Creative Destruction

May 10, 2006

Yes, Cathy, Victim Advocates Should Believe Rape Victims

Filed under: Feminist Issues — Ampersand @ 8:50 am

In her Boston Globe column, and also reprinted on her blog, Cathy Young writes:

Feminism has achieved real and important progress in the treatment of sexual assault victims. A couple of generations ago, a stripper at a party with athletes would have been viewed by many as fair game. That this is no longer the case surely makes us a more decent society.

Whenever I see Cathy say something nice about feminism, I know the word “but” is fast approaching. Sure enough…

But even some people who applaud this change believe that in some cases, the pendulum has swung too far. Many feminists seem to think that in sexual assault cases the presumption of innocence should not apply. Appearing on the Fox News show ”The O’Reilly Factor,” Monika Hostler of the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault declared that her role was ”to support a woman or any victim that comes forward to say that they were sexually assaulted.”

To O’Reilly’s question, ”Even if they weren’t?” Hostler replied, ”I can’t say that I’ve come across one that wasn’t.”

Cathy is conflating two things that should be kept separate: an individual citizen’s own opinion, and our Court system. Yes, agents of our Court system are required to presume innocence, but unless she’s sworn in on a jury, Ms. Hostler doesn’t share that requirement. As I wrote in an earlier post:

I believe very much in “innocent until proven guilty.” If and when the police make arrests in this case, I want the accused rapists (whoever they turn out to be) to have their day in court, to be able to present a defense aided by legal council, and to be presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond any reasonable doubt. Then, and only then, should they be sent to prison for what I hope is a long miserable stay.

But “innocent until proven guilty” is a courtroom standard. My opinion is not the same as a courtroom… Nothing about the American system of justice requires ordinary citizens to refrain from having opinions; and it’s not inconsistent to want Courts to adhere to “beyond any reasonable doubt” while holding my personal opinions to a less stringent standard.

Cathy thinks that rape victims’ advocates should not assume that a rape happened until it’s been proven beyond any reasonable doubt. How, exactly, does Cathy imagine that would work? Victim advocates don’t have the resources or the training to conduct independent investigations. Courts can take years to reach a “guilty” verdict – assuming there’s ever a trail, which there isn’t for most rapes. Should advocates refuse to help victims (pardon me, alleged victims) until a “guilty” verdict is handed down?

Here’s what I imagine rape victim advocates would do if Cathy Young ruled the world:

ADVOCATE: (picks up phone) Hello, rape crisis hotline. How may I help you?

WOMAN: (Distraught) My… I… I think I’ve been raped. This guy I know, Edward, he held me down and forced….

ADVOCATE: (Interrupting) You mean he allegedly held you down and forced you.

WOMAN: What?

ADVOCATE: I have to presume Edward’s innocent until he’s been proved guilty beyond all reasonable doubt. Please go on.

WOMAN: Okay… He, well, I kept saying “no, please don’t.” But he ignored what I said and ripped off my skirt –

ADVOCATE: You mean Edward allegedly ignored and allegedly ripped off your skirt. I’m keeping open to the possibility that you’re lying. Now, please hold, while I get Edward’s attorney on the line so he can cross-examine you. If your story remains credible after adversarial cross, then we can begin talking about dealing with post-traumatic stress syndrome.

WOMAN: Umn… Could I talk to someone who’ll believe me?

ADVOCATE: Before a trial takes place? What do you think this is, Nazi Germany?

Ms. Hostler was correct when she said “it’s my role as an advocate to support the woman or person who comes forward to say they were sexually assaulted.” She’s not there as a judge, or a jury member, or an officer of the court; her support will not send any accused rapist to prison. She’s there to support rape victims. Being adversarial, skeptical or cynical about the stories she hears will not help rape victims. Going on O’Reilly and saying “why yes, Bill, I think some of the so-called victims who have come to me for help are total liars” will not help rape victims.

What does help rape victims is knowing that there is one place in the world where they can go and be believed and taken seriously. That is Ms. Hostler’s role.

And suppose that there are a couple of liars who come to Ms. Hostler’s agency and say “I was raped” when they really weren’t. So what? It makes no sense for victim advocates to treat 100% of the victims they help with skepticism and doubt, impeding their ability to help actual victims, in order to catch out the occasional faker. It’s not a rape victims advocacy center’s job to divide rape allegations into those that can be proved true and those that can’t be proved – that’s what courts are for.

