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Cockblocking Rapists Is A Moral Obligation; or, How To Stop Rape Right Now

October 20, 2013

Throughout the now nearly five year history of this blog, I’ve written extensively about the dynamics of rape, who the rapists are, how they operate and what has to happen in the culture to make them stop.  Much of this is broad, and involves decades of change.  In the words of an old Jewish saying imparted to me by Jaclyn Friedman, “it is not yours to complete the work; neither is it yours to desist from it.”

But rape the social problem takes decades to solve, and the rapes that happen to us or our friends or the people we love don’t happen over decades, they happen all of a sudden.  When people read things like my responses to Emily Yoffe, they want to know, “I don’t have decades.  What do I do now?”

The activist answer to this question, in the broadest terms, is really easy.  You do what you can, with what you have, where you are.  What does that mean practically?  Here is what I think it means, today, and starting tomorrow.  Because this is coming up on the context of the Yoffe piece, I’m going to primarily address one common area where repeat-offender acquaintance rapists operate, adult and young adult social environments in the US, especially those where alcohol is the social drug of choice.  This leaves out stranger rape, where the dynamics are very different.  It also leaves out a whole slew of other circumstances that repeat rapists use.  For example, in institutional settings, like inpatient facilities and prisons, or in the armed forces, or in the certain sports environments or workplaces, there are very different dynamics and, probably, very different solutions.  I am not going to try to address those, though, because I don’t know enough about them.

What To Do Today: Cockblocking Rapists

The paradigmatic repeat rapist uses a set of tactics that work, and they go like this:  push alcohol, test boundaries, physically isolate the target, and narrow the target’s options.  Look for that, and break it up.  In the rapes of juveniles now being reported in Missouri, what did the older boys do?  The girls were already smashed, but they pushed more alcohol, they put them in separate rooms, isolated from each other and with no friendly faces around.  The person looking to get the drunk drunker, and then alone, is not to be trusted.

Spot The Boundary Testing

Look for the boundary testing.  If a rapist wants to buy someone a drink, and doesn’t take no  for an answer, what he got for his money is that the target can be talked out of “no.”

Not everyone who pushes boundaries is a rapist.  Some people think they can touch without asking, because they have absorbed some terrible ideas, or because they are in social circumstances –like some highly sexualized environments — where they think they can touch whoever and however they want.  That’s boorish, but it’s not the same thing as what the rapist does because the motive is different.  Someone who gropes or smacks like they have permission even when they don’t may think it’s funny, may think it’s cute, may think it’s a good way to get laid.  I have a problem with that, because that behavior makes it tougher for everyone else to see what the rapists are doing. But what the rapists do, they do for a different reason.

What the rapists do is target selection. They are looking for someone whose boundaries they can violate, and who won’t or can’t stand up for themselves.  The best targets, the ones who offer the rapists the best chance of getting away with it, are those who won’t report — or who will never even admit to themselves that what happened was rape.  The way the rapist finds those people is to cross their boundaries again and again, progressively testing and looking for resistance.

That’s the pattern to look for.  If somebody seems to be testing to see if one of your friends can be pushed off of “no,” has a limited ability to stand up for themselves, that’s the red flag.

The most important thing you can do if you see this pattern is tell the target you see it.  Forewarned is forearmed.  In fact, somebody who is being targeted and pushed and tested may think they see the pattern, but may not trust their own instincts.  If they know you see it, too, then they may trust a bad feeling that they are already feeling.

Offer Options

If you think someone is acting like a rapist, sizing up a target — encouraging intoxication, testing boundaries — then one of their best tools they have is to limit the target’s options.  The rapist wants to get the target isolated.  But when “hey, let’s go be alone somewhere” isn’t working, it may be because the target already has a bad feeling.  If the target needs something — a ride home, a place to sleep, that sort of thing — then they may be willing to overlook misgivings if the rapist is the one offering it.  A rapist will always want to be the target’s only ride home, only place to stay, etc.

It’s pretty easy to keep that from happening.  If the drunkest person in the room has been left by their ride, and the person who has been pushing them to drink more is offering to take them home, they may not want to go, but they may not have a better option.  Providing that option may be what gets your friend away from the potential rapist.

Protect The Drunks

Of course, people don’t only get drunk or high because someone pushes them to.  Lots of people get drunk or high because they want to.  Longtime readers will know that I don’t, but it’s part of the culture and it would be unrealistic to ignore it.  Lots of people want to get drunk or high.  And lots of people want to do that and then be sexual with someone.  Now, that’s not how I roll.  I wish alcohol had a less prominent place in our culture, and I wish there were a lot less overlap between sex and substance use.  But that’s a really hard problem to change, and the whole point of this post is to talk about what to do today and tomorrow, not what to change over the next couple of decades.

So maybe you have a friend who wants to get fairly drunk, and then finds someone to have some sexytime with.   That’s fine.  But just like we tell our friends when they’re too drunk to be driving, shouldn’t we tell our friends when they are too drunk to hook up?  Nobody can really take the keys away, but there’s a point past which we’re all pretty clear something shouldn’t happen.  People who can’t walk or form a sentence clearly can’t consent, and if we let people wander off like that with a potential partner, we’re abdicating responsibility to people who have no ability to exercise it.  People can make their own decisions when they are capable of making their own decisions.

What To Do Tomorrow: Make Sure Everyone Knows

The thing is, rapists absolutely need one thing to operate.  They need people to believe they are not rapists.  Stranger rapists do that by trying to hide that they are the person who committed the rape.  Acquaintance rapists do that by picking targets who won’t say anything about what happened, or by using tactics that, if the survivor does speak up, people will decide don’t really count as rape.  If you want to do something about rapists, make sure people know they are rapists.

I’m talking right-now solutions, literally something you can do tomorrow, so I don’t mean that over time we can change the culture so that alcohol-facilitated assaults are understood as rape.  Lots of people are working on that.  What I mean is that you can tell everyone you know that the person that you know raped someone, because the survivor told you and maybe only a few other people, is a rapist.  You may not be able to say how you know, because you may not have the survivor’s permission to talk about it.  But you can quietly tell your friends.

Cliff Pervocracy wrote about this in 2012: someone that, within a tight-knit community, lots of people know or suspect is a rapist, so much so that they kind of work around that person:

Have you ever been in a house that had something just egregiously wrong with it?  Something massively unsafe and uncomfortable and against code, but everyone in the house had been there a long time and was used to it?  “Oh yeah, I almost forgot to tell you, there’s a missing step on the unlit staircase with no railings.  But it’s okay because we all just remember to jump over it.”

Some people are like that missing stair.

And what people do is, without being able to prove it, sort of take for granted that this person can’t be trusted, stick someone on them to monitor them and keep them from being able to commit rape.  Cliff was very critical of this, as effectively if unintentionally covering for the rapist.  And I agree.  What communities need to do with the rapists in their communities is not to find a workaround; they need to actually deal with them, catch them and hold them accountable or throw them out.  But that has to start somewhere.  It starts with sharing information about the rapist.  It starts with the new people knowing what the allegations are, the old people knowing what the allegations are, the leaders knowing what the allegations are, and all the people who would make excuses for the rapist knowing what the allegations are.

Because of the way people work around rapists in social circles now, the communities keep kicking the can down the road.  New people often don’t find out until they’ve been around for a while, and some people know part of the story but not the whole story, and other people have a story about how one survivor isn’t credible but never have to deal with the commonalities between the several survivors’ accounts.

I drew a flowchart for my There’s A War On series, which dealt with consent violations, rape and abuse in kinky communities.  Here’s the flowchart.  What it shows is that if the stories of each individual survivor exist in isolation, the problem never gets dealt with.  The survivors are each on their own, and the fear or the reality of resistant community reactions will tend to silence them.  When those silos get broken down, the community can (and may be forced to) consider all the evidence together, which is really important to getting the fence-sitters and defenders to recognize that the behavior they are looking at is a pattern of abuse.

