Fault [TRIGGER WARNING]

Admin Note: This post in no way reflects the views of ASC or SOAR. It may be triggering to survivors, and includes substantial victim blaming. Please remember to be respectful to the survivor-author in the comments.

I wanted to write this to get some response and further a discussion that I have been having internally and with my therapist for months. I was inspired to do so after reading some posts on this site after I followed the link in this week’s consensus on another postering campaign.

I felt a bit of animosity toward the postering campaign earlier this year that I could not understand at the time.  I don’t want to give too much of myself away and will try to keep references to myself as non-gender-specific and general as such, but I will say that I was statutorily raped (obviously before I came to Haverford) when I was eight.

I think that what bothered me first about the posters throughout campus was that some were more than inappropriate and others tried unsuccessfully to get people to feel a sense of jocular levity towards the subject leading members of SOAR to feel attacked when people responded with jokes entrenched in rape culture.  I think that these sorts of jokes should have been expected and that using jokes at the outset was a poorly considered idea.   But that is not what really bothered me. They made me feel attacked.

I should continue by saying that (to the best of my knowledge) I have never raped anyone and that is not why I felt attacked.  I felt attacked because of the complicit nature that these posters had in perpetuating the myth that all people (I’ve intentionally used a non-gendered nomenclature here) have no responsibility to take in their own rape. I understand that it can be hard in the moment to tell a man or woman to get off of you, but that is part of being taken seriously as a member of society.  It is imperative that people stop saying things like “I was too afraid to say anything.”  That does not cut it.  was too afraid to say anything.  Because I was a kid.  But you aren’t.  And it bothers me that a person can go out half naked, dance provocatively with numerous men or women, get so drunk that he or she can’t remember what happened and then claim to have been raped.  If these people were to go to a person who had been raped at gunpoint and brutally attacked, I wonder how much sympathy they would get.

But I think I was misinterpreting the meaning of the site, the postering campaign and SOAR in general.    I still feel that some survivors are just as, if not more, responsible than the perpetrator.  And I still wonder how this can be fixed.  I think the best way is to talk about it, and for that I commend the postering.  I also really like the simple “consent” versus “not consent” that has been posted on this site, though when people get drunk, these steadfast rules seem a bit unrealistic.

I really need to get to my point soon, so I will say that it is this: when the sort of rape that happens on Haverford’s campus (this generalization is meant to speak of the type that the Anon March 19 essay speaks of — the type that is ambiguous and probably conducted without malicious intent) happens, it is not just the perpetrator’s fault, but both the perpetrator and survivor’s fault.  And it is not just their fault really; it is my fault and your fault and the fault of everyone at Haverford.  And it is not just the fault of us in the Haverbubble, but the culture that we live in.

I wanted to end with that, but I need to say one thing more.  While it still bothers me to hear about a survivor who says that he or she has overcome his or her “victim blaming” it bothers me.  But what is important for the individual (getting over his or her own victim blaming) is not what is important for the society (preventing more rape in the future), whether Haverford, the Tri-Co or the US.  I understand that the hurt of being penetrated unwillingly can be hard and that it is important to let survivors feel that they are in no way responsible thus allowing them to move on with their lives.  But I think that it is also important to make sure that we explain that survivors must take some of the blame for their own actions.

It reminds me of the way doctors have begun to deal with the parents of SIDS victims.  As SIDS is usually the result of strangulation (either from too many blankets or sleeping in a bed with a baby) doctors used to tell parents that it isn’t their fault.  But the strategy has shifted: if you get parents to realize that they are responsible in many cases for SIDS, you can prevent SIDS by telling people that it is their fault.  By creating an ethos of responsibility, you hurt some parents’ feelings (a small travesty) but you save others from the trauma (a greater victory in my opinion).

I swear I’m done after I say this because this post is getting way to long:

To anyone who could be a survivor one day, I hope you will have the courage to end something that you are uncomfortable with by using the forceful language necessary.  It is your own responsibility, no one else’s.  And if you don’t find the courage to speak up for yourself, I could not find any more sympathy and empathy for your position.  I have been in the same place for years.  I understand that, regardless of responsibility, the hurt is the same for me, you or a victim of forceful rape.  And to everyone who may one day be a perpetrator: think twice, three times.  Maybe try to seek out the people you have been with. See if they are as satisfied as you.  I understand this may be awkward, though I can’t sympathize with you as much as the survivors (mostly because I have been so sexually stunted that I have never actually been with anyone – though I tell my friends I have – yet I have been raped – though I tell my friends nothing).

