April 22, 2014

Who defines what is victimhood... when the target of sadistic pranks is somewhere on the autism spectrum?

Hanna Rosin describes a teenage boy and the pretty girls who are being prosecuted, whom he would still like to see as friends.
For a boy like Michael, wooing a girl, winning her trust and then trying to participate in her pranks, even while they made him uncomfortable and put him in some danger, took courage. The girls betrayed that... [b]ut reducing Michael’s responses and feelings to an embarrassing tic of the severely disabled will not lead to justice — or confidence or empowerment — for Michael and people like him. It will only cause a different kind of harm, which is to make him a perfect victim.
From the comments at the link:
I can't help but wonder what Emily's column would look like if the genders were reversed. If it was a group of males who held a knife to an autistic girl, made her fall through the ice, and tried to get her to have intercourse with a dog while filming it for broadcast. I wager that Emily and the entire Slate site would be braying for the boys (rightfully) to be thrown in prison. Instead Emily is basically writing that what happened was unfortunate, but not really that bad, while chastising Michael for his "bad judgment."

I've heard Slate describe this type of statement as victim blaming in the past.
I don't think "victim blaming" is the apt rubric. It's more victim autonomy... autonomy to define the nature of the act from the subjective position of the one experiencing what looks to the outside observer like harmful behavior of the sort society criminalizes to protect us all. A better analogy is to sado-masochistic sex. Is this voluntary play? Then, because the recipient of the pain is disabled, the question is whether the person is capable of consent. I think it's important to distinguish sado-masochistic play from unwanted sadism where the victim wants to forgive or protect his tormenter — the stereotypical domestic violence problem.


Tom said...

Well, in that analogy, what is this boy's safe word and would he even know how to use it.

Fritz said...

A dog, or the two girls?

Tough choice. . .

There's a reason we call 'em SMIBs.

(Saint Mary's InBreds)

Freeman Hunt said...

I think holding a knife to anyone's throat is considered a crime even if afterward you say, "Just kidding!"

SJ said...

What if the "victim" isn't labeled victim because he doesn't think he is harmed, but the "aggressor" is still found to have a mens rea to attempt to commit harm?

More broadly, doesn't taking advantage of someone's altered mental state or psychological handicap imply abuse, whether or not the victim thinks they were abused?

Or is "the victim was autistic, and thought it was a game" different than "the victim was drunk, and didn't say no" ?

The Drill SGT said...

The legal system needs to judge this from the perspective of the girls, not the boy.

What did the girls do?
Why did they do it?
Did they recognize that he was their victim?

I think we all know the answer, as will a jury...

KCFleming said...

Althouse says he was asking for it.

David said...

These girls understood what they had. He is the perfect victim. He accepts the abuse and defends the abuser. I would like to see Hannah's next article about battered women who defend their accuser.

And suppose you accept Rosin's premise, which seems to be that the victimization is harmful to Michael and others with his condition. She does not take on the practical consequence of her opinion, almost as if it has no consequence. What are parents, school officials and law enforcement supposed to do? Look the other way?

We would be trying to fend off a lynch mob if the genders of the victim and perpetrators were reversed. Is Rosen really this blind and stupid? How is blind stupidity different than her try at subtle sophistication?

SJ said...

One more thought:

I could see Ann's argument making sense for adults.

How old is the teenage boy?

One of the other teens involved is 17. Another teen involved is simply the "younger sister" of the 17-year-old.

Don't these actions count as sexual assault of a minor?

Or does the status of perpetrators as minors come into play?

What about the logic that drives statutory rape laws? Does his inability to lawfully consent (due to age) come into play?

mccullough said...

Did this boy get anything out of this friendship with these girls? One of them gave him a box of candy. I hope he got a hand job at least for his troubles. I couldn't acquit these girls without some evidence they gave him some sexual gratification.

Birches said...

Or is "the victim was autistic, and thought it was a game" different than "the victim was drunk, and didn't say no" ?

For the win.

Anonymous said...