In the first instance, telling people what has been said, to the extent you can, will lead to the “missing stair” phenomenon, where people are wary of the accused rapist but feel like they can’t take decisive action, and so work around the person like a broken stair tread.  But what happens is that letting the stories grow legs will bring other stories out.  The serial rapists leave a trail of survivors; if the all speak up at once, the rapists can’t hide what they’ve done.

What can people do with unsubstantiated accusations?  Quite a lot, actually.  If you’re watching someone pushing one of your friends to have another round and getting handsy, would it be better to know if another person in your social circle said, “that person raped me”?  Yeah, that would be important to know.  And if two different people said it?  And, given the silence around rape and the low reporting rates, one story is often an important catalyst for another.  Once one story is out there, others tend to come up.  The more data, the easier it is to compare, and evaluate credibility based on multiple data points.  And what then?  Then, accountability.  That can look like a lot of different things.  It can look like prosecution.  It can look like some model of transformative justice, though I won’t try to make a pitch for transformative justice models because I won’t do it as well as its advocates would.*  It might look like ostracization, because any social group, when someone harms its members, ought to be able to say, “you’re not welcome here anymore.”

Some people will say that’s rumormongering.  Yes.  Yes, it is.  If stopping rape isn’t a good enough reason to spread rumors to you, then you and I have nothing further to discuss.

Some people will say that it’s unfair to do that, to simply take the survivor’s word, to say things about people without due process.  Well, due process is for the government, to limit their power to lock people up or take their property.  You don’t owe people due process when you decide whether to be friends with them.  You don’t have to have a hearing and invite them to bring a lawyer to decide whether to invite them to a party.  And let’s be honest, most of us repeat things that one person we know did to another person we know based on nothing more than that one participant told us and we believe them.  We do it all the time, it’s part of social interaction.

So if you want to do something, take the label, plant it on the missing stair in your social circle, and make it stick.

It Can’t All Be On The Survivors

I’ve seen the following two things happen:

(1) someone gets sexually assaulted, whether raped or violated in another way, and people say to the survivor, “you have to do something!  If you don’t do something, who will protect the next victim?”

(2) someone gets sexually assaulted, whether raped or violated in another way, and the survivor yells and shouts for people to deal with it, and the people who are friendly with both the survivor and the violator shrug their shoulders and try to stay “neutral.”

What these two things have in common is that in each case, the people around the situation place all the responsibility on the person who most needs help and can least be expected to go it alone.

That’s lazy, and that’s selfish, and it’s really easy.  It’s really easy because it requires nothing of the bystanders.  The people who are friends with both people may not want to accept that their friend, someone they are close to and think highly of, could do such an awful thing, because it calls into question their ability to judge people.

Or, they may just be afraid to confront people.  Confronting people is emotionally taxing, and it often irreparably ends the friendship.  In fact, about something as serious as rape, it invariably irreparably alters the friendship.  If you believe that your friend raped your other friend, and you say, “hey, you raped my friend,” then the old friendship is gone forever as soon as the words leave your mouth.  What remains is either enmity, or a relationship of holding someone accountable, just as tough and taxing as staying friends with a substance abuser who is trying to get clean and sober.  That’s not easy.  That’s a lot of work, and most people are not up for it.

The option most people choose, because it gets them out of that, is to choose to not make up their minds about what happened.  Now, you might think that people can do that with one accusation.  But believe me, people, that I could name several people who still “don’t know what happened” about a person — not the same person, but different ones — who has been accused not once, not twice, but at least three times of similar violations by three different people.

Just think about that.  “Hey, you’re still friends with Boris.  But X said Boris raped her.”  “Well yeah, but I don’t know what to believe.”  “Well, but you know what Y said, and Y’s account was a lot like X’s.”  “Yeah, but I don’t know what to believe.”  “But Z said Boris violated consent, too, and that’s three people …” “Well, I’ve been friends with Boris a long time, so I kind of don’t know what to think …”  (Trust me when I tell you, folks, I’m not making that up.)

What can you do tomorrow?  Don’t let your communities do that shit.  Hold your friends to a higher standard.

Now you may be saying to yourself that this isn’t relevant to you, that you never are in social circumstances where you see someone pushing people’s boundaries and pushing alcohol and looking to be the one to take the drunk “home.”  Or that in your community you don’t have someone who everyone kind of knows but doesn’t want to know is not to be trusted.  Or that you never see the bystanders sitting on their hands and making rape an issue between the survivor and the rapist.

And if that’s true, it must be nice where you live.

*I’m not a fountain of good references for transformative or restorative justice, either, but the restorative justice Wikipedia entry looks like a good place to start, and Tranformative Justice Law Project, and might also be useful reading.

91 Comments leave one →
  1. beauxlieux permalink
    October 21, 2013 6:17 am

    Judith Lewis Herman addressed restorative justice in her article, “Justice From the Victim’s Perspective.”

  2. October 21, 2013 5:52 pm

    Great post. Really useful information.

  3. beauxlieux permalink
    October 22, 2013 8:05 am

    What is the question this debate is trying to answer: how to reduce rape on campus or what to tell young woman going off to college? Yoffe is conflating the two questions. Yoffe’s critics are answering the first question. I agree with your analysis of the first question, but how would you answer the second question? What advice will you give your daughter going off to college?

    • October 22, 2013 8:51 am

      The best advice you can tell her is to tell her how the rapists act and what their targeting routine looks like. You can tell her that defending her boundaries, even if it makes her a “bitch,” is an important component of her safety, that people who think violating them is funny are assholes and people violate them progressively to see what she’ll do are dangerous. That’s more important than anything you can say about alcohol, and it’s what I’ve told my own relatives in high school.

      But I also think that the question can easily become the wrong one. We can tell other people information that may be useful to them. We cannot tell other people how not to get raped. I know, as a parent, that it feels so frustrating and helpless to accept that things in the world can happen to my kids that I can’t control, can’t protect them from, that I can tell them what I think they should do but I can’t do it for them and I can’t even be sure it will work if they do … but that’s parenting. They ride bikes and then they drive cars, and maybe they are off to college or the military or somewhere else far away, and all we can do is worry. If I knew of a magic talisman, a medallion-of-protection-from-rape, I’d tell you. But I don’t. The thing I’m going to have to accept with my kids, and that all of us have to accept as parents, is that I need to tell them what will actually be of use to them, and not try to tell them something that feels comforting to me, as a parent, as a way to manage my own anxiety. That’s what Yoffe is pretty clearly doing — managing her anxiety as a parent.

      • October 26, 2013 5:14 pm

        If we simply work at making everyone, male and female, aware of how numerous sexual predators are and how they operate, part of which is that most of them target victims too intoxicated to resist, women can work out for themselves that being severely intoxicated could mean being an easier target, and many of them will likely drink less without any of the kind of finger-wagging, shame-based anti-alcohol advocacy Yoffe seems to be pushing. Give people the facts and let them draw their own conclusions — “set their own risk tolerance,” as Phaedra Starling put it in the “Schrödinger’s Rapist” essay.

        Regarding this part: (1) someone gets sexually assaulted, whether raped or violated in another way, and people say to the survivor, “you have to do something! If you don’t do something, who will protect the next victim?” I think I’d have to be a hypocritical idiot to say that. The survivor did do something; she told me. Now it’s up to us, not just her, to do something about it.

        I would note, though, that I’m almost never in social circumstances where I could see someone “pushing people’s boundaries and pushing alcohol and looking to be the one to take the drunk ‘home,'” simply because I don’t drink and I’m almost never in social circumstances where alcohol is being consumed at all.

    • Mary permalink
      November 2, 2013 6:48 pm

      I remember having a conversation with a friend where she said, “Sure, I know all about victim-blaming and that, but realistically, you can bet I’ll tell my daughter not to drink and not to wear high heels she can’t run in, because there would be nothing worse than knowing she’d been raped because I hadn’t told her not to do those things.”

