Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Red Flags - Part 1

I promised to write this at the beginning of the summer, but I wanted to really take the time to think about it and I wanted things to settle down with my sister some, which they are finally starting to. To refresh your memory, in June my sister found out that her boyfriend of six months, whom she believed she was about to get engaged to and buy a house with, turned out to be a thief and a con artist. He stole all of her money, even going so far as to steal tips from her tip jar at work. He cleaned out her checking and savings accounts. He even stole the coins from her change jar in her closet. He took her birthday money and he took her trust. I don't know if she'll ever be able to trust anyone again. She lost her job because of this and had to move. I want to make one statement on his behalf (sort of) though. I don't know exactly why this guy did this, only that he did it. We've speculated a lot about his motives, which seemed to be deeper than simply money. I suspect mental illness, but honestly I have no idea. The most important part of this story is not to condemn him or to retell what happened, but to demonstrate that it all could have been prevented. My sister could have protected herself and you can protect yourself and your loved ones from these types of situations too. That is what I want to come from this.

It was devastating and we just kept saying over and over that this is the kind of thing you see on TV. This doesn't happen in real life, does it? Well, yes it does. It happens all the time and it doesn't happen only with money or only in romantic relationships. There are a million ways that people can take advantage of other people and the reason I am writing this is to let you know that you can prevent it 99% of the time. My sister could have easily prevented all of this. She made some big mistakes and learned this lesson the hard way, but she is no different than most people, women especially. I think almost everyone I know has been sucked in and conned in some way by someone. Of course it hasn't been quite as dramatic as my sister's story, but then again, we like to do things big and over the top in our family, so if we're gonna get conned and used we're gonna get conned big.

Con jobs manifest themselves in a variety of ways. When I say "con job" or "con artist" you probably think of characters from movies - Sawyer on "Lost" types of people who deceive and lie to others for a living. There are plenty of these people, but con jobs, short for "confidence jobs," aren't just for money. People con others emotionally as well. This is how abusers operate. If they just started out beating the hell out of women on first dates they'd never get anywhere. They're no different in technique from any other con man. They just have different motives. That's your first lesson. It isn't just about money (although it often is). People con others for power, attention, sex, their own sick version of love and sometimes just for fun.

Back when I was dating I met a lot of certifiable wack jobs. Being extremely naive and even more needy I fell for all kinds of lines from men. I made excuses for things I should have known were unacceptable because I wanted company and validation. I made myself very easy to take advantage of because I was weak, uniformed and had more interest in my own fantasies I made up about guys I barely knew than in the reality right in front of me. My sister did the same thing. I was lucky. No one took my money, but plenty of men took my pride and my trust. They did this because I gave them every opportunity to. I may as well have worn a big sign on my head saying "USE ME!!"

But remember, this doesn't just happen in romantic relationships. It happens with friendships, in work relationships, business partnerships and even between family members.

Throughout my life I've seen my parents get involved with a lot of unsavory characters, people I often had bad gut feelings about. I was right about every single one of them. Because of my life with my parents I'd say I've probably seen and known more toxic fucked up people and real con artists (like Sawyer) than just about anyone around. I'm a con artist spotting expert at this point in my life. Seeing my parents hurt and taken advantage of by a former business partner one day, I suddenly made the connection that business relationships were no different than dating. The dynamic is exactly the same and the potential for being taken advantage of, tricked and used was exactly the same.

What then, I wondered, was the key to avoiding disaster in any kind of relationship? I wondered how I could protect myself. How could people in business protect themselves? How could I manage to prevent any more friendships with people who were needy, toxic bloodsuckers who drained my energy and time with their drama and clinginess? What could I do to not have another physically and mentally abusive relationship with a man like I had with my Evil Ex?

The first thing I had to realize and be willing to understand was that I made myself a victim. It was my fault. I looked at every other situation where people I knew had been conned or used in some way and my theory held true. The victim is always at fault in some way. This kind of thinking is a huge taboo in our society. You're not supposed to blame people for what happens to them. If you do you're a bad person, but allowing people to wallow in their vicitmhood is far more destructive than encouraging people to see how their own choices or lack thereof lead to bad things happening to them. The only time a victim is not to blame at all is if they are a child or are attacked by a stranger (that happens all the time of course and that's not the victim's fault at all). Sometimes people are harmed by people they know who are severely mentally ill and I'm not talking about that either. There are exceptions to every general statement.

The second thing I realized was that there are always red flags. Here at the beach when the surf is high and there are dangerous rip currents, lifeguards stake red flags all up and down the beach. These are to warn you that conditions are dangerous and if you go in the water anyway something terrible is likely to happen. People ignore the red flags all the time and end up injured or drowned. The same thing can happen to you in your interpersonal relationships where the red flags are often more subtle. You might trick yourself into thinking the red flags don't exist at all. "Oh that wasn't a red flag. My eyes were playing tricks on me," you might say,"That was a red bird or something. I'm being ridiculous."

