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Potentially triggering discussion of rape and victim-blaming.

Yesterday, tinylegacies pointed me toward an article about a woman who was raped at gunpoint by a stranger in the Stamford Marriott parking garage.  The woman filed a civil suit against the hotel, claiming her attacker “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.”

The full article is at http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/ci_13048639

The article is too vague for me to judge the hotel’s responsibility.  Did they receive complaints about this individual?  What does “acting suspiciously” mean?  Was the rapist’s behavior something a reasonable person should have noticed?  What security precautions should be in place?  I have some ideas, but I think these are questions to be answered in court.

What really struck me was the approach the Stamford Marriott took in defending themselves.  They claim the victim was careless and negligent, and “failed to exercise due care for her own safety and the safety of her children and proper use of her senses and facilities.”

Let’s break this down.  Gary Fricker stuck a gun into this woman’s back, forced her and her children into her van, and raped her, threatening to do the same to one of her children.  The Marriott claims that this was “unforeseen and beyond their control,” but at the same time, they’re blaming the survivor for her carelessness, for not being sensible enough to avoid “mitigating her damages.”

In other words, it’s not the Marriott’s fault, because everyone knows rape is the victim’s responsibility.  If she got herself raped, that’s entirely on her.  She should have … well, what should she have done differently?  What are we really asking victims to do here?

  • Enter parking garages at your own risk!  (Make sure you bring a big burly man to protect you!  Don’t forget bullet proof jackets for yourself and the kids!)
  • Use common sense!  Everyone is a potential rapist, so don’t let anyone get within 100 feet of you or your children.*
  • If a guy sticks a gun in your back and threatens your kids, it’s your duty to “mitigate the damages.”  I suggest spontaneously developing superpowers.  Freezing time is a good one, as is the ability to generate a magical force field.  Superspeed will do in a pinch.
  • Stop worrying about your kids.  If this woman had been searching every shadow for potential rapists instead of wasting time watching her children, this whole situation could have been avoided!  If your 3-year-old gets run down by an idiot driver, that’s a small price to pay for your safety.
  • Avoid places you might be raped, including parking garages, hotels, dark streets, your own home, your friend’s place … actually, you should probably just lock yourself in a bank vault and be done with it.

The Stamford Marriott has attorneys who are responsible for defending the hotel in a lawsuit.  It’s their job, and I understand that.  But why is this an acceptable defense?  The lawyers should have been laughed out of the courtroom the instant they made such a bullshit claim.

Maybe they would have been, if not for the fact that it works.  Because too many of us still buy into the idea that survivors of rape deserved it.  That they were asking for it, or they were careless, or they were drinking too much, or they were dressed slutty, or they didn’t scream or fight back enough, or….

Lawyers play this defense because it works.  As pissed as I am with the Stamford Marriott and their attorneys for spouting this crap, I’m even more disgusted with the society that continues to believe it.

—-
*I don’t know how many times I’ve heard men complaining, “Why do some women say I’m a potential rapist just because I’m a guy?  That’s sexist!”  Well gosh, could it have anything to do with incidents and reactions like this one?

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

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Comments

( 94 comments — Leave a comment )
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c_smudge
Aug. 14th, 2009 02:05 pm (UTC)
obviously her 3 year old should have grabbed the gun and the five year old should have restrained the attackers.
tinylegacies
Aug. 14th, 2009 02:05 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for this.

Lawyers play this defense because it works. As pissed as I am with the Stamford Marriott and their attorneys for spouting this crap, I’m even more disgusted with the society that continues to believe it.

That is a sad, sad truth about our society.
jimhines
Aug. 14th, 2009 02:54 pm (UTC)
Thanks to you for speaking up about it in the first place.
(no subject) - bearhand - Aug. 14th, 2009 03:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
suricattus
Aug. 14th, 2009 02:08 pm (UTC)
I've already informed Marriott that (as a Marriott Rewards Member) I now consider their hotels unsafe for me to stay at, and will be choosing another chain instead for all my future business.
jimhines
Aug. 14th, 2009 02:15 pm (UTC)
Did you receive any sort of response from them?
(no subject) - suricattus - Aug. 14th, 2009 02:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Aug. 14th, 2009 02:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
the response - suricattus - Aug. 15th, 2009 02:55 am (UTC) - Expand
this is the text of what I sent - suricattus - Aug. 14th, 2009 02:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - georgmi - Aug. 14th, 2009 04:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
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beccastareyes
Aug. 14th, 2009 02:19 pm (UTC)
Wow...

