Courting Controversy

My compliments to Stephanie Gutmann for her excellent article on date rape ("It Sounds Like I Raped You!," Jul.). As a teacher of rape-prevention classes, I was most impressed with how well Ms. Gutmann's article addressed the confusion about this issue.

In my classes I emphasize assuming personal responsibility for avoiding or defeating violent assaults, and for acquiring the necessary awareness and skills to do so. But the current ideas about "date rape" greatly confuse the issue of personal responsibility. Many of these ideas invite women to cast themselves as passive victims—exactly the opposite attitude they need to have before they can effectively take care of themselves in genuinely threatening situations.

It is legally very dangerous to confuse coercion through the use or threat of violence or physical force with simple social or psychological pressure, no matter how intense. While it is appropriate to defend yourself with potentially deadly force against an assailant who is trying to physically force his way into your body, it is rather less appropriate to shoot someone who is whining at you to go to bed with him. (And rather foolish to try to reason with someone who is physically attacking you.) When we muddy the definition of rape, we make it much more difficult for the potential rape victim to recognize her own situation and respond appropriately.

Anthony M. Gregory
Indianapolis, IN

I want to express my admiration for the courage and clarity with which Stephanie Gutmann considered the topic of date rape and its adverse implications for female independence.

Ms. Gutmann hints at, but does not specifically address, a terribly serious ramification: By using the concept of "date rape" to excuse personal passivity, women may become even more vulnerable to hard-core assault rape. Rapists deliberately choose their victims to subjugate them, and any woman who is taught to think that sexual ambivalence and lack of assertiveness is excusable may be a victim of preference for such predators. Being armed with a handgun can be a powerful deterrent to assault rape, as well as an effective instrument of defense and deliverance—but for a woman to go armed requires a degree of deliberation, clear thinking, self-knowledge, and assertive determination that the "date rape" habit of thought would make impossible to muster.

It would be too easy to misconstrue the issue; there is no question that any act of coercion is inexcusable, rape no less than any other violation. However, neither is there any excuse for the victim to find refuge in passivity.

Michael J. Dunn
Auburn, WA

Stephanie Gutmann makes some good points about the blurring of distinctions between rape (a crime of violence) and caddish seduction. Yes, people concerned with rape prevention should stop devaluing the horror of real rape—and many acquaintance rapes are just that—and yes, women should stop playing "go away a little closer" games or accepting more alcohol than they can handle.

While most of what I read accords with what I saw when I was on the board of a rape crisis center, much more emphasis should have been placed on the man's role in situations where the woman is not clearly a willing participant. It goes without saying that only a foolish woman would go into a biker bar in a strange city on a Saturday night, alone and dressed in a miniskirt and high heels; only a foolish woman would fail to lock her front door at night. Why? Because there are bad people out there waiting for unwitting prey.

But her foolishness does not in any way excuse the behavior of a rapist or thief who tells his buddies "she was asking for it." Whether it's holding her down at knifepoint or "merely" pressuring her to get passed-out drunk, it's just plain wrong for a man to force himself on an unwilling woman or take advantage of her lack of smarts.

Women should take more responsibility for their actions—and so should men.

Lou Villadsen
Santa Monica, CA

According to your article on "date rape," there is a school of thought that holds that if a woman has consented to sex only after having been begged, cajoled, whined at, etc., she has in fact been raped.

In the movie scene from She's Gotta Have It, used in Columbia University's date-rape education program, the male character has sex with the female only after she begs and pleads with him to come to see her and, once there, after she makes physical contact with him and "pleads with him to make love to her."

Using the logic in the first paragraph of this letter, has he not been raped?

Randall Morris
Wheaton, IL

Stephanie Gutmann's article itself trivializes sexual violence by focusing exclusively on the blurring of the definition of rape—as though that were the entire story and real date rape a contrived problem.

Ms. Gutmann informs us that people staffing women's centers and similar institutions tend to assume that most acquaintance rapes go unreported and that these staffers further believe that reporting, since it challenges the system, should be encouraged. From this Ms. Gutmann concludes that "increasing the number of reports is thus an end in itself." This she seems to find objectionable.

Education on date rape (properly defined) is a good thing—both men and women should be clear on what consent is. That there is confusion on this issue does not mean that there is no problem.

