Susan Patton

Faculty response receives national attention, Patton ’77 responds

letter to the editor of The Daily Princetonian that was signed by over 200 University faculty members has received national attention, including articles in the Huffington PostJezebel and New York Magazine.

The letter, which was published on Wednesday, expressed disagreement with the statements Susan Patton ’77 made on date rape and responsibility in a recent Q&A about her recently published book on dating and marriage.

Two hundred and fifteen faculty members across many departments and schools signed the letter, including Anne-Marie Slaughter ’80, Joyce Carol Oates and former University President Shirley Tilghman.

“We do not believe that [students'] manner of dress or drinking behavior makes them responsible for unwanted sexual contact,” the letter read, encouraging victims of sexual assault to find support from Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources & Education, and other campus and community resources.

Patton said in an interview Wednesday that she was fully in support of the faculty letter and would have signed it herself.

“The idea of anybody — male or female — being forced into a position of sexual assault against their wishes is awful, and I would have signed that faculty letter,” Patton said. “But what I was talking with the press about was not about sexual assault, but about later regret.”

Patton had said in the original Q&A that “[the woman] is the one that needs to take responsibility for herself and for her own safety, and simply not allow herself to come to a point where she is no longer capable of protecting her physical self.”

Patton said that she had meant to draw a clearer distinction between rape and what she calls “regrettable sex.”

“First we have to be clear what we’re talking about. I said [in the Q&A] that rape is probably the most horrific crime I could imagine, with the exception, maybe, of child abduction,” Patton said. “And certainly if that’s what we’re talking about, it’s criminal, it’s awful in every possible way, and the perpetrator of any such crime should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

She said her position had been misrepresented in the editing and condensing process.

In her book, Patton wrote that “if you are too drunk to speak, then you may be incapable of saying no or warding off unwanted advances. And then it’s all on you. Please spare me your ‘blaming the victim’ outrage.”

Patton said that rape is often confused with “regrettable sex,” adding that women cannot sidestep responsibility for having “regrettable sex” by claiming they were raped.

“It can’t be sort of wake up the next morning after having too much to drink, or partying too much or too wildly and looking over at where you spent the night and thinking, ‘Oh what did I do?’ That’s not rape. That’s mistake sex, that’s regrettable sex,” Patton said.

Patton added, however, that women must be careful when it comes to alcohol consumption.

“Women have to be smart for themselves and not drink past the point that they can’t remain in control of themselves and in control of the situation,” Patton said.

Assistant psychology professor Betsy Levy Paluck, a contact person who helped organize the letter published in the ‘Prince,’ declined to comment.

Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article mischaracterized an excerpt of the letter sent by the University faculty regarding sexual assault. The ‘Prince’ regrets the error. 

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