Viral Views: Hectoring a rape victim is not okay
by Abraham Lee
GIRL cries rape. And you go: You asked for it? That didn’t seem like a smart move on the part of a local teen magazine when a reader claiming that she had been raped asked its columnist for “helpful advice”.
In its November issue, Teenage found itself under a barrage of fire when its columnist, Kelly Chopard, who helms Dear Kelly, gave what many saw as an unsympathetic response which condoned rape and blamed the victim for bringing the misfortune on herself. Facebook user Sara Janelle took photographs of the column and posted them online yesterday. It has since garnered 1,300 reactions, 1,600 shares and 200 comments.
The reader, only known as ‘Liar’, said she had lied to her parents about staying over at her best friend’s place when she was actually spending the night at a boy’s place while his parents were not home. A “great day” of “lunch, home movies and conversations” led to dinner, wine, music and romantic lights. Dancing turned to cuddling, kissing and undressing. The girl, who said it was her first time imbibing wine, said she was unable to protest and lost all memory of what happened after that. When she woke the next morning in bed with him, he said: “Wow! I didn’t know you were a virgin, honey!” Afraid to confide in her parents, she wrote to Dear Kelly.
The monthly magazine, first established in 1988, is published by Key Editions and retails at $3 per issue. It displayed her letter and Kelly’s response over two pages under the headline “Raped after lying to mum”, with the last three words emphasised in red. Netizens said Kelly was placing the blame on the rape victim for not asking “for the lights to be turned on fully”, for accepting wine and becoming drunk, and for not stopping the situation from escalating when they decided to dance or when the boy engaged in kissing her. Kelly then said: “I don’t blame him for thinking you were not a virgin. You acted like a girl who has been around”.
Netizens were incensed and remarked that Kelly seemed to be on the side of the aggressor, pointing to lines such as “You can’t blame him for thinking a sexual connection was all right with you” and “You are expected to know what happens when a girl agrees to stay over at a guy’s house when only the two of them are in residence.”
A tirade of comments flew around social media.
The deluge prompted the magazine to respond with an apology on its Facebook page as well as an official apology from the columnist on its website yesterday evening. Except that they appeared to be grudgingly given and more of a defence of the content and tone of the column which they said was intended to send the message that the girl shouldn’t have lied to her parents and that teens shouldn’t indulge in risky behaviour.
Ms Chopard, a teacher, insisted that nowhere did she blame the girl for the rape and had in fact described her as “naive and inexperienced” as well as “a total innocent”. Her intention was to tell teenagers that they should be careful about giving the wrong signals that would lead them into trouble. “I am gravely sorry that this response has garnered a negative response,” she said.
From their responses, the magazine and its writer clearly have no idea why people were outraged. They believe that it is helpful advice to tell young women to avoid being left alone with a man lest they are taken advantage of. They do not think that by doing so, this places the responsibility of rape on the victims. At no point in Kelly’s column was the issue of consent discussed. At no point was the wrongfulness of the boy’s actions highlighted.
Instead Kelly wrote that she thought the girl was most hurt by the boy’s “casual dismissal of her”. “I was careful NOT to dwell on this so as not to cause her further pain. I tried not to highlight what was going through the guy’s mind. I was careful to downplay his point-of-view so as to spare her additional pain.” You would think that the girl only cried rape because she had regrets the morning after.
In its stiffly-worded post, Teenage Magazine considers this episode as part of raising “awareness about youth issues that have long been swept under the rug”. It’s a laudable aim, if the attempt wasn’t so cack-handed. It would have been a prime opportunity for the magazine to reiterate the importance of consent and how a girl’s absolute sovereignty over her body is protected by the law.
As much as we’re tempted to tell young women to cover themselves up and behave properly, we should be equally forthright in telling our young men to keep their junk in their pants and only act on a sober ‘yes’. Rather than responding with “why did you let the boy get you drunk?” or “why did you not say no?”, we should be reprimanding the boy for preying on the girl and not acting like a decent human being.
There is a myriad of analogies that can explain the absurdity of blaming rape victims for what happened to them but none can fully reflect the gravity of the offence. It would have been better if Teenage published something like this below:
Featured image a screenshot by Facebook user Sara Janelle.
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