Just. I'd say I'm speechless, except I'm not; it's just most of the words are profanity.

Now, it's one thing to argue that it's reasonable that they were ignorant of the the fact the guy was going to kidnap and rape a woman at gunpoint until he actually did it. That's pretty much the question of the lawsuit.

On the other hand, walking to a hotel's parking garage with kids in tow shouldn't be seen as something that should be avoided lest you get raped. Actually, there may be a place where I'd see 'stranger forcing you at gunpoint into a van and telling you to cooperate or he'll shoot you or rape your children' as a reasonable consequence of one's actions, but I suspect that it would require circumstances so staged as to be meaningless in real life.
janni
Aug. 14th, 2009 02:21 pm (UTC)
So tired of the notion that in some vague way it's women who need to control themselves and their visibility and their very existence, rather than that it might be the men doing the actual attacking who are the ones who need to control themselves. This fact should be obvious and intuitive and it makes no sense at all that, in so many different societies in so many different ways, it isn't.
mtlawson
Aug. 14th, 2009 02:30 pm (UTC)
I remember the uproar over this sort of defense over twenty years ago, and the mind boggles that it is still actively used today.

Then again, in a recent previous job I knew somebody who considered his wife's purpose in life was to be barefoot and pregnant, and she was to obey his every whim. I thought he was joking until I realized that no, he truly believed that.


kyrielle
Aug. 14th, 2009 02:33 pm (UTC)
Yes. If Marriott had mounted a defense based purely on the fact that they did not, in fact, have enough information / control to be held responsible in any degree for this, I would have no problem with that. (They'd either prove it or fail to prove it, but it's an entirely acceptable line of argument, since the original charge is based on the opposite idea.)

But to blame her, to say "it's not our fault because it's hers"? Two problems. One is the one you highlight, and the other one is, even if she somehow did contribute (bleh, ick, pfeh), if they should have dealt with the guy before that they are STILL responsible in part.

The defense is disgusting on the face of it, but it's also crap, because it doesn't remove or address the argument that they should've dealt with the guy before she ever encountered him. (Other arguments might, but not this one!)
jimhines
Aug. 14th, 2009 02:36 pm (UTC)
Yes, and yes. I just wish I had enough faith in our court system to trust that they would also recognize these problems...
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jimhines
Aug. 14th, 2009 02:53 pm (UTC)
Ugh. And then people turn around and demand to know why rape survivors are reluctant to report to the police.
(no subject) - not_from_stars - Aug. 14th, 2009 04:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
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barbarienne
Aug. 14th, 2009 02:56 pm (UTC)
Not wanting to play devil's advocate, but wanting to offer an alternative explanation:

The problem for the Mariott's lawyers is that they have to offer some alternative for who has responsibility. To say, "Well, shit happens, and the security guys can't be everywhere" is not an adequate legal defense. It is the same as saying, "We could have done something, but we didn't."

Attorneys in lawsuits are trained to try and make the case as black-and-white, no-gray-here, as they can. That's their job. Anything less is opening themselves to a malpractice suit for failure to mount the fullest defense they could. Anything less could open up a precedent that any time someone is assaulted while on a hotel's property, the hotel could be liable (even if it's something the hotel couldn't foresee or prevent, such as date- or spousal rape).

If she had tripped over a broken piece of pavement, the defense would be exactly the same. The wording is pure boilerplate. Someone said, "rape is personal injury," went to the template of "how we respond to personal injury suits," and filled in the blanks.

That doesn't make it right or forgivable. It makes it stupider, that no one apparently thought, "Wait a tic... rape's a little different from a trip-and-fall."

But it is an explanation. They don't necessarily think that being raped was the woman's fault. They appear not to have thought at all, in either direction.

