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Recently, presidential candidate John Kasich fielded a question from a young college student about what he will do as president regarding sexual misconduct on college campuses. A video of what Kasich said can be found at ABC News.

WOMAN: "Being that I am a young female college student, What are you going to do in office as President to help me feel safer and more secure regarding sexual violence, harassment, and rape."

KASICH: "In our state. We think that when you enroll, you ought to absolutely know that if something happens to you along the lines of sexual harassment or whatever, you have a place to go, where there is a confidential reporting, where there is an ability for you to access a rape kit, where that is kept confidential, but where it gives you the opportunity to be able to pursue justice, after you have had some time to reflect on it all."

KASICH: "And we are in a process of making sure that all higher education in our state, and this ought to be done in the country, that our co-eds know exactly what the rules are, what the opportunities are, what the confidential policies are, so that you are not vulnerable at risk and can be preyed upon."

KASICH: "I have two sixteen year old daughters, and I don't even like to think about it."

WOMAN: "It's sad that it's something I have to worry about just walking..."

KASICH: "I'll also give you one bit of advice. Don't go to parties where there's a lot of alcohol."

Some people have been critical of his remark. Could anyone help explain why his advice might be offensive and how he could have worded his advice?

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Original answer

You and some friends want to go check out an area of town that has a great restaurant, movie theater, bar, club, etc., but the location of the venues are in an area that has a reputation for being a rough part of town. Being social creatures, you really want to check this place out because you think it will be a lot of fun. Along the way you get mugged.

In this example, Kasich's advice would be,

"I will give you one bit of advice. Don’t go to a part of town where there’s a lot of crime."

Certainly following this advice would reduce your risk of getting mugged, but it would also cause you to miss out on many social gatherings. In this example, is the problem that you went to a rough part of town, or is it that this part of town has a higher crime rate? Should our public figures be advocating avoiding that part of town or ways in which we can reduce the crime rate and improve the safety in that part of town?

Rewording the statement won't do because what was said doesn't address the actual issue, it simply offers up advice to try and avoid the problem. It's important to offer advice on how to stay safe, but it's more important to go after the root cause of what is making a situation unsafe.

Added to address the new context provided by the edit

Based on the edit that provided more context as to the exchange that actually occurred, I would say three things:

  1. His answer does a good job of addressing ways in which he thinks victims should be helped.
  2. His answer is still lacking because it doesn't provide a plan for addressing the root cause, just for helping victims. To re-use the analogy above, he's saying that we should provide ways for victims to report being mugged, but he's not offering advice on how to reduce mugging.
  3. The last statement he made is still troubling, even in this context, for the reasons laid out above.
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One goal of the feminist movement is a society in which young women can enjoy the freedom to go to parties with lots of alcohol without being afraid of sexual assault.

While advising women to avoid this environment because it is unsafe is certainly a valid stop-gap measure to protect women from sexual assault in the short term, it comes at the cost of giving up their right to social participation. The long-term goal should be to change society in a way that people consider it a bad idea to sexually assault other people, no matter how drunk the victim or themselves.

That's why feminists react so hostilely to statements like this. The stop-gap measure is presented as a permanent solution to distract from the need for societal change. What feminists would like to hear instead is a statement like:

"It is unacceptable that women can not safely go to parties where there’s a lot of alcohol. That's why I propose [measures] to prevent people from committing sexual assault."

What "measures" are appropriate to reach this goal is another topic we could debate about endlessly, but acknowledging that the behavior of the perpetrators should change and not that of the victims is an important first step to reach a better society for everyone (yes, also for the heterosexual men who will certainly enjoy the company of women while getting drunk).

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It's a really offensive answer to the young woman. The implications are:

  1. It is her responsibility to avoid be raped, rather than a man's responsibility not to rape her.

  2. If she does go out and drink at a party, she is inviting rape.

  3. Rape is partially or wholly the victim's fault, unless the victim's conduct was 100% above any reproach.

Kasich is dead wrong here. Rape is never the victim's fault. It is the responsibility of young men to restrain themselves, to follow the law, and to show young women basic respect. Failure to do so is wrong. And it is ridiculous to try to attach blame for a crime deliberately and maliciously committed by a criminal to the crime's victim.

