Slate Magazine is an online magazine that provides commentary on politics, news, and culture. The publication includes a column called “Dear Prudence,” to which readers can submit letters to “Prudie” asking for advice on a variety of things. On January 9, 2012 Prudence posted a video responding to a woman who identified herself as “Sleeping with My Eyes Open”.
The woman reaches out to Prudence for help and receives a shockingly close-minded and problematic response. During the beginning of their marriage, the couple would often wake up in the middle of the night to have sex. At first the sex was consensual, but then she spoke with her husband and made it clear that she wanted it to stop. The sex continued. Not only did the woman explicitly state that she did not consent to middle-of-the-night sex, she would also scream and try to push him off of her. After questioning her husband’s actions and repeatedly asking him to stop, he responded that he “cannot control himself.”
Prudence’s response is distressing. She calls the husband a creep, but his actions may not be his fault. She advises the wife to take her husband to the doctor for a medical evaluation, because he might have a sleep disorder that is causing his actions. Prudence even says “if it seems that he just enjoys forcing himself on you” then they need to see a marriage counselor as soon as possible if they do not want to end up divorced. Forcing. If force is used to obtain sex, then it is not a consensual act; it is rape. Prudence completely disregards the fact that this woman’s husband is raping her. Whether other abusive aspects of a relationship are present are unknown. Prudie doesn’t even suggest that the woman’s husband’s rape is being used to control or manipulate her.
Understanding consent is vital.
Consent is an agreement by all partners to engage in sexual contact of any kind. It must be verbally expressed, and manipulation, force, or substances cannot be used to obtain consent. The absence of “no” does not mean “yes”.
In “Sleeping with My Eyes Open’s” situation, she asked her husband on more than one occasion to stop having sex with her during the middle of the night. The wife is unconscious and unable to consent during the middle of the night. The wife screams and tries to push her husband off of her while he is having sex with her. There are three layers of expressed non-consent. Her husband does not have her consent; the sex that Prudence sees as a sleeping disorder is not a disorder, it is rape. No matter how hard it is, we must identify sexual violence for what it is. To minimize or ignore it is only allowing the perpetrator to hold more control.
Unfortunately, this story of intimate partner rape is all too common. According to recent surveys completed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five women report having been raped in their lifetime. Of those women, more than half were raped by an intimate partner. Sexual violence should never be excused. The survivor is never at fault. Prudie’s response is extremely troubling. The woman should have been referred to an advocacy agency, not a marriage counselor.
The woman reaching out for help from Prudence is not experiencing just a relationship problem. Forced sex is never okay, no matter the type of relationship the perpetrator has with his/her victim. If someone reaches out to you who is experiencing an issue in their relationship, stop to think about what is really going on. Don’t be like Prudie. Listen to the person, believe what she or he is saying, and do not feel like you cannot reach out for help if you don’t know exactly how to respond. The employees and volunteers at Family Violence Prevention Center are trained to help.
Our Hotline Advocates are here 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Whether you have questions, are looking for help, or just need an understanding voice to talk to, FVPC’s Hotline Advocates are always available to talk at (919)929-7122.