[Possible trigger warning.]
I got a bit of a traffic spike from people visiting my short link-post about Zehnder and Frey, presumably because I somehow got high on the search engines despite the post being little more than a link to PZ’s article. That traffic brought with it the expected trolls. These trolls can’t seem to grasp the point, and they’ve manufactured their own false controversy to ignore the real issues. I’m also suspicious some might be engaging in copypasta since the hit-and-runners generally seem oblivious to what’s really been said in earlier comments.
Whether or not Zehnder and Frey raped Dietrich (sexual intercourse without consent) is not important to whether or not I feel outraged. It’s only important to the scale of my outrage. There is a spectrum of ways to sexually violate, assault, or harm someone. Rape is at the high end. If they didn’t rape her, it doesn’t mean that their act isn’t on the spectrum of sexual harm. It does not diminish anything else they did. These trolls quite readily concede that Zehnder and Frey did indeed take sexual photos of Dietrich and distributed those photos. Or at least, I don’t recall seeing anyone deny they did that, so I tentatively conclude that that particular act isn’t in dispute. That is exactly what I think they should be ashamed of at minimum, and why civilized society should make sure they experience the social consequences of their actions. If a rape did actually occur, that would just mean we should be even louder.
I’m not asking for bullying or vigilantism. I’m asking for shaming. They should be shunned, excluded from social activities, talked about with scorn, treated with distrust in sexual matters, held up as bad examples, and stuff like that. No violence. Unfortunately, we have people apparently trying to convince us to treat them as completely innocent because they didn’t go all the way up to rape. To me, that’s like saying assault isn’t a violent crime and shouldn’t have social consequences because it doesn’t go all the way to murder.
It doesn’t help that these trolls do their share of victim blaming. The fact that Dietrich got drunk and exposed herself doesn’t change my evaluation of Zehnder and Frey in the direction the trolls seem to want it to: Her drunkenness and subsequent unconsciousness are aggravating factors, not mitigating ones. She was vulnerable, in a place she probably thought she was relatively safe, and they took advantage of her vulnerability instead of, say, doing the civilized thing, covering her up, and getting her to a safe place where she could sleep it off. The assertion that she could have conceivably prevented being victimized by staying sober and covered doesn’t change the fact that it takes perpetrators to make a crime, not just victims who are vulnerable to crime.
I also don’t care if she’s a “slut” or whatever character assertions the trolls would like to make, especially since “slut” seems to include any female who isn’t an asexual virgin in Victorian garb. Being sexually active or even promiscuous is not a crime to be punished, and it doesn’t justify sexual crimes against them. Call me newfashioned, but I don’t subscribe to the notion that sex is inherently sinful. It does have risks, but people should be able to enjoy sex (preferably responsibly) without rape culture tropes adding the unnecessary, artificial risks excused by sex-negative culture.
The most recent troll tried to claim that Dietrich exposing herself to the party goers somehow implied that she was willing to expose herself to a wider audience outside the party. That sounds an awful lot like some rape culture non-sequiturs I’ve heard, like the textbook claim that wearing revealing clothing and/or being at a wild party inherently implies consent to sex. One does not logically follow from the other. The core question: Did she consent to being photographed in that manner and having those photos distributed? If so, how was this consent given? If not, what are you disputing?
The fact that she fell unconscious should have signaled an abort of any sexual activity (including photos) by default unless she gave clear instructions beforehand of what to do while she was unconscious. I’ve seen enough of the internet to know someone out there might conceivably have a fetish for being unconscious, but I’m not stupid enough to blindly assume that a given person has that fetish. It should have triggered red flags. An unconscious person can’t shout out the “safety word” if the activity goes a direction they don’t want or didn’t expect. If I were in a sexual situation that starts to go somewhere I don’t like because of a misunderstanding, I’d want to be able to call for a full stop. If the other person kept going despite my protests, that’d be a clear case of sexual assault, possibly including rape. Dietrich, by being unconscious, did not have the ability to give or withdraw consent, so the ethical thing to do in that case would be to assume non-consent. Why is this so hard to understand?
I don’t care about the ages of anyone involved, unless I’ve been grossly misinformed and they’re significantly younger. I would want anyone at their age range to know what was wrong with the situation. I’m not bureaucratic enough to care if anyone involved was a little shy of 18. It’s wrong at 16. It’s wrong at 17. It’s wrong at 18. It’s wrong at legal adulthood. Go in the opposite direction, and the chance that they didn’t know better increases, and with it the best method of correction changes. If they did it at age 7 instead of 17, I’d be fine with a stern lecture and a warning.
And finally, there’s a point made in PZ’s article: The victim was facing greater punishment for violating an anonymity protection against the people who harmed her than they were subject to by performing their crime. The typical rationale for protecting Zehnder and Frey’s identities sounded to me like a case of “boys will be boys” where young people can do bad things and not be punished for it in the long term. For much younger children, I’m more understanding because they haven’t learned the nuances of right and wrong or their options on how to handle problems. Older teenagers should be held to higher standards than younger children because by that time, they should know something about right and wrong. Responsibility for your actions and facing the consequences is supposed to scale with maturity, not magically kick in all at once on your 18th birthday.