* * *

Even if Cathy had fairly quoted Ms. Hostler, Cathy’s argument would be wrong, for the reasons given above. But as it happens, Ms. Hostler wasn’t quoted fairly (there’s a transcript of the interview here). Here’s the important bit:

O’REILLY: You don’t believe as an American citizen that you should give anyone the presumption of innocence. Is that what you’re telling me?

HOSTLER: Oh, absolutely. But my role in sexual assault is to support a woman or any victim that comes forward to say that they were sexually assaulted.

“Oh, absolutely” can be interpreted to mean “oh, absolutely, the courts shouldn’t presume the defendant is innocent. But my role is to support the victim.” That’s how Cathy seems to interpret it.

But if that’s what Hostler meant, why start the second sentence with the word “but”? A sentence starting with “but” usually contrasts with the previous sentence in some way – that’s what the word “but” means. But there’s no contrast here, so the “but” is out of place.

I think Hostler meant “oh, absolutely,” meaning “Oh, absolutely, defendants should get the presumption of innocence in court. But my role as an advocate is to support the victim.” If so, the word “but” makes much more sense, because there’s a contrast between the two sentences.

Another statement Hostler made in the same interview clarifies her attitude:

O’REILLY: Now for the top story tonight, convicting two Duke lacrosse players in the court of public opinion. An organization called the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault apparently believes Reade Seligmann and Colin Finnerty, the two Duke students charged with rape, are guilty. […]

HOSTLER: Bill, I wouldn’t say that I think that those particular boys are absolutely guilty. But what I do think is that woman was raped in that house on that night.

Clearly, Hostler doesn’t dismiss the possibility that the two accused rapists are innocent.

It’s ironic that Cathy is criticizing Hostler for not giving the two accused rapists any benefit of the doubt. Ms. Hostler does give them the benefit of the doubt; it’s Cathy, assuming the worse of Ms. Hostler even though the interview as a whole doesn’t justify Cathy’s assumptions, who is unreasonably refusing to give the benefit of the doubt.

Wanting to remove all doubt, I emailed Ms. Hostler. She says “of course” she believes that courts should presume defendants innocent until proven guilty. With all due respect to Cathy, there was enough textual evidence in the interview itself to raise doubts about Cathy’s interpretation, and Cathy should have made that clear in her column. Not only did Cathy’s column fail to inform her readers of the presence of doubt; Cathy’s quotations omitted the elements of the original interview which would have enabled her readers to notice the ambiguity for themselves.

Although I’m sure it wasn’t on purpose, the effect is that Cathy has unfairly smeared Ms. Hostler before a national audience. I hope Cathy uses a future column to correct her distortions and apologize to Ms. Hostler.

Let’s consider, one last time, Cathy’s accusation that “many” feminists want to do away with the presumption of innocence in rape cases. The one example she gave falls apart on examination. Without resorting to quoting undergraduates (a desperation tactic Cathy’s used in the past), I wonder if Cathy can support her accusation at all?

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28 Comments »

  1. I do not think that is what she means. She summed up her point quite well:

    To recognize that some women wrongly accuse men of rape is not antifemale, any more than recognizing that some men rape women is antimale. Is it so unreasonable to think that a uniquely damaging charge will be used by some people as a weapon, just as others will use their muscle? Do we really believe that when women have power — and there is power in an accusation of rape — they are less likely to abuse it than men? As Columbia University law professor George Fletcher has written, ”It is important to defend the interests of women as victims, but not to go so far as to accord women complaining of rape a presumption of honesty and objectivity.”

    There are women who do make false accusations. Many of them use resources meant for real victims, often fooling rape counselors who typically were certain the woman was raped.

    I think you are conflating providing assistance to real victims with the general public’s opinion about the allegations. It is the counselor’s job to believe what she is told. However, the general public has no such obligation. Cathy’s point, and Bill’s, is that assuming every woman accusing a man of rape is telling the truth it is grossly unfair. If the woman has the right to be believed, should it not also extend to the man? Is it not possible that he actually did not do it?

    It sounds as if your point (and correct me if I am wrong) is that no one should assume the accused is telling the truth until he can prove his case beyond a reasonable doubt.

