vial of liquid next to shot glass

Backhanded Victim Blame and the Current Drugging Scare: excerpts

In the book, Drink Spiking and Predatory Drugging: A Modern History, I make the argument that exaggeration of the date rape drugs threat (among students, particularly, but not limited to them) has a pernicious effect on voluntarily intoxicated victims of violence and exploitation.

Situations in which drugging explanations are insisted upon when both tests and circumstances suggest otherwise has the dual negative effect of sidelining claims about the sexual assault itself, and contributing to a basically melodramatic view of the problem. Left out in the cold, then, are all the more mundane experiences that most assaulted women recognize as their own. (p 248)

One of the things I spent some time mulling over was how to present the argument in such a way that didn’t fall into the “this problem is a distraction from that problem” trap. Distraction arguments, after all, can be lazy:  take any two things happening at the same time and say that one is a distraction from the other. Obviously, surreptitious drink spiking followed by rape does happen, and I detail some of these in the book. But in the case of this drug scare, the relationship between the roofie obsession and the desire to escape any talk about voluntary alcohol consumption – for fear of victim blaming – is fairly stark and very direct, and I wasn’t the first, by far, to notice it:

Amanda Hess sarcastically called out the “date rape drugs industrial complex” as fomenting fear about a relatively rare occurrence and trying to shift talk about rape back to the lurking stranger…. Hess noted the face-saving qualities of the formulation: “Now, society is ready to accept that a rape victim is still a rape victim if she goes out to a bar with her girlfriends and has a few drinks—as long as her intoxication is capped off with a surprise roofie.” It’s basically a form of victim-blaming that manages to look like victim sympathy at first. Many opinion leaders and policy makers are squeamish about asserting the simple right of intoxicated people (women in particular) to not be assaulted, no matter how they got that way. (p. 142-143)

Hess mentioned some research I’d done with Adam Burgess and Sarah E.H. Moore on the topic. But she formulated the problem so concisely that it advanced my thinking about the topic greatly when I went to write the whole book. And then I began to find evidence of this backhanded victim blame everywhere. Tennis star Serena Williams, opining in 2013 about the Steubenville rape case, infamously exemplified the attitude in a Rolling Stone interview:

“I’m not blaming the girl, but if you’re a 16-year-old and you’re drunk like that, your parents should teach you: Don’t take drinks from other people. She’s 16, why was she that drunk where she doesn’t remember? It could have been much worse. She’s lucky. I don’t know, maybe she wasn’t a virgin, but she shouldn’t have put herself in that position, unless they slipped her something, then that’s different.” (Williams, quoted in RS, 6.18.13)

Then that’s different: it’s “real rape.” The fear women have of blame for their own victimization is not irrational; it is grounded in the harsh judgment of intoxicated victims. Williams was roundly criticized for these remarks, and she did eventually walk them back. But this was just a celebrity version of a widespread but often unacknowledged attitude, that characterizes not only victim blamers but, more troublingly, people who claim to be victim defenders, including campus anti-rape activists, journalists, district attorneys, and legislators.

To expect a person who has been assaulted while drunk or high to take on the additional burden of pretending they were “plied” with drugs or alcohol as the only route to the legitimacy of their experience of violence is doubly burdensome. It denies the larger reality of drug and alcohol use across the world as a route to pleasure-seeking and sociability. It favors only the sober victim, the old-school innocent victim against whom all the rest are measured. (261)


New Excerpt: What’s in your Halloween Cache?

Here’s an excerpt from the book, Drink Spiking and Predatory Drugging: A Modern History, about the attractions of drug scarelore, especially involuntary drug ingestion as a “problem solver” for frightened parents. It almost always rears its head around Halloween, but never really goes away completely. – PD

Happy Halloween from Points!

Got drug scarelore? Share it with the writers and readers of the POINTS blog.

Points: The Blog of the Alcohol & Drugs History Society

Editor’s Note: We at Points wish all our celebrating readers a happy Halloween! Before you head out trick-or-treating, check out this post from last year’s holiday season on “laced” candy and other drug myths. It also contains a prediction, proven correct in last year’s election, that Florida voters would pass a constitutional amendment allowing for medical marijuana.

fnd-halloween-candy-bucket_s4x3_lg Beware… or don’t.

