Columnist Pauline Phillips began the syndicated advice column “Dear Abby” in 1956.
Phillips, born in Sioux City, Iowa to Russian Jewish immigrants, was known for some controversially “tough” and sometimes conservative opinions on life and love.
When her daughter Jeanne Phillips took over the column in 2000, those tough and sometimes conservative opinions didn't change much—but the world had, especially when it came to certain topics.
Rape, certainly one of the most sensitive and controversial subjects there is, is one of those—and Phillips is in hot water right now due to her response to a reader's question in her most recent column.
In a letter published Wednesday, a junior high school student tells Abby about an incident between her and a male friend that happened while they were studying:
“...Last year, a guy I have known for two years began showing a sexual interest in me. I rejected his advances. Last week, he began expressing his interest again, letting me know he wanted to have sex. He invited me to study — only study — but said we ”might" make out.
....I decided I was fine with just kissing, but as soon as I got in his truck, he started to feel me up. He took me to a semi-isolated area and we ended up having sex. It wasn't fun or pleasurable. I told him he was hurting me, but he didn't stop until the third time I said it. He was very upset with me. He only cared about me pleasuring him.
I told two of my close friends about what happened. One said he had essentially raped me. The other said it doesn't count as rape because even though I said it hurt, I didn't say it forcefully enough. Abby, what do you think? — UNCERTAIN IN ILLINOIS"
Abby's response, however, wasn't what some people would have liked or expected.
Essentially, Abby told the student that despite the boy's explicit, stated interest in sex, the girl didn't make it totally clear that it wasn't an option:
"It appears you and that boy had a severe breakdown in communication, which led to your being sexually assaulted.
He had made no secret that he wanted sex with you, and may have interpreted your willingness to kiss him after he took you somewhere other than what was agreed upon as a signal that you were willing, even though you didn’t say so."
Abby then changes subjects to discuss the importance of communication between parents and their children:
"To me what happened illustrates how important it is for parents to talk to their sons and daughters about responsible behavior because failure to do that can have lifelong consequences for both. If you haven’t already done so, you should tell your parents what happened.
“However, if you don’t feel safe doing that, tell a counselor at school.”
Many weren't pleased with Abby's response.
They felt that, despite asserting that the girl had been sexually assaulted, the advice columnist was also dividing the blame too much between the boy and the girl in question. Jezebel writer Joanna Rothkopf says, somewhat snarkily:
“I am so confused by my girl Abbs’ answer! Was it the girl’s fault for leading him on? Or both their parents fault for not raising them right? Did she include the rape clause just to tell us that that is something that can happen too? Help me out!”
Some on Twitter are more direct in their anger at Abby's conclusions:
Defenders of Abby's advice are not easy to come by.
Sexual assault continues to be a topic on which not everyone agrees on specifics, particularly when it comes to prevention.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 35.8% of sexual assaults occur when the victim is between the ages of 12 and 17, and approximately 1 in 5 female high school students report being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner.