An SMU Alum and Rape Victim Responds to the Daily Campus' Victim-Blaming Op-Ed

Categories: Crime

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Jennifer Gerson, a 2007 SMU graduate and rape survivor, passed along her response to the Daily Campus' recent victim-blaming alcohol-and-rape op-ed, which she sent to SMU president Gerald Turner and other school officials. We're running it here in full.

President Turner:

Today I am ashamed to call myself a graduate of Southern Methodist University. Kirby Wiley's article titled "Women: Prevent Sexual Assaults, Drinking Responsibly May Reduce Risk Factor" in the November 1 issue of The Daily Campus brought tears to my eyes, and I don't cry easily.

In 2007 I walked across the SMU graduation stage with a degree from a prestigious university -- something I have considered the greatest accomplishment in my entire life -- and today I bow my head in shame.

Millions of women graduate from college every year, you might say -- but not millions of women like me. I am a survivor of poverty, divorce, domestic violence, rape and drug abuse, all before the age of 20, and I put myself through college with blood, sweat and tears while holding down a full-time job. I possess inner strength and determination you cannot imagine, and SMU is lucky to count someone like me among its alumni.

Let's go back to the "survivor of rape" part. I was raped in 1988 during my senior year in high school. Two boys who called themselves my friends -- friends whom I had seen and spoken to a thousand times in class, at lunch, during track practice, at football games, and yes, at parties where drugs and alcohol were widely available - picked me up from work one night under the pretext that they were taking me to a party several other friends were going to. Instead of a party, however, it was a party of three. You might guess what happened next. The following week at school, the rumor mill was abuzz with stories of my "escapades" even though I had told no one (this was the late 1980s, before victims were widely encouraged to report date rape as a crime.) For months I lived with the shame of having been branded a slut, and the day after graduation I moved to another state.

That night was a quarter-century ago, and its memory is still as vivid as it was the next morning. I vowed never to be held down again, and remained true to my word. The next time a boy tried to force himself on me, I flew into such a rage that I -- a 110-pound, 19-year-old girl -- chased him out of his own house.

I came to realize, of course, that what happened that night in 1988 was not my fault (although Kirby Wiley, it seems, would disagree) and I no longer feel shame for having been victimized - but the anger... oh, the anger. I would spare your students that cancerous anger.

SMU's own Dr. Rick Halperin pioneered an academic program in Human Rights, the front page of which declares, "There is no such thing as a lesser person." Today, Kirby Wiley has declared female students lesser persons - and you, Dr. Turner, have allowed him to do it.

I am NOT a lesser person, and neither are your students. They are your own wives, sisters, daughters, nieces and grandchildren, and they deserve your respect. They deserve Kirby Wiley's respect. By allowing this misogynistic, vitriolic, blame-shifting hate speech to be propagated under the guise of journalism - with or without its classification as "opinion" - you have stripped your students of that respect.

This morning I cried. Now I rage. Consider my graduation from SMU the first of many steps I will take across many stages as I rage against what you have allowed.

I. Will. Not. Be. Held. Down. Ever. Again. And so help me, neither will the women of your once-prestigious institution.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Genson
Class of 2007

See also: SMU's Student Newspaper Makes CNN for Booze-and-Rape Op-Ed


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108 comments
TSofFire
TSofFire

Kirby's admonition to stay sober and in control of oneself is important. Staying away from places where one might be taken advantage of is a good practice as well.

All of this outrage is counterproductive.

md1skyblue
md1skyblue

The problem is that there are males on campus who think its alright to rape.

Sad_Pony
Sad_Pony

As a fellow alumna and '07 classmate, I support you 100%. SMU has a rape culture problem.

MissJamieLynn
MissJamieLynn

If you'd have a conversation with your daughter about safety, talk to your son about consent.  

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

Here's my article:

Young men, don't have sex with young women that have been drinking.

(That'll probably take care of a good part of the abortion problem, as well.)

tracychabala
tracychabala

Here is the problem with the original article.  Its language.  If the author ACTUALLY intended to issue a suggestion that women lay off the booze to be careful, she could/should have ended it at that.  