      For me, there would be something worse: if my child was assaulted, and couldn’t tell me or anyone else because she thought it was her fault because she was drunk, or wearing the wrong shoes or whatever. And had to deal with all of that horror and guilt and shame without support.

      so that’s the message I’d want to give my kid. Rapists are seeking the vulnerable, and yes, there are probably things you can do that will make *you* less vulnerable. But there’s nothing morally shameful about being more vulnerable or morally good about being less vulnerable, and there is nothing you can do that gives anyone the right to hurt you, or excuses them hurting you. I’d want my kid to go to college knowing how to trust herself, to be happy and secure enough to *want* to keep herself safe, but also to explore and take calculated risks and have fun, and to look out for and support her friends and anyone else she meets. And if something awful happens, to know that I’d have her back.

  4. lalouve permalink
    October 22, 2013 9:05 am

    I have come to the decision that spreading a false accusation about someone is still a lot less serious than not letting people know someone is a rapist, so I will go with telling what I’ve heard. Still, thank you so much for this: I have been the one stating what I think about someone who had been accused and calling for action to protect other potential victims, and that was very uphill work. This post really helped.

  5. BBoulder permalink
    October 22, 2013 6:26 pm

    As a victim of an attempted sexual assault this all rings so very clear. Especially the part of where the “common friends” remain inert. Even after his conviction people blamed me, or chose to “not take sides”. Seriously messed up. Great article, thanks.

  6. October 22, 2013 7:09 pm

    Reblogged this on As Things Go & As I Go and commented:
    Issues that affect my mind affect my writing… this is important.

  7. xenologer permalink
    October 22, 2013 7:35 pm

    Reblogged this on Dissent of a Woman and commented:
    “What can people do with unsubstantiated accusations? Quite a lot, actually. If you’re watching someone pushing one of your friends to have another round and getting handsy, would it be better to know if another person in your social circle said, “that person raped me”? Yeah, that would be important to know. And if two different people said it? And, given the silence around rape and the low reporting rates, one story is often an important catalyst for another. Once one story is out there, others tend to come up. The more data, the easier it is to compare, and evaluate credibility based on multiple data points. And what then? Then, accountability. That can look like a lot of different things. It can look like prosecution. It can look like some model of transformative justice, though I won’t try to make a pitch for transformative justice models because I won’t do it as well as its advocates would.* It might look like ostracization, because any social group, when someone harms its members, ought to be able to say, “you’re not welcome here anymore.”

    Some people will say that’s rumormongering. Yes. Yes, it is. If stopping rape isn’t a good enough reason to spread rumors to you, then you and I have nothing further to discuss.”

    • Eliezer Ben-Yehuda permalink
      October 28, 2013 6:36 am

      It is not “rumor-mongering”. It is a false accusation of a felony, which is slander. I guess y’all think that can never result in civil liability.

      • October 28, 2013 11:02 am

        I’m only letting this through because I think that telling you you’re wrong is more valuable than trashing your comment. Slander is a civil tort, a subset of defamation, along with libel. Whether something is actionable as defamation depends heavily on the jurisdiction. I could explain it to you, using small words, because I am a practicing litigator, and while media law is not my area, I do know a bit about it. You say that rumormongering is a felony; I’m sitting here in New York. Surely you can cite me a New York or Federal statute for that proposition? 18 USC something? NYPL section … ? Go ahead, we’ll wait.

        When nonlawyers wing wild-ass statements about the law, with total confidence, it reminds me of the old saying: “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” When actual lawyers weigh in on the law, you may notice that it tends to be cautious, caveated, very specific, or all three. When someone makes a blanket statement that doesn’t scan, it’s almost always because they have no idea what they’re talking about.

      • xenologer permalink
        October 30, 2013 3:47 am

        Or we’re aware of the actual statistical likelihood that an allegation of rape is false.

      • October 30, 2013 4:43 pm

        Thomas: FWIW I think you parsed Eliezer’s sentance incorrectly.

        “Falsely accusing someone of a felony (i.e.: rape) is slander.” would be the reconstruction of what I think he was trying to say that makes more sense.

        But I am not Eliezer, so I can’t say for certain that’s what he meant, and I am not a lawyer, so I can’t say whether that’s even true or not.

        And even if directly stating to your friend at the bar who is getting the hard sell from Mr. Handsy, “Hey, Mr. Handsy there is a known rapist.” does constitute slander, that’s easy enough to get around. “Hey Friend, I’ve heard from a number of sources that Mr. Handsy there isn’t very concerned with consent. It’s probably a good idea to firmly rebuff his advances. I’d be happy to back you up while you do it, if you feel like you need me.”

  8. akelaslair permalink
    October 23, 2013 2:38 am

    Debating how to change cultural norms is good, but it is also a convenient excuse for not doing anything. This post is helpful for the women who might be victims tonight. It helps us who stand around to act. Thank you.

  9. October 24, 2013 4:59 pm

    This is mostly discussing after the fact, using the 80/20 rule (Paretto numbers) we should focus 80% on prevention and 20% on “recovery.”

    • October 29, 2013 3:09 am

      I don’t see it that way. If it’s “after the fact” of one assault, and the assaulter is never challenged, then it’s potentially “before the fact” of a lot more.

    • Dicty permalink
      November 3, 2013 12:56 pm

      Given that rapist rape an average of six times, a discussion “after the fact” of the first rape is actually 83.3% prevention.

  10. October 28, 2013 8:20 am

    As an advocate/counselor and crisis line worker with more than 40 years experience I say “kudos” for the concept, and hope everyone will read this article and take it to heart. We cannot keep doing the “same old, same old” and expect to get new results.

  11. October 28, 2013 1:46 pm

    Totally hear what’s being said. But I think what I find more disturbing, however, is that there is a need FOR it to be said.

    In all honesty, I read this in the wider context of ‘How to be a good friend in any social situation’ or, on an even broader scale, ‘How to stand for injustice’. If you’re not looking out for your friend(s), that’s concerning.

    Fascinating blog!
    – Laidig.

    • October 28, 2013 1:54 pm

      Just to say that the first bit wasn’t a dismissal of the entry – it simply provoked a further thought/concern 🙂

  12. October 28, 2013 5:17 pm

    Reblogged this on hahayourefunny and commented:
    One thing i’ve learned in my young life is that pretty much EVERYBODY knows someone who has been raped or otherwise sexually assaulted. It’s time to take a stand.

  13. October 28, 2013 6:24 pm

    As a survivor and now working as a victim advocate I definitely have to thank you for your blog post! Transparency and accountability is key!

  14. October 28, 2013 7:19 pm

    I agree so much with all of this, but real life becomes very complicated.

    I’m aware of several serious sexual assaults which I’ve been told privately and the survivor wants the whole thing forgotten about, or to deal with in her own way. And that is her right. I know some dangerous men. I know that some dangerous men who are in social and sexual relationships with people that are at risk from their behaviour, and other than veiled hints I don’t have a fucking clue what to do about it.

    I also know of cases of inappropriate behaviour – unwanted social touching, explicit messaging, which can be and were dealt with, but with a massive backlash of “horrible person” when actually someone overstepped boundaries, got told off about it, apologised and went back behind boundaries. Yet the “stain” remained.

    So while *actually* dangerous men lurk because exposing them is too traumatic, men who breach in lesser ways and try to repair the damage get demonised with much drama, which means that those who have suffered at the hands of actually dangerous men become intimidated at the thought of being involved (because they cannot emotionally step out of it) in such an intense and public discourse.

    Its something that troubles me a great deal.

