Ask Amy Gives “Advice” to a Rape Victim

Cross posted at Benevolent Dictatrix

In today’s Ask Amy advice column, Amy answers a question from a rape victim.  The woman writes:

DEAR AMY: I recently attended a frat party, got drunk and made some bad decisions.

I let a guy take me to "his" room because he promised that he wouldn’t do anything I wasn’t comfortable with.  Many times, I clearly said I didn’t want to have sex, and he promised to my face that he wouldn’t.  Then he quickly proceeded to go against what he "promised." I was shocked, and maybe being intoxicated made my reaction time a bit slow in realizing what was happening.  We were soon kicked out of the room by the guy who lived there, who was pretty angry.  I guess my question is, if I wasn’t kicking and fighting him off, is it still rape?  I feel like calling it that is a bit extreme, but I haven’t felt the same since it happened.

Am I a victim? — Victim? in Virginia

Amy’s answer contains some good advice about going to a counselor and getting tested for pregnancy and STIs. But her answer is ambivalent about the nature of the experience. The first thing she writes is, "Were you a victim? Yes. First, you were a victim of your own awful judgment." She goes on to note, "You don’t say whether the guy was also drunk. If so, his judgment was also impaired." And of course she breaks out that old canard, "No matter what — no means no."

Amy missed an opportunity to set the record straight about this type of far-too-common sexual assault.

Is this sexual assault? Yes, the woman was subjected to sexual contact without her consent. That is unequivocally, undeniably sexual assault.

Does it show poor judgment to get drunk at a frat party? Probably. It’s never an especially good idea for any person, regardless of age, gender, or location to drink to excess.

Would this woman have been raped if she hadn’t been drinking? Maybe, maybe not. There’s no way to know for sure.

If she was drunk, does that mean it wasn’t rape?
Well, let’s think about that. If I have 10 shots of tequila, and then I’m walking down the sidewalk and Joe walks up to me and punches me in the face, am I a victim of assault? Drinking 10 shots of tequila shows poor judgment. If I hadn’t had that many shots of tequila, I may have been able to dodge Joe’s punch. Or maybe not. Either way, Joe has assaulted me, and I am a victim of assault. Why is it different when the assault is sexual in nature?  The fact that the victim of a crime was drunk, doesn’t excuse the criminal from committing the crime.

If the guy was drunk is it still rape? Ok, let’s say Joe was in that bar having 10 tequila shots with me before he punched me in the face. He’s still guilty of assault. In most places voluntary intoxication is no excuse for a criminal action, whether the crime is armed robbery or assault.  The fact that the rapist was drunk doesn’t excuse him from committing the crime.

Let’s recap:  When the rapist is drunk, the rapist is responsible for the rape.  When the victim is drunk, the rapist is STILL responsible for the rape.  See how that works?  No matter what, the only person who is responsible for the rape is THE RAPIST.  It’s really not that difficult.

I like Amy, and I usually think her advice is sound, so my angry letter took a more instructional than rage-ful tone.  I’m hoping she will print a retraction or a clarification informed by a more accurate view of consent.

Dear Amy:

In your response to the young woman who was raped at a frat party you repeated the old saying, "No means no."  This is an outdated model of consent.  Women do not exist in a state of perpetual consent to sex, which they must cancel out by saying "no" in order to prevent a man from having sex with them.  Consent means an enthusiastic "yes" from both parties, not just a lack a "no."  I hope you will use your column to remind people that yes, and only yes, means yes.  Victim made it clear she didn’t want to have sex, and she certainly did not enthusiastically consent to sex.  Regardless of the perpetrator’s criminal liability, she is a victim of sexual assault and should seek help for dealing with that trauma.

If you agree that Amy’s response was irresponsible, you can write to her at and set her straight.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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