Recently an article appeared in Bloomberg entitled “Hook-Up Culture at Harvard, Stanford Wanes Amid Assault Alarm.” The piece has since been edited to better, but not entirely, reflect my views. In the original, I was both quoted and paraphrased from an interview I had with the author. The interview request stemmed from two op-eds I wrote for The Stanford Daily between 2012 and 2013. I feel grossly misrepresented by the original Bloomberg article. The position I was assigned in the piece was, from my perspective, stitched together from different parts of the conversation I had with the reporter, without adequately including the earlier articles I had written. Those two articles can be found in The Daily’s archive. Their titles are “Victim Blaming Problem” and “Victim Blaming.”
In the latter, I came to the following conclusion about victim blaming: “I’m tempted to say that victim blaming is universally wrong, not only because it is an attempt to limit the freedom of the victim but also because it’s an attempt to take blame away from the perpetrator. In reality, only the perpetrator can prevent a crime from happening; crime is the criminal’s decision. We try to use victims as extenuating circumstances to lessen, or at least explain, an offense.” This quote better represents my view on the subject of victim blaming and are my own written words.
It’s clear from this that the author was incorrect to imply that I endorse victim blaming. While I would like to give him the benefit of the doubt and do not see any perfidy on his end, I do see a potential series of steps that created this miscommunication.
First, the quote of the bicycle. In an earlier piece, I state how victim blaming is a problem we see with all crimes, not just sexual assault. At no point did I compare women to bicycles, as I have been accused of doing. I simply made the jump to say that victim blaming is a pervasive problem in society for most crimes, which negatively affects the victims of those crimes as well. Understanding how ingrained victim blaming is in our culture can ultimately help us combat it.
My point, which I tried to convey in the interview, was that people often conflate an assumption of risk with an assumption of responsibility.
If I leave my bike unlocked, I have assumed a risk. I am by no means, however, responsible if it gets stolen. The criminal is responsible for the crime of theft. Likewise, if someone chooses to walk alone at night, there is, statistically, a greater risk of something bad happening than if the same person had walked in a group. However, the person is, in my view, not responsible for anything bad that happens, such as a theft or assault.
I came to this view during my time as a resident assistant. On the one hand, I wanted to offer my residents tips about partying safely. On the other hand, I did not want them to fall into a victim blaming trap for not taking those tips into consideration. Therefore, I told them to stay safe, i.e. not assume undue risk, with the caveat that blaming a victim is never acceptable. Crime is always the criminal’s fault. I know there are bad people out there, even at Stanford. My hope is that I will see a society in which I don’t have to offer safety tips to my residents, but that is not the society we live in presently.
The Bloomberg piece only captured the first part of my view, about not assuming undue risk. It did not highlight the caveat I offer, that responsibility never rests with the victim, but only with the perpetrator.
I want a culture that minimizes risk while still realizing that only a criminal is responsible for crime. By citing half of my opinion, the author represented me as someone who believes victims are responsible for their own safety. This sentiment is not true, and it is not mine. Some, for good reason, would say that offering safety tips is wrong in the first place, because it seems like victim blaming. That is an understandable view, but I care about the safety of my residents and friends. Therefore, I feel I can talk about safe behavior, while still reinforcing the idea that victim blaming is wrong. If the conversation is approached deftly, I do not think pro-safety and anti-victim-blaming views are mutually exclusive. In fact, I think it is practical. While that is a productive debate to have, it is separate from the misrepresentation of my views in the Bloomberg piece. Fortunately, my views on the subject have already been written down for everyone to see, and are on The Daily’s website. Those articles are my own words, and include nuances understandably absent from the Bloomberg piece.
Other articles have been written condemning me, but they merely responded to the Bloomberg article. My hope is that this column can illuminate my actual ideas so those authors can either edit their pieces or write new articles highlighting my views. What grieves me most about the misrepresentation I experienced in Bloomberg is not simply the defamation of my character, but the unfair portrait it painted of Stanford. Therefore, I hope this article makes the rounds in the Stanford community, so I can show where I truly stand, and further confront the issue.
Contact Chris Herries at firstname.lastname@example.org.