 Unfortunately, she used the trigger word "blame", which was totally stupid.  If she meant to do a service to young women, she really did them a disservice, provoking tons of outrage from both rape survivors and regular women/men who find her logic and language not only obtuse but incredibly offensive.

She said "we should be considering the other side".  Well, perhaps the other side (rapists) should ALSO lay off the booze??!!?  Booze makes people go into blackouts.  People, men and women, do violent and insane things in blackouts.  Why on earth isn't there a message that young men might want to control their drinking as well...??  BIG QUESTION.

 But, that is the problem.  Sure, it's wise to be cautious.  But if someone leaves their front door unlocked and a criminal enters and steals everything, the cops are still going to hunt down the thief.  The blame is on the thief.  To say "Oh the people were stupid" is totally inane.  

 Criminals need to be prosecuted as criminals, and the blame speech concerning sexual assaults and rape must be eradicated from our speech.  There is no excuse, period.



everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

 I am sorry that you were victimized.  I am ashamed that you are against helping to prevent other women from being victimized.

Daniel
Daniel

Instead of telling people to lock their doors, why don't we change the culture of materialism and abolish poverty? Seems like a no-brainer.

hr123456
hr123456

As a current SMU student and former sober rape victim, I would like to volunteer that this is not a  deliberate contribution to rape culture or victim blaming, but rather poor writing. It's not the fault of the victim in anyway, but unfortunately there will always be horrible people in this world who will want to hurt others. I think what she SHOULD have written was that alcohol CAN play a large role in the attacker's choice of victim as rapists are opportunistic predators who will in most cases seek out easy prey. Also, that a lot of attackers will commit rapes when under the influence of alcohol. This should have been targeted at both genders and cautioned that both men and women should beware of drinking in excess to avoid becoming prey to those who wish to do them harm in anyway, be that rape or otherwise. Personally, I try to avoid drinking in excess so that if the occasion were to arise again, I would have the courage and accuracy to do real harm.  

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

My email to ed staff at smu

Hi Katy,In the interst of fairness and marketplace of ideas, are you going to publish Jennifer Gerson's reply to the Wiley opinion?

James080
James080 topcommenter

I used to go hunting with people who liked to drink beer while they were in the field. 

Several years ago, one of my friends got drunk while he was in the field hunting, and shot  another friend in the head.

I don't ever hunt with people who drink in the field.

If I did, and I got shot by a drunk, it would not be my fault I got shot, but I would have to assume some responsibility for putting myself in a situation where drunks are shooting guns.

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

Eric, contact the Bushes, Laura as a grad, and W as a practising Methodist for comment.

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

Did the smu birdcage liner print this letter?

Somethingiswrong
Somethingiswrong

DO NOT READ THESE COMMENTS. YOU WILL LOSE YOUR FAITH IN HUMANITY.

longhorn4life
longhorn4life

something tells me dallas dude and doublecheese are either rapers now or will be one day. wastes of space both. 

WylieH
WylieH

How is what she wrote any different from the "Lock it, take it, hide it" or whatever campaign that has posted signs over nearly every parking lot in town?

Sure, I should expect that no one should break into my car even if I leave it unlocked and/or with an iPad, smartphone or other stuff in plain view through the windows.  But.... my goal is to keep my crap from being stolen, NOT trying to take a principled stand for the idea that "everyone should be honest" or "it's not right that bad people make me do inconvenient stuff that I don't want to do--- like put nice stuff in my trunk before getting to a place where I'm going to park in public" or "we we had decent police protection, I wouldn't have to do this."

The "lock it, take it, hide it" campaign irritates me, because I feel as if:

a)  The police are abdicating enforcement responsibility somewhat; and

b)  I shouldn't have to hide stuff, etc. to keep it from being stolen.