    Comment by toysoldier — May 10, 2006 @ 3:35 pm | Reply

  2. The job of a rape victim advocate is to defend those who report being raped — not to do so only after the accused are tried and sentences.

    I don’t see the problem here.

    Comment by Lauren — May 10, 2006 @ 5:54 pm | Reply

  3. Hey, we should invite Lauren to blog here!

    (I really want that toaster.)

    Amp, I think this post is basically a strawman attack on Cathy. She didn’t say that rape crisis counselors should be cautious about accepting rape testimony as true. She said that people going on TV as representatives of feminism should be cautious.

    Even if she was referencing line-of-fire rape victim advocates, your script is basically a description of what a really cognitively incompetent person would say, not a rape counselor listening to a perhaps hard-to-credit story. It’s perfectly possible to listen compassionately, provide appropriate references and resources, and give emotional support even while thinking “this person is as crazy as a loon”. Therapists have to do that all the time.

    Comment by Robert — May 10, 2006 @ 6:15 pm | Reply

  4. Actually, Robert, if you read what Cathy said, she suggested that feminists believe ‘the presumption of innocence should not apply’ in some rape cases. Her evidence? A rape counselor does not doubt the people she treats.

    Now, Cathy isn’t stupid, so I doubt she missed the fact that the ‘presumption of innocence’ is a legal presumption. She implies that this rape counselor’s refusal to doubt women who report rape says something about what “many feminists” believe about how courts should treat defendants accused of rape.

    Comment by mythago — May 10, 2006 @ 6:24 pm | Reply

  5. Lauren, why must you take three dozen words to say something that could just as easily be said in an entire page?

    This seems like an issue of media literacy: understand a speaker’s interests when evaluating a speaker’s factual assertions. Do I expect a victim’s advocate to advocate for victims? Yup. Do I expect this to include publicly defending the credibility of victims? Yup. In short, I see a social role for victim’s advocates, and defense attorneys, and prosecutors, and campaigning politicians, and used car salesmen, etc., that precludes candor. So long as we all understand these roles and interpret people’s remarks accordingly, I see little harm and much benefit in this arrangement.

    In contrast, to what extent do members of the public have a social role that precludes candor? This is tricky, dangerous territory.

    I sense some media outlets regard it as an appropriate social duty not to disclose the identity of alleged rape victims or accused juveniles, not to disclose the identity of homicide victims before the family has been notified, not to forecast the winners of elections before the polls close, not to disclose military secrets that might imperil life, etc., in an effort to promote the welfare of society over the interest of the media outlet in getting a scoop. As long as I know that the media is not being entirely candid with me, I see little harm and much benefit in this practice.

    I sense that Amp regards it as an appropriate social duty to accord credence to women who complain of being raped, in an effort to counteract all the dynamics that discourage women from advancing such complaints. I find this a noble and honorable purpose. And so long as I know Amp’s purposes preclude him from being entirely candid on these subjects, I see little harm and much benefit in these practices.

    I sense others (Robert?) regard it as an appropriate social duty to support our nation’s leaders at a time of war, in an effort to bolster the moral of our troops and discourage the enemy. I find this a noble and honorable purpose. And so long as I know that people’s purposes preclude them from being entirely candid on these subjects, I see little harm and much benefit in these practices.

    I tend to argue that we have a social duty to withhold judgment on matters unless and until we are called upon to make decisions, in an effort to promote a spirit of open-mindedness and avoid prejudice. I hope others find this a noble and honorable purpose. But, dammit, Amp’s really got me questioning whether there’s ANY credible basis to doubt that this woman was raped. Sure, I withhold judgment about who the perpetrators were, but it’s really hard to imagine why she’d put herself through this unless it were true. And, after all, ….

    NO. No, no, no. I do NOT know what happened, and it is an exercise in sheer self-flattery to imagine that my opinions on this matter would reflect anything more than my biases. Moreover, my speculations about what happened can only serve to prejudice myself and others. I have no reason to doubt that a prosecutor, judge and jury will be in a better position to make that judgment that I, and I should exercise the humility and self-discipline to await their verdict. I wish to encourage all crime victims to report the crimes to police, and to encourage everyone else to keep and open mind.

    And I guess you know how much candor to accord to these remarks, too.

