An Open Letter to Wendy Kaminer – author of ‘What to Make of the Rape Accusations at Amherst College’

Dear Ms. Kaminer,

I read your article, What to Make of the Rape Accusations at Amherst College today, and I feel it necessary to express how disappointed I am. If there’s a subcategory in rape culture that angers me most, it’s victim blaming. The harm that comes from blaming a survivor of sexual assault is so substantial, that it often is as traumatic as the assault itself. The blatant mocking of Epifano that occurs throughout your article is simply unacceptable:

“Put aside questions about the accuracy of Epifano’s recollections and the soundness or gross insensitivity of the counselor’s advice. Never mind the absence of discussion about reporting the alleged attack to law enforcement; rape is, after all, a felony, which courts are better equipped to address than colleges. Focus instead on Epifano’s reaction to the prospect of a disciplinary hearing:

Hours locked in a room with him and being called a liar about being raped? No, thank you. I could barely handle seeing him from the opposite end of campus; I knew I couldn’t handle that level of negativity.”

You see, Ms. Kaminer, Epifano denied even the thought of going through a trial in order to protect herself. Maybe that seems ridiculous to you, but sometimes after going through a terrible trauma, one cannot possibly bear the thought of recounting that trauma over and over. Also, Epifano may or may not have known this, but out of every 100 rapes, 46 get reported to the police, 12 lead to an arrest, 9 are prosecuted, 5 lead to a felony conviction, and 3 rapists will spend a single day in prison*. The long and frustrating battle to hope that your rapist is not one of the 97% who walk takes a toll on survivors that Epifano didn’t want to subject herself to. And That’s Okay. What you need to realize is that it’s okay for Epifano to put herself first. If she didn’t feel like she could handle an entire trial, then let’s applaud her honesty and willingness to listen to her own needs, instead of criticizing her because you or someone else would’ve “done differently”. In reality no one knows, not even another survivor, of what she’s endured.

You then go on to question the trauma she felt from her rape:

“Is rape necessarily this traumatic? Are all rapes equal in the damage they inflict? Yes, according to some popular feminist wisdom. No, according to the diverse experiences of rape victims I’ve known — including women who’ve been raped while hitchhiking and by strangers who broke in to their apartments, as well as women raped by dates or acquaintances…

I’m not criticizing or judging Epifano for being acutely frightened and depressed. I’m not presuming to tell women how they should or shouldn’t react to being raped. Quite the opposite. I’m simply suggesting that different women react differently, according to their different circumstances, strengths and vulnerabilities. I’m not denying the horrors of rape and the outrage, shame, or fear it can engender, but I am questioning the assumption that it naturally and inevitably breaks women down. I’m wondering if that assumption isn’t sometimes self-fulfilling.”

First, I’d be willing to bet that the source you have for that “popular feminist wisdom” is incorrect. The feminist approach to rape crisis intervention is letting the survivor know their options, and empowering them to make those decisions themselves, in order to put control back in their lives. Secondly, every person reacts entirely different from any other person who’s been raped. You say you understand this, just to go ahead and question the assumption that rape “naturally and inevitably breaks women down”. For some, yes, it breaks them down. For others, they can go on with their daily lives as if a rape never happened. One can never assume any reaction from any survivor.

Epifano, no matter her decisions or reactions from her rape, did what she could in order to survive. Maybe you don’t agree with how she went about it, but she knows herself better than you do, so stop judging her. She is strong and brave and an inspiration. Angie Epifano is a survivor.


Chelcie Laggis

6 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Wendy Kaminer – author of ‘What to Make of the Rape Accusations at Amherst College’

  1. But if she decided to put her own needs first and let her rapist walk away, what can we reasonably expect the college to do for her? Of course they will let the accused walk away – she made the decision to do that already by waiting a whole year to report it. With no evidence to go on, they can’t just throw people in jail – everyone accused of a crime has the right to a trial. With no evidence there can’t really be a trial though.

    Rape evidence is, unfortunately, time-sensitive. If you want justice, you have to report the crime immediately while they can still prove that it happened and have a shot at identifying your attacker. That should be the most important thing here. If we want to end rape culture, then just telling men “don’t be rapists” isn’t going to do it. Most men never do. One of the reasons why rape reports aren’t always taken seriously is because they are given months after the crime when nothing can be proved anymore. If you want to change that, and both of us do, then you’d have more luck if you encouraged rape victims to come forward and report the crimes right after it happens. There would be a much higher conviction rate if courts had actual evidence to work with. Victims deserve justice. Rapists deserve prison. But that won’t happen if the crime isn’t reported immediately.

    It should not be considered victim blaming to say this stuff, either. It needs to be said.

    • Valencia, we should be able to expect the college to treat her with respect instead of second guessing her the whole way. We should expect that she’s given as much, if not more respect and protection than her rapist.
      You’re right, rape is a crime that is very time sensitive in terms of evidence..and in order to gather evidence you should go to the hospital right away. But sexual assault is a complicated act of violence where a lot of survivors are unsure of what to do at first. Maybe she initially didn’t want to press charges? A lot of survivors don’t because maybe they were threatened, maybe they’re afraid of what mutual friends will do. You can’t EVER judge or tell a survivor to report no matter what. It simply isn’t that black and white. We don’t know, and there’s no use in telling her she should have done this or that, because it’s already done. Survivors already have a hard time with blaming themselves, why do outside parties need to second guess their actions as well?
      You’re wrong, this doesn’t need to be said. Epifano would be better off if she didn’t have complete strangers blaming her. She probably already got plenty of of that from the people in her life.

      • Yes, the college should have treated her with more respect – but they kinda have to second-guess her the whole way. All they have is her word against his. They have no evidence, and they have to assume this man is innocent until proven otherwise. That is his legal right. They have a duty to look into her accusation and see what backs it up but they also have a duty to treat him fairly, too.

        Also, until he is proven guilty, it’s “alleged rapist”, not “rapist”, and he is entitled to the same respect and protection that she is.

        >You can’t EVER judge or tell a survivor to report no matter what. It simply isn’t that black and white.

        I’m not judging her. However, any victim of any crime has to report the crime if they want to see justice served. It doesn’t matter if you are the victim of a stabbing, a home robbery, an assault, a vehicle theft, or a rape…if you want to see the criminal who harmed you brought to justice, you have to report it. If you don’t, then you can’t reasonably expect your attacker to be punished. It really is that black and white. The legal system doesn’t take the feelings of the victim into account – it can’t. It requires *evidence*. Waiting to report a rape ensures that the evidence is gone, and then you have no more legal recourse unless there’s video evidence or a confession of some kind. For most victims those things don’t exist.

        If I had a friend who was raped, you bet your sweet bippy I’d encourage her (or him…that happens too sometimes!) to report it. I’d offer to drive her to the hospital. I’d be with her every step of the way, holding her hand and drying her tears and helping her be strong and fielding off any “what were you wearing” nonsense that she faced, no matter who it came from. But you can be darn sure I’d encourage her to report it so the scumbag who did it could pay and not walk free to hurt some other poor woman. Rape victims deserve to see their attackers punished.

        Not reporting rape helps to perpetuate rape culture, because it allows rapists to get away with the evil things they do to people.

      • Valencia, you seem to be implying reporting a rape ensures that justice is served, when in reality it does not the majority of the time. Even in cases where there is physical evidence.

        That in itself is another form of victim-blaming. You imply that it is in the hands of the victim to make sure justice is served, when after they report it, and if they follow through and give a testimony or what have you, the decision is still left in someone else’s hands.

        So when a victim reports the crime and justice is not served, then what? Did they fail at representing themselves, or did an extremely flawed system and societal outlook on rape as a whole fail them? I think the latter.

      • I don’t believe that saying that a victim needs to pursue justice is victim-blaming! That’s ridiculous. Saying “go to the cops and report it so they can catch the scumbag” doesn’t secretly mean “you deserve what you got, this is your fault” or anything similar.

        Listen. The rapist isn’t going to report the rape. The neighbours aren’t going to. Nobody else but the victim can report it…and without the report, there is NO HOPE of ever seeing justice. I agree, it is a serious problem that even with evidence they don’t always catch the bastard. The justice system can be a joke. But to just refuse to report a crime because they may not catch him…unfathomable. In my opinion it isn’t the logical response – it makes more sense for us to try and do something about it.

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