    • Carsen permalink
      December 11, 2015 4:31 pm

      Yes, I think this is comment is crucial to consider. While holding folks accountable within community can be an important and powerful tool for change, structures must exist to ensure that what occurs is a just and appropriate response to the violation. As with punishments within the criminal justice system are time-limited, and (in a best-case scenario) allow for rehabilitation of the perpetrator. If a community ostracizes someone in an organized way, in what manner can the individual make repairs and and re-attain membership to the group? In ancient times, being ostracized meant almost certain death. When one is ostracized from some more marginalized communities (such as the “queer community”) the lack of social support could result in the same end (death by suicide). Justice ought to be meted out in measured doses, not via mob mentality. I advocate for creating community structures that allow this to happen, or relying on existing options such as prosecution or restorative justice. However, all of the rest of the points about how to be aware of what behaviour is happening around you and what actions might mean and communicating this to each other and pointing out risk and creating other options for others in need are all excellent ways in which we can be allies to each other and take responsibility as a group rather than placing it on the victim. What someone is wearing or whether or not they are intoxicated never puts responsibility on the victim.

  15. Ted permalink
    October 29, 2013 2:39 pm

    Good post, thanks.

  16. October 29, 2013 9:14 pm

    Reblogged this on intersectionelle and commented:
    via Captain Awkward:
    ***Thomas qualifies it in the post, but it’s worth doing here: He is talking about a certain kind of acquaintance-rape, the type where perpetrator and victim are known to each other and part of the same social scene. He is also talking specifically about what friends/bystanders can do, NOT about how victims can stop their own attacks (by the way, fuck you forever, Emily Yoffe) and NOT putting responsibility on survivors (in fact, the last section of the piece is called “It Can’t All Be On The Survivors”) to make the social circle safer.***

  17. Artanya permalink
    October 29, 2013 10:12 pm

    Could you clarify “boundary testing” a little bit more? Because that’s a fairly ambiguous way to describe predatory conduct.

    Could “boundary testing” not also be framed as “gauging interest?” Two people are flirting and he puts his hand on the small of her back, etc. In a literal sense, he is testing her boundaries in that he’s making a move and seeing how she reacts. If she brushes his arm away, she’s not interested. If she let’s him touch her, then maybe she is interested, and maybe things can continue to progress from there. A pretty standard means of gauging interest, but something that could also accurately be described as testing boundaries. Something that you say rapists do.

    Could you elaborate on this point to better differentiate normal boundary testing from predatory boundary testing? Is it making repeated moves after a clear sign of disinterest? My alarm definitely goes off if I’m in a bar and I see someone badgering a woman into accepting a drink after clearly being told no. But that is more accurately described as “boundary pushing” then “boundary testing.” Might not “boundary pushing” be a clearer and more useful way to frame this point?

    Testing boundaries is fine. How else would you know where they are? It’s pushing boundaries, after they’re made clear, that’s the problem.

    • October 30, 2013 12:57 pm

      I mean the kind of boundary pushing that is past gauging interest and appears to be more consistent with trying to find out if the person can be talked or pressured into accepting something they clearly don’t want.

    • Anonymouse permalink
      October 30, 2013 9:58 pm

      I think one very important distinction between “gauging interest” and pushing/testing boundaries is what the person is looking for in terms of signs, and what they intend to do with the information.

      Gauging interest is specifically looking for POSITIVE responses. Like, I have a guy who I am friendly with who I like and want to date. Over the past couple of months I have been doing things to gauge his interest: throwing out specific topics of conversation to see how he reacts and, yes, finding small excuses to touch him on the hand, shoulder, whatever. His reaction is important: positive means that he likes what I’m doing so I should continue, while negative or neutral means he does not like or is uncomfortable with the thing so I should stop. I am not looking to find his limits or boundaries; I’m looking to figure out if he likes me the way I like him while engaging in behavior that is pleasant for both of us (and avoiding behavior that is not fun for him).

      Testing or pushing boundaries, however, is specifically about going as far as you can until you get a NEGATIVE response. And, in the case of pushing boundaries, seeing how far past the initial negative response you can push until the person stops you. It not about trying things to figure out what the person likes and doesn’t like; it’s specifically about finding how easily they’ll let you push them into things that they don’t want and/or that make them uncomfortable.

      To bring it back to my story about the guy I like; I have NO idea what his boundaries are because I have not tried to find them. When I try something new to gauge his interest, I–to the best of my ability–first make sure that whatever I do will be OK with him (even if he doesn’t have a romantic interest in me). Before I even considered touching him, for instance, I observed his behavior with not only me but other people in order to make sure that a casual, friendly touch wouldn’t be unwelcome. When I throw out certain topics of conversation, I make sure that I give him a verbal out if he doesn’t want to discuss the topic (for something potentially uncomfortable I normally ask some version of, “Is it okay if we discuss topic X?”). I have never once tested his boundaries, but I have found out a lot about what he likes and doesn’t like in the time that I have known him. It may not be the most efficient way to figure out if he wants to date me, but it is working pretty well in building a friendship (which is what I want if he isn’t romantically interested) so I consider it a win.

      So, yeah, long winded way of saying that 1) no, “gauging interest” and “boundary testing” are not the same; and 2) “boundary testing” is still hella creepy and predatory behavior.

      • Artanya permalink
        October 31, 2013 3:25 pm

        “I am not looking to find his limits or boundaries; I’m looking to figure out if he likes me the way I like him while engaging in behavior that is pleasant for both of us (and avoiding behavior that is not fun for him).”

        I get what you’re trying to say, but I’d argue that this is a distinction without a difference. “Boundaries” are commonly understood to mean “what someone is comfortable with,” not “what is the most that they will endure.”

        So “testing boundaries” means trying to find out what someone is comfortable with. It doesn’t mean trying to find the limits of what you can get away with. I still contend that “pushing boundaries” would be a more useful way to frame this point.

      • Anonymouse permalink
        October 31, 2013 9:37 pm

        Uhm, “boundaries” are not, in fact, commonly understood/defined as either “what someone is comfortable with,” OR “what is the most that they will endure”. Boundaries are the rules and limits that a person creates for themselves that define what interactions are reasonable, safe, and/or permissible. In general, things that people are comfortable with are things fall within a person’s boundaries; things that people are uncomfortable with fall outside of a person’s boundaries.

        “Testing boundaries” means finding what the line between comfortable/uncomfortable is. It also heavily implies that finding the person’s limit before they are uncomfortable and/or will tell you to stop is the goal of the interaction. Testing someone’s boundaries without their explicit permission–ESPECIALLY in a situation where you are first getting to know a person–is both creepy and predatory behavior.

        What I was talking about is staying well within a person’s comfort zone. By observing how a person interacts with the people around them, how they interact with you, the kinds of things they say about what they are comfortable with, etc. it is not that hard to find behaviors that advance your relationship with that person without coming close to the limits of what that person finds comfortable. Obviously mistakes happen and sometimes people push boundaries that they didn’t meant to (and didn’t have reason to think were there), but the GOAL should be to stay well within a person’s comfort zone.

        To use the example from your first comment:

        Two people are flirting and he puts his hand on the small of her back, etc. In a literal sense, he is testing her boundaries in that he’s making a move and seeing how she reacts. If she brushes his arm away, she’s not interested. If she let’s him touch her, then maybe she is interested, and maybe things can continue to progress from there. A pretty standard means of gauging interest, but something that could also accurately be described as testing boundaries.

        For me, there is a huge difference in the way I read the man’s behavior in your example depending on whether he was “testing boundaries” or working from within her communicated comfort zone.

        If he is touching her in a way that tests her boundaries? That is predatory behavior, plain and simple. If, through her flirting, she has not communicated to him (verbally, through body language, however) that a touch would be welcome then he should not touch her. If he thinks that him touching her might be outside of the safety/comfort limits she would place on their current interaction then he has a moral obligation to not touch her. Touching her in the absence of POSITIVE signals (and, depending on context, her flirting with him may or may not count as a positive signal) with the expectation that she will brush his arm away if it is outside her comfort zone puts the onus on HER to say “no” rather than the onus on HIM to stay within her comfort zone and not push her. That is predatory behavior.