I feel like I have infinite ideas stretching to break free from my anxious fingertips, but time is finite so I will wrap it all up with this.  Essentially, I’m saying, be careful.  The hurt is so great in many cases of college rape and the circumstances so ambiguous.  We all need to take accountability for our actions.

 

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8 thoughts on “Fault [TRIGGER WARNING]

  1. First, let me say that, obviously everyone is entitled to their personal opinion. With this in mind, however, your post raises the following concerns for me:

    1. Delegitimizing the pain and experiences of others does not make yours more legitimate, meaningful, or serious. It is insensitive and, some could argue, hypocritical. Who, if not other survivors, is more equipped to be empathetic toward others who have experienced sexual violence? Cutting others down doesn’t make you any taller.
    2. Yes, the first round of posters weren’t perfect- far from it. In fact, ASC and all those involved admit that freely, and welcome criticisms and suggestions. I sincerely apologize to those who were offended and triggered by the campaign. Hindsight is, after all, 20/20. It’s still not ok to joke about raping people, which the posters never did.
    3. You suggest that the posters position survivors as non-agentive. This is not the intention, it’s your interpretation. Agency is not all or nothing. Individuals negotiate their own agency every day, all the time, and to view it as a rigid dichotomy is rather myopic and reflects only a superficial appreciation of what it means to have or lack agency.
    4. I have been assaulted twice. I don’t go out half naked, and I don’t dance provocatively. I fell asleep in my bed, with the boy I was supposed to be dating, and woke up to him trying to have sex with me. I remember what happened, but even if I didn’t, even if I went out naked, with a sign that said “wants to have lots of sex” strapped to my back, that would not give ANYONE the right to assault or rape me. By definition, assault is nonconsensual. Dressing or behaving a certain way does not mean consent.
    5. True, being cautious and sensible is always a good idea. At the same time, constantly modifying behaviors you do not find inherently wrong or unsafe in order to protect yourself from other people is really damning. Living in constant fear is, well, scary, and limits potentially good experiences too.
    6. We cannot continue to live in a society that feels the need to qualify and rank experiences of suffering. The unfortunate reality is, there is lots of suffering in this world, and we don’t need a hierarchy in order to speak out against it.

    I realize that this sounds like an attack, and, to the poster, and others who may feel this way, I sincerely apologize. That is not my intention. I write this in defense of myself- someone who has worked closely with rape and sexual assault awareness efforts on campus, has experienced sexual violence, and feels marginalized by this qualification of suffering. I feel attacked by you. I am not a victim, I am a survivor, and it is my right to fight for myself.

    -Jen Zelnick

  2. Sorry in advance that this comment is so long and not nearly as eloquent as Jen’s before mine.

    Jen’s courage in signing her post as herself inspired me to make myself (kind of) public in this response. I’m the anonymous poster from March 19th. Since you specifically cited my post as an example of the ambiguous situation you were describing, I feel the need to identify myself. Not that it matters but: I don’t remember aspects of my assault not because I was blackout drunk; I don’t get blackout drunk. I repressed the memories and didn’t allow myself to remember. But my level of sobriety does not matter.

    I am genuinely sorry for what happened to you and you have my full support in dealing with it. I would love to be able to offer you the peer support you need, especially if you haven’t told any of your friends about what happened to you.

    But in case you can’t tell, I feel highly offended by your post. I felt offended before I got to the point where you specifically said that my assault was my fault:
    “when the sort of rape that happens on Haverford’s campus (this generalization is meant to speak of the type that the Anon March 19 essay speaks of — the type that is ambiguous and probably conducted without malicious intent) happens, it is not just the perpetrator’s fault, but both the perpetrator and survivor’s fault.”
    First of all, not every assault that happens at Haverford is like mine. Plenty of people were vocal in their saying no, or were asleep, or a variety of other factors. But is that not sufficient in your mind because they didn’t have a gun to their head? If your criteria for “rape” is younger than the age of consent or in mortal danger, I think you need to drastically expand your definition. Even the government has moved past that narrow definition. Secondly, I have no idea the intent of the man who assaulted me, but that doesn’t make my suffering trivial. On an entirely personal level, I don’t think you understand how emotionally draining it was for me to write and decide to post that blog post. I like to think that if you understood that, you wouldn’t have casually dismissed my experience in a parenthetical statement.

    I know that I can never fully understand what you went through and continue to go through. I did experience something so traumatic at such a young age. All I want is for you to acknowledge that you do not fully understand what I went through either. Surviving is not a competition of whose experience was worse. It should be an attempt to heal and I think that if you truly communicated with me or someone else whose experience you discount, you would find similarities between our experiences, fears, and healing processes.