But.... at the end of the day, I'd rather have my stuff.  So, I heed the warnings.


oakclifftownie
oakclifftownie

Message to SON DON"T RAPE

Message to Daughter its a dangerous  enough world out there as it is . Don't be the  "I"M SOOOO DRUNK CHICK " 

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

There are a lot of really stupid mother fuckers around here.  No one is blaming the victim, but is it really that bad to remind everyone of common sense things?

ryan762
ryan762

If the bathtub killer's victims hadn't had bathtubs, there never would have been any murders.

md1skyblue
md1skyblue

@Daniel what about better security. Guns issued to all drunken female students. Problem solved.


md1skyblue
md1skyblue

@James080 Imagine you had a few drinks at a party and were run over by another drunk but it was yr fault. You walked on the footpath drunk.

or, you got on a train drunk to get home and were robbed. Your fault, you're drunk. 




doublecheese
doublecheese

@longhorn4life If I tell you not to leave your iphone on the front seat of your car, it's because it makes it much more likely that you'll have a broken window and a stolen phone.  It doesn't make me a phone thief.

md1skyblue
md1skyblue

@WylieH so you are saying women should just lock themselves up and never go out? After all thats all it takes.

Maybe they need burqas and chastity belts too.

txsportschick
txsportschick

@WylieH Because  having "stuff" like a phone or an iPad stolen from your car is nowhere near the same thing as being raped. You insinuate by this very metaphor that the victim is at fault because they somehow didn't take whatever precautions you think they should take. When most rapists are friends, acquaintances, current or former partners, etc. exactly what steps do you think they should take to protect themselves? 40% of rapes take place in the victim's home. 20% take place in the home of a friend or relative. 43% occur between 6 p.m. and midnight. So if a woman goes to a friend's house at 7 p.m. where she has a few drinks and that "friend" rapes her, is it now her fault. By all the arguments I've seen, this is her own fault because she put herself in a "high-risk" situation and didn't take enough precautions. 

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@WylieH 

respectfully, equating property theft to sexual assault is not in any way a valid comparison.

rape is more than just a sexual act. the issues the victim must overcome are tremendous, and may never be successfully dealt with.

the rape is a predator acting on a victim. the fact that the victim becomes an easier target does not mean the victim shares in the blame. using that perspective a woman who dresses in revealing clothing would qualify for one who didn't "heed the warnings". are you arguing women who dress that way are partly to blame if they are raped?

a person shouldn't need to "heed the warnings" to not be a target of a sexual predator. we must stop the mindset producing the predator, not shift blame to the victim.

observist
observist topcommenter

@oakclifftownie  I intend for my daughters to understand that alcohol can be fun up to the 3rd drink.  After the 3rd drink you don't have more fun, you just get more stupid.

ryan762
ryan762

@ScottsMerkin I think it's because of a couple of reasons.

1. Anything that makes a victim feel like she (or he) is at fault for what happened to her (or him) lessens the chances that the act gets reported, may make it more difficult to prosecute and makes it more difficult for that victim to heal from what happened. And it does, in fact, place part of the blame on the victim. If not for this behavior, you wouldn't have been raped, which takes away blame from the predator who committed the violent, illegal act.

2. There are people who take reasonable precautions and still get raped. That people will then question their behavior, even when they did everything they were supposed to do, makes it more difficult to emotionally deal with what happened.

3. Where do we draw the line with the contributing behavior? Some people would say that any woman out after dark is partially responsible for anything that happens to her regardless of the neighborhood. There are still people who believe that how a woman is dressed contributes to whether they'll become a victim of rape. And so on. Once we open the door to assigning some of the blame for the rape to the victim, where do we stop?

tdkisok
tdkisok

@ryan762 

Doublecheese would agree to that. And without a shower Norman Bates would have been shit out of luck.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

@txsportschick @WylieH what percentage of college rapes fit your stats?  And, there is not just one kind of rape, date rape may be more exploitative, which strikes me as distinct from a violent physical attack.  You may say they're the same, but there is a distinction.  I'm not condoning either, though I imagine many are of the exploitative variety.  I imagine keeping one's wits would be of assistance for that type.

James_the_P3
James_the_P3

@txsportschick @WylieH It's not a matter of "fault" or "blame."  Obviously, the only person to blame for engaging in criminal activity is the criminal.  That is not to say, however, that there aren't certain steps that the reasonably prudent person can take to avoid being a victim of crime.  For instance, we (i.e., society) advise women that it's a bad idea not to drink a drink that a stranger in a bar hands them.  I don't think it should be terribly controversial to counsel people--women and men both--to take such steps to avoid being victimized.

