What the NYC “rape cops” case tells us about “feminist thinking”
A New York City jury acquitted two NYPD officers of rape last week in a high profile case that ultimately has left the city with a lot more questions than answers:
A jury acquitted two New York police officers on Thursday of charges that they raped a drunken woman after helping her into her apartment while on patrol.
The woman had described snippets of a harrowing night in which the officers, called to help her because she was extremely intoxicated, instead abused her. They insisted no rape occurred, with one allowing only that he snuggled with her while she wore nothing but a bra.
The verdict brings to an end a criminal case that drew outrage across the city when the officers were indicted in 2009, and provides some measure of vindication for the officers, Kenneth Moreno and Franklin Mata.
The officers were convicted of three counts of official misconduct for entering the woman’s apartment, but the jury found them not guilty of all other charges, including burglary and falsifying business records. The Police Department said the officers were fired Thursday.
For Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, the verdict was an unsatisfying conclusion. The decision, after a trial that lasted almost two months, also comes at a critical juncture for an office that is navigating the biggest case of Mr. Vance’s brief tenure: the sexual-assault charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former managing director of the International Monetary Fund.
The jury’s decision also underscores the difficulty of obtaining favorable results for women who say they were sexually assaulted, and who often are subjected to scrutiny and skepticism that keep many of them from speaking out. In this case, defense lawyers pounced on the credibility of the woman because she was very drunk on the night in question and did not remember many details.
I’ve not followed this case closely, so I’m not in a position to give an informed opinion on whether I agree with the verdict or believe the officers got away with rape. What I do know of the case is that it centered around the accusation from the alleged victim that the two alleged rapists took advantage of the fact that she was, according to prosecutors and testimony from some prosecution witnesses, too drunk to say yes or no the night of the alleged attack. According to the prosecution, one of the officers posed as the “lookout’ while the other one had his way with the woman at her place while she was in a state of semi-consciousness from supposedly having too much to drink. In fact, that’s what started everything – a taxi driver called 911 to ask the police to help a drunk woman who was so inebriated that she was throwing up and could not get out of the taxi, much less walk to her her place of residence.
This case has brought back to the table for discussion the issue of female binge drinking and how the vulnerability that comes from it sometimes contributes to rape. I saw a couple of sensible posts on the topic today, one from a feminist blog and the other from a blog that I don’t know enough about to characterize as “feminist” or “unfeminist.” First, from Rachael Larimore at Slate’s feminist XX Factor blog:
On the one hand, alcohol consumption is no different than dressing: Just because a woman wears revealing clothes doesn’t mean she’s asking for it, and neither does a woman having a few drinks.
On the other hand, we make all kinds of concessions to the affect alcohol has on our minds and bodies. If “friends don’t let friends drive drunk,” as the old PSA goes, why do friends let their drunk friends go home with strange men? If we have friends or relatives who are endangering their health or their relationships with alcohol abuse, we’ll encourage therapy or stage an intervention or drag them to an AA meeting. Because we know the risk outweighs the personal freedom to drink. But if you try to suggest that drinking too much and going home with a stranger isn’t a wise idea, you’re castigated as anti-feminist.
The victim of the NYC police offers (and I’m going to stick with calling her a victim, rape conviction or no) has chosen not to identify herself, and we don’t know much about her. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say that, were it possible for her to go back in time, she would gladly give up the few hours of carefree drinking in exchange for not having to spend two and a half years waiting for “closure that will now never come.”
Rape will never be eradicated. But in many cases, it can be prevented. It doesn’t require women to become teetotaling prudes, but it does require the exercise of common sense. I don’t agree with everything Kate Torgovnick writes in her Frisky piece, because I think it leans too far in the direction of blaming the victim. But we can take her advice that we need to watch out for our friends. That’s something we should all be able to agree on.
And from that Frisky piece, which I consider a must-read in full, Torgovnick opines:
But recently, I’ve been thinking about sexual assault like a cancer. If cancer spreads, your odds of fighting it are slim. But if you go for preventative screenings and catch it early, your chances of survival are much higher. What I’m talking about here is prevention. And on that end of things—my friend could have done things to keep a fun night of dancing from going to a traumatizing place. I could have, too. When I saw how drunk she was, I could have stayed at the club and urged her to share a cab home. I could have suggested going for food to help sober her up. I could have told her that she seemed too drunk, and should meet up with this guy another night. If we’d been able to break out of party hardy mode, so many things could have changed what happened.