It is appropriate to assume that women know the difference between yes and no and between stop and go. It is also reasonable to expect that men have the intelligence to understand these concepts. However, in the present cultural context, where some males assume that no could mean yes, it is important that women clarify the issue. To be able to do this, some women may need assertiveness training.

Undesired sexual advances require a positive and unequivocal stop message. If this does not produce results, the woman must inform the presuming "lover" in no uncertain terms that she will file rape charges if he persists. If the attack continues she needs to inflict sufficient pain and injury to the rapist that all doubt that this might be a love act is removed. Therefore, every woman should have self-defense training. A woman will have a difficult time convincing each of 12 jurors, beyond a reasonable doubt, that it was rape if neither she nor her assailant have a scratch or a bruise on them.

Awareness is first. Prevention is second. Restitution, retribution, and punishment is a distant and highly uncertain and unsatisfying third.

Ernst F. Ghermann
Winnetka, CA

The article on date rape is shockingly at odds with the libertarian ideals your magazine represents. First, Gutmann assumes that a sexual encounter cannot be called rape unless the victim resists. Remember that rape is nonconsenting sex. A woman's failure to resist sexual assault (whether this failure is motivated by fear, or by confusion at the fact that the assailant is someone she cares for, or both) does not make it any the less rape.

Suppose I approach a confirmed pacifist, one who has vowed never to defend himself or his property by force. I ask him to give me his hat; he refuses; so I simply take his hat and walk off with it, while he sadly but calmly stands there. I have not threatened him in any way (nor, incidentally, has he resisted); however, I have clearly stolen his hat. It is not the threat of violence, but his lack of consent, that makes my action a theft.

Gutmann claims that if—as is often the case in date rape—a woman doesn't realize that she's been raped, and has to be convinced of it after the fact, she can't really have been raped. If Gutmann is right, then libertarianism is all wrong, since it's also true that most conscripts don't think of themselves as slaves, nor do most taxpayers think of themselves as victims of theft. The evil of socially legitimized coercion is that it so insidiously masks its true nature that even its victims do not recognize it for what it is. The "date rape education" seminars awaken the oppressed to the fact of their oppression.

Finally, Gutmann argues that it's demeaning to women to portray them as perpetual victims. I agree. But it's equally unhelpful to ignore the psychological conditioning that women in our society receive, conditioning that makes it easier for men to victimize them. In paying women the supposed compliment of regarding them as already liberated from this conditioning, Gutmann merely whitewashes the problem instead of offering a solution to it. In alleging women's complicity in date rape, Gutmann is simply perpetuating the myth that women are "asking for it"—thus helping to reinforce the psychological environment that leads to date rape in the first place.

Roderick T. Long
Ithaca, NY

Stephanie Gutmann drastically misrepresents the ideology, purpose, and methods of the Swarthmore College Acquaintance Sexual Assault Prevention workshops. The sentence that she quoted was from an old training manual that is no longer used and was quoted out of context, so as to suggest that our group includes inappropriate comments in the definition of the term rape. We view rape, as traditionally and legally defined, as the extreme end of a spectrum of situations in which a person is violated. Because of its narrow definition, we minimize our use of the word rape in our workshops and instead use "sexual assault" and "violation."

Ms. Gutmann argues that we encourage women to view themselves as "entirely passive, a hapless victim, there by accident." This is far from true. Our goal is to help women and men believe strongly enough in their right to refuse sex that they do refuse authoritatively, rather than tolerating the behavior of someone who ignores polite protests.

There is a crucial distinction to be made here. We are attempting to remove the social and emotional obstacles that may prevent women and men from doing all they can to prevent violation of their bodies. Recognizing the effect of these obstacles in no way transfers the blame for the incident to the victim. The moral responsibility for the prevention of rape lies with the aggressor.

Ms. Gutmann correctly says that in many cases of acquaintance rape, "more assertiveness on the woman's part could make a crucial difference." But failing to assert oneself is not a crime; using another person's body for sex without that person's consent is. In a civilized world—the one most women assume they inhabit—verbal refusal is enough. The woman who says "c'mon…no" has denied her consent. Ms. Gutmann's implication that she must prove her unwillingness with screams is as backward as the formerly popular view that a woman did not fight back enough and thus was not truly raped unless she was covered with bruises.