If you can learn to spot red flags early on and terminate any potentially toxic relationship immediately you will spare yourself a world of hurt and protect yourself from being conned, abused or harmed. That is the key to not being a victim. And trust me, you do not want to be a victim. It's not empowering at all. It's sad and pathetic. Instead be a strong, insightful individual who knows how to protect yourself and take responsibility for the things that happen in your life. That's something to be proud of. Later on I'm going to give you some specific red flags to look for that can be indicators of con jobs, but first I'm going to give you a few things that you can do to avoid being preyed upon or to make yourself stronger so that if you are preyed upon you can stop it before it goes too far.

1. Do Not Indulge in Stupid Fantasies
If you listen to nothing else I say, listen to this. Con artists of all varieties know that the easiest cons are the dreamers. They get to know you and figure out exactly what you want to hear and then they pour it on thick, telling you exactly what you've always wanted someone to say to you. Without your fantasies their cons can't work. Everyone wants to get rich quick, right? You want there to be undiscovered diamond mines in the Congo. You want a man to tell you that you're the most beautiful woman he's ever seen. You want a woman to make you feel like you're the strongest, most successful, powerful man she's ever known.

My sister's fantasy, which is one I definitely shared and one that millions of women share, was that a man would come and sweep her away and take care of everything for her. He would be strong, rich and smart. The man would provide everything for her. They would buy a house, have a baby and she wouldn't have to work at her grueling job with the bad hours, missing family holidays ever again and she'd never have to listen to me bitching about how bad it is for her to work in a bar ever again because this man would solve every problem with a snap of his fingers. I had this fantasy too. Most of my friends have had this fantasy. Let me just tell you, it doesn't exist. I've had friends who have married rich partners and they don't have to clock in at the office anymore, but don't think for a second that there's no work involved in their lives especially when they stay home and take care of kids. This fantasy is part laziness and part lack of confidence. If you really break it down it's kind of stupid because seriously, why should some man or some woman or whatever come in and do every single thing for you so you have to do nothing? Ultimately this would not be all that satisfying of a life and the girls I know who have the rich men and don't have jobs anymore are all neurotic, feel trapped and unfulfilled and are addicted to pills.

The way to have a truly fulfilling relationship with someone is to have enough of your own accomplishments and skills to take care of yourself that you are not in a need-based relationship. If you can support yourself, financially and emotionally, you will be in a relationship simply because you want to be, not because you need the other person to provide for you, and that is when you will be truly fulfilled.

It's not much different in a business relationship. I've seen many, many people fall for obvious bullshit, stinking, steaming piles of bullshit, because they wanted to believe that it really was possible for them to make a ton of money without having to do any work. IT'S NOT POSSIBLE. If for a second you start to believe that it's possible, IT ISN'T. There are no diamond mines in Africa so to speak, ok? Business cons also work because the person being conned, like the romantic person being conned, wants to feel better about himself. In the romantic relationship the con-ee desperately wants to feel like someone special and desirable. In the business relationship the person being conned wants to feel like a powerful big shot. The con man (or woman) in both cases will use this lack of self esteem to weasel in and gain your confidence. They'll make you feel attractive, lovable and sexy and they'll make you feel like Donald Trump.

A lot of times people are so committed to whatever fantasy they've dreamed up that even when they know there are red flags they chose to ignore them because they so desperately want that fantasy to be a reality and they don't want to face the fact that the fantasy isn't going to come true. If you don't let go of these fantasies you are only conning and bullshitting yourself.

2. Don't Be a Dumb-Ass
If you allow yourself to go through life uninformed about the world around you, you are setting yourself up to be taken advantage of. Con artists of all kinds look for people who are ignorant because the more ignorant you are the least likely you are to call them on their bullshit. If you don't know a lot they can easily impress you with big words and nonsense stories. If you educate yourself (and it doesn't have to be with school, though that definitely helps) and if you have a good understanding of how the world works you'll know when someone says something that isn't quite true. The majority of the con artists who have passed through the Grand Central Crazy of my parents' lives have tried to pull cons by dropping a lot of complicated jargon. Of course none of it means much of anything but if you aren't informed or educated and if you naturally feel a little dumb you're going to be impressed and you'll just assume that this person is an expert who clearly knows more than you do. The con man counts on dazzling you with words. But if you know what the hell is going on when the con man makes some bullshit assertion or tries to use technical jargon you can call him on it on the spot and make a fool of him and let him know this shit won't work on you. I've done it repeatedly with people my parents have brought over and the con man always gets flustered because the truth is, most of these people aren't that smart themselves which is why they're con men. They're clever, but not genuinely intelligent. But please know there are exceptions where incredibly smart people are still abusers, con men and all sorts of terrible things. Some people are just sociopaths or lunatics.