As women, we need to take care of ourselves and each other. And drinking too much too often doesn’t mesh with that goal. I only hope that sometime soon, if I saw those two women stumbling into the subway, I could say, “Hey, it’s 8 p.m. and you’re clearly pretty drunk. I am worried about your well-being. Can I walk you home? There will be so many other nights to party when you are fully in control of your faculties.” And instead of being thought of as the crazy busybody who obviously hates fun, I would be thought of as someone who has a point.
Both women are addressing the “controversial” topic of how women can go about better protecting themselves against rape and other types of sexual assault, a topic that has become hyper-sensitized over the years because diehard “feminists” – the same ones who love to sing “knowledge is power!!!!” over and over again – apparently have no problem keeping women in the dark when it comes to fully educating them as to ALL the steps they can take to guard themselves against a potential attack. It’s a subject I’m not too cowered by the politically correct “feminist” goddesses to address, as evidenced by this post last month on the so-called “SlutWalks” movement:
If anyone in the “SlutWalks” movement had anything remotely close to a clue, this is what they’d be saying – rather than, once again, making the movement all about guilt-free personal sexual irresponsibility. This is “me-first” generation nonsense that is not just juvenile but also extremely dangerous. Yes, victims of sexual crimes need to be assured that they are NOT to blame for what happened to them, but ALL women need to try to lessen the possibility of a sexual crime happening, and that includes taking such precautions as self-defense training, locking your car doors when you’re traveling, shutting and locking your windows where you live before it gets dark – most definitely before you go to bed, walking in groups if at all possible, not taking your eyes off your beverage if you’re in a club/party environment, not drinking so much that you can’t put two words together, much less a complete sentence, and – yes, dressing to compliment your figure without showing so much thigh and/or cleavage that you leave nothing to the imagination. This is just plain old fashioned common sense. If that makes me an “antique” or a “prude” or a “grandma in waiting” then so be it.
I choose to lessen my chances of becoming a victim by taking sensible approaches to my every day life when it comes to my safety. I pray that the women of “SlutWalks” don’t have to learn the hard way that advocating irresponsibility can sometimes lead to the unthinkable happening. It’s one “Toldjah So” I wouldn’t relish saying.
This is a timeless common sense approach to safety that has been tried and true for centuries. Mama used to tell me and my sisters when we were younger and lived at home that it wasn’t us she didn’t trust when trying to walk out the door in a too-short mini, it was the people who might take advantage of the image it presented. We got the same warning when it came to the issue of drinking. It went along the lines of “you shouldn’t drink, but if you do once you get old enough to, don’t drink so much that you don’t even know your own name. It only leads to trouble. This is not even close to a “blaming the victim” mentality, contra to the knee-jerk bloviations of “feminists” like Jill at the popular “Feministe” blog, whose predictable response to the talk of women being more responsible in how much they drink I’ll get to in a moment. It’s about empowering women with the knowledge that there are numerous ways to lessen your chances of suffering a brutal sexual attack at the hands of a predator who was and is on the lookout for someone who is sending off all the wrong signals, like walking to her car in the back of the parking lot alone, slurred speech, and/or a top that vees down to the belly button.
Which brings me to the tripe from the “Feministe” blog, which was written in response to the well-thought-out post at Frisky. The title of the Frisky post was “Girl Talk: Why Being Drunk Is A Feminist Issue” – the Feministe post was a parody of sorts on that post, and the title of it was “Why Wearing Mini-Skirts is a Feminist Issue”. Here were the categories in which the post was placed: Are you serious?, Crime, Feminism, Misogyny, Sexual Assault, Stupidity. That tells you more than enough about what Jill thought about whether or not women should watch how much they drink – and overall be responsible with themselves. If a woman wants to get sh*t-face plastered, that’s her right and she should damn well do it – even if it puts her in a more vulnerable, dangeorous position.