Young women in the United States should be able to go out to a party or other social gathering where alcohol is to be consumed without fear. Pretending as though this is somehow unrealistic is a sign of sexism and the need for a sharp attitude adjustment.

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I haven't heard about this statement, but I have heard about controversies involving similar statements by public figures, and most likely he is being accused of promoting rape culture, by telling potential victims of rape what to do, which is interpreted as blaming the victim for being raped, rather than focusing on the actions of rapists.

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    @Downvoter: I was describing the most likely explanation as to why the politician would be criticised. I wasn't supporting or opposing that criticism. So why downvote this answer? – Andrew Grimm Apr 17 '16 at 10:44
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    But the problem is this isn't asking what you think the problem might be it is asking why it is being criticized. So this is a very bad answer. – SoylentGray Apr 18 '16 at 15:02
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    @Chad People really do consider the advice that Kasich gave to be an example of rape culture. You might not agree with those people, but it is true that they exist. You might want to explain why they believe what they do, but that's a whole other layer of abstraction, and it's more easily said than correctly done. Andrew's answer ends at a clear layer of abstraction. it's possible to go deeper into the other layers, but it's perfectly acceptable not to. – Sam I am says Reinstate Monica Apr 22 '16 at 16:03
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    @Chad Yes it does. The question was why do people criticize Kasich's comments, and the answer was because those people think he's promoting rape culture. – Sam I am says Reinstate Monica Apr 22 '16 at 18:35
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    *I haven't heard about this statement, but I have heard about controversies involving similar statements * - Says no its a guess based on his opinion. – SoylentGray Apr 22 '16 at 20:10
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There are a few reasons why people might object to what Kasich said.

  • The advice requires her to give something up. Some people like to go to parties where there's alcohol, and it's not fair that they have to give that up in order to feel safe from crime.
  • Many people use "advice" as a way to dismiss a problem. A lot of the time, people will say "just do x" as a way to dismiss the problem altogether. My personal mental prototype of this phenomenon has to do with a somewhat esoteric example where in Magic the Gathering a player can fish for information by incorrectly proposing a shortcut, and the response of the community boils down to a dismissive "Just ask them how many tokens they're making, even if it doesn't matter". I personally don't think that Kasich was doing this, but I can understand how some people might associate what he said with that kind of dismissal.
  • It sounds similar to actual victim blaming. Some people interpret this to be victim blaming. I.E. "It's your fault you got raped because you went out drinking." The drinking example is one of the prototypical examples of victim blaming for rape, and I have to believe that it found it's way into the zeitgeist because people have actually used it that way in the past. I don't believe that Kasich used it in this way, but I can understand why people think about this kind of victim blaming when Kasich said what he said.
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    Of course he is using it that way. He is not offering as a bit of advice to his daughter, it's an answer to a question about “crossing the line”, as a presidential candidate… In this situation, even the very idea of offering advice to the person asking you a question instead of addressing the question itself is already objectionable. – Relaxed Apr 18 '16 at 17:26
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The basic problem is that it is considered "blaming the victim". Telling people to avoid risky behaviors is putting the onus on potential victims to avoid situations where they might be raped. Also, it can be seen as implying that the behavior of the potential rapists was to be expected under that situation.

I'm not sure that it's fixable by phrasing. I think that the critics correctly understood his basic point. They simply reject it. You might be able to improve it by having a young woman say it instead, but even there it's likely to draw some criticism.

I also don't know that he's wrong. Consider the following situation, loosely based on a real news story but possibly different in actual details. A young woman and man get drunk together at a party with lots of friends. As they get drunker, the woman gets more and more flirtatious. They stop at the man's room. Her friends knock on the door and ask her if she is all right. She yells back, sounding slightly annoyed, "Yes, go." Sometime around then, the two have sex, which she initiated. It was her first time but not his.