These are all considered "children" by our society. Forget that he is autistic. He's 16.

If he were a she and a teacher had sex with him, he'd be a happy student if he thought his teacher was hot.

Regardless of what he thought, the courts wouldn't grant the teacher any exceptions, would they? Just because he liked it?

Ann Althouse said...

The question of the legal culpability doesn't completely track this issue of the dignity and autonomy of the victim.

I'm not trying to talk about what crimes should be charged here.

David said...

"The question of the legal culpability doesn't completely track this issue of the dignity and autonomy of the victim.

I'm not trying to talk about what crimes should be charged here."

But it's the elephant in the room. How is this "dignity" different from a boy or girl not of legal age who has sex with an adult? In each case they are viewed by the law as lacking capacity to make decisions for or to defend themselves. How is this different from a battered woman who identifies with and defends her abuser?

There may be some distinctions that are just too fine to make in practice. A person with impaired social skills, whether from immaturity, mental condition or old age, is inherently vulnerable. They will not make good choices. Neither will many people whose social skills are supposedly unimpaired. Once you define someone as impaired, it's hard to protect their dignity or autonomy. Certainly the autonomy. By definition they lack autonomy.

Fritz said...

. . .I can't help but wonder what Emily's column would look like if the genders were reversed.

Say, let try that...

The Washington Post published more details about what’s emerging as one of the more heartbreaking bullying stories in recent years. A teenage girl identified as Michele and described as autistic started writing love letters to a handsome boy at her Southern Maryland high school. They became friends and started hanging out with the boy's older friend, 17-year-old Larry Bush, who was a football player. On days when their parents weren’t around—mostly snow days—the boys began to toy with Michele. Bush put a knife to her throat and scared her, kicked her in the butt, dragged her by her hair, and tried to get her to have sex with the family dog. Her younger “boyfriend” took video of the incidents on his cellphone. Once they got Michele to walk on a half-frozen pond. She fell through the ice, and they didn’t help her. Then, Sunday’s Post story revealed they didn’t let her ride in the warm car because she’d get the seats wet.* Instead, they made her ride in the trunk.

Sounds like the boys deserve life...

Jim said...

Who defines victimhood? How about the law? Is that clear-cut enough?

These girls committed crimes. Whether Hanna Rosin wants to admit it or not, that - BY DEFINITION - makes the boy a victim.

And yes, if the victim were a girl, not only would people be screaming for the boys' heads on a platter, we would also be forced into a "national conversation" about the environment which encourages boys to sadistically and sexually abused young girls.

So let's have that national conversation about girls abusing boys, or do the laws of political correctness forbid that?

John said...

Rosin has allowed feminism to make her a horrible person. I don't think she started out horrible. Her commitment to radical feminism has made her horrible. She no longer things rationally about issues involving the sexes and is no long capable of seeing males as fully human.

If you think I am exaggerating, read the things she writes about her own sons sometime. We have a case where teenage girls sexually assaulted a mentally handicapped boy and Rosin calls it a "bullying case" and spends several articles now trying to explain away the girls' actions. Sometimes things are what they are. Sometimes there is no deeper meaning. Here, these girls were cruel and evil and committed a horrible crime. There is no justifying or explaining that or any larger meaning other than to say sometimes people, especially young people who often do not have fully developed consciences, are cruel and evil.

Rosin spends so much time on this case and finds it interesting because she has allowed her feminism to justify her dehumanizing males to such a degree she is now incapable of seeing evil on the part of a female no matter how horrific their conduct and to see a male as being a victim no matter how badly they have been victimized.

The greatest irony of all is that Rosin is Jewish. The very warped dehumanizing logic that Rosin applies to genders, the Nazis applied to the races. Does that make Rosin a Nazi? No. Her thinking, however, is the very sort of sickness that produced the Nazis.

She is just a horrible woman. Worse still, she means only the best and has no idea how horrible she is. It sounds dramatic, but this is what evil looks like. Evil is never that interesting. It is in its worst form always a right thinking and thoughtful person rationalizing the dehumanization of others. Everything else is just the details.

