Hotel blames victim for sexual assault

A woman raped at gunpoint sues the Marriott where it happened, and they argue she wasn't being careful enough

Published August 14, 2009 2:15PM (EDT)

You want to know what's really sad? When I saw the headline "Hotel puts partial blame on victim in 2006 rape", my first thought was, "Hey, someone's only partially blaming the victim? That sounds like progress!" I shouldn't have gotten my hopes up.

In October of 2006, Gary Fricker raped a woman (known only as Jane Doe) at gunpoint in the parking garage of the Stamford Marriott in Stamford, CT, in front of her two young children. He also pointed his gun at those children and threatened to sexually assault one of them. The one positive part of this story is that Fricker was captured by police three days later and is currently serving a 20-year prison sentence; if there was any victim-blaming in the criminal trial, at least it didn't sway the jury. Now, however, Jane Doe is suing the Stamford Marriott for failing to secure the building or notice when a violent crime took place there -- and in its defense, the hotel stops just short of arguing that she asked for it.

According to The Stamford Advocate, Doe "claims in the suit that Fricker had been in the hotel and garage acting suspiciously days before the attack, as well as the afternoon of the attack, and the hotel failed to notice him, apprehend him or make him leave. During the attack, security personnel did not see or stop him." Whether the hotel can be held responsible for failing to identify Fricker as a threat to guest security and remove him from the property -- he'd been arrested 20 times before and was wanted in Florida for arson at the time -- or failing to notice the crime in progress remains to be seen. But according to the Advocate, among a list of "special defenses" the hotel has filed, which "allow defendants in civil suits to argue they are not responsible for damages even if the plaintiff's story is true," are accusations that the victim "failed to exercise due care for her own safety and the safety of her children and proper use of her senses and facilities." Because, apparently, a good mommy would inuit that a man with a gun is standing in a hotel parking garage, preparing to rape her and threaten her children.

Seriously, shouldn't that argument undermine the hotel's position here? She should have used her "senses and facilities" to recognize the threat of attack from a criminal who'd been loitering on the property for days, but paid security guards couldn't be expected to do the same? Or is it just that women aren't supposed to walk into parking garages without protection? Or was she perhaps wearing a short skirt and high heels? It's tough to say what they mean by "failed to exercise due care for her own safety and the safety of her children," exactly, but the idea that she should have been able to prevent her own rape is laughable to me.

Or it would be, if such claims weren't advanced -- and taken seriously -- so often. That really makes it more cryable. I could actually sympathize with the hotel a bit if they said, "It's absolutely terrible that this happened on our property, but hindsight is 20/20. We make every effort to ensure that our hotel is as secure as possible, but we can't run a criminal background check on every person who sets foot on our property." Sadly, that was not their tactic.

It's tempting to highlight the details here -- she was raped by a stranger, at gunpoint, in front of her children -- to underscore the horrible absurdity of trying to hold this woman responsible for being the victim of a violent crime. But the fact is, most rapes are not committed by strangers with weapons, and that's part of why victim-blaming so often works. Why did she go home with him? Why was she wearing that? Why was she drinking so much? How can we be sure she didn't want it? A good woman jumped by a gun-wielding stranger is one thing, but a woman who merely claims she didn't consent to sex, well, that's a different story! Except it's not. And the routine attempts to discredit victims of more typical rapes -- committed by someone they've met, who was not threatening them with a weapon other than his own body -- actually pave the way for a "special defense" of "She should have been more careful" when we are talking about a stranger with a gun. The reason that has potential as a legal strategy -- the reason it's not ultimately laughable -- is because people in this culture are already so used to questioning whether women do enough to protect themselves from any man who might decide to rape them.

The insidiousness of victim-blaming goes far beyond people saying, "Why was she wearing that?" It's also saying, "Why did she go where a rapist might be?" -- like, you know, a parking garage, or a city street, or her own apartment. It's the inevitable arguments that all women should take self-defense classes to stop rape. It's the assumption that every woman is responsible for preventing the actions of violent criminals when it comes to this one particular violent crime, and any arguable lapse in judgment can be seized upon as evidence that she just wasn't trying hard enough not to be attacked. In a nutshell, it's rape culture. As long as we constantly question all of the decisions women make prior to a man's decision to rape them, victim-blaming will remain a viable legal strategy, no matter the circumstances.


By Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

MORE FROM Kate Harding

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Broadsheet Health