        Now, take the same exact scenario but have his touching her be something that he believes is well within her comfort zone. Through their flirting and other interactions, she has given him POSITIVE signals that she would welcome a touch from him. If he touches her in this scenario, it is not to find out whether the touch is inside or outside of what she finds comfortable but BECAUSE he has reason to believe that it is within her comfort zone. If he didn’t think she would enjoy the touch, he wouldn’t do it. That is NOT predatory behavior–even if he mistook the signals–because he keeps the onus on HIMSELF to make sure things move at a pace that is safe/comfortable for her, rather than putting HER in a position of having to enforce her boundaries because he didn’t care to read her signals about what was and was not appropriate.

        What defines a situation as predatory/not predatory is not in the interaction (two people are flirting –> one reaches out to touch the other –> the other responds), but rather in the context around those actions. In this case, “testing boundaries” IS predatory because it is specifically looking for that LINE between “okay” and “not okay”, rather than looking WITHIN the person’s comfort zone for behaviors that will be welcome.

      • Artanya permalink
        November 5, 2013 4:22 am


        I still think you’re attempting to draw a distinction without a difference. If a man and a woman are flirting, and said man initiates a casual touch, then he is not guilty of predatory behavior if he stops at the first sign of disinterest.

        Why? Because he’s not looking for any easy rape target, he’s interested in her and wants to see if she would be receptive to his advances. He wants her to be comfortable with his advances and will stop if she doesn’t appear to be. It all depends upon the motivation.

        What the predators do is deliberately violate someone’s boundaries to see if they will complain. If they don’t, then they’ve identified a good target. They’re not interested in whether or not the other person is comfortable with their advances, they’re only interested in whether or not the other person will *resist* their advances. If they’re clearly uncomfortable, but don’t speak up or resist, then the predator has found his mark.

        It can be hard to tell the difference from the outside. Which is why these predators are so infuriating. What they do can seem so superficially similar to normal courting behavior that it can be hard to spot the difference.

      • Anonymouse permalink
        November 5, 2013 8:45 pm


        Why are you so resistant to the idea that there is a distinction between operating within a person’s communicated boundaries and testing those boundaries?

        Do you honestly not understand that within the context of rape culture that “normal” courting rituals can include rapey elements? Do you honestly not see the difference between testing for a ‘no’ and waiting for a communicated ‘yes’?

        I honestly don’t know how clearer I can put this: it might be seen as normal for men to gauge a woman’s interest by trying things until she gives them some sort of negative signal, BUT THAT DOES NOT MAKE IT HEALTHY BEHAVIOR.

        Seriously, re-read everything I wrote in my above comments. Work very hard to understand the difference between going until you hit a negative response and waiting until you see positive signals. Because until you understand why that IS a meaningful distinction, you are enabling rape culture. And I am pretty sure that that is NOT the team you want to be on.

      • Artanya permalink
        November 6, 2013 4:11 am


        I’m not necessarily disagreeing with you. Pay attention to what I am saying. Even if the normal script for flirting is somewhat problematic, that is a separate issue from what the PREDATORS do.

        I’m specifically arguing that such behavior is not PREDATORY because it is not motivated by a desire to find a target to rape. It can still be problematic, but it is not predatory in the way we are using that term in this discussion. Where we are specifically talking about deliberate serial rapists and the means they use to select their targets.

      • Anonymouse permalink
        November 6, 2013 10:06 pm


        You are, in fact, disagreeing with me on the very important point that there is a difference between boundary testing and staying within a person’s boundaries. You have stated this clearly and unambiguously in pretty much every comment you’ve posted on this thread. And I quote:

        Could “boundary testing” not also be framed as “gauging interest?”

        I get what you’re trying to say, but I’d argue that this is a distinction without a difference.

        I still think you’re attempting to draw a distinction without a difference.

        The fact that you are unable/unwilling to see that the distinction is important disturbs me. It also disturbs me that you downplay rapey, unhealthy behaviors that have been normalized because of rape culture as “somewhat problematic”. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II failing the Bechdel test is “slightly problematic”; the fact that the typical script for flirting normalizes predatory behavior to the point where rapists/predators are rendered invisible is a huge fucking problem. Especially when you factor in the fact that women (who are disproportionally on the receiving end of boundary testing) are taught from birth to not enforce their boundaries:

        Women are socialized to make men feel good. We’re socialized to “let you down easy.” We’re not socialized to say a clear and direct “no.” We’re socialized to speak in hints and boost egos and let people save face. People who don’t respect the social contract (rapists, predators, assholes, pickup artists) are good at taking advantage of this.

        “No” is something we have to learn. “No” is something we have to earn. In fact, I’d argue that the ability to just say “no” to something, without further comment, apology, explanation, guilt, or thinking about it is one of the great rites of passage in growing up, and when you start saying it and saying it regularly the world often pushes back. And calls you names.

        Furthermore, I am going to call you the fuck out for the “predator”/”not predator” false dichotomy you are trying to set up. You are literally saying that predatory behavior is only predatory when it’s done by a person who intends harm. This is shit; intent is not fucking magic.

        Listen, a person who tests someone else’s boundaries (without their explicit consent) is engaging in predatory behavior. In defining “boundary testing” as predatory behavior or not (which is what started this entire conversation thread), whether or not the person is a predator/rapist is irrelevant. Predatory behavior is a “what you did” conversation and NOT a “what you are” conversation.

        You, dude (I am pretty confident that you are a man and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you are a cis het man because your arguments are very close to the societal script for the Good/Nice Cis Het Guy), are enabling rape culture. You are giving your support to Team Rapist. Right now. In this thread.

        You are downplaying the seriousness of predatory behavior by trying to call it merely “problematic” if done by someone who is well intentioned. You are privileging the feelings/thoughts/intentions of the person doing the bad thing RATHER THAN the people who are targeted/hurt/victimized by the bad thing. You are refusing to understand that rape culture is a spectrum, not a binary, and because of that a whole lot of non-predators engage in predatory behavior and end up making it easier for predators to operate. You are, in essence, trying to draw a distinction between predators/not-predators in a way that erases the responsibility of people to not do things that are harmful to the boundaries and consent of the other person.

        Throughout this conversation I have assumed that you are in this discussion thread because you are genuinely interested in helping to stop rape culture. Under that assumption I am going to give you some advice: stop being THAT guy. The “I’m on your side except that I want you to define these terms in a way that makes me comfortable” guy. The one who thinks that he’s doing a great job fighting a problem but whose arguments are in support of the framework that allows the problem to continue existing. THAT guy is a guy that people with good intentions should actively work to avoid being.

        At the very least please consider the possibility that you are holding some toxic views (because growing up in rape culture means that we all are taught fucked up things about consent) and that they are coloring your POV on this issue.

      • Anonymouse permalink
        November 10, 2013 7:58 pm


        I posted a comment on Nov 6 that got stuck in moderation because I linked to stuff (and WP anti-spam measures means that 3 links = straight to moderation). I was hoping it would be published by now, but it looks like the mod(s) haven’t been able to get to it yet :/ Hopefully it’ll be up soon.

      • Artanya permalink
        November 11, 2013 9:42 am


        What in blazes are you even on about? How do you test boundaries with explicit consent? I’m not talking about groping someone. I’m talking about a touch on the shoulder, or the arm, or the small of the back in the context of flirting.

        What should someone do, ask: “May I please have your explicit consent to place my arm upon your shoulder in a flirtatious manner?” Not only would that be unusual, that would be unheard of. I think I’m done with this conversation because you’re beginning to sound more and more unhinged.

      • Anonymouse permalink
        November 11, 2013 7:38 pm


        I was going to answer you about the explicit consent, but then you said this:

        I think I’m done with this conversation because you’re beginning to sound more and more unhinged.

        I spend my time not only explaining things to you, but linking you to several resources that are related to the discussion and you fucking say that I “sound more and more unhinged”?!?! What the everloving fuck.

        I am sorry I ever gave you the benefit of the doubt, you sexist, ableist piece of human waste. This is what I fucking get for trying to have a real discussion about social justice with a guy who wants to test women’s boundaries free of any kind of consequence. You were never here to listen; you were here to try and get support for your shitty behaviors. I’m done with this shit.

      • Anonymouse permalink
        November 11, 2013 8:35 pm

        Uuugh, tag failure. Mods, if you read this can you fix the close tag on my bold?