    Comment by nobody.really — May 10, 2006 @ 6:30 pm | Reply

  6. No, her evidence is not a rape counselor who does not doubt the people she treats. Her evidence is a rape counselor who makes the claim that nobody who she has ever treated has been making a false report – an extraordinarily strong claim, the low (~zero) credibility of which buttresses Young’s contention about some feminists’ skewed thinking on the question.

    Comment by Robert — May 10, 2006 @ 6:36 pm | Reply

  7. Robert, do you really believe that so many women lie against rape that every rape counselor must have counselled some liars? That seems unlikely to me. Hostler doesn’t say anywhere she believes no one ever lies about being raped, she just says that all the women she’s worked with weren’t lying. You really don’t think that’s at all possible?

    Comment by Ted — May 10, 2006 @ 7:36 pm | Reply

  8. Robert, do you really believe that so many women lie against rape that every rape counselor must have counselled some liars?

    Pretty much – but the number of women who have to lie to make my assertion true isn’t very large at all. The reason has to do with a statistical truth about long chains of probabilities. To expand:

    There’s an active debate over how many women lie about rape. Credible figures have ranged all over the place. Rape victim advocates use figures like two percent (which is intuitively appealing because it jibes with false reporting of other crimes); skeptics use figures like eighty percent (which is intuitively wrong because I don’t know that many women liars.)

    Let’s say that one-tenth of one percent of those going to a rape crisis center are lying. That’s a very conservative number. Absurdly conservative, you might say – one person in a thousand.

    A rape counselor who sees one rape victim each working day for one year sees 250 victims. If one-tenth of a percent of rape complainants lie, then the percentage chance that the rape counselor has seen at least one liar in that first year is 23%.

    At the end of the second year, the chance there’s been a liar is 40%.

    At the end of the fifth year, the chance is 72%.

    After ten years, the chance is 92%.

    And so on.

    The difficulty with the counselor’s claim in this example is that she’s claiming NOBODY lies. Note, she didn’t say “there are very few liars” – she said “I’ve never come across anybody”. “There are few liars” is a pretty weak claim to have to defend. It’s relatively easy to show that. “There are no liars” is a damn strong claim.

    When dealing with a long sequence of chances, every one of which has to come out a certain way for a hypothesis to prove out, the percentage chances start working strongly against the absolute statement. And that’s with very conservative assumptions – make the rate of liars a still-conservative one half of one percent, and you reach a level of 90% certainty that someone has lied in just a little bit over a year (450 days, to be precise). Plug in a value like one percent or two percent and you’re talking weeks, not years.

    So yeah, I basically don’t think Hostler’s claim is (realistically) possible – unless she’s a very new rape counselor.

    Comment by Robert — May 10, 2006 @ 7:55 pm | Reply

  9. O’REILLY: You don’t believe as an American citizen that you should give anyone the presumption of innocence. Is that what you’re telling me?

    HOSTLER: Oh, absolutely. But my role in sexual assault is to support a woman or any victim that comes forward to say that they were sexually assaulted.

    Even without the ‘but’ I would interpret ‘Oh absolutely’ as agreeing with the proposition that ‘you should give anyone the presumption of innocence’. The English language is not logical in this regard. Saying Yes to a negative proposition agrees with the positive.

    Q: Don’t you like tomatos?

    A: Yes, I do.
    A: No, I don’t.

    A: Yes, I don’t.
    A: No, I do.

    The first pair answers sound normal to me as a native speaker., but there’s something odd about the second pair. They parse as logically but not naturally correct. I suspect that other native speakers with less of a mathematical background than I have would find them even odder.

    Comment by Daran — May 11, 2006 @ 6:26 am | Reply

  10. Cathy is a Russian immigrant to America, and presumably not a native speaker. Though her English is undoubtedly excellent, it’s possible that she might be prone to misinterpretting particularly ambiguous or nuanced utterances.

    Comment by Daran — May 11, 2006 @ 6:33 am | Reply

  11. Does Hostler ever actually claim that she never, ever deals with women who lie? It looks to me as though she said her job is to be supportive.

    Comment by mythago — May 11, 2006 @ 11:33 am | Reply

  12. She says “I can’t say that I’ve come across one that wasn’t [telling the truth]”. That seems pretty clear-cut.

    Comment by Robert — May 11, 2006 @ 12:08 pm | Reply

  13. Quoting from the O’Reilly factor is like quoting a discussion from the Jerry Springer show. The presumption that anything said, written, argued on this show corresponds to anything linked with a reality that may be talked about is… hum…

    As for that incident. Listen, you walk in a house in the middle of the night filled with horny kids where 70% of them have rap sheets, you get in the living room and start dancing and stripping. A kid makes a comment about a broomstick and the room goes quiet. Still, the stripper does not get the hint?