Keep kicking up a stink. It will make them think if this ever happens again.
jimhines
Aug. 14th, 2009 03:02 pm (UTC)
Thanks for posting this. That makes sense. Doesn't make it right, as you noted, but it helps to answer the "What the hell were they thinking?" part.
(no subject) - bearhand - Aug. 14th, 2009 04:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tinylegacies - Aug. 14th, 2009 03:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
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pnkrokhockeymom
Aug. 14th, 2009 03:39 pm (UTC)
Here's what I sent.

Dear Marriott,

I wanted to let you know that I just finished a stay in the Marriott SFO in San Mateo. I am a Marriott Rewards member. I doubt very much I'll be using that Rewards card any time in the near future, however.

I have no opinion on whether the staff of the Marriott Stamford was actually negligent in failing to prevent the victim's rape at gunpoint in the parking garage.

However, given the defenses raised by Marriott's lawyers in the litigation, I have grave concerns about what Marriott does believe its duties are toward its guests, and graver concerns about what Marriott believes should be the duties of the guests themselves. To that end, please let me know why I should EVER feel safe in a Marriott again.

Additionally, please explain to the public how you could possibly allow your attorneys to plead a contributory negligence defense against a victim of an armed rape. I'm a lawyer. I get the legal issues. I also know that it's not okay to raise a defense you know to be frivolous. So if Marriott is raising this defense, it must actually believe that a woman is responsible for avoiding certain situations in order to prevent being brutally raped at gunpoint in front of her children. I would like you to add that to your statement of purpose, if that's the case, so I can be better apprised of the "accommodations" offered by Marriott as opposed to its competitors. Fully informed consumers make the best choices. I would also like to know better what the circumstances are in which Marriott believes a woman is responsible for having been raped at gunpoint. If you can articulate that, please let me know, as it may help me make future travel decisions.

Additionally, I would like to let you know that your lawyers intimidation tactics in serving subpoenas on persons who know the victim, thus outing her to them, are not lost on me. Again, I'm a lawyer. I'm unamused that Marriott's higher-ups and legal team think that's an appropriate action to take with a rape victim. Again, every pleading and signed paper in a litigation, including discovery, generally must be based on actual, reasonable belief that it is factually or legally justified. Please apprise me of Marriott's understanding as to why the rape victim's babysitter, who did not, as far as I'm aware, attend at the rape with the victim, has discoverable information in this litigation?

I have traveled more than 20,000 miles back and forth across the country this year. I'm not done yet. I won't be staying at any Marriott hotels during my future business or personal travel, I can assure you. I now understand the onus Marriott puts on their guests to ensure their own safety, and I now understand what Marriott believes about women and rape in society.

A contributory negligence defense in a case about a rape literally makes me sick. It's frankly evil, and it is part of the "acceptable" cultural dialogue in this country that continually reflects and perpetuates the rape myths that prevent women from coming forward when they are harmed.

I do hope that Marriott is enjoying the publicity. I plan to follow the news reports on this case closely going forward, and discuss my views on it with my friends and relatives in detail. Please send me any statements from Marriott's point of view you would like me to consider in so doing.
jimhines
Aug. 14th, 2009 03:41 pm (UTC)
That letter is a thing of beauty.
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jlapp
Aug. 14th, 2009 04:00 pm (UTC)
Wow, if everyone were just more careful there would be no crime at all!!!! Worry your way to Utopia everyone!
rimrunner
Aug. 14th, 2009 04:06 pm (UTC)
My brother's wedding was held at a Marriott, as was my post-wedding brunch. I've not infrequently stayed in them when traveling for professional reasons. Point being, they've gotten a not insubstantial amount of my business in the past.

Not anymore.
lkrobinson
Aug. 14th, 2009 04:29 pm (UTC)
That's just awful. Stupid lawyers. I'd like to give them some damages.
jimhines
Aug. 14th, 2009 04:33 pm (UTC)
I suspect you'll have to stand in line, at this point.
not_from_stars
Aug. 14th, 2009 04:31 pm (UTC)
It's very comforting and reassuring to see that there are still decent men out there who won't hesitate to say that something is wrong when they see it.

