“Is there ever a circumstance where the victim shoulders some of the blame/responsibility for their assault? For me the answer is no.”


This comment is by Nadine, to Archy, on the post “Rape Culture: What it is and how it works?”

Is there ever a circumstance where the victim shoulders some of the blame/responsibility for their assault? For me the answer is no. Blame is assigned when someone has done wrong. And I don’t believe that being raped/assaulted = doing something wrong.

Let’s use your example of the person who has had so much to drink they’ve passed out. I think it’s fair to have a discussion about excessive alcohol consumption, but that’s separate from the “this is why you were sexually assaulted” conversation. Being very drunk is not what makes a person get raped. It’s the person who decides they’re going to rape.  And for the record, that rapist is entirely different from you when almost hit someone who’d passed out in the street.

In that situation you were a driver. The road was exactly where you were supposed to be. You were doing what doing. If you had, under those circumstances, accidentally hit that person I wouldn’t blame you for hurting them. That’s not a choice you made. I would hold thevictim largely responsible because they can’t expect that there won’t be cars on the road. That’s what the road is for.

The other difference, for me, is that when you saw that drunk and passed out in the road, you (I asummed) put on your breaks. You did everything you could to avoid hurting them. You did NOT say “Sweet! A  vulnerable person who can’t protect themselves! I’m going to take advantage of this and run them over with my car!”

If someone had a black eye because they had passed out at a party and someone purposely punched them in the face while they were unconscious, I feel like the general reaction would be “What a violent awful thing to do to someone!” I don’t think most people would say, “It is wrong that this poor person got punched but he has to assume some of the blame for blacking out.”

I don’t think we can hold a victim responsible for being raped. You can’t hold someone responsible for another person’s decision. And raping someone is decision. It’s not an accident, or the inevitable consequence of back alleys and wild parties. It’s a conscious choice to do something super-shitty to someone else. So when it comes to who’s responsible I don’t care where the victim was what they were doing or how drunk they were. The choice to violate someone’s body is the rapist’s alone. That’s where the blame belongs.

photo by AndrewBain / Flickr

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  1. fully.
    and the innocent family whom they kill had reasonable trust that other motorists play be the rules of civilized society.

    • Then why do you not hold a person who drinks and consents to sex to be responsible for their choices? We’re not talking passed out drunk, we’re talking walk them to the door, they invite you in and you decline drunk. You’ve defined that as still too drunk to be responsible for their choices (if you did it out of shear personal protection, that would be a different story). Why the double standard? Is it because of the innocent people it harms? Because I’d say accusing a man (or woman) you consented to have sex with of rape is pretty damn harmful.

      And please nest your responses, this new comment thread for every response is disruptive.

  2. Its really quite simple kids…lock yer car doors, set the alarm. Get the dog his rabies shot every year. Never trust wall street. If yer gonna party-hard, yer gonna be vulnerable, so don’t neglect any of that, then I won’t have to put-down the car thief, the dog, the banker or the rapist.

    Criminal court will determine the culpability of the rapist in drunken party situations. Its not in my hands.

    It reminds me of about million of cases within my lifetime where a parent or child trusted an adult in a “greater position.” You see, courts view the child as “of diminished capacity,” and thus, not able to consent to Mr Sandusky. Same-same, with drunk v. sober, or even drunk & drunk. The aggressor will face the judge and the dad. Which brings me to my favoritest YouTube feature film ever: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oi3Hyxuf5AE

    • Simple question…

      Do you believe a person who gets drunk and gets behind the wheel of a vehicle is responsible for the consequences that choice incurs?

      • Intended reply to nest within Mark Neil above. (sorry…very tired)

        and the innocent family whom they kill had reasonable trust that other motorists play be the rules of civilized society.

        Re the civil v criminal venues: I was simply using the treatment of civil action in illustration of contributory negligence, as there is no such rule in most criminal cases.

        I see where you are directing the public policy absurdity, but have been drunk and around a bazillion drunks in College and Grad Schl, as well as lots of NCAA events. I’ve seen and related to those who will not “go there” as their true nature still controls them, and I’ve seen those who will prowl for an easy target. In this predatory scene, the true sober nature of the drunk hold true as well.

