Follow Up, Victim Blaming at Pitt

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So yesterday a whole bunch of people shared my column on rape and victim-blaming on college campuses, which is unbelievable and I am so grateful.

Sadly, the column could have been better if I’d read the paper thoroughly last Friday, when the Pitt Police ran the “crime tip” featured above. For anyone who can’t read it, it says:

CRIME TIP

The Pitt Police Department has recently received reports that female students have encountered some dangerous experiences while drinking at local bars. We have heard the following scenario: A female student under the age of 21 produces a fake ID to the bouncer at the front door of the bar and enters. The female student is intentionally separated from her friends or may be alone when she purchases an alcoholic beverage. She then has no recollection of events until the next day when she wakes up in a strange apartment with an unknown male.

The purpose of this tip is to alert other female students to be on guard when socializing with alcohol.

Things To Consider

  • Don’t place yourself in danger; use your instincts.
  • Fake IDs are illegal and punishable under the law. This can jeopardize your future employment.
  • Don’t be separated from friends. Always arrive and leave with your friends and keep your beverage in your control at all times.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, remember you have options:

Contact Sexual Assault Services 412-648-7856

Contact Pitt PD 412-624-2121

The victim or witness is not required to leave a name or phone number.

So, the tip never mentions sexual assault – in fact, they dance so far around it that it looks ridiculous. “dangerous experiences”? – until the very end when they list the hotlines, which is strange, since usually they list the crime in question up front (i.e. “CRIME ALERT: ROBBERY.”) For that matter, I have never learned from the Pitt Police whether a kid who was mugged had been drinking, whether they were underage, how much loot they were carrying, or whether they were foolishly walking alone at night. I have CERTAINLY never seen a robbery tip say “Don’t place yourself in danger; use your instincts.”

The ad veers toward the absurd with the “don’t get separated from your friends” tip, listed right underneath the fact that the perpetrator is intentionally separating victims from their friends. That is like describing a kidnapping where some thugs dragged a woman into their car, and then coolly advising, “Don’t get into a stranger’s car.”

It honestly reads like a moral tale the police made up to discourage women from using fake IDs – I’m confident that it’s not, but it does read like one. The focus on the fake IDs is so prominent that it nearly obscures the rape – in fact, the ad even goes out of its way to remind us of the penalties for getting into a bar with a fake identification, without even a nod at the perpetrator with a refresher course on Rape Is A Felony.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think victim-targeted warning messages are appropriate sometimes. I do not, for example, think that whatever serial rapist/group of rapists is drugging women on my campus would likely be dissuaded by a newspaper ad telling them to please not do that.

I would actually VERY MUCH APPRECIATE a newspaper ad warning me about a recent spate of drug-assisted rapes on my campus, if it said something like this:

CRIME ALERT: RAPE

The Pitt Police Department has recently received several reports of sexual assaults with similar features. The assailant(s) are targeting female students in bars, separating them from their friends and possibly altering their drinks with [insert whatever the Pitt Police knows, if anything, about what was actually put in these women’s drinks.] The perpetrator may be targeting students using fake IDs.

PPD is investigating these claims. In the meantime, we urge students to practice extra caution when drinking, and keep a close eye on their friends and their drinks.

If you have been a victim of sexual assault, or have more information about these incidents, please contact:

Sexual Assault Services 412-648-7856

Pitt PD 412-624-2121

The victim or witness is not required to leave a name or phone number.

Do you see what I did there, with the treating sexual assault like an actual crime? Do you see how it WASN’T THAT HARD?

Bad Pitt Police. No biscuit.

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12 responses to “Follow Up, Victim Blaming at Pitt

  • >:(

    NO BISCUIT. Seriously, tiptoeing around sexual assault doesn’t help anyone but the perpetrators.

  • Chief Delaney

    I accept your comments about my crime tip. My intent was to raise awareness at the same time protect the unnamed victims who have come forward to SAS for counseling.