Ms. Gutmann suggests that our sexual-assault prevention efforts are really an attempt "to put some limits back on sexual behavior.…It's more acceptable to say that men are monsters…than to say 'I don't feel like it right now.'" This view assumes that women are incapable of making decisions about sexual behavior. Given the belief that their right to say no is absolute, which we try to help them come to, women are perfectly capable of saying "I don't feel like it." What is needed are not external controls on sexual behavior, but men who respect that "no" when it is said.

Ms. Gutmann concludes that the result of campus education on acquaintance rape is that "bad or confused feelings after sex become someone else's fault." Not categorically. Bad or confused feelings can result from a mistake—a situation in which someone made a choice she wishes she hadn't. But when these feelings are the result not of her choice but of someone else's choice imposed on her, then they are most emphatically not her fault.

Ms. Gutmann asks, "If you have to convince a woman that she has been raped, how meaningful is that conclusion?" Women whose concept of rape is limited to strangers in dark alleys frequently will not call it rape when they are forced to have sex by an acquaintance or boyfriend. We aim to expand students' concept of sexual assault to include victimization by nonstrangers. We want the student to recognize that she has the right to choose whether to engage in sexual activity, the right to refuse, and the right to have her refusal respected. Believing in her right to choose is the most meaningful conclusion a rape survivor can come to, because it allows her to own her own body.

Jessica McGrew
Melissa Emrey-Arras
Acquaintance Sexual Assault
Prevention Workshops
Swarthmore, PA

Ms. Gutmann replies: I obtained the Swarthmore College training manual from a University of Chicago Health Service counselor who was studying the date-rape literature. Whether or not it is still in use, the passage I quoted accurately reflects the fuzziness of the definitions employed by date-rape educators.

Mr. Ghermann, Mr. Long, Ms. McGrew, and Ms. Emrey-Arras are correct that consent is the crucial issue in defining rape. The problem is determining when consent has been given. In this respect, the distinction between rape and voluntary sexual intercourse is more subtle than the difference between borrowing and stealing a hat. Generally speaking, social convention dictates that we explicitly ask for permission before using someone else's property. In the case of sex, permission is granted through a range of verbal and nonverbal cues; the would-be lover who asks, "So, you want to have sex, or what?" is a crass oddity.

In the absence of evidence to the contrary, it is therefore reasonable to assume that a woman who engages in sex without protest does so willingly. If she does not really want to have sex, but keeps this information to herself, her partner can hardly be held culpable. Clear communication is a responsibility shared by men and women. To say that the responsibility is ultimately the man's, since he is an aggressor, begs the question. He is an aggressor only if the woman has withheld consent.

The problem of communication is complicated by the inherent ambiguity and traditional doublespeak of many sexual situations. Nevertheless, it is possible for a woman to make clear her lack of consent without actually kicking a fellow in the groin or scratching his face. By definition, a woman who has communicated this message engages in sex only because she has been coerced through the use or threat of physical force. That is rape.

The overarching concern of my article, which critics of the piece do not seem to understand, was well expressed by U.S. News & World Report writer John Leo in a column on sexual harassment codes: "Driven by feminist ideology, we have constantly extended the definition of what constitutes illicit male behavior." Given the publicity about AIDS and the constant drumbeat over sexism, passionate, trusting relationships between the sexes are fragile these days. It is not helpful for anybody—but particularly for young people—to discuss sexual relationships in a manner which seems to tell men that they are instinctively rapists, that rape is an easy crime to fall into, and that courtship is a minefield of criminal possibilities. The courtship dance is by its nature difficult and hesitant; let's not scare everyone off the dance floor.

Out of Control

One is always reluctant to correct factual errors in well-written articles like Rick Henderson's "Oceanfront Battleground" (Jul.). The fear is that the author will feel unappreciated, which in this case is certainly not true.

When Santa Monica's rent control was enacted, it rolled back rents by 16 months after a four-month freeze—not by a fixed percentage. As a result of this act, plus inadequate annual adjustments, rents now lag behind the local Consumer Price Index by an incredible 48.5 percent!

According to the 1980 census, a little more than 70 percent of this city's residents were renters, not the 80 percent widely reported by the media. That figure, however, was more than enough to permit the legalized plunder of the 9 percent who are rental-housing providers.