        It seems the deep dark creepies within, come out uninhibited with enough alcohol. I have also observed that when/where there is a fierce (firm) sense of entitlement within the drunk aggressor, bad things can happen with the targeted “other-party.”

        Judges will tell some duly-charged party predators “nothing good happens when you get drunk.” Its kind of a good rule. Just like “no one with good intentions or acceptable blood-pollution is out at 2:00AM (especially in the tiny New England towns where I tread).” I still get pulled-over if I’m out driving that late. It actually happened all around the nation my entire driving career.

        But anywho; rules of public policy hold true, right or wrong, in all criminal circumstances. The drinking party knows this going into the kegger. Both imagined parties know it. So is there a gender-default when both appear “out of their minds?” Yes, but we all know this going into the arena. And I’ll also tell people that predators ARE out there looking for a wasted target, especially at kiddie keggers and college blasts. We can’t give them a “get outta jail” excuse like “well I was drunk off my arse, just like she was!”

        Public policy must adhere to a standard and must recognize no menu of excuses that can be employed out of convenience.

        • And now you’re changing the topic to the predators behavior. How exactly does someone else becoming more entitled, more predatory, when they have had a drink, support your assertion that someone is incapable of providing consent when they have had anything to drink? Changing the subject doesn’t support your argument. This is especially problematic when you start making assertions that “we’re” trying to “give them a get out of jail free excuse”, when it has been stated several times that the perpetrator deserves no such thing.

  3. In civil cases, that may be viewed as “contributory negligence;” like if a car is following too close to you and you slam on the brakes for no reason other than to prove a point.

    In criminal court, the drunken victim is frequently viewed as contributing to the event, but will never be charged with her own rape….though plenty of defense lawyers would love that.

    And my kids are taught about locus of blame and control. They are also taught lethal and/debilitating methods of defense for when the perp does not observe such factors.

    • I thought we were talking about criminal cases, not civil ones. Or are you looking to shift the goalpost? Because you even admit, the drunken victim will never be charged with their own rape, and that’s the difference.

      It would also be nice if you would properly nest your responses, rather than creating a whole new thread each time. It makes it difficult to track the conversation, especially given the utter lack of indication who you’re responding to.

  4. I’ve refused ANY level of sexual/intimate contact with women when they are clearly “not all there.” I see them home and endure sloppy arguments and reactions to my refusals such as “what, are you GAY?” “Then what’s the farging problem? I want you to…?”

    I’ve been berated by matchmaking friends who see me the next day, or days later. They frequently hit me with “why didn’t you hook-up with her? She felt hurt or thought you didn’t like her.” It appears I’m speaking a foreign language when I say “she was drunk…it would be wrong.”

    I will tell my children the same thing soon: “If he/she is drunk, and you don’t have an established, committed relationship, YOU DON’T HAVE CONSENT!….and the same rule applies in reverse.”

    “I want you to!” I want you to does not EVER even slightly resemble consent. But apparently, I have always been “rare” in this regard.

    • “I will tell my children the same thing soon: “If he/she is drunk, and you don’t have an established, committed relationship, YOU DON’T HAVE CONSENT!….and the same rule applies in reverse.””

      And if you fail to also teach them that others do not follow this same rule, even though they should, you will leave them vulnerable to those who DON’T follow your philosophy. Do you seriously not see how this… for lack of a better word … arrogance (that the entire world plays by your rules) is irresponsible? How it will leave your children vulnerable to those who don’t play by your rules?

  5. re para 1: First-hand data, observation via eye-wit, interviews, crisis aid, criminal court, child sex abuse mgt, law enforcement and data-share in academia and law enf.

    re point 2: there is NEVER an excuse or reasonable justification to engage in sex with ANYONE whom is not fully capable of consent. Sex with a drunk, by default, excludes consent. Consent IS NOT POSSIBLE with diminished faculties.

    The trouble most guys & gals (presently or previously behind bars or excluded from real life) have with the “impossible consent” condition, is that they confuse it with “compliance.”

    • “re point 2: there is NEVER an excuse or reasonable justification to engage in sex with ANYONE whom is not fully capable of consent.”