Let me counter your hypothetical with another--one that was common in my time in college.  Your hypothetical woman joins her male "friend" at a house party and has rather more than a "few drinks."  She has 15 beers from the keg interspersed with several shots of Jaeger.  In short, she's bombed to the point of virtual unconsciousness.  Meanwhile, her "friend" gets equally bombed and his good judgment and chivalry goes out the window.  So when his frat brother asks if he can have a go with his female companion, he slurs "yeah, man--go for it."


It was not Ms. Wylie's purpose to say that our hypothetical rapist should be prosecuted, nor would that be the position of any reasonable person.  And nobody would "blame" the young woman who was too incapacitated to resist.  There is a difference in "blaming" somebody after the fact for actions not taken, and advising somebody before the fact to take such actions to avoid a consequence.  And in an environment in which such a hypothetical is commonplace--after all, binge drinking on college campuses is an epidemic--is it unreasonable to advise women about safety?

doublecheese
doublecheese

If you take the emotion out of it, it is a lot like that.  A woman has something the rapist wants, and he's going to try to take it.  It's best to not make that too easy to do.I don't know how you are getting that people are saying this is "her own fault".  People are saying, "Please be careful!  There are bad people out there who will take advantage of you!"

James_the_P3
James_the_P3

@mavdog @WylieHHow is it not a valid comparison?

Wylie's underlying point is that there are numerous precautions that reasonable people take daily to avoid being a victim of crime.  We advise people to lock their cars to avoid them being stolen; we advise people to lock their houses to avoid them being broken into; we advise people not to walk down dark alleys in bad neighborhoods to avoid being mugged and possibly murdered.  Why is it that when someone gives equally common sensical advice to avoid being raped, that person is accused by the likes of Ms. Genson of engaging in "misogynistic, vitriolic, blame-shifting hate speech"?

doublecheese
doublecheese

@mavdog @WylieH I don't buy that you can extend the argument to how a woman is dressed.  A woman who is dressed like a whore is still able to say "no", able to fight back, and able to call for help.  How she is dressed makes no difference in how personally vulnerable she is, only in how much attention she might receive.

dallas_dude
dallas_dude

1) I think "don't get trashed drunk" is a pretty clear line. 

2) After getting my car broken into and my phone jacked I didn't want to hear anybody tell me I shouldn't have left my phone in my car.  But guess what....I SHOULDN'T HAVE LEFT MY PHONE IN MY CAR. 

3) you are implying that all circumstances of cime are equal and they are not.  you have control over getting trashed at a party and it's not a secret that there is a higher possibility for assaults to happen under those circumstances.  your implication of randomness is false.

doublecheese
doublecheese

@txsportschick @dallas_dude Your emotions about this are clouding your thinking.

You seem to think that a woman is completely powerless to protect or defend herself. 


The topic is not about women who are raped while the are "stone-cold sober".  We know there are sick individuals who won't stop at anything to rape their target.  We also know that not all rapists are that determined.  They look for easy pickings.  I don't want girls to be easy pickings.

observist
observist topcommenter

@txsportschick @dallas_dude  If you leave your big screen TV on your front porch while you go on vacation, is it your fault if it's stolen?  No - someone broke the law and stole your stuff.  You are the victim of a crime.

Did you exercise reasonable caution to keep thieves from stealing your stuff?  No.  

If you had left the TV in the house with the doors locked, could it still be stolen?  Yes.  

Does that mean it's just as safe on the porch as it is in the house? No.

If someone tells you to put your TV in the house, are they a thief? No.  Thief apologist?  No.



txsportschick
txsportschick

@dallas_dude And we are back to the beginning. The only thing that having a phone stolen from your car and rape  have in common is that they are both crimes of opportunity. That's where the similarity ends. A phone is just a phone and it can be easily replaced with no long term physical or emotional damage. A rape is a violent crime against another person and most victims are friends or acquaintances with their attacker. You continue to imply that a woman has control of whether or not she is attacked when rape, by its very definition, means that she is not in control. She can be stone-cold sober sitting in her living room and still be attacked. If she is at someone else's house and has had a few drinks, that doesn't make it okay nor does it make it her fault. It doesn't matter where she is, who she is with, what she is wearing or how much she did or didn't drink. The only person at fault for a rape or any other violent crime is the attacker. 

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