    • traceyhickey

      Chief Delaney, I do appreciate your efforts. Many people found the focus on the fake IDs inappropriate, and I know that if I had been one of the victims, I would read that tip and feel stupid and like I was being called out for “placing myself in danger.”
      Most importantly, though, the tip leaves me with a lot of questions. Do we have reason to believe the drinks were drugged? Were they last handled by the bartender (as is usually the case at a bar) before the victim passed out? Is there an investigation going on? Students absolutely do need to know if there’s a rash of drug-assisted rapes happening on our campus, but this seems to give more questions than answers.

  • Chief Delaney

    SAS contacted me about several victims who didnt want to file a police report. Due to the time laspe we could not determine if any drugs were in their systems. With the limited information I had I used an example from one of the victims. Yes there is an active investigation being conducted. For obvious reasons I cannot discuss the case. I felt compelled to do somthing so I place a paid advertisment in the Pitt News to raise awareness. My goal was to protect the victims and public awaress. I accomplished what I set out to do.

    • traceyhickey

      I think I speak for everyone when I say that we appreciate your hard work, Chief Delaney. But in writing this blog, I also spoke for many people who felt alienated by the very strong focus on what the victim did wrong (especially the use of fake IDs) in the ad. It seemed the kind of detail that wouldn’t come up in a warning about another crime, and many people don’t see how its inclusion helps to protect the victims.
      Pitt is not alone in handling sexual assault warnings and policy in a way that doesn’t always line up with the recommendations of rape crisis organizations, and a lot of different people on campus are already engaged in trying to start dialogues, talk about updating the policy, create new and more effective strategies for outreach and education, etc. That work has already begun. I was just venting a common frustration. I was not the first one to see the ad and make an objection; it got to me through a series of mutual friends and a picture taken by someone I don’t know.

    • twistmalchikTwist

      Chief Delaney,

      First, thank you for serving our community. I appreciate your efforts. However, I feel they were misguided.

      I am a survivor of sexual assault. I’ve sat in the SAS office and group room more times than I care to remember, as I struggled to remember that it was not my fault. When I was assaulted, I was not drinking, I did not use a fake ID, or do anything otherwise illegal. It still took me 6 years to come to terms with what had happened to me. There are still times I think it was my fault.

      By publishing this ad, you’ve effectively let the women on our campus know that it is the attitude of the Pitt Police that their assaults WERE their fault. You’ve also very much hurt the chances that anymore women who were using a fake ID would come forward.

      Please be more considerate next time. Sexual assault is more than a sex crime. It is a crime of power that leaves many of us feeling terribly powerless and wondering what we could have done differently.

      In reality, there is nothing we could have done differently. Rapists rape. Fake ID or not, drinking or not. Rapists rape. The end.

  • Vivienne

    Tracey, I think you put it best here. The Pitt Police ad comes off as victim-blaming and weirdly convoluted with the emphasis on the fake ID rather than, you know, the person who’s actually responsible–the rapist. I’d rather get a warning comprised of what the *rapist* is actually doing. In other words, Tracey’s suggested ad is already miles ahead of the actual one. I appreciate that the Pitt Police and Chief Delaney have the best interests of this campus in mind and am very grateful for that. I’d just like to see them put their resources to better use and not put so much emphasis on what the victim did, because that will only contribute to a culture of silence around these issues.

  • Nan

    Dear Chief Delaney,
    Thank you for trying, really, truly, and seriously, because that seems like a lot more than what the police on some campuses in the news recently have been doing. And, as a female and former Pitt student (and hopefully future Pitt student when circumstances change so I may return), I really do appreciate that my campus is taking notice of these things and that the police, and you personally, are trying to prevent further crimes from occurring.

    I do, however, really agree with Hickey that the ad, while a great first shot, wasn’t the best thing ever. Were I a rape victim (and I have been a sexual assault victim) I would feel much less compelled to come forward and tell anyone associated with my campus or the law/police if something happened to me while drinking underage, as I’d feel like I’d be targeted and punished instead of helped. (For the record, I’m 22, and therefore not drinking underage, but, being hypothetical here.)