  3. I think that the author has touched on some very important points, namely the idea of guilt and accountability. It is hard when talking about subjects as subjective as rape to saddle one party with all the guilt and imply that the other one is lily white, because it is an unfair demonization to assume that all people who commit what one might consider rape are completely responsible. To me, it’s a problem when people say that they don’t care about what the other party was thinking, because just as the accused should pay attention to what the survivor/victim was saying, so too should the survivor/victim. I have been involved in several cases where the other party was flabbergasted and genuinely hurt when s/he was accused of rape. Aside from defending themselves, one of the first things they wanted to do was get in contact with the other party to apologize, and explain how they did not realize the other party was not giving consent. Often

    I think that both the OP and other parties fail when they are necessitated by the idea of guilt or accountability. Obviously people who get assaulted are not to be blamed, but that being said, just because someone is accused of rape does not them make them guilty. In fact, I believe that even if someone is found legally guilty, they are not necessarily accountable (this is because of the very subjective intoxication statute, which can be twisted to mean that consensual sex after a glass of wine is rape). In many cases that involve alcohol and casual hookups, guilt is almost impossible to establish, so I think that it is important to recognize people who are accused of rapes are not monsters, and often in fact do not know what they are doing. Does this make it right? No, but it certainly does make it harder to call them evil.

  4. I am the OP. I want to start by apologizing. When I wrote this, I had been carried to a website I had been trying to avoid for months by the weekly consensus, wrote a post in a flurry after reading a few posts, hoping that it would help me (in what way I do not know). Reading the posting guidelines, I was under the impression that all posts were edited and that I did not need to continue this work alone; I sent the email to the admin with the tag:

    “I have set up the anonymous email account that I have sent this to you with in the hope that, if need be, you will be able to contact me with planned revisions. I am conflicted, as I hope you garnered from the essay. I want to fix things but also want to make the damage as small as possible.”

    In retrospect, I should have made my expectation of revisions more clear. Before writing this, I checked said anonymous email account, hoping to find a response. I was about to write when I checked the blog and found this. Essentially, I selfishly (after breaking down and crying softly so that my roommate would not hear me) sent the post off with some hope of closure (either for my emotions or in the paroxysm that I found myself in). I cannot express how selfish and awful I feel for trying to push my own hatred onto others (even the admins whom I had hoped would respond despite my unclear desires in the email). I want to thank everyone for the amazing respect that I do not believe I was able to show.

    Jen, you are truly an inspiration and, as a side note, a very talented writer. To the other two, thank you. I need to clean up my own mess now (sorry if this takes a bit too much of your time).

    1) To the anonymous poster I referenced, I am sorry. I remember thinking, though the whole thing was a blur, that the details of your tragedy were not even clear and wondering why I had even cited that in my essay and that I would edit that part out once I received a response. It was truly unacceptable for me to assault you in that way (I used that language intentionally).

    2) I don’t know if the second anon response is the same author as the post on March 26, but these seem to espouse similar ideas. Taking a step away from myself, I think that this was the post that really spoke to me (and unfortunately, through no one’s fault but my own) lead to my self deprecating and externally offensive language. I tried to support that in a way that was presumptuous of every other rape that happens on Haverford’s campus in a way that was unfair.

    3) But I also think that I was trying to take it one step further, by asking, is punishment for sex that could have been avoided fair? I am intentionally leaving this vague — what is sex that could have been avoided and by whom could it have been avoided? I don’t believe in the power of punishment in general, and I have never actually been angry at the person who assaulted me, but what is restorative in the case of a guy who mistook the meaning of, “I guess” and how do we enforce it? I want to remove all of the rape-culture entrenched phrases that I used before and ask, “is it the fault of one party or another if there is a simple miscommunication and with whom does the responsibility lie?” Moreover, “at what point, especially given the ambiguous hook-up culture on Haverford and all college campuses, does something seem ‘close enough’ to consent?” And finally, “can hard and fast rules as well as acceptable norms (like those set up by the most recent postering campaign) alleviate the pressure on an unwilling partner? Is it fair to assume that all people understand these norms?”

    4) I want to ask this one, and I hope that you will treat me with the respect you already have: “is it the responsibility of women, if the feminist movement is to be taken seriously, to have the strength to, when physically able (ie not many of the cases written above) say no firmly and strongly (ie in ways that one might have relegated to the man in a relationship in the past)?”