      That is an entirely different discussion, one which I agree with you on. You are doing precisely what Richard Aubrey above said, you are making it a zero sum issue. Just because the perpetrator broke the law, and is the one who will, deservedly, take 100% of the punishment for the action, does not mean the victim played no part in the event.

      You see, criminals are aware they are breaking the law when they do so, they KNOW what they are doing is inexcusable, and they do it anyways. None of this changes the fact that the victim has a responsibility for their own safety, so pretending the world is some crime free zone where nothing bad happens unless you want it to is irresponsible.

  6. Sadly, rape of a diminished-capability person occurs at an alarming scale in our colleges and universities. There are actually predators who attend the knock-down, hard-core college parties just to rape. There are no exceptions to this. Predators are there.

    The College kid is going to party-on…minimal exception to this as well. Blame can be fully (as in 100%) placed upon the aggressor. But even today, in courts, in “enlightened” jurisdictions within Massachusetts, the intoxication of the rape victim is still place as a “contributory cause” by the defense attorney. And, sadly, slack-jawed, governor-appointed judges allow the filthy argument to pollute the integrity of his/her court…right along with the victims alluring dress and seductive behavior before she passed-out.

    In Massachusetts, we use to say, “that will change when it happens to a Kennedy kid.” Well, such a small portion of these cases ever find the ears of a prosecutor, and even fewer will draw evidentiary complaints upon the rules of the court. By the end of the trial, no one wants to live through another minute of ignorance and exposure provided by all morons involved.

    • First off, I’d like to get your source for your claims in the first paragraph. The idea that there are people going to these events specifically for the purpose of rape seems pretty hostile.

      Next I need to ask why you feel a college kid should be entitled to party on without any consequences for their actions, given the world you described in paragraph one? In a world where crime exists, and is known to exist, why should someone be entitled to act as if crime was imaginary, and be absolved of any responsibility should they be shown the error of their way?

  7. Richard Aubrey says:

    The–carefully–planted axiom in this tired old discussion is that there is a zero-sum of blame. Like a cop deciding you were 70% at fault for the accident and, therefore, the other party must be 30% at fault. Not a jot, tittle, nor scrap more or less. But if the cop rethinks it and decides you were 60% at fault, the other party must be 40% at fault. Can’t not be. It’s the way it works. Blame must equal 100%.
    In the case of a rape, the rapist is 100% at fault. Nobody’s saying anything different. Nobody. In fact, I challenge you to find somebody saying it.
    What people are saying is that if you are not in the presence of a rapist, you won’t be raped. Some places are obviously more dangerous than others. Some states–passed-out drunk–are more dangerous than others because they make you vulnerable. If you get totally wasted at a party, not even conscious, the likelihood of a rapist seeing an opportunity is greater than if you were sober. That doesn’t take any blame from the rapist. GET IT?
    The implication is that people commending prudence are some kind of rape apologists. Man, this was a tired trope when they were doing it in cuneiform.

  8. wellokaythen says:

    “I think it’s fair to have a discussion about excessive alcohol consumption, but that’s separate from the “this is why you were sexually assaulted” conversation.”

    I agree. The problem is that people on many sides of this discussion want to lump them together. Just trying to discuss alcohol consumption anywhere near the discussion about sexual assault looks to a lot of people like victim blaming. Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t.

    Personal safety is not an either/or thing, and it’s not a fixed quantity. Saying that a person needs to be smart about his/her personal safety does not take one tiny bit of blame away from any perpetrators out there. There is responsibility without blame. There’s a lot of intellectual simplemindedness out there on both sides of the issue. Looking at avoidable behaviors that contributed to a vulnerable situation does NOT take any blame away from the assailant. Explaining is not excusing.

    • Agreed, though I think you last paragraph demonstrates why it’s not a separate conversation. If the victim would not have been a victim had they not acted in particular ways, an acknowledgement of those behaviors is not in any way excusing the fact the perpetrator was the one that broke the laws, and is the one that should go to jail, it is still those behaviors that contributed to the victim being the one targeted, as opposed to someone else, or perhaps nobody (if nobody left themselves vulnerable enough). It is not unreasonable to expect people to take some responsibility for their own safety, and while sometimes that won’t be enough, when you dismiss your own safety, it’s not out of line to point out doing so has consequences, even when it’s hard to hear.