This is how victim-blaming works: You point to something a victim of assault did wrong, and you imply (or just say) that if she hadn’t made X choice, she wouldn’t have ended up raped. You say, of course no one is to blame but the rapist! But I’m talking about prevention! Except rape isn’t a drunken miscommunication. It’s not a gray area. If you’re blacked out and a dude takes your clothes off and penetrates you, I promise it’s not because he was under the impression you consented. It’s because he’s a rapist.
“It’s because he’s a rapist”? Wow, what a absolutely brilliant deduction – if you haven’t moved beyond Rape for Dummies, anyway. But how often have women who got trashed the night before and woke up in a strange room with a strange man they don’t remember wished they hadn’t gotten drunk so they could – at the very least – try to figure out what got them in the position they were in in the first place? Tons. You know them. I know them. Some of you might have been this kind of woman in your younger years, or known some. Some of you may be that woman (I urge you to stop this) or know some. This goes double for women who were drunk when they were raped, including the alleged victim in the “rape cops” case.
If you have your wits about you, you are much less vulnerable to attack. This is an undeniable fact. Staying sober and alert, being aware of your general surroundings, making sure you’re always around trustworthy friends, dressing sensibly – all of this things lessen your chances of some creep taking a look at you and thinking, “easy lay/prey.”
From my own experiences drinking when I was younger, I can confirm this. And it’s not just my own anecdotal experience that confirms it – most women who’ve been tipsy or drunk at a club or party or some other function can testify to one or more of the following scenarios happening at least once in their lives:
1) You’re at a club, obviously feeling no pain, looking a bit wobbly but still able to stand on your own two feet. Enough so that you want to boogie on the dance floor, whether or not you have a dance partner. You get out there and you’re shaking your bootie, oblivious to everything and everyone except the groovy beat of the music. Then you’re joined by the oily Mr. Wrong, who starts off innocently enough dancing at a safe distance but who closes in quickly when you don’t discourage his presence. Next thing you know, he’s right on you, hip to hip – and he puts his hand on your backside and makes movements that tell you what he’s got on his mind, which is probably NOT what you have on yours. Even worse, a “friend” has joined him – on the other side. So you’re effectively trapped. I found myself in this situation at a club uptown many years ago, and thankfully had sober friends who were close by to rescue me out of that situation. I recall that now and think, “stupid, stupid, stupid.”
2) You’re wrapping up a late party night by walking to your car alone. It’s well after midnight. The parking lot isn’t very well-lit. A stranger approaches you, and asks you for a light, directions, whatever. You have no mace, no pepper spray, and you’re not packing heat. You walk faster to your vehicle. The guy either gets the hint or doesn’t. If you’re fortunate, a nice couple just happens to appear nearby walking to their car, so you’re safe. If that couple doesn’t appear, you could be in big trouble. My sister had a similar situation happen to her about ten years ago. She was at a gas station. It was late and night and she was on her way home from a get-together with some friends but was almost out of gas. She pumped the gas and then as she walked from the pump to the store to pay the cashier for her gas, she was approached by a couple of thugs who started verbally harassing her. Thankfully, a man who had also been pumping gas appeared and pretended they were boyfriend/girlfriend and that he was with her, and the guys backed off. Had that guy not appeared, who knows what could have happened? I’m glad she didn’t have to find out.
The moral of the story is not that it is your fault if you are harassed or attacked by brutes, but that by taking care in how much you drink, where you are, who you’re with, etc, you can cut down on the chances of being a crime victim. This is common sense and should NOT be “off limits” for discussion. Without question, these safety tips have SAVED lives!
But having common sense isn’t important to “feminists” like Jill, who, as I noted earlier, says – in so many words – that it’s ok for you to be completely irresponsible. As long as you have “the right”, you should take advantage of it … even if not being responsible with that right gets you hurt:
Is getting really drunk a healthy idea? No. It’s bad for your liver and it gives you a hell of a hangover the next day. Mini-skirts mean that your bare thighs are touching the subway seats, and I don’t even want to think about what touched those seats before me. We all take risks! But also? People have been figuring out ways to mentally alter themselves for a few thousand years now. The “best case scenario” of getting too drunk is not, as the author suggests, that you lose your wallet and end up in the emergency room, and the “worst case scenario” is not that some dude sees you as a target. In fact, the best case scenario is that you have an awesome time. The worst case scenario? You die. But that’s pretty much true of anything in life — “If I get in this elevator, the best thing that could happen is that I have an awesome time. Worst thing? I die.” “If I hit the Shift key right now, the best thing that could happen is that I have an awesome time. Worst thing? I die.” Etc etc, risks vs. rewards, you get me.