SJ said...

I would have thought that a child's/teens understanding of dignity and autonomy would be considered secondary to things that broader culture says are harmful. (Whether self-motivated deeds, or deeds done to gain membership in a clique of fellow children/teens, or deeds done to gain approval of adults.)

If you can't think of any examples, I'll mention cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, and crack cocaine. And sexual interaction with adults, especially adults in positions of authority over the child.

This question can be asked separate from the question of how to deal with Asperger/autism-spectrum person, and their personal dignity.

I'm not really disagreeing, I'm saying that the minor status of the perpetrator and victim makes this a poor example for asking questions about dignity and autonomy.

Unknown said...

I agree that if the genders were reversed Rosin would be screaming for justice.

Also, there was a case in Germany not so long ago were a man advertised on the Internet for a victim. He wanted someone to volunteer to be killed an eaten. The universe being what it is, he found a willing participant who he killed and ate.

I would advise everyone not to click on the following link.


Not surprisingly, the authorities prosecuted him despite the fact that his "victim" had volunteered.

How is this case any different from that?

MaxedOutMama said...

Well, the boy's a minor. 16. His condition certainly affected his willingness to do this. His condition apparently affects his ability to understand the dangers of the "sick games", such as being made to walk on ice, falling through, and falling through again.

He himself admits that he nearly froze to death and was screaming for help, and also screamed during the knife incident.

High-functioning autistics have specific deficits in social relationships, so here we have a person struggling to form such a relationship, and apparently unable to understand what that relationship was. The girl he thought was his girlfriend (and still believes is his girlfriend) was willing to use death threats to get him to pork the family dog. And he still doesn't realize what that means.

No bullshit about the dignity and autonomy of the victim can possibly obscure the danger this boy was in.

You see this with young kids who are abused by their parents/caregivers. It's their only known source of love, and they are frequently devastated when their abusers are arrested and they "lose" that love.

It's COMMON for adults and teens with various developmental challenges to be sexually victimized. COMMON. It happens in every school.

These two girls are psychopaths who enjoy sadism and have already learned how to pick out their targets. They have a lot in common with other teen sociopaths. There is no possible excuse or amelioration of their actions, and the fact that the target of their behavior is a boy makes no difference.

Anybody who buys an iota of the Slate article's BS has a deep moral flaw.

If a blind person were induced by his "girlfriend" to walk across a single plank bridge over a deep crevice, because the blind person was unable to see the crevice, would you be talking about the "dignity and autonomy of the victim"?

MaxedOutMama said...

PS: I think if you are willing to post this trash that you also ought to be willing to post a more balanced discussion of the situation:

The solution of the boy involved is that he would ask them not to take videos of anything.

Richard Dolan said...

"... to make him a perfect victim.

Whether someone is a "victim" can have two senses, one of which is a judgment made by an observer, not by a participant; and the other is a statement from the perspective of the perp, usually about how easy it is to take whatever the perp wants. In both senses, the "victim" label carries with an implication of some injustice or unfairness visited by one person upon another.

Althouse frames the issue in terms of consent, rendered at different times -- at the time of the act in question (the voluntary S&M scenario), contrasted with consent withheld at the time but later given (the 'protect the tormentor' scenario). That puts the emphasis on the first sense of "victim."

Consent freely given negates any implication of injustice or unfairness, and so the inquiry is always focused on the 'freely given' end of things. Althouse wants to draw a distinction based on the timing of the consent abd focusing on imputed motive (protect the tormentor vs. engage in the play). But consent even at the earlier stage could just as easily have been an exercise in pleasing the tormentor, which is just another form of protecting the tormentor. And in all events, it is the fact of consent freely given (regardless of the reason why it is freely given) that should matter.

I don't know whether this 16-year old was capable of freely giving consent -- autism does not make that impossible, but it probably makes it unlikely. The law presumes that minors cannot give consent in these situations, but that is just a legal rule, not a comment about the realities of the matter.

wildswan said...

