ASAP letter misguided in criticizing administration

On March 7, the Daily published an open letter by Action for Sexual Assault Prevention roundly criticizing three Tufts administrators for circulating an email addressing recent drink spiking incidents. ASAP members “were appalled by the email.” Their letter alleges a serious abdication of leadership by the administrators who sent it, so I think ASAP’s claims deserve some close inspection.

According to the author, the message “perpetuates the deeply problematic and hurtful action of victim blaming” in a myriad of ways. A more sensitive email in the author’s mind would have included a reminder that “it is wrong to put drugs in someone else’s drink.” Although I suspect most Tufts students, including those who may be spiking drinks, can intuit this, the administrators’ email does in fact let readers know that “Spiking or drugging a drink is a crime, regardless of intent.” If Tufts’ opposition to drink spiking is not clear, its policy on committing felony criminal offense is less ambiguous. In any case, this seems a far cry from victim blaming.

Apparently, the real mistake the email made was to suggest bystander intervention and the buddy system among other precautionary measures. According to ASAP, these recommendations are “culturally harmful” and “cannot and will not stop people from spiking drinks in the future.” The latter is a fair point; it is a regrettable truth that precaution on all our parts does not prevent criminal behavior and that there will probably never come a day when people stop committing truly awful violations like drink spiking. What I’m not sure of is whether establishing “a community standard where individuals understand that this is a crime…and do not feel entitled to spike each other’s drinks” either correctly identifies underlying criminal motivations or tangibly addresses immediate needs for students’ bodily security. Until investigation sheds more light on the crimes alluded to in the email, I would expect the administration to offer students advice on reducing personal risk in the meantime. For ASAP to denounce calls for basic precaution as doing a cultural damage is not empowering; it is the opposite. Especially after condemning the suggestion of common-sense practices that help women and men stay safe every day, ASAP’s vague policy prescription rings hollow.

ASAP’s open letter continues with a factual misstatement regarding the content of the administration’s email, accusing its three authors of offering “no resources for survivors.” A quick glance at this email will prove otherwise; in fact, a prominent blue box contains an embedded link to detailed information from Tufts’ Center for Awareness, Resources and Education on the crime of drink spiking and the multiple support options available to students. These resources include anonymous reporting services and confidential support staff. Another box directs users to an anonymous reporting form. Given the message’s multiple avenues to information access, claims by ASAP that the email demonstrates a “lack of transparent support for survivors [that] perpetuates a norm of shame and silencing” are as bewildering as they are misleading.

I agree with ASAP that victims of drink spiking or of any crime are never to blame for the awful misfortune that befalls them. I agree with ASAP that any uptick in drink spiking or sexual assault must be thoroughly investigated and comprehensively addressed by our administrators. I applaud ASAP’s mission, but worry about the consequences of the rape culture discourse that leads student advocates to call for the silencing of information on basic preventive measures and to mischaracterize well-intentioned and well-executed university communication pertinent to student safety as a misogynistic, victim blaming, counterproductive failure.

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