This year, medical marijuana is on the ballot in my home state of Florida, and it’s likely to pass: the latest statewide poll shows 77 percent of Floridians support the proposed constitutional amendment.

But the remaining 33 percent aren’t taking this lying down. On Monday, some county sheriffs held a press conference ostensibly on Halloween safety. Instead, surrounded by costumed children for full effect, they warned citizens about the supposed risk of marijuana edibles being passed out to unsuspecting youth.

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[Book title is Drink Spiking and Predatory Drugging: A Modern History. Image of cocktail glass with mysterious swirl in it.]

The Points Interview: Pamela Donovan

“We’ve thrown off certain old mores over the last few decades, and now the proper girl ideal has been replaced by the smart girl ideal: freedom, but no room for error, and everything’s your fault.”

I did a Q & A about the book project over at the great Points blog. Thanks to Kyle Bridge and everyone at the blog, which focuses on the history of drugs and alcohol.

Much ado about nothing: Overinterpreting volatility in homicide rates

Andrew Wheeler (a PhD criminologist teaching in Texas, and a former undergraduate student of mine) explains what you may or may not already know about homicide rates in the U.S.

Andrew Wheeler

I’m not much of a macro criminologist, but being asked questions by my dad (about Richard Rosenfeld and the Ferguson effect) and the dentist yesterday (asking about some of Trumps comments about rising crime trends) has prompted me to jump into it and give my opinion. Long story short — many sources I believe are overinterpreting short term fluctuations as more meaningful than they are.

First I will tackle national crime rates. So if you have happened to walk by a TV playing CNN the past few days, you may have heard Donald Trump being criticized for his statements on crime rates. This is partially a conflation with the difference between overall levels of crime versus changes in crime over time. Basically crime is currently low compared to historical patterns, but homicide rates have been rising in the past two years. This is easier to show in a chart…

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Where’s the Scholarly OA blog and the Predatory Journal List? (Third Update, 6.15.17)

Newest Update, June 15, 2017: The plot thickens, and yet we have clearer answers as to the disappearance of Beall’s List. Read the latest by Prasad Ravindranath at Science Chronicle:

original post January 18, 2017, updated February 13, 2017 and June 15, 2017

February 13 update: So, this story just keeps getting weirder. It seems that in a recent interview with science blogger Prasad Ravindranath, Jeffrey Beall significantly downplayed his plans to collaborate with Cabell’s on (re-)producing an ongoing list of flagged or potentially predatory journals and conference proceedings. Cabell’s responded in a shocked manner. And Beall, for his part, is feeling very much like he needs to move on to less controversial work at UC Denver. And that’s where we are with all that, folks.

Reminder – the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive has Beall’s List up through the end of 2016 there.

Jeffrey Beall’s running list of potentially scammy journals, publishers, and conferences has been taken down. What now?

Recently, in the process of putting together a paper on rumor research, I came across a handful of interesting articles in journals and conference proceedings that had been flagged on as potentially predatory and phony. I was disappointed, since they seemed like they were based on some solid work. I haven’t decided yet whether I plan to leave them out of further revisions of the paper or simply refer to them as unpublished manuscripts. Some of them involve mathematical sophistication that I am in no position to evaluate, and I therefore have to know for sure whether other mathematical modelling people have reviewed it.

For those of you unfamiliar with the world of peer-reviewed scholarly and scientific publishing, the word “predatory” here tends to mean charging submitters a large fee and then engaging in little to no peer review, resulting in the publication of journal issues or conference proceedings that have no recognition from, or participation in, organizations in their respective fields. Their editorial boards are also phony – scholars have been sometimes shocked to learn that they were on the masthead, and had never been sent manuscripts to review. They often have innocuous names that sound perfectly respectable, or are similar to, legitimate journals in a field. So let’s say there’s a legitimate journal called Journal of Crypto-Invertebrates. The predatory one might be called International Journal of Crypto-Invertebrate Research. Unless you noticed that the publisher wasn’t one of the major journal publishers, or called up the people on the editorial board, you might not catch it at all; the visible mimicry of real journals is fairly impressive. You might easily mistake one of these places for real if: you had not been aware of this growing problem, or if you were looking for research that is outside your discipline or specialization.

One note: the up-front-payment criteria doesn’t by itself doesn’t mean a publication is bogus; legitimate Open Access publishers seek payment from sponsoring institutions like universities and institutes, and then make the content free to readers. That’s just a newer and alternative payment model; the peer-review process is supposed to be the same, and they’re sponsored by the same scholarly and scientific publishers as other journals.

But the bogus publications are essentially pay-to-play mills. Although Beall’s List, as it has come to be known, has served as a handy double-check for the past few years, the problem was identified in science magazines about ten years ago.

Jeffrey Beall, who is a research librarian at the University of Colorado at Denver, hasn’t commented, as far as I know. But Cabell’s, a company that he has been working with, has only said to press inquiries that Beall removed the lists from his blog “due to threats and politics.” Cabell’s plans to put out its own list later this spring, 2017, according to Inside Higher Ed.

In the meantime, as of January 18, the archived lists have been reposted at Internet Archive-Wayback Machine.

More as I find out about it.

Updates (1/20/17):

  1. The Times Higher Education site published an article on the Beall’s List disappearance, pointing out two aspects of this situation that I hadn’t thought about: 1) a vetted list that results from actual investigation and engagement is important to librarians, too,  who need a way to differentiate journals that are shady or predatory versus ones that are legitimate but small, new, or independent journals. Also, the THE article points out that some scholars knowingly publish with these predatory places to boost their citation counts. Seems risky to me, but I guess it’s possible if you know your institution well enough that you feel like you can slip a publication by them.
  2. About the Internet Archive/Wayback Machine: yes, it does have mirrored sites abroad, including a distributed hosting project. [Translation: efforts to “back up” large portions of publically available web pages can continue even if IA/WM has a problem or two.]
picture of ones and zeroes representing stored data

Thinking Beyond the Couch-Hero and the All-Seeing Eye: getting up to date on Surveillance and Sociology

Anyone who listens to podcasts and has thought about surveillance, privacy, and the shaping of the self in the age of the selfie, alongside the silent corporate algorithms that channel our digital lives, should be listening to Benjamen Walker’s new series on his podcast Theory of Everything. Walker’s first in this series is “Burning Down the Panopticon” which raises absolutely overdue questions about our tendency to analyze surveillance and privacy issues using Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon model, which supposes a 360-degree gaze of an all-seeing, all-judging eye as a metaphor for new and insidious forms of social control.  Michel Foucault, of course, also harnessed the idea in his book Discipline and Punish, and the Panopticon became quickly unmoored from its penological settings.

That wasn’t a dishonest unmooring – both Bentham and Foucault saw the model as one that would be relevant way beyond the penitentiary walls. Bentham, the utilitarian, saw good applications of the model’s spread and Foucault, mainly bad ones that would ultimately serve unfreedom in quiet but effective ways. We’d all learn to “work on our own” to shape a self that expected constant surveillance. I’ve thought about this issue a lot, but truthfully not very carefully, ever since I wrote about the rise of reality crime shows in the 1990s. In 1998, Mark Fishman, along with Grey Cavender put together an edited volume, Entertaining Crime: Television Reality Programs, with ten chapters on varying aspects of what was then a burgeoning and somewhat unique genre. My chapter, “Armed with the Power of Television” explored the genre’s pretention to becoming a kind of entertainment-based civic tool in the United States, where the public sector was under siege and yet authoritarian populism ruled the day despite (or maybe because of) dropping crime rates.

Foucault’s take on the modern Panopticon was that it more or less supplanted the spectacular forms of punishment – public tortures and executions, for instance. In their place, is the ever more precise and dossiered scientific surveillance of the criminalized population. With the rise in reality crime programs, which were often co-produced with law enforcement agencies, my argument in “Armed with the Power” was that a new place for spectacle had been formed, with the passive-yet-praised-as-active audience inculpated and feeling like the couch-heroes that they were.

There’s also the dimension of data, surveillance, and media production reinventing memory and working-copy reality, as well.  “Armed with the Power” did address this “media as omniscient” move in reality crime programming, but the examples and observations were brief, partly because I was genuinely surprised and disturbed by it, and partly because that’s all I had – an observation. I didn’t know what to make of it then. Now, I feel like I do – ubiquitous data gathering and surveillance, even the democratically gathered kind, maybe even more so now, attempts to fill in all the unknowns with its personalized curation. And so a videotape of street brawl, or a politician walking across the stage, or a manager making a comment to a staffer, means whatever you can convince others that it means.