Maybe someone could ask the girls whether he demanded this treatment and whether he thought it up. Or suppose that the girls were SM enthusiasts and they thought of these bizarre actions because this is what they like and they would have wanted to dominate and humiliate any man.

Even so they were taking advantage of a relative helplessness that was not some sort of act.

So - supposing this is just what they wanted from men - what they were doing was in the line of child abuse, not sexual weirdness between consenting adults. And it is my opinion of the generation to which these kids belong that members of Gen X are very alert to the wrong of abuse-of-power relationships and very aware of why such relationships are wrong. So that this was a particularly wrong piece of behavior for this group. I mean, GenXers are surrounded in school all the time by very vulnerable people because of mainstreaming and they are taught by their teachers how to act and they themselves look down on people who go after power over the helpless. These girls knew better and they should go to jail.

Anonymous said...

How can we include men in the sisterhood, and the moral lights of modern feminism?

Start with this poor kid who seems happier to have some chicks to hang with even as they abuse him.

I was just having a conversation with my young cousin about women's studies departments on his campus. We agreed they're pretty much ideological Ponzi schemes clinging to universities through the hopes of parents for their children and student loans.

Some are just old, bitter lesbians, while others often take advantage of young, impressionable women and possibly lead them to terrible career prospects, sloppy thinking and bad statistics, along with many silly logical consequences.

Who would actually be a Women Studies' major?

Last I checked, Rosin borrowed some of Charles Murray's thinking to push a bougie, upper-middle class progo-feminism upon the rest of us and assume a kind of position of cultural authority out of that.

Sad, really.

Anonymous said...

Also, I figured most women's studies departments would just have some fliers, Mary Wollstonecraft, George Sand, some anthologies, and a few rather humorless looking older women and possibly suspicious looking younger women walking around.

Imagine my surprise when I heard about the late-night parties:


I don't know if that video can be confirmed, but human nature sure does have a dark, decadent authoritarian side.

Tari said...

I seem to remember from long-ago 1L that some crimes require the criminal to have a certain state of mind to merit the charges being brought against him. But where or when did the victim of a crime have to have a specific state of mind for a crime to have been committed? I must have missed that lecture...

These girls are criminals and need to go to prison. Rosin is only slightly less sick than they are for defending them in this way. Ugh.

Joe said...

Feminism is a belief system that women are owed everything and bear no responsibility for their actions.

William said...

It's scary that girls like this exist and even scarier that someone would defend their behavior.......The Christian Brothers were involved in some abuse cases in Ireland in the nineties. The scary thing was not that the abuse was sexual, but that it was just abuse. It wasn't SM. It was simple cruelty. Thus so with these girls. There is no conceivable justification for their actions.....The boy's misunderstanding and pardon of their actions just makes their crimes seem more despicable.

NotWhoIUsedtoBe said...

I thought girls weren't violent.

Nichevo said...

Do you notice how the good professor has shut up? I wonder if that's because she suddenly realized what a moral midget she was for posting with this point of view. On the bright side, she hasn't deleted the post yet, but I bet she never never apologizes or says that she was wrong.

Just think if it were John or Chris, Ann. That's your only moral touchstone and in this case it would suffice. If they did this to your Aspie son...!

Brando said...

While I deplore the gender double standard that treats women like delicate flower victims of everything and men as pigs who can never be abused, I think it's worthwhile to consider the "victim" as having some agency here. The victim in this case doesn't seem to think he is one, and while he seems to suffer autism I don't see any arguments that his mental disability was such that he could not consent to this abuse.

It is more similar to domestic abuse cases where the victim is capable of consent and insists they are not actually abused, much as it boggles the mind of neutral observers.

I think the girls in this case are awful human beings who belong behind bars, but unless their victim can be shown to be incapable of consent it's hard to imagine how they'll be successfully prosecuted. This has to be infuriating for his parents.

Brando said...

Was Rosin really defending these girls? I took it as a given that they're terrible people who should be in jail, only that this may be a difficult prosecution because the victim seems capable of consent.