Monday, October 19, 2009

Personal Responsibility For Vulnerability: All or None

When women report being harmed by those they know while they were drunk it is far too common for people to focus on the woman's decisions and to minimize the responsibility of those who took non-consensual actions against her.

After reading comments in a post titled Big Story on the Michigan Messenger at the blog Dispatches from the Culture Wars with a link to a story about a teacher who had her body used as a canvas against her will while she was passed out and who alleged having been sexually assaulted before she passed out, I wrote:

I'm troubled by the dismissive response of some commenters here. The line from Raging Bee: "leaving themselves vulnerable to harm" is deeply problematic since most of us could be accused of doing this many times even if we never drink alcohol.

There was a murder case in my area earlier this year where the man who broke in used the homeowner's gun to kill a father, his son and to try to kill the mother. Having a gun left that family vulnerable to harm, but it didn't cause the jury to find the defendant not guilty and I doubt that Raging Bee or others would be so quick in that case to put any responsibility for this horrific crime onto the victims or to use it to minimize or negate the responsibility of the man who exploited this vulnerability.

Vulnerability is not what causes people to take actions which exploit someone's vulnerability. The cause lies within those people who view vulnerability as an opportunity. If someone doesn't consent or can't consent then the only legal choice is to not take an action unless it is an emergency such as taking someone to the ER.

Since this non-consensual behavior was done by teachers that raises serious questions about what non-consensual actions they will approve of or tolerate when done by students to other students.

In another comment Democommie wrote to me:
Nice analogy--totally inapt, I think--but nice, nonetheless. Yes, multiple murders is equivalent to what happened here.
Here's my response:

You are wrong that my analogy is inapt and your response supports my point rather than disproving it. The reason it feels inapt to you is that you take someone committing multiple murders seriously enough that you automatically reject focusing on how victims made themselves vulnerable or using this to reduce perpetrator responsibility.

The amount of shifting of responsibility onto the vulnerable person is usually linked to personal opinion of the seriousness of what the non-vulnerable person did to the vulnerable person.

If those who made themselves vulnerable are partly responsible for what was done to them then this must always be true no matter what was done to them or how they made themselves vulnerable. If it isn't always true then it is never true and only reflects on the bias of those placing responsibility on certain vulnerable people.

After this comment Democommie got more personal and claimed that I was trying to make drunk shaming and murder into equivalent offenses. He wrote:
The discussion on this thread, in the majority of its comments has been re: whether it is appropriate for the criminal justice system to be involved in this and whether the available statutes offer a legal structure for doing so.

What he misses is that bias about women "leaving themselves vulnerable to harm" can and does skew this type of discussion and it can and does skew real life consequences for those who harm other people.

This portion of his comment is highly relevant because along with drunk shaming, this woman reported a sexual assault and there are clearly available criminal statutes to cover this unless people view victim drunkenness as nullifying the possibility of a sexual assault.


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 9:24 AM   3 comments links to this post


At October 19, 2009 1:05 PM, Blogger JENNIFER DREW said...

The ones responsible for committing rape must always be the male perpetrators because it continues to be overwhelmingly males who commit sexual violence against women and children.

If we blame women and girls for not taking sufficient action to secure their safety then we must also blame anyone who is a victim of any crime.

The criminal justice system is not concerned with apportioning blame to the victim(s) of crime. Instead its purpose is to prove beyond reasonable doubt whether or not a defendant(s) is guilty of the crime they have been charged with.

One might as well say anyone who is hit by a car as they attempted to cross a road is responsible for the incident not the car driver. But I've yet to hear or read victims of car accidents wherein clearly the driver was to blame being held accountable, whilst driver is excused his accountability.

The problem is a very large number of males continue to refuse to take responsibility for their behaviour/actions because they believe it is their innate right to have unlimited sexual access to any woman or girl. Blaming women and girls neatly deflects attention away from male accountability.

At November 04, 2009 3:08 PM, Blogger Prudence said...

Yet again you've hit on the issues which I have been dealing with. It comforts me to think that I'm not alone, but it also scares me to think how common it seems to be, maybe my view is skewed by the fact that I am hanging around sites dedicated to rape discussions and feminist issues, but it makes me feel sad that we are still fighting this battle, the battle that Eve fought. The woman tempted the man to sin, that's the basic premise of all these views that women leave themselves in harm's way, or worse that they behave in such a way that a man has an excuse for thinking he can take the sex he wants.

It is the way of the justice system that an accused in most crimes is either guilty or not-guilty, once you are painted with the brush, some of it will always stick. They struggle to be seen as "innocent" again. But in rape trials it seems to be the other way round. The crux is whether the woman can disprove her consent before the actions of the man are even considered. Basically the question isn't "was there a crime?", but "was there a victim?" and if the woman can't prove she was a victim, through proving a certain level of innocence, then the crime is in doubt.

As far as I'm concerned, I did "consent" in the end, in the fact that I went along with the situation, I didn't really feel like I had a choice. So I would no doubt fail the victim test. I'm disenfranchised. If he'd stolen my purse or punched me in the face I wouldn't have had a doubt that his actions were wrong and what's more I'd have got over it a lot quicker!

At November 04, 2009 3:43 PM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

Prudence, I'm not as scared as you are about where we are largely because I know so many people, men and women, who are dedicated to primary prevention and who are helping to make real progress. The people I know personally are in MN but there are other likeminded people in other states and in other countries. The problem is that too often those who don't have dangerous ideas have been passive bystanders or they have faced a wall of opposition when they did try to speak out.

You might have felt you consented because you went along, but when you don't have a way to avoid what you don't want then the only choice is how to minimize the harm of getting through the violation. Unfortunately, many of those in law enforcement and beyond, who can understand why mugging victims go along with the situation don't understand why rape victims would do the same.

In some rapes going along can be the difference between life and death and not just in stranger rapes.


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