  9. Yes the blame lies with the rapist- however we are responsible for ourselves…
    You don’t get to play a contact sport & complain about taking a hit.
    I get up in the morning to discover there was a sleet storm last night.
    The roads are a skating rink and my car is rimed with an inch of ice.
    My tires are bald and my defroster doesn’t work.
    But I have a current registration & driver’s license, so I scrape the windshield and head down the road.
    Shortly, I’m involved in an accident; I can’t stop on a hill and ass end someone, someone slides through a stop & TBones me, I lose it on a curve.
    Me I think it was my fault. I can’t blame the county for not sanding the road, I can’t blame the other drivers on the road entirely.

    I’m refilling the tank of my lawn mower with a lit cigarette in my mouth…..
    I turn on the welding machine while standing in a puddle of water….
    I decide not to have my child inoculated and send her to school with the children of parent who also neglect public health responsibility and she contacts…..

    • For your first example, I’d like to point out that full-contact sports have rules. These rules have been premeditated, and by playing the game you agree to abide by these rules. Assuming that we can carry your metaphor over–and if you want to equate ‘being born’ with ‘entering a game’ then we can have that conversation–it would then be a rule that if someone goes certain places, or acts certain ways, they give up their right to… what? To be treated like a human being? To not be brutalized? Who would agree to that rule?

      The difference between the rest of your examples and rape is that there is only one person’s decision involved in these things. You’re right, you can’t blame the environment on your miscalculation. But rapists are not the environment. Rapists are other people.

      • *blame the environment FOR your miscalculation.

      • @ Renee “full-contact sports have rules.”
        Agreed & yet despite having rules each boxer is admonished to protect themselves before each bout & they wear cups..

        in re “that if someone goes certain places, or acts certain ways, they give up their right to… what?”
        I don’t suggest that anyone gives up any rights to be safe, an inalienable human right.
        I’m suggesting that one can recklessly surrender the EXPECTATION of safety and at that moment the legitimacy of their victim status changes in a way that I don’t entirely understand.

        ” rapists are not the environment. Rapists are other people.”
        And rapists prowl the environment looking for victims. Many people aren’t human.

        • “I don’t suggest that anyone gives up any rights to be safe, an inalienable human right. I’m suggesting that one can recklessly surrender the EXPECTATION of safety and at that moment the legitimacy of their victim status changes in a way that I don’t entirely understand.”

          inalienable (adj): incapable of being alienated, surrendered, or transferred.

          There is no ‘surrendering’ anything. There is no changing that legitimacy. And there is no way that this is not blaming the victim. Claiming that where someone goes or how they act is in any way responsible for what another person does to them is as damaging and useless as any ‘she was dressed for it’ argument.

  10. The choice to violate someone’s body is the rapist’s alone. That’s where the blame belongs.

    So given the discourse the last few days, what are your take on this article by one of the starkest critics of TGMP: http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2012/09/19/is-it-rape-if-you-dont-mean-for-it-to-be-rape/

    And this comment by Amanda Marcotte, another stark critic of TGMP: http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2012/09/19/is-it-rape-if-you-dont-mean-for-it-to-be-rape/#comment-526375

  11. We know what alcohol does to the body and some are still foolishly depending on the rest of the world to keep them safe. People who knowingly put themselves in harms way don’t get my sympathy. There are sick people out there waiting to catch you slipping, don’t make it easy for them.

    • I’m pretty sure that expecting the majority of other people to be decent human beings and not feel like they have carte blanche to do whatever they want to a helplessly insensate person is not an unreasonable request.

      • @Renee. Yeah i’m not sure the people capable of harming us care about our feelings on the matter.

        • Everyone’s capable of harming another person. No one has to act on that capability. In fact, expecting people not to act on that capability is the reason society more or less continues to function. Getting blackout drunk is a stupid idea, most certainly, but for many reasons, and if it’s ‘knowingly putting yourself in harm’s way’ to go to a public place, any public place, then there is something seriously wrong with how we socialize.

          • They don’t HAVE TO act on it but there are people who want to and don’t care about your expectations. Yes getting drunk is knowingly putting yourself in harms way, doesn’t matter where you do it at.