There’s misrepresentation, and factual nihilism, on the one hand, but the problems are now so much deeper – because they’re conjuring realities, not just distorting them — in the digital age. Walker points out the problems with using the Panopticon metaphor in the current situation. First, as he puts it, what happens when the “guard in the tower is disintermediated” and we routinely “compile our own files on ourselves” with every miniscule decision we make online, or at a payment register? Every electronic payment, loyalty card, social media like or post, every search on Google now added to Your Permanent Record.

The legacy of using the Panopticon metaphor to create a “simple minded” tale of government dragnet spying such as that uncovered by Edward Snowden is that we miss the big data guard tower that we are building for ourselves, through registration, online behavior and commerce.  I agree with Walker that the old model is not inaccurate, it’s just increasingly inadequate. Even when we use the Panopticon to explain our feelings of violation, or infringement, we keep forgetting to get back to the conversation about how all of this is shaping our behavior, our social relationships, and our sense of selves.

The world of surveillance studies needs to be reconsidered, although I’d have to say I’m way behind on my reading in this area. Appropriately, Amazon helped me out with many suggestions once I plugged a few names in. I’d already known the work of one of the most prolific writers and researchers in this area, David Lyon, Director of the Surveillance Studies Centre at Queen’s University in Canada. I just started reading his book Surveillance after Snowden (2015). He also wrote a short piece for Time in which he spelled out how diffuse the problem is. Much of the data about ourselves that we deliver is done so seamlessly that we barely notice – we are asked to produce credentials for authorized usage for the most mundane of tasks. Social media, a less compulsory dimension, nonetheless evokes a sense of anxiety about our identity and social connections in us, even as it delivers to us terrific things we wouldn’t ever experience, or perhaps even access, otherwise.  Lyons, like Walker, would like to get back to that conversations of effects and costs. “It’s one thing to explain why people might self-surveil and another to ask the ethical question: Should we?”

Shoshanna Zuboff wrote a provocative article in Frankfurter Allgemeine in which she describes the emergence of surveillance capitalism, in which a significant source of profit extraction, business modeling, and new global economic development depends on storing data on our every move, certainly on-line, but increasingly off-line, too. “The assault on behavioral data is so sweeping,” she says “that it can no longer be circumscribed by the concept of privacy and its contests.”  Zuboff’s book, Master or Slave? The Fight for the Soul of Our Information Civilization, isn’t out until Summer 2017, and I’m looking forward to it.

The Panopticon model requires centralization – which seemed to be what was going on at the time when I thought about reality crime programs. But hasn’t in some ways the tendency been the opposite – to the centrifugal, the phone camera, the body cam, the home surveillance system?  Yet also the street protest on Periscope, being live Tweeted? A great democratic tribunal as Bentham also imagined, keeping the guard tower honest, checking the prerogatives of power? That’s what we keep hoping.  But so much data. So much epistemic distrust. Editing and curation by the dispersed forces who cannot agree on What Just Happened.

I don’t want to exaggerate the differences between the digital age and the media of the modernist print era. Print narrative can tell any number of stories, too, mutually exclusive ones, shaped for eager and loyal audiences. But data transforms reality now, too. The example that many of us are familiar with is the erroneous credit report, or the crossed digital wires that create an inter-mingling of someone else’s financial activities with our own. It’s not a true abstract of your financial life, but it may as well be. Is your Facebook page really you? People have noticed how we idealize in social media, but what about how it idealizes us?  Not long ago, I started getting mobile adverts for a cool home-goods store. I think I’d accurately describe it as my taste, only slightly better. It was convenient. It also gave me digital chills.

Media transformations were rudimentary in the 1990s and guesses about where the digital juggernaut was going often turned out to be spectacularly wrong. To me, it’s not surprising that the networked society has enabled more surveillance; but what is surprising is how much privacy we gave up so easily to commercial interests. In my case, I think I succumbed out of convenience and FOMO. And now we have reached a point where, with the exception of some always vigilant, advanced-skill hacker types, most people would be hard-pressed to figure out how not to leave a trail of digital bits, ripe for the harvesting, in even the most ordinary transactions.

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