I also read the article that Jackie’s friend sent her, and it stirred a lot of thinking in me afterward. While there are several things in the article that I agree with, it generally makes me uncomfortable because I think it raises some grey areas and brings up an uncomfortable complexity between blaming and empowering victims.
It helps me think about it when I take sex out of the discussion. Theft, like rape, is a crime. Do we teach people how to make their homes safe? Yes, we do. In fact, we expect people to lock their cars and homes. I even chide my kids when they leave their Ipods on the car seat “why don’t you just hang a sign, saying please steal me?” BUT, if our cars or houses are ever broken into, no one would debate whether a crime had been committed. They might say more could have been done, or other choices could have been made that might have lowered the chance of being robbed. But no one would say that under normal conditions it would have been theft, but since the door wasn’t locked, it was no longer a theft. No one would say that. It seems just as clear to me that it’s not okay to take sex from someone just because they left the door unlocked.
I like the concept of personal agency and empowerment, but so do abusers. Groomers love to give victims a false sense of empowerment. It’s what keeps victims from speaking up. Victims are convinced that it was somehow their own choice that made it happen. So, when people start talking about personal agency, I just want to draw a line in situations where there is an imbalance of power to begin with. In the example given in the article, the author was experimenting with peers, and she says there was no pressure on her to please her friends. They were all in the same boat. A good place to experiment and learn your own self. Change the dynamics to where one or more of the parties involved have influence or power over the other(s), however, and it’s a deal-breaker for me.
I remember an incident that happened several years ago, when I was serving on a board of a non-profit. One of the employees at the non-profit accused the chair of the board of sexual harassment. I knew both of the people involved. I knew that she was a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Everyone knew this. She was pretty open about it. I knew that she was a talented employee, who sometimes seemed emotionally immature and eager to please. I knew him both socially and professionally. I know that he stood way too close when talking to me, and sometimes touched me when he didn’t need to and I didn’t want him to. I have no knowledge of what actually transpired between them in the office when no one else was there, but I do know that as her boss, as someone who had power over her, that he had an added, fiduciary responsibility. I also know that as a survivor of sexual abuse, her ability to make decisions about her own body had been compromised early in life and it may not have been working at an adult level, even though chronologically, she was an adult. At the time, I remember thinking differently. I remember thinking that even though she had been abused as a child, that when she turned 18, she became an adult on the same level playing field as the rest of us. I also remember thinking that as a feminist, that I had to hold her equally responsible for whatever had happened. I feel ashamed now that I felt that way then.
The Faith Trust Institute teaches that the Law of The Sea should be the law of boundaries between people. The Law of The Sea is a body of customs, treaties, and international agreements by which governments maintain order, productivity, and peaceful relations. The Law of the Sea holds that when there is an impending accident…if two boats are on a collision course…it is always the responsibility of the larger boat, or more powerful boat, to make the necessary change of course to avoid the collision. If you have the advantage on the sea, you automatically have the responsibility to care for those who do not.
I want all of us to claim our bodies, to exercise our choices and to experiment. And when we do, I want us to take responsibility for those choices. But let’s never let our desire to empower each other cause us to fail to hold those who prey on this desire also responsible.