    I really think Hickey’s mock-up ad was a great example of how to handle the situation, especially mentioning that the perp(s) may be targeting underage victims using a fake ID (possibly adding in hopes to keep them from reporting the crime) along with some of the general safety tips- like keeping your drink in your possession and an eye on it at all times, and only accepting drinks straight from the bar tender (and not a random guy that says “I just bought you a drink,” which, any girl feeling exceptionally unattractive and undatable, would be compelled to accept.)

    Also, I remember that when I lived in the dorms they used to post bright colored Crime Alert papers on the Enter and Exit doors and floor bulletin boards. Perhaps doing something like that would be a good idea, as everyone would see them entering and exiting the dorms, and especially since a fair sized chunk of underage students live in the dorms or have close friends that do.

    I really hope you see this and take the time to read it, and if you do, thanks a lot for your time and for reading Hickey’s article and taking her thoughts into consideration. I think I speak for a lot of females in saying that we really appreciate someone in a position of authority (especially with the campus police!) watching out for us and trying to help us in what is, very largely, and underrecognized and underprosecuted crime.

  • Cait

    As someone who has also been a victim of sexual assualt, I appreciate everyone’s concern and I do believe Tracey offers a significantly better ad. However, I’m frustrated with the suggestion that Chief Delaney’s ad is blaming victims. Tracey’s suggested ad is also guilty of glossing over important information – that there are, in fact, things that we can do to help prevent ourselves from becoming victims. Instead, I felt panicked and completely vulnerable.

    Yes, rapists will absolutely rape if they want to and that’s a horrible, horrible reality that needs to be addressed. But as their potential “prey”, I’m not satisfied with an “it’s not your fault, it was inevitable” attitude towards sexual assault victims. There is nothing wrong with Chief Delaney – or quite frankly anyone for that matter – suggesting ways that women can actively avoid becoming victims. Ways that we can take control of our own lives, so that we know for sure that what happened to us was absolutely the result of someone else’s wicked intentions rather than an oversight on my part.

    Like it or not, sometimes women do or act in a certain way that makes them more vulnerable to assault. That’s not slut-shaming, that’s a bonafide reality. I’m not suggesting that women get raped because they drink or wear revealing clothing – I do both of those things and would balk at any attempts by society to suppress those habits. But there is nothing wrong with reminding women that there are steps we can take to protect ourselves.

    I highly doubt that the perp is physically dragging girls away from their friends kicking and screaming the way Tracey describes in the kidnapping scenario. What seems more likely is that he charms and coerces his victims to leave with him, something that plenty of innocent (and actually charming) men do every single night. Then his victim agrees, her judgment addled by shot pitchers and his charisma. Why is it not okay to say that? Why is it not okay to say, “instead of going home with that guy you just met, you should just exchange numbers”? That doesn’t squash a woman’s right to her own sexuality or blame her for being raped, but it does tell her that she has safer options.

    As women, I believe we deserve equality, a right we unfortunately have not been afforded by our government and our society. But I do believe we need to take some responsibility for ourselves. Recognize that our actions can make us more vulnerable, and rather than stop doing those things, understand that we can still protect ourselves by going places in groups, watching our drinks, not leaving the bar alone with a stranger, etc. Personally, my friends and I have code words that help us signal to each other when something doesn’t seem quite right and we need to bail. It works like a charm.

    After my assault, I felt vulnerable, ashamed, and naive. It took some time and a lot of therapy but eventually, I learned how to take control of my own life. The assault wasn’t my fault, I put myself at risk and was taken advantage of. I needed someone to help me realize that I could have taken measures that prevented me from being in the situation that precipitated the rape. Once I felt empowered, I wasn’t afraid to live my life the way I wanted to. I refuse to subscribe to the notion that women need to live in fear of sexual assault because it’s inevitable.

