Aware responds to Teenage Magazine's victim blaming advice column

SINGAPORE - An advice column in Teenage Magazine that suggested that an apparent rape victim had only herself to blame for being sexually assaulted has led to a flurry of outraged responses, including from gender equality advocacy group Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware).

Aware has hit out at the magazine's "Dear Kelly" column, saying that it could "discourage readers from reporting their own sexual assaults, as it would reinforce their expectation of judgmental and unsupportive responses".

In a letter published in the magazine's latest issue, the victim related her experience of going over to her boyfriend's home for dinner and a movie, drinking, and waking up the next morning naked in bed with him, without any memory of what had happened the night before.

"I had too much to drink and did not protest," wrote the girl, of how she reacted when he started undressing her.

"Kelly" responded by telling the writer that she had misled her boyfriend into thinking she wanted to have sex with him by acting "like a girl who has been around" - spending time at his home without his parents around, drinking and kissing him.

The column, which is a staple of the magazine targeted at teenage girls, went on to tell the writer that she should be "grateful that he wore a condom so there is little fear of an unplanned pregnancy and contracting a Sexually Transmitted Disease".

It is not known if the letter is a genuine one. The Straits Times has contacted Teenage Magazine for comment.

However, the magazine has responded in a comment on a Facebook post: “It was never the intention of Teenage to condone rape and victim-blaming... We seek your patience while we investigate this matter fully.”

In a published e-mail to the magazine's editor-in-chief, Aware accused the column of having a "condescending and unsupportive" tone and implying that it is acceptable to sexually assault someone who has had sex before.

It added: "Consent needs to be acquired at every stage of physical intimacy - if a person is too drunk or intoxicated to give fully voluntary agreement, they are not legally able to give consent."

Aware said: "In Singapore as globally, sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes. Many victims cite disbelieving and unsupportive attitudes from their peers and family as a major reason why they choose not to report the crime.

""Kelly's" column would very likely discourage readers from reporting their own sexual assaults, as it would reinforce their expectation of judgmental and unsupportive responses."

On late Friday (Nov 11), writer Kelly Chopard of the Dear Kelly column responded in a statement published on Teenage's website. Ms Chopard said: "I sincerely apologise if my response... came across as harsh and 'blaming the victim'." 

She insisted that she never blamed the reader in her column, which was "aimed at warning readers of the consequences they face should they engage in risky behaviour".

"I wanted everyone to know the danger of sending the wrong signals," said Ms Chopard. 

"I try my best to help those who need a listening ear and I am gravely sorry that this response has garnered a negative response."

The incident comes on back of the infamous Stanford rape case, in which a former Stanford University swimmer, Brock Turner, 20, was sentenced to six months' jail in June this year for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster after a campus party in January last year.

In its wake, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam had emphasised the need for Singapore to take a strict approach when it comes to serious crimes like rape, as well as to make it easier for victims to come forward.