Dear Abby, the widely syndicated advice column written by Jeanne Phillips (daughter of original Abby, Pauline Phillips) has had a long, uneasy relationship with what rape actually is. Her most recent column is a confusing cocktail of her old-fashioned bad views mixed with what we can assume was some kind of editorial oversight screaming, “No, no, don’t be like this.”

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In a letter published on Wednesday, a high school junior writes that a guy she had known for a couple years had begun flirting with her, and recently invited her over to study, telling her they “might” make out.

“Uncertain in Illinois” continues:

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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.

The girl then asks what Abby thinks of the situation. In her response, Abby first appears to blame the girl and a “breakdown in communication” for the assault:

“It appears you and that boy had a severe breakdown in communication, which led to your being sexually assaulted,” she writes. “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,” which is a really cool insight into the offender’s mind.

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She then immediately changes course and defines date rape as what happens “when a fellow ends up coercing or forcing a girl to have sex without her consent. Unless a girl explicitly expresses her willingness to proceed, it is the responsibility of the boy NOT to proceed.”

So is that what happened here? She’ll never tell.

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“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,” she concludes. “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.”

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!


Image of Jeanne Phillips via Getty.