      • Annima permalink
        November 12, 2013 2:04 pm

        Hi Anonymouse,
        thank you for your comments, you’ve given me great arguments to fight toxic views like the ones Artanya posted. I always get too angry to talk or I forget what I wanted to say. But every time I read or hear anybody else, it gets a little easier. Like replacing years of toxic behaviors with healthy ones. But it takes time, so I greatly appreciate everybody who talk so openly.
        And I agree with you – I also think, that Artanya is a dude, who just wants to get support. He actually posted an identical comment on Captain Awkward’s thread about predator prevention, where he was also corrected, but for some reason didn’t keep posting.
        Could you post some examples/scripts on how to make sure somebody wants to be touched even in casual way?

      • Anonymouse permalink
        November 12, 2013 10:17 pm

        Mods, thanks for fixing my comment’s tags.

        Annima, I’ve answered your comment down thread.

      • Artanya permalink
        November 24, 2013 9:24 am


        Yeah, you see that’s the sort of thing I was talking about. And for the record, I’m a het woman you raving fuckwit.

    • November 11, 2013 9:01 pm

      “I’m not talking about groping someone. I’m talking about a touch on the shoulder, or the arm, or the small of the back in the context of flirting.”

      “I’m not talking about groping someone, only I AM talking about groping someone. Geez all you unhinged feminazis, leave me alone to molest, grope and sexually assault women without consent and with impunity, BUT DON’T YOU DARE CALL ME A PREDATOR OR RAPIST!

      So we women are “unhinged” when we are telling you you are indeed a predator (pRedditor) and are probably a rapist.

      • Artanya permalink
        November 24, 2013 1:33 pm

        Well that’s one way to prove one’s levelheadedness.

        If this discussion has led you to conclude that I’m probably a rapist. Then yes, you, specifically, are seriously unhinged.

    • November 12, 2013 3:35 pm

      Artanya, at this point, what you’ve actually said (perhaps not what you meant to say, but intent isn’t magig; what you have in fact said) is that surely there is some leeway for a man to touch a woman in a way she doesn’t like, without her permission, and not be called predatory. Can you see why people might respond to that with anger and frustration? If you’re the one with the body that gets treated as public property all the time and policed all the time, and someone comes along trying to draw careful distinctions between which violations of your bodily autonomy are really indicative that they’re awful people and which are just the background level of sexist bullshit in the culture, can you see why you’d get upset? If you can’t, then there is no hope for you and you need to acknowledge that you’re not going to do social justice work that doesn’t benefit you personally, and leave. If you can see why that would upset you, then congratulations! You’re engaged in examining your privilege! It’s not easy, but it is a very worthwhile process.

      These problems exist in the messy real world, and if you expect to be able to do tidy-minded line drawing exercises like everyone’s a vulcan and nobody has feelings or a dog in this fight, well, those are unrealistic expectations.

      • Katie permalink
        November 22, 2013 5:05 pm

        I think I saw it on Captain Awkward somewhere, and it totally blew my mind – “you are not entitled to know what someone’s boundaries are.” As in, if you’re running up against someone’s boundaries you’ve already gone too far. There is ENORMOUS latitude within normal social scripts to ask people out, to flirt, to gauge interest. If you are “boundary-testing,” as you call it, you are poking into the far reaches of that person’s comfort zone and it’s already not ok. Someone’s boundaries are their own business.

      • Artanya permalink
        November 24, 2013 10:17 am

        Let’s clarify a few points:

        * The arm around the back would not occur out of the blue. It would occur after a period of verbal flirting and would simply constitute an escalation to physical flirting. Hopefully after some non-verbal invitation, or at least perceived non-verbal invitation.

        * If the woman in the scenario reacted to the man’s gesture by remaining perfectly stiff, that would be an understandable “no.” By “let’s him touch her,” I didn’t mean total passivity. I meant leaning in to him, putting her arm around him in kind, or just generally exhibiting a receptive posture. Awkward passivity means that your gesture is not welcome to most people. That would be a rebuff.

        * What is a realistic alternative to this dynamic? Do you seriously expect an explicit verbal Q&A prior to any and all physical contact AND for every slight escalation of already established physical contact? “May I place my hand around your back?” “May I now rub your back with the hand that I have placed thereon?” “May I now move said hand to your hair and stroke it affectionately?” That would suck all the sexual tension from the room and turn flirting into a horribly tedious and robotic exercise that I can’t imagine would be especially fun for either party. I agree that “yes means yes” but for god’s sake there’s some practical limits.

        * I understand that this is an emotive issue, but the uncompromising rhetoric really does this movement a disservice. If two people are flirting, one party escalates the level of flirtation after a mistakenly perceived invitation to do so, and then quickly realizes their mistake and stops after a non-verbal rejection, then the harm done (slight discomfort) is quite minimal and the escalating party is not behaving like a predator. This typical dynamic, while not perfect, is certainly preferable to world in which all of us walk on eggshells terrified that we might accidentally bump elbows without a signed contract.

      • Anonymouse permalink
        November 24, 2013 11:28 pm

        Thomas, what EXACTLY gets a person banned here? How many abusive, ableist slurs is Artanya going to get away with flinging at people until someone steps in and says enough is enough?

        Or do you seriously think it’s okay for a commenter to call other commenters who disagree with them “unhinged” and a “fuckwit”?

      • November 25, 2013 10:47 am

        Done. I’ve been swamped with work and not paying close attention, sorry.

      • Artanya permalink
        November 25, 2013 7:38 am


        What a ridiculous hypocrite. Let’s recap how this went down. I told you I’d like to end the discussion because you were beginning to sound unhinged. This prompted a histrionic tirade from you in which you called me a “piece of human excrement” among other things. I then respond by calling you a “fuckwit,” and you then complained that I’m calling you names.

        Nice to see that the definition of “ableist” is still infinitely elastic, however. Calling me human excrement is ableist because it’s disrespectful to those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome. The fact that you consider calling someone unhinged to be “ableist” shows that you hail from the TUMBLR school of social justice activism. Of all the “isms” in the world, none is abused half so much as ableism. Ableism is indeed a real thing, but 99.7% of the stuff that gets called “ableist” on the internet hardly even approaches.

      • Anonymouse permalink
        November 27, 2013 4:54 am

        Thanks, Thomas.

        And, just because I am super sick of the ridiculous use of tumblr like it’s some trump card to dismiss people I’m going to leave this link here: What The Hell Is A “Tumblr Feminist?” because it can’t be said better than that. Seriously.

  18. newtonsparisappletart permalink
    October 30, 2013 12:32 am

    Reblogged this on newton's paris apple tart and commented:
    This is a great article. I agree that making information about how rapists work is powerful and the best way to combat rape. Telling women, “Rapists use these tactics” rather than telling women, “Don’t get drunk” is helpful and not merely a matter of semantics. Whether she realizes it or not Yoffe’s advice telling women not to drink shows that society will tolerate violence against women who drink and that we don’t really consider rape with alcohol, “rape rape” because those women should not have been drinking anyway. On the other hand saying, “Rapists use these tactics” lets people know that we consider rape with alcohol “rape rape” and that we are calling it out and refusing to tolerate it.

    Rapists use alcohol not because alcohol is intrinsically tied to rape but because that is where North American society draws the line at what they will prosecute as rape. Rapists will use whatever tactics they know they can get away with. As someone pointed out in another alcohol, rape happens in places where there is no alcohol around so women not drinking is not the solution to rape. Furthermore rapists in other parts of the world will go beyond alcohol and use physical violence as well or they will rape women who walk alone, they will go exactly as far as that society tolerates. If society has sympathy for women who were raped with violence but not for women who are raped with alcohol, rapists will rape with alcohol but not with violence. If society has sympathy for women who are gang raped with violence but not for women who are raped with violence then rapists will make sure to not gang rape because society has sympathy for those victims and no tolerance for violent gang rapists.