            • Cute, ‘my’ expectations. I’m pretty sure you go out with the expectation that you won’t get raped.

              No amount of victim-blaming will change what needs to be changed.

              • @ Renee Yes i do have expectations of not being harmed but that doesn’t mean i’m not going to try and protect myself. I’m not foolishly enough to believe the sick people of the world are going to just disappear or change their ways. They’re out there and looking for vulnerable people, don’t be one of those people.

              • My expectation of not being harmed includes the foreknowledge that I don’t make myself utterly vulnerable to those that would do me harm. I do not fall asleep on park benches in the criminal neighborhoods with an expectation that I will wake up unharmed (if at all), because I know that, while asleep, I do not have the ability to assess situations and adjust my behavior/actions should a dangerous situation begin to brew. Without this capacity, I would be relying 100% on all other people to be good (which is utterly stupid), or else relying upon some people to put themselves in harms way for my benefit (which, assuming anyone is around to do so, would be incredibly selfish). I don’t see how personal responsibility is such a difficult concept for some people.

            • You know, as an alcoholic (addict) I think I have a bit of a different view on alcohol and risk, mostly due to the fact that I’ve spend a good amount of time considering, evaluating and determining various states of risk in terms of my interactions with alcohol. I’m still in the post-admittance phase of my own work toward beating my own demon, and as such I often find myself swinging between months of abstinence followed by short (or sometimes longer) periods of binging.

              As such, I learned quickly to mitigate my own risks. I tend to try to either 1) drink in a location where I’m safe (inside my home, for example) or 2) drink with people who “have their eye on me”, because I know very well that the idea of “having enough” isn’t really in my vocabulary after I’ve had a few. This is because I know myself and I manage my risks.

              I recently invited harassment on myself after divulging too much personal information to a particularly attractive man. What started as a nice confidence booster became a rather horrifying situation quickly, and it wouldn’t have happened if I were sober. I actually shelled out about $300 that night to close a tab because I wanted out so badly.

              And you know what? I brought it on myself. In no way was my own behavior acceptable, and in no way was his behavior acceptable. We were both integral pieces to my discomfort and harassment. What started as me enjoying attention crossed a line, and my takeaway is that I 1) need to stop drinking and 2) that if I am going to drink, I really need to ensure that I’m being as careful as I can be.

              This particular individual is a gentleman, and we talked about it after and we both apologized and he has been nothing short of respectful and professional since.

              But regardless, I always, myself, keep in mind that my decisions and my own ability to keep myself safe begin with me and no one else. Of course the simplest thing is to say that he could have just not harassed me, but that isn’t what happened. I could have also made choices that would have prevented the harassment from happening. I don’t know. I believe that, in my case, I shoulder responsibility. That responsibility isn’t a negative in my life, in fact it is a positive that affirms my own ability to be a human being.

              “Blame” isn’t the right word for any of this. I don’t “blame” myself for being harassed, but I do know that with different choices it wouldn’t have happened. I’m not meaning to speak about anything other than my own action, and blaming a victim is never okay. But that isn’t what the larger disagreement is about. I think it is an overall good thing to affirm our choices as choices and to continually reflect on both the good and the bad that come from them. Someone harassed me to a point where I was having a panic attack– but that doesn’t mean that I don’t look for ways to avoid the very unpleasant sort of thing that happened to me and nor do I place the entirety of responsibility on the other person as if I had no ability to enact any sort of effect on the incident. It’s non-judgmental, and I don’t mean to imply that any of this is moral or ethical at the level I’m speaking on.

      • We should not only consider that we might put ourselves in harm’s way, but also what we ourselves might do or agree to do while under heavy influence of alcohol or other intoxiants.

      • “I’m pretty sure that expecting the majority of other people to be decent human beings and …”

        The majority of other people are decent human beings, or at least not willing to go about raping. But it’s not just “the majority” these people expect to be decent. It is an expectation of “all” other people to be decent. Or worst, for those who are decent to protect the individual from those who aren’t in the majority. And that IS an unreasonable request.

      • Richard Aubrey says:

        It’s not an unreasonable request. It is, however, an unreasonable expectation.

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