    PS it would be wildly unfair to categorize the dangerous experiences as “rape” until they have at least found the perp. One of my best friends was accused of raping a girl who not only consented but initiated the sexual encounter. She admitted that she felt mortified when she woke up, so to explain it to her friends, she said she was raped. His reputation, his record, and his self-esteem has been utterly ruined by this girl’s accusation. The road runs both way, I just wish Tracey would even entertain the notion of innocent before proven guilty.

    • traceyhickey

      Cait,
      I am at work right now and can’t give a full response, but I want to say one thing: my argument is NOT that rape is inevitable and will never change. My argument is that rape is most effectively fought by holding perpetrators accountable, and sending them clear messages that their behavior won’t be tolerated. The “teach women how to outsmart rapists” strategy does not seem to have worked so far.

      • Cait

        Valid point, I totally agree with you about that. However, I’m not suggesting that women outsmarting rapists will effectively end sexual assault. I’m not that naive and it’s incredibly unfortunate that too many of the people in charge of protecting us feel that way. I am suggesting that there are certain ways to reduce your vulnerability, not completely prevent it. More of a compromise between what they say and what you say.

        To be fair, a lot of my response wasn’t specifically directed at your blog and I apologize for appearing to criticize you specifically. As an avid reader of the Pitt News, I really admire your willingness to address problems that other journalists (let alone administrators) shy away from. It’s more of a response to my own frustration with the larger idea that there are only two options for how I should feel about my assault: either that I’m a victim of a violent monster and was powerless to protect myself against it, or that I was just too stupid and slutty so I brought it upon myself. Obviously the first response is absolutely the only approach our law enforcement, university, or other administrators should take when faced with a sexual assault survivor. But when it comes to raising awareness and taking preventive action, I think that self defense for women should go hand-in-hand with teaching men that no means no and that they are not entitled to our sexuality.

        Once my rapist was punished, I felt justified and validated – but I still felt violated and victimized. I still felt ashamed because in hindsight, I knew I could have easily not ended up in that situation if I had been more aware of what he was doing and been more careful before I even went to that party. I didn’t feel comfortable in many of the available support communities for survivors because, for me, it kept reiterating that I was taken advantage of. What it didn’t do was help me figure out how and why I put myself at risk. I didn’t need to be convinced that it wasn’t my fault, I needed to know how I could possibly prevent it from happening again so that I could leave my house without fear. The shame and guilt went away once I joined a support group that taught me how to recognize and react to similar situations and now I feel much more confident expressing my sexuality and enjoying my life.

        I realize that 5+ years of frustration and emotion wrote that comment and that it definitely appears to be an attack on you, which it should not have been and was not intended to be! This article/comment thread just triggered that pent up emotion and I needed to finally respond to someone. What I really meant to do was introduce the idea of a world where both your ad and Chief Delaney’s ad run. I respect that my situation and attitudes may be vastly different than other survivors but I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. I look forward to your response!

      • traceyhickey

        Cait,
        I’m sorry it took me so long to reply to this. Things got crazy.
        I do appreciate your feedback. And I actually agree with you that it’s important to help women guard themselves against predators. The self-protection advice I tend to agree with, though, has more to do with identifying potential predators… for example, I am hugely in favor of repeatedly reminding women that a guy who doesn’t take no for an answer about something small, won’t take no for an answer when it counts. I think teaching people to stand their ground with small-scale boundary-transgressors is incredibly helpful in protecting them from large-scale boundary transgressions. But I just don’t see the standard “Don’t get too drunk, ladies!” talk as very helpful.
        But your reactions are very valid and I do understand how the “rapists are everywhere, and there’s nothing you can do about it!” response that would seem to be the alternative is revictimizing in its own way. I just get angry when I see information about sexual assault conveyed as a thinly-veiled PSA to discourage women from drinking.
        Thanks again for your input, and sorry for the delay.

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