About two weeks ago, the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) posted this article. The sheer vitriol in the text turned me off immediately, and I thought nothing more about it. Later, I saw my contacts on Facebook reproducing the link to the article. I re-read the article, and felt that something was off. Approaching American self-defence expert Marc MacYoung (again on Facebook), I held a brief discussion with him about the article, and concluded that I had to comment on this article. (You can find the full discussion here.)
The author has written a very messy piece. There is no clear line of logic or argument. From what I understand, the author is furious that the prosecutor pushed for ‘reduced charges’ (aggravated outrage of modesty instead of rape), and attributes this to an unspecified ‘we’ putting a kind of ‘blame’ on the victim. This line of thinking is both fallacious and extremely dangerous.
Rape is a very complex crime. The layman definition is that the perpetrator(s) had sex with the victim without the latter’s consent. However, in a court of law, the prosecution must decisively prove that the victim did not give consent prior to the act. The prosecutor’s job becomes exponentially more difficult when alcohol and high risk behaviour comes into play.
Alcohol makes crime more complicated. It lowers inhibitions, impairs judgment, and compromises memory. In this case, everyone involved had played a drinking game prior to the assault. The victim had sex with someone after the game and before the crime. To someone under the influence of alcohol, the victim’s behaviour could be interpreted as a signal of sexual availability. This effect could be pronounced because the members of the group could have pressured each other towards that interpretation (assuming that had happened).
Here, the woman claims that she did not agree to have sex with the others. However, it is simply the word of one woman against five others — all of whom were under the influence of alcohol. it is very difficult, if not impossible, to clearly prove in a court of law when the line between consensual and non-consensual sex was crossed. The victim said she consented to having sex with one guy, but she did so after being pressured and drinking heavily. The accused might have said that they did not attain consent, and this might have been true, but the prosecution cannot prove the veracity of this statement. The accused could have said that as an expression of guilt and remorse, and not necessarily as a factual recount — or perhaps the accused thought that they did not seek consent, and had convinced themselves that the woman did not give consent. A good defence lawyer, seizing upon alcohol, would probably be able to muddy the waters and prevent the prosecution from using this to decisively prove a rape case.
I cannot say for certain what the prosecutor thought. But I think the prosecutor believed that it’s easier to prove a case of aggravated outrage of modesty than rape here. Further complicating matters are other facts:
1. There was no sign of sexual assault. Rape is a form of sexual assault. Without signs of sexual assault, it is hard to prove a rape case.
2. The perpetrators stopped when she started to bleed. This is not typical behaviour for rapists; this calls into question their intent to carry out their act, and maybe (but I do not know) mitigates their actions.
3. The victim’s boyfriend called the police. The victim had a boyfriend. But by choosing to engage in what she did, she is showing to the court that she lacks a sense of responsibility.
Robin Rheaume says that ‘we’ are blaming the victim. That is not true. There is a distinct difference between ‘blame’ and ‘responsibility’. To blame someone is to find fault with someone. To be responsible is to take on an obligation. Responsibility is a part of blame, but blame is not a part of responsibility.
Here, the woman failed to take responsibility for her actions. She deliberately engaged in high-risk behaviour. To declare ‘The failure of a woman to adequately assess the risk of attack does not mean that she caused what happens and should take blame for it’ is to declare that a drink driver should not take responsibility for running over a pedestrian. It is simply absurd to think that one can divorce one’s action from the consequences of that action. Every action has consequences; the woman has to take responsibility has to take actions. To not do so is both foolish and dangerous.
The woman engaged in high risk behaviour. An example of such behaviour is for a young woman to go alone late at night to a place with plenty of strange young men and alcohol. Another is for a single young woman to play drinking games in a private place with young men unknown to her. Such behaviour puts her at a very high risk of being robbed, raped, and/or killed. This whole case could have been avoided had the victim not showed up, left the moment she realised she didn’t know most of the people at the gathering, or went home before the drinking became serious. She took a risk, and she got burned.
Ordinary and sober people do not normally commit crimes. An ordinary citizen who sees an unguarded purse sees someone else’s property. A thief sees free money. In this case, hormonally charged young men under the influence of alcohol could have interpreted her behaviour as that of sexual availability, or at least an opportunity for sexual activity. This, or a permutation thereof, could have occurred in this case.
The judge, prosecution, and defence know this. It will be very difficult in this case to prove a case of gang rape. The judge may say that it is ‘factually rape’, but that is his opinion, and his opinion does not and cannot count. What counts in a court of law is proof, and as shown above, there is no clear proof that rape had indeed occurred. Had the judge acted on his opinion, he would have perverted this principle of justice.
This is a very messy case all around. It is all the more tragic because it could have been prevented. Had the woman not showed up, all of this could not have occurred — and that is why she is not totally absolved of responsibility for what happened to her.
I would like to highlight something MacYoung said in the discussion:
[I]t is the opinion of myself and many other personal safety experts that many of these advocacy groups are promoting ideas that guarantee they always have a client base. With the information they give about a woman’s ‘rights’ to behave in dangerous and stupid ways, they are guaranteeing there will be a never-ending supply of rape victims for them to ‘help.’
…[L]ook into the funding that AWARE Singapore is getting and their political/legal lobbying and activities. The big money isn’t in the front lines actually helping women who were raped (Here in the States, most of the front line people are volunteers). The big money is in administration, ‘education’ fees, lobbying, medical and psychological funding.
MacYoung’s opinion might be a valid one. I know MacYoung doesn’t think highly of American groups similar to AWARE. But American advocacy groups operate differently from AWARE.
In its Constitution, AWARE states it shall not ‘indulge in any political activity’. According to its 2008 financial statement, AWARE had a deficit of $5,975 in 2007, and a surplus of $19,934 in 2008. Net current assets for 2007 were worth $208,365, and $407,699 in 2008. In 2009, AWARE had a deficit of $9,407, with net current assets worth $398292.
I guess it’s safe to rule out lobbying from the agenda — AWARE’s constitution prohibits political activity. Much of AWARE’s funding comes from donations and subscriptions. The ‘big money’ MacYoung refers to would fall under ‘other income’ in the financial statement, in addition to other revenue like sales from its online store. In 2008, AWARE made $33,596, and in 2009 it made $18,359. These figures are significantly less than donations ($319,300 in 2009, $328,207 in 2008) or fund raising activities ($72,683 in 2009, $43,584 in 2008’s flag day).
Given that AWARE cannot lobby and makes more money from donations and other fund raising activities than ‘other income’, it’s safe to say that AWARE is not out to spread a ‘rape agenda’ to guarantee a steady stream of income from activities that would make big money in America. However, I cannot as yet disprove the notion that AWARE is deliberately spreading a rape agenda to attract more support and donors.
Still, AWARE does a lot than just talk about rape. If one wants to spread a rape agenda, one would fixate on rape, which AWARE is not doing. AWARE discusses everything from financial knowledge to secularism; rape is just one facet of many. I can’t see a rape agenda here, at least for now.
In light of what I have seen so far, I think Rheaume was simply expressing an opinion based on illogic, and nobody at AWARE caught it. Still, the article should have been fact-checked, and its opinions compared to those of recognised self-defence experts. If there were an editor, that person failed. If there were no editors, there should have been one.
I guess MacYoung got this wrong here, but his experience is mostly limited to America. I wish there was someone like MacYoung in Singapore, someone who is extremely knowledgeable and experienced with self defence and the law, but I’m not going to hold my breath, and I won’t hold out for him. Nobody should.
The author thanks Marc MacYoung for permission to use his material and the discussion on Facebook for this post.