    5) I want to say one more thing, but this is for the pure vanity of my anonymous personality: I really did not intend to compare the “hurt” of one person to another and I am sorry if it came off that way. I even say, “if you don’t find the courage to speak up for yourself, I could not find any more sympathy and empathy for your position. I have been in the same place for years. I understand that, regardless of responsibility, the hurt is the same for me, you or a victim of forceful rape.” I tried to say that the hurt is the same, the ability to avoid it is different in some cases and that there should be a focus on avoiding being raped at least as much as avoiding raping (in the same way that one does not give tutorials on avoiding thieving, but does on avoiding being stolen from — ie don’t walk down a dark alley at night).

    6) Also, for so many reasons, the postering campaign is much better this time around.

    • I’m only going to respond as an admin here, not as ASC or myself. The only edits we make to posts are in cases where we are asked specifically to alter them for confidentiality. We don’t edit for content, and we almost always approve posts because we believe it is important to have a variety of voices–if only to start a conversation. We did not take your note to us as license to revise your work.

      Glad you like this postering campaign! ASC worked hard on it as a group, and we’ve gotten mostly positive feedback about it.

  5. OP – I really admire you for having the courage to write this, not only because of the difficulty of discussing such a terrible ordeal publicly, but also because of your willingness to challenge the idea that there is only one valid way for those who have experienced rape or assault to see the problem.

    I really liked the part in your reply where you say that “there should be a focus on avoiding being raped at least as much as avoiding raping (in the same way that one does not give tutorials on avoiding thieving, but does on avoiding being stolen from — ie don’t walk down a dark alley at night).”

    This is a common sense observation that, as you say, is a logical way to address the reality of any crime, be it rape, theft, etc. But the Consent Is Sexy campaign aims to make it unacceptable to say this; after all, any expression of such a sentiment would be “victim-blaming.” For example, Jen has interpreted part of the argument in your original post as advocating “living in constant fear.” If this is how people will be caricatured when they make sensible points about protecting oneself, then nobody will make such points anymore. And that’s dangerous.

    • To clarify: I am not suggesting that being safe and “living in constant fear” are one in the same. I fully advocate being sensible. My qualm arises when the reasonable expectation of being smart and cautious transforms into a retroactive way of blaming people who experience rape and sexual assault. Victim blaming is not the same thing as holding individuals responsible for themselves and their actions. Victim blaming is a process through which the pain experienced by a survivor/victim is justified or normalized based on unreasonable expectations.

      Here’s an example of a crime that happens from time to time at Haverford, and the difference between taking responsibility and blaming the victim.

      The crime: someone steals your laptop from your apartment.

      Taking responsibility: I/she/he/we/they should have locked the doors and windows before going out.

      Victim blaming: It’s my/her/his/our/their fault for owning a laptop in the first place. If I/she/he/we/they are going to own a laptop, they better expect to have it stolen!

      Speaking for myself, I must reiterate: the instances surrounding my sexual assaults were in no way reckless or dangerous. I didn’t walk down a dark alley alone at night, to use your metaphor. Furthermore, if we were to follow that logic- it’s the responsibility of potential survivors/victims, rather than potential perpetrators, to prevent crime- why doesn’t our legal system penalize victims, rather than prosecuting perpetrators? (This is a rhetorical question.) I take responsibility for my own actions, and I can say with 100% certainty that I didn’t put myself in a dangerous situation. Furthermore, I stand by the claim that, regardless of the survivor’s behavior, personality, or anything else, he or she is never at fault. Regardless of intentionality, such claims stigmatize survivors as blame-worthy, careless, and deserving of the hurt they suffer.

      I don’t disagree with the sentiment behind being careful, but the implications surrounding this suggestion (that a survivor was, therefore, careless) are really damaging. I think the poster “Sexual Assault Prevention Tips” shown in the above post says it best: “Don’t assault people.” Just like the OP, and you yourself suggest, everyone must take responsibility for their actions. If society continues to insinuate that survivors are somehow responsible for their assault, we will never move past victim blaming.

      • I think that most people here are responding again, to more murky circumstances involving rape and whether one party can be held responsible. “Don’t assault people” is all well and good, but when two people are hooking up, and one says “Okay, if you want to” and the other person goes through with it, I fail to see how the other person can be held responsible. According to your posters, that means “no,” but honestly, it doesn’t. If someone says okay, an affirmative statement in the English language, they cannot blame the other person for what happens. A better example would be if one lent someone their laptop, they held it for longer than that person wanted them to, and then the other person accused them of theft.

        Obviously this is not what happened to you, and I in no way insinuate this is, but this is not beyond the realm of possibility. I know of a case (outside of Haverford) where this happened, and frankly, I find it wrong, and I refuse to let an innocent person be blamed.

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