    We should now live in a world where a woman has to wear a Chador to hide her face, but if a mother agrees that her 13 year old kid dress like a stripper with low cut jeans, tight outfits knowing weak minded people are out there… I don’t know. Does not excuse the perverts but still, there is a smell of contributory negligence in the air.

    Comment by Vilon — May 11, 2006 @ 2:53 pm | Reply

  14. She says “I can’t say that I’ve come across one that wasn’t [telling the truth]”. That seems pretty clear-cut.

    No, it doesn’t. She didn’t say “I know that none of the people I’ve met were lying.” She said that she can’t say she’s come across one that wasn’t telling the truth.

    Given how strict she was about bounding the discussion of her role, she could reasonably be interpreted as saying that it’s not her place, since she’s not a trier of fact, to attempt to verify or discredit the truth of what people who claim to be victims say.

    Also, to try and leap from that statement to an opposition to “innocent until proved guilty” – especially when she’s explicitly said that she doesn’t assume that all men arrested for rape are guilty – is ridiculous.

    Comment by Ampersand — May 11, 2006 @ 4:20 pm | Reply

  15. Does not excuse the perverts but still, there is a smell of contributory negligence in the air.

    So is it your belief that rape never happens in cultures where women are covered up in loose cloth from head to toe? Or that only women who are “asking for it” with their clothing ever get raped?

    What you’re saying is bullshit from top to bottom. Rape is caused by rapists, not by victims’ clothing choices.

    Comment by Ampersand — May 11, 2006 @ 4:21 pm | Reply

  16. If you read my comments, they are quite tempered, unlike yours my friend. I do not use the words “asking for it”, “never”, or even “Bullshit” in my tirade. If you want readers on this forum, you should be more respectful of ideas even if they may be different than those you hold. As for your unilateral decision of the cause of harm in our society, you do watch too much low quality news. Rape, like murder, battery, or other criminal offenses come in a wide range different factors.

    At this time, the rapes from the US troups in Bagdad go unpunished, if you are a basketball start in Colorado what happens? Prisonners rape each other without any real societal repercussions. Do we agree that gay rape is not as bad? Do we think prisonners give up that right if they are arrested for a drug charge? I would love to live in a world where things are this simple, sadly they are not.

    What I am saying is that each person has a different trigger point. Sane people, with proper educations have very high trigger points, but they do have them. My point was that most humans must understand how these trigger points work.

    If I walk home one night, take the darkest road, by myself, wearing expensive diamonds, I might get robbed. I never said the robbery was justified, but only that any sane person would recognize the need for some quantum of self protection. By taking risks, one is contributorily negligent to one’s destiny.

    But I wonder why I argue with someone with visibly limited vocabulary and reasoning capacities. I was just under the impression this was a subject posted, open for discussion by sane and well articulated individuals.

    Comment by Vilon — May 11, 2006 @ 5:04 pm | Reply

  17. Welcome, Vilon! I predict you and Amp will find lots to talk about. I used to express thoughts similar to Vilon’s. After lengthy exchanges, I have come to appreciate new aspects of this issue.

    In particular, “contributory negligence” has both a factual component and a philosophical one.

    Factually, does a victim’s clothing influence the likelihood of rape? While widely supposed, this is irreducibly a factual issue. And on that we are all in luck, because I know of no one better versed in the factual research on rape than Amp.

    I favor the philosophical component. Even assuming clothing influences the likelihood of rape, does that mean that victims are “contributorily negligent”? Again, the “contributorily” part refers to facts. The negligent part refers to a value judgment about those facts. Assuming it is foreseeable that certain clothing would make a woman more likely to be raped, what value judgment do me make about people who refuse to yield their freedom of expression in the face of such threats?

    After all, MLK knew that he increased his likelihood of being killed when he advocated for the disenfranchised in the South in the 1950s and ‘60s. What value judgments do we make about MLK?

    The principle difference between a sexily-clad woman and MLK is the importance we place on their expression. That is not a reflection on them; that is a reflection on us.