Thank you for writing about this.
damhan_alluidh
Aug. 14th, 2009 04:58 pm (UTC)
Two things bother me.
One, that the lawyers made that defense in the first place. I can guese their 'logic', but still. It's inhuman.

The other thing is that speaking out against rape makes men 'nice guys'. Not that you aren't, Jim, but it shouldn't be so damned rare.
jimhines
Aug. 14th, 2009 05:03 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - damhan_alluidh - Aug. 15th, 2009 09:33 am (UTC) - Expand
realmjit
Aug. 14th, 2009 05:06 pm (UTC)
"The woman was negligent."

'Cause, y'know, a woman's just begging to raped, what with walking around with a vagina and all.

pickledherring
Aug. 14th, 2009 05:55 pm (UTC)
Yeah, what was I thinking. I should leave mine at home or in a bank vault when I go out.
(no subject) - suricattus - Aug. 14th, 2009 10:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
snapes_angel
Aug. 14th, 2009 05:12 pm (UTC)
Well gosh, could it have anything to do with incidents and reactions like this one?
Yes. Yes, it could.

Another spontaneous thingamabob is to maybe have your three year old be a black belt in some martial art or arts and have their hands, feet, and especially their mouths if they are teething, registered as lethal weapons. /sardonic statement, sarcasm, or whatever you want to call it.

Incidents like this, and the spousal abuse of husbands, only proves that there is still a double standard in these cases, which is an inequality between the genders. If that had happened to a man, would the response have been any different? Would the man be held accountable for his rape at gunpoint, under the same circumstances? Well, to be fair, half would be outraged, and half would laugh at it.

If a woman has to endure it, she should have risked not only her life, but the lives of her children. If a man suffers from it, he wimped out. Double standard, but in this particular case, I think it may be a similar result, except with certain lawyers.

It's like asking the victims buried by an earthquake and trapped by debris to suck it up and dig themselves out. The debris in this case, of course, being the loaded gun, the loaded threats, and a fear for her children's safety.

The Stamford Marriott should have exercised more security in their parking garage, including the highly touted surveillance cameras that we see on all the television dramas that can now actually be computer-run. They could at least have taped the incident to aid in the prosecution of that vile rapist.

Caveat Emptor?
deborahblakehps
Aug. 14th, 2009 05:19 pm (UTC)
Yeesh.
rosefox
Aug. 14th, 2009 05:44 pm (UTC)
Note to self: Push harder for Readercon to move out of the Marriott, and to cite this as one reason why.
wyjoe
Aug. 14th, 2009 09:15 pm (UTC)
I fully agree with that sentiment. I'll be looking to avoid Marriott until and unless this defense is withdrawn.
(no subject) - beth_bernobich - Aug. 14th, 2009 11:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
slweippert
Aug. 14th, 2009 09:04 pm (UTC)
Thank you for "outing" the Marriott. I'm going to pass this info along to everybody I can.

thanks again
wyjoe
Aug. 14th, 2009 10:47 pm (UTC)
I posted my thoughts on this news story in my blog. My language got pretty intense there for a moment.

http://wyjoe.livejournal.com/13646.html
(Deleted comment)
wyjoe
Aug. 14th, 2009 11:09 pm (UTC)
Marriott responds
Here is what Marriott had to say:


"Thank you for contacting Marriott.

"We wish to convey our respect and sympathy for Ms. Doe and her family, who were the victims of a horrendous crime in 2006.

"Marriott is profoundly sorry that such a terrible thing happened to the victim of this violent crime. And unfortunately this situation has created a mistaken impression that Marriott lacks respect and concern for Ms. Doe or other victims of violent crime.

"However, out of respect for the privacy of the victim and the expectations of the Court in the pending litigation, we are not at liberty to comment on the claims or defenses in this case.

"Regards,
Marriott Customer Care

"This communication contains information from Marriott International, Inc. that may be confidential. Except for personal use by the intended recipient, or as expressly authorized by the sender, any person who receives this information is prohibited from disclosing, copying, distributing, and/or using it. If you have received this communication in error, please immediately delete it and all copies, and promptly notify the sender. Nothing in this communication is intended to operate as an electronic signature under applicable law."
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