And yes, there have always been predatory people who seek out those they deem vulnerable. But the problem is with the predators.
(Sigh) This is the problem with overly simplistic arguments. “I should be able to do wear/drink/do what I want” is as overly simplistic, problematic, and dangerous as “she was asking for it” (a great point made by a commenter at the Feministe blog). Of course, the ultimate problem is with the rapist, but that problem might be able to be avoided with the types of common sense approaches to safety that have been talked about in self-defense seminars going back decades. Jill’s overly simplistic argument is: “Yeah, I have the right to get plastered so why shouldn’t I? I should be able to rely on people around me to be able to control themselves. If they can’t, that’s their problem.” And most of the time, at least in party/club environments, people do control themselves – even the ones who get gropey at clubs. If you tell them to back off, they usually do. But sometimes they don’t, and that’s where big problems have the potential of taking place, problems that could have you regretting certain choices you made for the rest of your life.
Here are some things I have the “right” to do:
1) Sleep with my windows open.
2) Flash my breasts at a party.
3) Get fall-down drunk at a bar. Alone.
4) Stop at a gas station late at night in an unfamiliar part of town.
5) Encourage an aggressive guy with my outrageously fliratious behavior towards him, even though I have no intentions of “following through.”
6) Hitch a ride with someone I don’t know at all.
7) Take car ride on the wrong side of town with all my car doors unlocked.
Yes, I most certainly do have “the right” to do all of the above, but there’s a difference in merely excercising a right for the hell of it versus being responsible with that right. But you see, in Jill’s – and I suspect many a diehard “feminists’” – way of thinking, you should do any of the above if you feel like it without a care, because it’s not your problem that there are predators who look for vulnerable victims, that there are evil people in the world who are salivating over the fact that you’ve excerised your “right” to go to sleep next to an open window downstairs.
As I’ve said numerous times before: Having the right to say or do something does not necessarily make it right to say or do. This applies to all walks of life, and not just as it relates to crimes. You have “the right” to tell your boss you think he’s an a**hole, but chances are he’s going to fire you. You have “the right” to eat everything in sight, but by doing so you’re increasing your chances of becoming obese and having lots of health problems down the road. You have “the right” to max out your credit cards, but you’re setting yourself up to become a perpetual slave to high interest rates and debt for a long time. And, yes, you have “the right” to get slobbery drunk at a club, party, or other similar type of gathering. But you are escalating the possibility of getting taken advantage of by some jerk in the shadows who is looking for someone who he believes would be an easy “score.”
If the idea is to “have fun” at a party, you can “have fun” – just don’t “have fun” to the point where the two fingers in front of you look like eight of the same fingers.
This is a serious issue to me, not to be taken lightly, which is in contrast to Jill and other feminists out there who think they’ve cornered the market on being “experts” on the subject of rape, and who think it’s cute and hip and fashionable to mock serious arguments on the issue – simply because those arguments don’t fall in lockstep with the “feminist” world-view. In fact, you’d almost think that the militant feminists who make such a fuss over common sense approaches to safety are almost encouraging women to get raped by advocating the type of behavior that leaves them more prone to being attacked. Yeah, it’s an outrageous thing to say, but it’s no where near in the stratosphere of being as outrageous as what Jill and others like her suggest, which is: “F— everyone else. I’m gonna damn well do what I want to do – no matter how outrageous, because I have the right to do it.” This is not only highly destructive, but extremely dangerous, too, because it tells women to ignore the unfortunate reality that not all people out there have the best of intentions in life, and therefore we don’t need to take sensible steps in order to try and prevent predators from targeting us for harmful purposes. This is an approach to life that gets people in trouble, hurt, or killed.
Knowledge is indeed power. It’s too bad Jill and her ilk apparently believe differently.