    I believe that the right to expression should be protected without regard to the content of the expression. I think it is abhorrent that anyone should feel constrained in their self-expression by threats of violence. Consequently I have abandoned my embrace of the “contributory negligence” theory.

    Comment by nobody.really — May 11, 2006 @ 6:17 pm | Reply

  18. “She says “I can’t say that I’ve come across one that wasn’t [telling the truth]”. That seems pretty clear-cut.”

    It seems clear-cut to me, to, but I don’t come to the conclusion you do. I have dealt with one person whose rape story “didn’t ring true” for me (a guy who’d been accused of rape and insisted she’d raped him rather than the other way around) – but even though I have serious doubts, I can’t say he was lying. I simply don’t have the information to reach that conclusion (he didn’t stick around very long for starts). I doubt very many rape crisis counselors develop a deep enough relationship with every one who calls that they’d be able to peg the theoretical one-tenth-of-one-percent liars. Long term therapists might, I suppose, but they deal with only a small percentage of people calling crisis centers.

    Comment by shiloh — May 11, 2006 @ 7:58 pm | Reply

  19. But I wonder why I argue with someone with visibly limited vocabulary and reasoning capacities.

    Because otherwise it would be just you and God in the room, and he would probably end up asking the same question.

    Comment by Robert — May 11, 2006 @ 8:20 pm | Reply

  20. she could reasonably be interpreted as saying that it’s not her place, since she’s not a trier of fact, to attempt to verify or discredit the truth of what people who claim to be victims say.

    Nope. If that had been what she meant, then when Bill asked her, basically, “what about people who are lying”, she would have responded that it wasn’t her job to determine whether they were lying. Instead she said that she’d never come across someone like that – manifestly indicating that she was, in fact, making a judgment. There’s no way to spin “I never see people like that” into “I wouldn’t presume to judge”.

    Also, to try and leap from that statement to an opposition to “innocent until proved guilty” – especially when she’s explicitly said that she doesn’t assume that all men arrested for rape are guilty – is ridiculous.

    Surely. Luckily, I don’t make that jump. I’m just talking about numbers that discredit a specific strong claim.

    Comment by Robert — May 11, 2006 @ 9:04 pm | Reply

  21. Vilon, in tort law (which differs from criminal law in a number of ways) the term “contributory negligence” means that you knowingly exposed yourself (or someone else) to a hazard, so you bear some of the blame for an injury that resulted. The “reasonable person” standard is applied: would a reasonable person expect that a given action would be likely to have a given result?

    I don’t actually know if a stripper performing for a roomful of horny kids is more likely to be raped than, say, a suburban soccer mom crossing a grocery-store parking lot after dark (but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Amp had statistics on it). Reason suggests, though, that 1) a stripper would have a lot of experience with rooms full of horny guys (let’s face it, women’s bridge clubs don’t often hire strippers) 2) strippers aren’t in their line of work for the fun of it. In other words, if you take your clothes off for a bunch of horny guys 19 times and nothing bad happens, you may reasonably think nothing bad will happen the 20th time either, and really needing the money may skew your judgment a bit.

    In criminal law, though, there is no such thing as contributory negligence. A crime is a crime, no matter how foolhardy the victim may have been.

    As for Hostler’s statement, I would interpret it as meaning that to the best of her knowledge she’s never seen a false rape claim, and I think that’s perfectly reasonable. To advocate for and support someone, you have to believe her, so she has to start with the assumption that a woman claiming to have been raped is telling the truth; and it would be very rare for that claim to be proven false. Even if an advocate followed a rape case all the way through a court trial and the defendant was found not guilty, that would usually mean that there wasn’t enough proof that he did do it, not that he clearly didn’t do it — assuming here that the identity of the alleged rapist wasn’t at issue.

    Comment by Lu — May 12, 2006 @ 10:07 am | Reply

  22. shiloh:

    I have dealt with one person whose rape story “didn’t ring true” for me (a guy who’d been accused of rape and insisted she’d raped him rather than the other way around)

    Do you mean that the person whose rape story didn’t ring true for you was a guy who had been accused of rape. Or that you had been accused of rape, with the implication that this had some bearing upon the fact that this other guy’s story didn’t ring true for you.

    If it is you who have been falsely accused of rape by a woman who in fact had raped you, then I’d be very interested in hearing your account.