Later, once she is sober, she feels less happy about the encounter. She feels guilty and a sense of loss. She talks to a therapist about her feelings and the therapist suggests that she report it as a rape. The man gets prosecuted and let off because of the lack of evidence that it was nonconsensual.

What's the solution there? Her feelings were real and similar to those of a rape victim. Some of the people criticizing Kasich would argue that the young man should have been convicted, as he had sex with her while she was not competent to give permission.

From that perspective, the problem may simply have been that Kasich was giving his advice to the wrong people. It's the men who should be told to avoid parties with drinking, not the women. Otherwise, they may find that they had drunken sex with the wrong person, landing them in jail under affirmative consent laws. Short of that, those people will never be happy.

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    @IndependentLibertarian I'm not implying that her feeling like a rape victim actually makes her one. I'm saying that feeling like a rape victim makes her feel like a rape victim. And I'm pointing out that some argue that her being too drunk to consent does make her a rape victim under the law of affirmative consent. That may not be a consistent position (note that it allows for a sexual encounter where both participants are guilty of raping each other), but it is the actual position of some people. – Brythan Apr 18 '16 at 0:49
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    I down-voted this because you've included a lot of narrative that is not crucial to answering the question. In fact, some might say that a large portion of your answer is straight up off-topic. Remember, the less non-crucial information you have in your answer, the better it is. – Sam I am says Reinstate Monica Apr 18 '16 at 15:20
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    @SamIam It appears that the part you are saying is off topic is just an explanation for what people see as the problem. – SoylentGray Apr 18 '16 at 15:32
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    What, exactly, is the point of your purely hypothetical story in this answer? – user1530 Apr 18 '16 at 15:34
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    @blip The point of the hypothetical is to let people see how there are two views here. Without the story, there's no point to this answer. – Brythan Apr 18 '16 at 16:49
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The reason is because the left, and a certain portion of the progressive right believe that is is the governments job to pro-actively address social problems of those classes seen as vulnerable. Those people feel that rather than assign any responsibility for a persons health and safety on that persons actions they put it on the state to prohibit situations where health or safety could be endangered.

But that doesn't seem fair since the vulnerable will not have to change themselves but those that are seen as potential predators, but are not predators, would be affected. The truth is these people are not looking for fairness they are looking for an advantage in the guise of fairness.

The truth is being very drunk makes anyone vulnerable and there is a certain subset of males who are willing to take advantage of that. Those are both personal choices. It is not the pack making that decision it is the individual that is doing that.

And as such they see a potential advantage here by attacking Kasich's position of personal responsibility before governmental intervention. Certainly it does not address the perceived problem of poor sexual decisions and even predatory behavior, which is the solution they are looking for. Instead it put first individual responsibility of the person to proactively avoid situations that make them vulnerable in the first place.

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To put this a bit differently, it's because such a statement could be interpreted as suggesting that rape is just a "natural fact" of parties with alcohol, and thus that he is not necessarily entirely committed to holding men accountable when they rape, and there are instances where they are not adequately so held, and when you have it against that backdrop, the statements looks suspicious. That doesn't mean that it couldn't be sincere, but it's hard to tell given the background it comes against. As they say, the "bad apples" ruin it for everyone.

ADD: I also notice something else: Her question was specifically "What are you [that is, Kasich, acting in the capacity of a politician] going to do about it?" and then he tells her to not "go to parties where there are a lot of alcohol". She did not ask specifically for advice for how to personally minimize her own danger, but what his policy positions were. Thus to have this thrown in there could easily come across as suggesting the kind of apologetic-to-rape attitude mentioned above. That said, technically it's still ambiguous, but that is in part precisely the point. And it behooves a good communicator to take such things into account as even well-intentioned things might not be appropriate on all occasions precisely because they can be taken these ways.

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