“Pure” Sexual Assault: Letter to a State Lawmaker

by | Mar 9, 2016

You know what one of the coolest things about having a passion is? The fact that when others learn about this passion, they immediately think of you when they read something regarding it. So yesterday, this article was brought to my attention. In it, Representative Crownover, a lawmaker from Texas representing District 64 (Denton area), was quoted as saying the following:

“I would be curious to see how many times a pure, sober sexual assault happened. The best chance is being sober.”

You can see why some people — myself included — would be less than pleased to read those words.

That being said, I’m more than aware that media likes to spin things in certain ways, so I try to look for several sources. In this article from USA Today, the statement reads slightly different:

“I was listening for mention of drug or alcohol abuse and, you know, I think those two conversations are so intertwined. I would be curious to see how many times a pure, sober sexual assault happened,” Crownover reportedly said during the hearing. She added, “The best defense is being sober.

*sigh*

Anatomy of a Perfect Victim

I felt my cheeks flush, and I may have cursed at my computer screen: What the fuck is “pure” rape? Pure?! Really?  (Yes, Nancy. I just said fuck. Be sure to tell your friends.)

Of course the question is rhetorical. I know what she meant. She meant the same sort of rape that we all typically learn about. The one where the victim is near flawless in her actions both before and after the event:

—Dressed conservatively. Sober. Virgin. On her way to/from a respectable place at a reasonable hour. Abducted by a stranger lurking in a dark alley or an unkempt shrub (bonus points if he has a weapon).

— Emerges with clearly visible, unmistakeable signs of a violent attack; reports immediately to police and completes a SANE exam (aka: rape kit). Is fully cooperative with investigation.

—Is tearful enough to tug on our heart strings, but not too upset so as to become the ‘hysterical’ female no one can take seriously.

Did I miss any?

From my experiences working cooperatively with law enforcement, I have come to understand some of the frustrations that can accompany investigations of these notoriously difficult to prosecute cases. In addition to the high threshold of evidence, prosecutors have to convince a jury of our peers that a crime occurred beyond a reasonable doubt.

A jury of our peers. Potentially those same people who expressed robust agreement with Rep. Crownover’s statements, or even Rep. Stickland’s in the comments sections of those outlets. Those people could be in the jury pool.

“What is does pure mean in the context of a traumatic and criminal act?”

A Thoughtful Response

I knew I wanted to respond to these statements. I live in Texas, and while Representative Crownover does not represent my District, she does represent my State. But how to approach? No doubt she’d received loads of negative comments. But in my presentations on how to address rape culture and myths, I encourage my audiences to “educate, not berate”. To start a conversation instead of an argument.

The Letter

The letter is lengthy, so here are the highlights:

I am writing in response to comments you made concerning sexual assault, as quoted in the Dallas Morning News, March 8, 2016, namely, “I would be curious to see how many times a pure, sober sexual assault happened. The best chance is being sober.” 

…I hope that you’ll receive this message as an invitation to dialogue about this incredibly important topic.  As a sexual assault advocate and professional counselor who has worked primarily with survivors of this crime, I do find your commentary problematic, but not unique.

Perhaps I should begin with where we agree. And yes, there is some common ground. Drug facilitated (including alcohol) sexual assault is absolutely a problem in our culture…Sexual predators, whether they regard themselves as such or not, often use the presence of alcohol to their advantage to gain access to victims through proximity, circumstance or apparent need…

Here is where we differ… some survivors experienced their abuse while intoxicated, there are many others who did not. They were sober. And that sobriety did not prevent the abuse. Sobriety didn’t change the fact that someone dismissed their right to have or express an opinion about what was going to happen to their body.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I cannot begin to conceive of a scenario involving sexual assault where the word “pure” is an appropriate word choice. What does “pure” mean in the context of a traumatic and criminal act?

Read the full letter here.

[bctt tweet=”Sexual predators often use the presence of alcohol to to gain access to victims through proximity”]

I sent the letter March 9th.

On March 10th, I received a response from Representative Crownover’s office. The reply was brief and an exact quote from the Representative’s public statement. No more, no less:

Statement from Representative Myra Crownover

“My statements this morning in the Higher Education hearing were taken out of context. Let me be clear, whether or not the victim of a sexual assault was intoxicated does not mitigate, condone or excuse the actions of the other party. However, I do not think we can properly address the issue of sexual assault on college campuses without also discussing the role drugs and alcohol play in this important issue.”

To say her response was disappointing is an understatement.

Is it really so terrible to admit when you’ve said something hurtful in American politics?

I can excuse a poor turn of phrase.
I know I’ve said ignorant things occasionally too. And I needed to be corrected.
It was embarrassing, but I learned and grew from it.
I cannot excuse a response that chooses to ignore that words have meaning, and consequences.
I cannot excuse someone who is unwilling to recognize that her words –intentionally or otherwise– either by her own use or through mishandling by a reporter with an agenda — may have caused harm to people living with the pain caused by a traumatic event.
At this point, I have no reason to believe that Representative Crownover ever actually read my letter. I sent a response to hear reply essentially echoing what I just said. Words have meaning. When your words hurt someone, you take steps to soothe the pain.
To date, I have not heard back from her office.

The Take Away

So what’s the take away from this? For me it’s two-fold:

1) There’s still plenty of work to be done in changing the way people view rape and sexual assault.

2) Sometimes attempts to stand up for what you believe in will be ignored and/or disregarded. However, it’s not an excuse to sit by and do nothing. And while it might’ve felt really good to rip her inbox a new one… I’m glad I chose the tactic that I did. Because I can look at it and honestly say, I tried my best.

Thank you to every survivor out there who continues to inspire me, and the world with your bravery and your resilience. I’m sorry we didn’t end up with a more triumphant result, or solid evidence of a changed heart/mind.