Rape and Responsibility

January 12, 2006 at 8:56 pm 1 comment

This a mini-essay I wrote a couple of months ago summarizing and extending beyond a conversation I had at a quad BBQ. If you’re a guy, you’ll probably find this a bit controversial. If you’re a girl, you’ll probably find this absolutely outrageous. But, as always, it would be best if you focused on the arguements before you focus on the conclusions.


On Friday, I got in a rather heated arguement with Chris, my roomate, and Dhawal, a hallmate. The debate began with a rather bold assertion on my part, as is my style. Women are in part responsible/”to blame” if they get raped when they are intoxicated on a college campus. This may seem like a completely insensitive comment seeing that someone has just been violated and victimized. But social taboos aside, I believe it is an entirely valid comment to make.
We are all responsible for the conscious choices we make and the consequences that arise from these choices. The only qualifier to this is if we are ignorant of possible outcomes a choice could entail. For example, if a child strikes someone with his fist, he is less responsible for his choice than an adult. This is not to say the child is completely absolved, but his responsibility is one of lesser degree than the adult.
So let’s apply this framework to the decision and the consequence at hand. A girl goes out on a Friday night and chooses to get intoxicated. Don’t feed me any of that bullshit about it not being a choice. If your ability to choose is immediately impaired after a few drinks, you could’ve and probably should’ve chose not to drink at all. Back to the arguement at hand. When the girl chooses to get intoxicated, she knows that this choice carries its share of risks. An intoxicated girl on a college campus has an inordinately high chance of being raped. Rape programs on campus have told her, stories from her friend have told her, her mom has probably told her. But she chooses to get intoxicated anyway. This choice is key, because she is choosing to accept any of the known consequences resulting from her choice. In this moment, she is choosing, in effect, to take on the responsibility, if stemming from intoxication, that she dies of alcohol poisoning, that she is arrested for underage drinking, or that she is raped. The hard truth is she is repsonsible for whatever befalls her and especially responsible for whatever befalls her that she is knowledgeable on or has been prewarned about. Rape is no exception.
Dhawal brought up a few interesting counterclaims, four of which I find it pertinent to address here.
First, he questioned my intial framework by supposing a situation in which a girl walking in a bad neighborhood at night because that is where she lives and is subsequently attacked and raped. The risk and previous knowledge of it are there, but the responsibility is not. I don’t think this necessarily destroys the framework though. It just creates another qualification that was not stated earlier, because it wasn’t applicable to the college rape situation. Choice like responsibility must be viewed in degrees. The woman in the bad neighborhood has a low degree of choice. Yes, she can choose to not go home, but she has a family to feed and kids to watch over. As opposed to the college rape situation, where the girl has a relatively high degree of choice. If she doesn’t get intoxicated, no one will starve or get arrested. When we have a high degree of choice, there is a greater degree of responsibility for the consequences that result from that chocie. Think the difference between the man who steals because his family is starving and the man who steals for the challenge. Both made a choice, but the man with the starving family obviously has a lower degree of choice and subsequently the lower degree of responsibilty for the outcome of his theft.
Second, Dhawal made another assault on my framework by supposing an absolutely random consequence. For example, a man is standing in a parking lot looking for his car and an airplane crashes and kills him. I think this conveniently falls in my framework’s caveat about knowledge. Like the kid striking, the man had no idea standing in a parking lot was associated with the risk of crashing planes. He cannot be held responsible for a consequence that he could in no way have forseen.
Third, Dhawal challenged that my conclusion ignores the male responsibility in the situation. That’s because I was focusing on analyzing the girl’s decision to get intoxicated and the consequence of rape. If I was focusing on the male’s decision to rape and any consequences, I would find the same conclusion: he is responsible. How blame/responsibilty should be distributed is another question entirely. The point is that the man chose to rape the girl, and the girl chose to give the man that opportunity by becoming intoxicated. Both share responsibility. A crime requires intent by the criminal and opportunity by the victim. In this case, both parties consciously chose to provide these elements.
Fourth and finally, Dhawal asserts there is a inequality between the consequences of women and men for becoming intoxicated. Women are victims of rape, while men can hardly claim the same risk. This is unfortunate, but beyond the responsibility of an individual or even a group of individuals. Rape is an act born of societal structure reinforced by human anatomy. Men are by no coincidence the agressors and the penetrators. Men are, on average, stronger. Men posess what is often described as an unsatiable sexual appetite. Furthermore, men could make the same arguement about the consequences of rape. If a woman rapes a man, she is less likely to be prosecuted (my assumption). It also brings more stigma on the man than the woman. Dude, you got raped? Inequality between men and women exist in all the choices made and the consequences that follow. But as long as we are aware of these differences, there can be no mitigation of our responsibility.


Entry filed under: Organized Thought.

I’m going back, back to…Durham? Someone messed up and it wasn’t Rex Grossman

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. worldwidesuperhero  |  April 19, 2006 at 2:00 pm

    I agree. However, I think the real issue is the term “responsible.” Clearly, women aren’t responsible for being raped – ever. But if they’re putting themselves in a position to be more vulnerable and/or suceptible to rape – then we must consider those factors. No child deserves to be hit by a car, but children who play by the side of a busy highway are going to get hit.


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