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15 October 2008 @ 08:39 am
Shouldering the Blame  
Following my recent post about a comment in my university newspaper and its troubling attitude toward the victims of sexual assault, I submitted a longer version of that blog entry as an opinion column to the university newspaper.

They printed it, but, as I should have predicted, they made several unapproved changes to it in the process. Last time I submitted an opinion column (four years ago) they did the same. Remembering that, I made it really clear this time that if it needed to be cut in any way, I would take care of it, but that's not all that's going on here. It doesn't even seem that all of the changes were related to length; some are just stylistic changes that mangle a couple of my sentences and shift the emphasis of the end of the column.

At any rate, you can read the printed version here or you can read my intended version right here:
In The Shorthorn’s October 2nd article about the increase in crime on campus, Assistant Police Chief Rick Gomez was interviewed about the rise of sexual offenses on campus, and, when addressing the issue of date rape, said, “Women need to be smarter about who they date and be careful about what they drink, so that they'll have their senses about them so things like that won't happen.” He goes on to say, “But as far as women just walking out around campus and being raped by a stranger—that’s not happening.”

In other words, if women were more discriminating and didn't drink so much, "things like that [wouldn't] happen."

Women do need to be prepared to protect themselves if a man tries to rape or assault them (whether they know the man responsible or not), but the logic of Gomez's statement is not the logic of just in case but the logic of causality: if they "have their senses about them," are smarter, and behave themselves, then they won't be assaulted. After all, they're not assaulted when doing something innocent like walking across campus, he notes. It's true that most sexual assault and rape is perpetrated by someone the victim knows, but that doesn't indicate that the victim made a bad decision in getting to know that person (rapists don't wear signs) or that the victim invited the assault. Instead it indicates something about the sexual offender.

This blame-the-victim mentality is not new. It surfaces repeatedly in our culture. It says that child molesters can accuse 5-year-olds of seducing them and be believed; it says that women who wear miniskirts or Victoria’s Secret underwear are “asking for it”; it says that not saying “no” is the same as saying “yes” or, worse, that saying “no” but not forcefully enough, is equivalent to a “yes.” After all, “her lips say ‘no,’ but her eyes say ‘yes.’”

Ultimately, despite many of its proponents’ claims to the contrary, this mentality provides no real help for women. I have little doubt that with his statement to The Shorthorn Assistant Police Chief Gomez was trying to do his job, which consists of protecting UTA students, both male and female. However, telling women that the responsibility for their victimization belongs to them and them alone does no more than exacerbate the guilt and shame women who are victims of sexual assault already feel. It does not prevent men who are willing to sexually assault their acquaintances from doing so.

In place of insisting that women protect themselves by developing the ability to pick out date rapists from a crowd and by being perfectly and constantly vigilant against all men, women would be better served, in the short term, by increased availability of self-defense training so that, instead of a passive defense of avoidance and the mere hope that they are not attacked, they will have at their disposal a method of active defense that will be able to deter an attacker (at least until help arrives) and, in the long term, by a shift in cultural attitudes that eliminates the sense that some women are just asking for it and places the blame where it truly belongs.
 
 
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Tall Americanopartial_charge on October 15th, 2008 03:15 pm (UTC)
I read both, but I can't detect much difference in the printed version. I mean, I see a couple of word replacements and paragraph changes, but I think your points come across just as well in both versions.

Either way, good column, well said.
cmt2779cmt2779 on October 15th, 2008 10:03 pm (UTC)
Thanks. I'm glad the sentiment still comes through clearly. But I'm less and less happy with it every time I look at it. Most of the changes the editorial staff made are minor, but I have complaints about two major changes they made.

The first has to do with the paragraph on the blame-the-victim mentality. They took my nice, lovely sentence and hacked it up into something I had to read multiple times to make sense of (and I'm still not sure it really makes sense).

From this:
It says that child molesters can accuse 5-year-olds of seducing them and be believed; it says that women who wear miniskirts or Victoria’s Secret underwear are “asking for it”; it says that not saying “no” is the same as saying “yes” or, worse, that saying “no” but not forcefully enough, is equivalent to a “yes.”
To this:
It says that child molesters can accuse 5-year-olds of seducing them and be believed - women who wear miniskirts or Victoria’s Secret underwear are “asking for it,” not saying “no” is the same as saying “yes” or, worse, that saying “no” but not forcefully enough, is equivalent to a “yes.”
Even worse is the conclusion. First, they split my sentence about short term and long term solutions, which fucked up the symmetry and rhythm of the thought and which also put the long term solution in its own separate space, as a mere summing up instead of another suggestion for what should be done alongside self-defense training. Second, in their changes to that sentence (apparently they think people can't read a sentence that long?), they actually made it ungrammatical. The subject-verb agreement no longer works in their version.

Part of my objection, then, is that it is no longer my column since they changed sentence structure and emphasis, while another part (the one that bothers me more, actually) is that in their edits they made me look like a bad writer. Not just a different writer than I am, but a writer who cannot avoid awkward and ungrammatical sentences.

I'm a fucking English teacher at this university. I can write. I would like to be presented as capable of doing so, especially in a publication that my professors, my peers, and my students read.
Tall Americanopartial_charge on October 15th, 2008 10:08 pm (UTC)
I see what you mean now. It reminds me a little bit of that scene in The Insider where Christopher Plummer (as Mike Wallace) goes off on the person who edited his scathing interview down to a 10-second sound bite with an utterly different implication.

Maybe you should go all Christopher Plummer on the people with the clumsy fingers at the Shorthorn?
A Pretty Girl with Blemishespuddinhed on October 15th, 2008 11:28 pm (UTC)
Hey, maybe the people who wrote the articles in my university's paper weren't so illiterate after all! I submitted poetry for a literary magazine at my highschool (Mount Carmel in New Orleans), and they changed it all up so that the words were retarded and the number of beats in the lines didn't match. I was SO pissed.