and focus on this minor side issue. He should not get a free pass, and however one feels about cosmic justice, we should be talking about him.
Last point. This topic started when a woman, realizing she was incapacitated, for whatever reason, asked the police for assistance. I see that as an exhibition of common sense. Instead, she is being criticized for not having common sense.
I see that as entrusting her safety to the police. Larimore sees it as “going home with a strange man” (!!). It's hard not to remember where we've heard that before.

But WTF options does Larimore offer her if she, like denelian, finds herself roofied and needs help? She tells us

were it possible for her to go back in time, she would gladly give up the few hours of carefree drinking”

Well, I maintain that she is entitled to a few hours of carefree drinking. Just as is anyone else. That pretty much defines a civilized, free, society. She is also entitled to depend on the police for help when she needs it. We could not ask for a more clear example of cops abusing the power given them by the government. The same applies though to every man who abuses the power given them by privilege; their position in our patriarchal society.

We are entitled to drink, to do stupid things, and to rely on police protection even when we do them. This woman may have been naive to think she could be safe around a NYC cop, but for me it's a long ways from that to “it's her fault”.

Here's a fact. The question “Can the police be trusted?” immediately, with no intervening steps, morphed into “Is the woman to blame?” That, to me, is deeply disturbing.


matvejevna said...

You make a very interesting point about how rape-theft-analogies presumes the commodity model of sex (women have something, men are out to get some). I will have to think about this. Thanks for taking the time to debate me so respectfully!

Ian said...

Aristotle figured out that there was a difference between someone being a constituent cause of an event, and somebody being morally culpable for an event.

It makes my teeth grind when people (wilfully I think) fail to see the difference.