    Comment by Daran — May 12, 2006 @ 10:08 am | Reply

  23. You are right, the Model Code does not contemplate the mens rea of the victim as part of the charge. We do not fart in public for civic reasons, we do not pick our noses, and we act with care.

    But the rape charge is different than most. There is an issue of consent involved in most cases. Associated with consent are the facts surrounding the event and those include sociological acceptations and customs.

    Comment by Vilon — May 12, 2006 @ 10:56 am | Reply

  24. Are you saying that if a woman undresses in front of a bunch of horny guys she is ipso facto asking for it and anything goes?

    Comment by Lu — May 12, 2006 @ 11:56 am | Reply

  25. Does not excuse the perverts but still, there is a smell of contributory negligence in the air.

    Saying “does not excuse the perverts” doesn’t help when that is exactly what you are doing.

    “Contributory Negligence” is a legal defence in a civil action, in which the defendant claims that his responsibility for plaintiff’s is reduced because of plaintiff’s own negligence. It’s not a criminal defence, but even in a civil action for rape, it would be unlikely to fly.

    “Yer honour, I am less responsible for raping her because she should have known that I would rape her”.

    This whole line of argument is victim-blaming. I’m familiar with the process – I’ve seen it often enough. I don’t understand why people do it. Perhaps you could explain.

    Comment by Daran — May 13, 2006 @ 2:29 am | Reply

  26. “Contributory Negligence” is a legal defence in a civil action, in which the defendant claims that his responsibility for plaintiff’s is reduced because of plaintiff’s own negligence. It’s not a criminal defence, but even in a civil action for rape, it would be unlikely to fly.

    This whole line of argument is victim-blaming. I’m familiar with the process – I’ve seen it often enough. I don’t understand why people do it. Perhaps you could explain.

    Maybe this explanation will fly, maybe not. In the context of criminal prosecution, blaming the victim is improper, though not unusual. The reason why it’s so typical is that outside a trial setting, certain activities by an individual are likely to make him or her a victim. In short, if one consorts with criminals, it’s a whole lot more likely to be victimized than if one consorts with saints.

    So it’s human nature to point out that an actual victim of crime undertook some risky behavior that correlates with high incidence of victimization. The explicit denial of that correlation being an attempt to excuse criminal behavior strikes some as false, but it makes sense to me.

    Comment by Brutus — May 13, 2006 @ 3:35 pm | Reply

  27. Brutus:

    The reason why it’s so typical is that outside a trial setting, certain activities by an individual are likely to make him or her a victim.

    The point is, it’s not typical. In all the discussion about 9/11, I’ve never heard anyone say “it doesn’t excuse the terrorists, but those office workers were stupid for working in a building they knew was a target”. I’ve never heard anyone say about the recent Sago mine disaster, “it doesn’t excuse the oportator, but the workers should have known that there was a risk that they would be given defective breathers”. I’ve never heard anyone suggest that JFK was stupid for running for a job which is a prime target for assassination. And what about all those soldiers killed in Iraq? Nobody suggests that the victims in these cases should be held responsible through some theory of “contributory negligence”.

    People make cost/benefit tradeoffs with risk as with everything else. I could cut the risk of being attacked in the street to zero by never venturing forth from my home, but I don’t do that because it would leave me with a very impoverished life. People understand that. People expect me to be best judge of where in my life the correct balance is between risk and reward, and they don’t blame me when the dice come down snake-eyed every now and again.

    Yet for some reason rape victims get treated differently. For some reason, like almost no other crime, some people seem determined to shift the blame away from the perps onto the victim. I’ve heard a few theories as to why they do, some more plausible than others, but I’d like to hear from someone who does (or has done) this, why they do (or did) it.

    In short, if one consorts with criminals, it’s a whole lot more likely to be victimized than if one consorts with saints.

    Yeah, Vilon made the same point. Apparently rape victims are contributorily negligent if they don’t check the criminal back of every person they associate with. Nobody else is held to this standard.

    Comment by Daran — May 14, 2006 @ 6:45 am | Reply

  28. […] While I await Barry’s promised resply to my remarks in another thread, I thought I’d relieve him of a possible distraction by fielding Cathy’s response to his criticism. Of course I do not purport to speak for him, and his reply might be different from mine. […]

    Pingback by Creative Destruction » Yes Cathy - Part 2 — June 6, 2006 @ 7:50 pm | Reply


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