In Defense of Serena Williams

Apparently, the tennis player Serena Williams is in trouble for some comments she made about rape — a subject that our self-appointed arbiters of acceptable debate are at risk of making completely taboo. Per ABC

“What happened in Steubenville was a real shock for me. I was deeply saddened,” Williams said in the statement. “For someone to be raped, and at only sixteen, is such a horrible tragedy! For both families involved — that of the rape victim and of the accused.”

According to the Rolling Stone story, Williams says the perpetrators of the crime “did something stupid,” and she asks: “Do you think it was fair, what they got?”

She adds, “I’m not blaming the girl, but if you’re a 16-year-old and you’re drunk like that, your parents should teach you: Don’t take drinks from other people.”

Williams also is quoted as saying: “… she shouldn’t have put herself in that position, unless they slipped her something, then that’s different.”

Well, isn’t that true? It’s not “blaming the victim” to say what Williams said, it’s just good advice for a dangerous world. If I walk around in a bad part of town with my iPad out and I get mugged, it’s not my “fault” and I certainly didn’t “deserve” it. But it wouldn’t be beyond the pale for someone to say, “I’m not blaming the victim, but it also wasn’t smart for Charles to have walked around a dangerous part of town flashing expensive electronic equipment.” Nor would it be out of line for anyone to observe that my family and friends should have warned me against doing exactly that. Are we really to believe that, by acknowleding that there are evil people out there and that one can do things to avoid them, Serena Williams was diminishing the seriousness of rape? I think not.

Thing is, there really are certain things that you can do to reduce the chances of your being sexually abused, including not drinking to excess in public, not accepting drinks from strangers, and not getting into cars with people you don’t know. Should you be able to do all of those things without being assaulted? Yes. Can you do all of those things without being assaulted? Tragically, not always, no. Which is why parents teach their children to look out for themselves. Serena Williams said that, if indeed she did, the victim “shouldn’t have put herself in that position.” Can’t that be true at the same time as we insist that the perpetrators, not she, are ultimately to blame?

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