    In India last year it went as far as a woman (who was “not even out alone” but had a male friend with her) being gang raped, tortured and killed because society could not even draw the line at violence or gang rape. It’s all dependent on which victims society decides to have sympathy for and what forms of rape society will tolerate.

    It’s obvious that Yoffe’s advice to “not drink” would not work in India and many other places in the world and do little lower women’s chances of being raped. No one has any illusion that that advice is universally useful to women. The only reason that women not drinking even lessens their chances of being raped in North America is because North America has chosen to prosecute those who rape with violence and rapists have learned that violent rape will not be tolerated. The only reason ANY rape prevention tips have a snowball’s chance in hell of working is because we have some police and legal system in society that does not tolerate crime. What prevents rape is society’s intolerance of crime, conscience and demand for justice, the actions of police and the legal system. Rape prevention tips do nothing to stop rape, they simply let the victims and rapists know what kind of rape society will tolerate. Society’s intolerance of rape is the only and best rape prevention tool. Rape stops anywhere we draw the line and refuse to tolerate it and rape begins anywhere we decide to tolerate it and allow rapists to terrorize women into limiting

    • misspiggy permalink
      October 30, 2013 4:43 pm

      You make many excellent points. What you say has made me realise that in the society I move in, it has been decided that rape of women suffering mental illness will be tolerated.

      • newtonsparisappletart permalink
        October 31, 2013 12:30 pm

        Yes that has been decided. What kind of rape is tolerated and what kind of rape isn’t tolerated is completely arbitrary. And rapists know exactly what they can and cannot get away with. Many rape victims/survivors feel that our legal system rather than being a system of rape prevention, is a system that regulates rape. Rape is regulated in a similar way to the way we regulate the sale of milk, “You can sell milk but you have to meet these conditions.” You can rape but you have to meet these conditions. “The victim should be drunk or mentally ill, you can’t rape with direct physical force here but if you follow the other rules you can go ahead.” Repeat rapists have an intuitive an exquisite understanding of these rules, as has pointed out this blog before.

  19. Matt permalink
    October 30, 2013 1:09 pm

    1. I feel uncomfortable with the notion that it’s okay to ostracize people without “due process”. Marginalized people (marginalized within the communities being discussed) may be targeted for fake accusations or singled out for shitty behavior, so it’s not that difficult to get one or five people saying their are “dangerous” or “untrustworthy”.

    2. Reading through the comments I am surprised at the amount of people that think about rape solely in terms of male on female rape.

    • October 30, 2013 1:20 pm

      People get marginalized in social groups without due process simply because people don’t like their sense of humor, their taste, or their personality. The idea that we have a right to be part of a social group is really unsustainable. As for rape that does not fit the male on female paradigm, I think the commenters are reacting to the post, which explicitly caveats that it is addressing one particular dynamic, and in that respect I am reacting directly to Emily Yoffe, who herself addressed only one narrow dynamic.

      • Matt permalink
        October 30, 2013 1:27 pm

        I was talking about people marginalized for things like sexual orientation, gender identity, level of ability, etc.

      • October 30, 2013 1:42 pm

        Wait, are you arguing that in purely social grouping, just people handing out, that folks should have some sort of formal recourse when they feel excluded? What would that look like?

      • Matt permalink
        October 30, 2013 1:30 pm

        i.e. some cis people think it’s inappropiate for trans people to use the bathroom…

        What I’m saying is that some groups of people might get accused of being “creepy”, etc. a whole lot more than others. Do we really what to reinforce those dynamics?

      • October 30, 2013 1:43 pm

        No, we don’t want to reinforce those dynamics. And in your mind, that means we should … what? What are you saying should happen when people make someone feel unwelcome in their friend group?

      • Matt permalink
        October 30, 2013 6:13 pm

        I’m just saying that some people will be more inclined to believe accusations against someone out of bigotry and that while I understand where the idea that we should believe victims comes from I think that has problematic implications in practice and that we should be more cautious.

        For example, let us assume a trans woman is accused of harassing a cis woman in a bathroom at a party. According to what you wrote, we should take that accusation at face value without taking into account that given her trans status there are many bigoted people who would believe that about her even if they would be more skeptical if the alleged perpetrator was a cis woman and run off and tell everyone. An accusation like that not only can hae more severe consequences for someone already marginalized in society, but it could even be a fake accusation made out of bigotry. Do you really wann be the guy who gives the bigot a platform?

      • October 31, 2013 6:49 am

        You are desperately straining for ways to say we can’t make judgment calls, but your argument proves too much. We live in a society of prejudice; the criminal justice system is absolutely closed for business to rape allegations from trans folks, sex workers, kinksters and many others. You’re saying that because a bigot may try to use a false accusation to exclude someone, we shouldn’t act on unproven allegations — and what’s the alternative? to rely on systems that are even more shot through with bigotry? Or to do nothing? You’ve identified a problem that isn’t particular to what you’re criticizing, and you have not proposed any other solution.

        Your friend comes to you and says, “X raped me. But I don’t know what to do about it. I don’t feel like the police are an option for me because of my trans status, but I think our friends should know so that he can’t do it to anyone else.” What do you do?

      • October 30, 2013 7:34 pm

        Given the context that we’ve been talking – mostly girls/women being raped by men I think you are reading too much into this. A bit of common sense can be used. If a situation such as you described happened it would be a heads up to keep an eye on both women for a bit. I suspect the bigot’s colors would show and the trans women might take to bringing someone safe with her into the bathroom (or to stand outside if its at a private house) to prevent future incidences. Once you see the bigot repeat the behavior a few times her word can no longer be trusted. However if other cis women were to complain of the same thing their might be a problem. It’s not a safe group for the trans woman as too many bigots or she is harassing people.

    • Mary permalink
      November 2, 2013 7:17 pm

      I think it’s definitely worth reminding people that their instincts about who is and who isn’t safe are culturally conditioned, and are very likely to contain a heavy dose of prejudice about race, mental illness, gender identity or whatever else at the same time as it includes valuable information about who is and isn’t safe.

      At the same time, it’s not doing the marginalised people any favours (I don’t think) to tell people that whatever feelings of discomfort they have about marginalised people in their social group should just be blanked and ignored. Personally, if I was in a group where someone felt deeply uncomfortable about hanging out with a lesbian, I’d probably rather they heeded that sense and kept a little way a way from me than denied that feeling and tried to make sure they looked like my best friend. If there were a lot of people in that group who felt deeply uncomfortable about hanging out with a lesbian, again, I’d rather know about it. It might be seriously unpleasant in the short term, but it’s probably better in the long run.

      I can certainly see situations where trans* people or people of colour get more than their fair share of suspicion / creepiness attributed to them, and I definitely think that can be discussed, but I can’t really imagine a situation where ignoring that is a good thing. If you’ve got a situation where X is always saying, “I dunno, he just seems a little … You know what I mean?” and it’s always about the black guys, it’s either going to be a group where someone is going to pick up on that and the same group openness hopefully also makes it easier for someone to say, “hey, does anyone think that X has, uh, a Thing about black guys?”, or it’s a group where lots of people have a Thing about black guys, and, I don’t know, are there many black guys who’d want to stay in that group?

      I don’t know, I guess I think a group context that encourages openness about, “hey, that guy’s kind of dodgy” also encourages openness about other types of group norms, and I think it’s better that information is out there and everyone can make decisions with it than that it’s covert and nobody is allowed to say it.

  20. Datdamwuf permalink
    October 30, 2013 1:17 pm

    what you’ve written applies to domestic abuse too. The “you must do something” or “neutral” bit especially.

  21. November 1, 2013 10:55 pm

    Great post!

  22. Emily permalink
    November 11, 2013 4:25 pm

    I agree with all this, except the…semi-sarcastic end bit? ‘And if that’s true, it must be nice where you live.’

    Well, no. It’s not particularly nice where I live, but I’m a person who is almost never in social situations let alone ones like that.

    Still, I like the rest of the content.