The incentive housing plan devised by Rent Commissioner Wayne Bauer did not offer rent increases on two-thirds of vacancies in return for the other third going to low-income renters. The plan is one-for-one. Buildings of 12 units or less could eventually go to half and half—if the owners live long enough. Buildings larger than 12 units are limited to one-third incentive, one-third low-income, and one-third unchanged.

Mr. Henderson should not be faulted for incorporating these flawed statistics, since Santa Monica is awash in plans, rumors, and manipulated figures. Overall, the substance of his article was outstanding, not to mention very welcome.

James W. Baker
Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles
Santa Monica, CA

As a Santa Monica landlord, I found "Oceanfront Battleground" familiar and frustrating. Familiar inasmuch as dire predictions about the imminent demise of Santa Monica's rent control have circulated since 1979; frustrating because there are few things quite as frustrating as having legal title to property (and its corresponding responsibilities) while feeling effectively expropriated by the welfare statists who initiated rent control in the city and now run it.

There are a few twists in the story of Santa Monicans for Renter's Rights that make it a peculiarly American/Hollywood one. First of all, it is a classic illustration of political radicals co-opting a self-interested populist sentiment to achieve "higher" goals. The leaders of SMRR have been very clear about their long-range aim: a cradle-to-grave welfare state. It could not help but be so, since SMRR was started, so the common wisdom holds, with Jane Fonda's money to support Tom Hayden's ambitions.

But the voters who supported SMRR, as Mr. Henderson points out, were strictly voting their self-interest. During the double-digit inflation of the mid- to late-'70s and that first period of astonishing appreciation of Southern California property, renters found themselves in buildings sold once or twice a year, with corresponding rent increases by the new owners to meet newer, bigger, higher mortgages.

Likewise, the marginal properties and single-family homes in a main residential quarter were coming down at an incredible rate. At one time in 1979, I counted in a 30-square-block area nearly 100 condominium projects. Tenants, and not a few homeowners, saw in rent control, and the development restrictions proposed along with it, a way to protect their interests.

But all this occurred because property owners had acquiesced to ever-more-restrictive zoning and building codes. Between the city codes, the zoning laws, and the additional burdens placed on much of the city by the California Coastal Commission (ostensibly mandated to "protect" the beaches, but in fact to protect the self-interest of the handful of people who got to the Pacific first), density in much of Santa Monica has "progressively" decreased while building costs have consistently increased. Property owners acquiesced, indeed supported, the government regulations that made the commodity they held rarer and dearer.

Given the three factors of increasingly restrictive building and zoning laws, perilous economic times, and an all-too-happy-to-be-convinced plurality of tenant voters, the scions of the '60s student movement that made up Hayden's political machine were able to take control of the city through rent control.

What is most odd about this group, however, has been its tenacious hold on transparent contradictions. In one breath, the most radical elements of SMRR demand that the state, the feds, and private property owners build low-income housing, and at the same time, they attack their own comrades in the city council for not downzoning more areas more quickly.

In its desperation to hold onto both political power and ideological purity, the SMRR has begun to splinter. The main stumbling point between the different factions is how explicit to make their social-engineering program. The more pragmatic members realize that the populist-inclined electorate really doesn't share these redistributive principles except where they get their own free lunch. The more dogmatic members don't quite understand that the ideology has run its course.

It's unlikely that rent control will be greatly modified, landlord initiatives notwithstanding. People know their self-interest; multimillion-dollar bureaucracies can protect themselves; and nothing short of a Chicago fire will allow enough housing to be built here to meet the demand. City regulations, city extortion of phenomenal fees for the right to remove old housing to build new housing (something like $64,000 per unit to take an apartment off the market), and a sophisticated opposition to any development guarantee a decreasing supply relative to a burgeoning demand. All in the name of keeping housing affordable.

Landlords who aren't building like strict zoning, because they know it will make their existing property more valuable in the long run. Meanwhile, developers pay incredible fees and are required to build as many parking spaces as bedrooms. Then they're attacked for not building low- and moderate-income housing.

Yet the television people keep moving here, if they can find a place, and they in turn try to convince us that all the ills of the world would be cured if we just got rid of real estate developers and if we were more environmentally sensitive. Maybe they'll buy an apartment building and learn a little bit about the realities of economic life. Or, if they get rich enough, make like Ted Turner, and date Jane and Tom together.

Dennis A. Gura
Santa Monica, CA