An editor's mea culpa

An apology about sex abuse

Scene from Cara Blouin's  'Dan Rottenberg Is Thinking About Raping You': To set things right.
Scene from Cara Blouin's 'Dan Rottenberg Is Thinking About Raping You': To set things right.

"Editors can be damned fools just like everybody else," I wrote last week while acknowledging "fallacies in my logic" in my June 6 column on "Male sex abuse and female naiveté." The more I reflect on that original column, though, the more I feel I let myself off the hook too easily.

So let me face up to what's been keeping me awake nights these past weeks: My advice to women in that column about how to deal with predatory males was ignorant, insensitive and hurtful, not to mention useless. It inadvertently promoted the outdated notion that rape is a matter of shame and blame for women.

Many women (and men, too) send out signals that they'd like to have sex, as I wrote; but as many outraged readers reminded me, nobody wants to be raped. In any case, I now realize that rape is an issue of power, control and rage, not sex; and it can happen to any woman, no matter what she looks like or what signals she sends.

I should have known better than to imply otherwise. It was wrong for me to write on a subject about which I knew so little. I failed to perceive the pain and damage that an ignorant opinion like mine would cause.

Whatever reasons I had for writing what I did are beside the point. The fact remains that I seriously blew it. As a result, my attempt to provoke dialogue caused justifiable anger and falsely raised the argument that victims are in some way responsible for their plight.

I hope you can imagine how terrible I feel about all of this. To all my readers and anyone else who might have been affected by my words, I extend my sincere apology.

Now the question remains: How to set things right? To those who sought my dismissal, the short answer is that while Broad Street Review has grown into a community of more than 100 contributing writers, it remains largely a one-man operation: There's no one to dismiss me or replace me.

As for my original offensive column: Rather than erase it, 1984-style, as if it had never appeared, I will let it stand as a perpetual reminder, to me and others, of my own fallibility. To reinforce that message, I've attached an editor's note at the top of that column, stating that I've recanted many of its ideas and directing readers to the discussion that ensued.

The apparent collapse last week of the prosecution's case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn for allegedly assaulting a New York hotel housekeeper reinforces my original premise: We cannot rely solely on an imperfect instrument like the law to protect us from rape or any other crime. The law can't— and shouldn't— send people off to prison on the testimony of liars; but since most of us can be shown to have lied at some time, it's extremely difficult to win a conviction for a crime (like rape) in which the victim may be the only witness. So individuals and society alike must devise other ways to protect ourselves.

Since I've demonstrated myself incompetent to suggest such alternatives, I will withdraw from this conversation and instead listen to the suggestions of others, which will continue to be welcome at BSR.♦

To read responses, click here and here.
To read "Time for women to speak up," the essay by SaraKay Smullens to which Dan Rottenberg originally responded, click here.
To read a response by Margaret Chew Barringer, click here.

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