  23. Anonymouse permalink
    November 12, 2013 10:13 pm


    Starting this as a new thread because the above one is pretty played out.

    …you’ve given me great arguments to fight toxic views like the ones Artanya posted… every time I read or hear anybody else, it gets a little easier.

    Thanks for saying that. It makes me feel better to know that I wasn’t just wasting my time on a dudebro who was here to talk and not to listen. On a side note, I am not surprised that he didn’t keep posting at CA’s; the community there is a lot more active and a lot more strict. It’s a lot easier to argue with one lone anonymouse than it is to deal with an entire community who are not shy about calling you out; especially since the Captain herself is also known to tell her commenters what’s what.

    Could you post some examples/scripts on how to make sure somebody wants to be touched even in casual way?

    Well, I’m no Captain Awkward so I don’t know how good my advice is… I’m also not sure that there are any useful scripts for this, since everyone’s preferred communication styles are so different. But here are some things to think about when trying to figure out if a casual touch would be welcome:
    1) How do they feel about touch in general?
    The more casual they are with giving/getting touched by people, the less likely they are to find it amiss if you casually touch them.

    For example, the guy I like is someone who I know from his workplace (a gym). One of the things I noticed is that he initiates/encourages casual touch in the context of his job that he doesn’t strictly have to. One example is that after he instructs a class, he holds his hand up so that the people exiting the studio can high five him if they want. (Only one other instructor I know does this.) He also relies very heavily on touch when doing one-on-one training with people, often using a light touch to see if the muscle is working (most trainers I’ve known rely primarily/only on sight). From this general pattern, I am pretty sure that touch is something both comfortable and important to him.

    On the other side of things, when I moved after university I went from having a super touchy feely friend group to having one that did not do casual touching. The transition was hard for me because I had spent the first two decades of my life where it was normal to tap someone’s shoulder to get their attention and in my friend group we would hold hands and hug without a second thought. Suddenly I was surrounded by people who were very uncomfortable with even the most casual of touches and it took a few months of awkwardness until I adjusted to the new social rules.

    2) How do they feel about you in general?
    No matter how okay with touching a person is, if they are uncomfortable with you then your touch isn’t going to be welcome.

    I, personally, am a cuddly person who enjoys hugs and skin contact with most people who I like. But there are some people–and not just the creepers who try to touch me the second they approach me–I just don’t want to be touched by. My general strategy is to stay out of their space and make sure that they stay out of mine. The only people who haven’t respected that distance have been creepers (who were testing/pushing my boundaries) and one super drunk acquaintance of mine (who apologized profusely several times after the incident).

    With the guy I like, we spent months getting to know each other before I tried out a casual touch. By that point I was pretty sure that his feelings were “friendly friendly” and not “work friendly”. I also knew that he was ok with casually touching me in a professional context (and having me casually touch him in the same context), so I figured that a friendly casual touch would not be much different.

    3) Sometimes it’s best to just ask
    With some people and/or in some contexts, it’s best to straight up ask.

    I’ve asked friends of mine if they wanted a hug and I’ve asked new SOs of mine if it was okay to kiss them or hold their hand or whatever. The most important thing is to do your due diligence to gauge the situation and try to work within the person’s communicated comfort zone. Don’t assume that they will be like other people you know; don’t assume that they will react to you like they do to their other friends. Don’t assume ANYTHING, really: do your best to find out what things are comfortable for them before you try anything new.

    Yeah, that’s pretty much all I got… Hopefully none of that is terrible advice :/

    • morgan4 permalink
      February 11, 2014 6:21 pm

      All of your advice has been wonderful and insightful. I usually don’t post, but I wanted to make clear that your comments are a great addition to the post.

      I navigate this all the time as a super touch friendly female. One accidental bounderay crossing was kissing my boyfriend in public. I never had a problem with PDA and he was super touch happy, so I didn’t think about it. But he told me it made him uncomfortable and I stopped. It goes to show that even with a two year relationship and lots of communication it can still happen, but there is a good way to deal with it. He told me he was uncomfortable because we have open communication and knew i would respect it, because of how I respect other boundaries.

      Predatory behavior and consent behavior are only similar in one way, they are ongoing. That’s why contracts are a stupid concept for relationships and why it is a stupid distinction to make between a predetor and a nice guy. We are all constantly navigating that continuum. So sorry for so many spelling mistakes, I don’t have an awesome platform to write this.

  24. david permalink
    November 20, 2013 10:54 am

    a good resource for info on transformative justice models of accountability in response to sexual assault is the website for the now defunct community support group “philly’s pissed” – . there’s a whole lot of links to articles and downloadable zines. here is a good overview of the organization too:’s-pissed-philly-stands-up-collected-materials/

  25. shepard permalink
    December 7, 2013 12:46 am

    it’s worth noting that the united states air force teaches EXACTLY what you’ve said. people don’t believe they’re rapists and that’s why they rape, so we’re taught to recognize behavior that leads to rape and get all up in there. good wingmen recognize the danger and get their wingman out.

  26. Dubbs permalink
    December 9, 2013 8:18 pm

    I just can’t even tell you how eye-opening this was for me. As a rape survivor, I have asked myself over and over “Why me?” And though I hate to admit it, “Why not her?” This really shines a light on how and why rapists choose their targets. No one ever wants to make a statement that could be misconstrued as victim blaming, but it is important to understand how rapists operate to stop them in their tracks. I didn’t understand how I found myself “trapped” and ultimately “raped” multiple times because I was never a heavy drinker or high risk-taker. However, I am EXACTLY the type person that a rapist would target. I am a people-pleaser and always had a hard time saying no to people. I didn’t even know about personal boundaries until almost 30 years old. I let people steamroll me at work and use coercion, guilt, emotional manipulation, and intimidation to force me into situations where I felt like I was powerless to say no. While I would never say I was responsible in anyway for being targeted, I now understand why my rapist chose me and how I can continue to work on myself to identify the hard lines that constitute my boundaries. Now I can begin identifying my personal boundaries and detecting when they are being pushed or crossed. This is incredibly empowering information. This feels like a piece of the puzzle clicking into place in my healing process. This feels like the first step towards regaining a sense of safety with people.

  27. Justin Rogers permalink
    March 2, 2014 5:24 pm

    SHANE M PEDRONI OF WEST JORDAN UTAH IS A RAPIST spread the word and lets bring this piece of shit to the surface.

  28. Eve permalink
    March 13, 2014 6:51 am

    Thank you so much for this. It’s truly heartening to read.

    I got really unlucky one night when I – uncharacteristically – drank too much after an argument with a friend at a party. I know there’s only one person to blame for what happened. But looking back on it recently, I remember well being with one friend while an acquaintance of his kept buying more drinks. And even though my friend wasn’t responsible, it does hurt that though I thought he’d be the one walking me home, in the end it wasn’t.

    No one’s responsible for looking after someone else and someone who can hurt women this way can probably intimidate or manipulate their male friends, too, but it is a nice, kind thing to help out in situations like this. And truly wonderful to advocate the idea to others.

    Thanks again,


  29. Cam permalink
    March 21, 2014 5:43 pm

    I’m wondering if you could help me to apply this to finding out someone in your friend group is an abusive partner in an intimate relationship (mostly physical violence, some emotional). I have had this happen in my friendship group and have struggled to find resources to deal with the powerlessness and discomfort I feel when I know someone who is respected in the group behaves like this in secret. How do I best support the (in this case) women who have undergone this while warning others of the secret side of the perpetrator?

  30. August 9, 2014 6:22 am

    Thank you. I’ve spent 3 hours reading you blog and learned a lot. The most significant thing that will change my behaviour is a deeper socially situated understanding of the role that silence plays. For me the big challenge is when the victim asks for silence. They can hear and understand all the reasons why silence is not good for so many people around them. But it feels like bullying the victim to attempt to persuade them that you wish to speak on their behalf, promise their anonymity and agree how that’s maintained. I will also encourage people to start publically referring to men who test their boundaries as ‘creepy’.


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