This advice applied to my sister's situation in a big way. Her con man claimed to have a job and be an expert in a field which she knew nothing about. By watching a few shows on the Discovery Channel (which I also saw by the way) he was able to garner a few key words and images to impress her enough into thinking he had a big, fancy glamorous job which he did not. She knew nothing about this particular field and so she assumed that he was some sort of genius and she was stupid. She also didn't know the right questions to ask which could have stumped him and revealed his lies.

Later in the relationship it happened again. They were looking to buy a house (except not really, he just wanted her to think they were). She knew nothing whatsoever about real estate or getting a mortgage or buying a property so he was able to come up with all kinds of tales and she believed them and deferred to him. The fantasy came into play here too because she desperately wanted her own house and I get this because I want my own house too. Husband and I know about buying property and how it all works and thus became suspicious when things went unusually. This guy confused my sister with a lot of fancy words. Using fancy words sounds so smart that if you are ignorant or feel like you aren't smart, you'll automatically give up your power to someone who's a snazzy talker.

To avoid this I'm not recommending that you drop everything and get a PhD. In some cases that wouldn't even help that much. I'm just saying stay informed. Take every opportunity to learn something that you can. Keep your brain active. Read the newspaper, even the sections that don't interest you. Ask people who are experts in fields you know nothing about to explain things to you. Look up fancy terms and jargon you hear people throwing around. You can get pretty far with just Google and the New York Times. Watch the world news. Know about current events, different cultures, different religions, business, politics. Don't be ignorant about the world you live in and you will be a force to be reckoned with.

3. Don't Drink A Lot
This one may be surprising but when I really sat down and thought about some of the biggest con jobs I had seen I realized that in a significant percentage of them, the person who was taken advantage of had been drunk or was a regular drinker. It can't be a coincidence.

Drinking impairs your judgment something awful. We know a man who is constantly being conned. He gets himself into relationships with crazy needy women who have sucked his bank accounts dry. Every week he's investing what little money he has left into some scheme that some idiot he met while he was drunk persuaded him into thinking was the next big thing - machines that cure cancer, the aforementioned African diamond mines, Nigerian bank wires and his latest which is something about Saddam Hussein's secret oil wells. Husband and I ask ourselves how this man can believe so much obvious bullshit and the answer is because this man is an alcoholic. He drinks from morning 'til night. He is always drunk so he can't make a good decision and his judgment is, at this point, probably as shriveled as his liver. He can't discern between bullshit and a legitimate proposition anymore because he's always drunk. He has permanent beer goggles for the entire world and lives in a drunken haze where everything seems like a fantastic idea.

Con men often use alcohol to ply their victims. They'll definitely wine you because they know that a drunk person is easier to influence. It doesn't always have to be as dramatic as that though. How many times have you heard about guys getting girls drunk so they'll have sex with them? ALL THE TIME.

I know a girl who is constantly abused by men in some way. She has been date raped twice and in both cases she was drinking heavily. In one of the cases she was even drugged, which is a whole new level of awful. Still though, in some way, it was her fault because she put herself in a situation where she was impaired, could not think or act optimally and could not defend herself. Had she not been drinking she would have been a much more difficult target. I've heard this girl's story over and over from tons of other girls and I just want to smack these girls and tell them "IT'S NOT WORTH IT!!!" Getting raped, drugged or even just sick all night is not a good time and every time a girl binge drinks to that point she is putting herself at risk. Still, the girl I know continues to drink and when she drinks she's willing still, after everything, to go home with strangers. Sober, this same girl knows way better and knows how dangerous this is, but then she starts drinking and her good sense jumps out of the plane without a parachute and everything seems safe and fun and wildly exciting and romantic. It breaks my fucking heart.

Drinking played a starring role in my sister's story too. When she met this guy they were drinking so he was able to get away with lies from the first night they met. They were having a good time. They created a dynamic to their relationship where they partied hard and passionately. They were decadent. They drank so much that my sister was drunk with him often enough that now her judgment was impaired too. She made decisions and excuses for this guy while she was drinking and I'm guessing that he probably lied to her the most when she was drunk because, well, it was easiest. I don't know what went on behind closed doors with them but I know enough to suspect that he probably encouraged her to drink knowing that if she was drunk he could get to her to do or believe whatever he wanted. If she passed out, better yet, because then he could get to her check card and into her online banking without worrying she would wake up.

Alcohol numbs your instincts and perceptions. Alcohol strangles your good judgment and alcohol is a con man too. If you choose to drink excessively you are in danger. And I think you all know I'm not just talking about a little wine with dinner here or a cocktail or two on occasion.

I know this is a lot to digest, so I'm going to leave you here. Think about what I've said. Next time I'm going to get into specific red flags and how to spot them so that you can cut things off with toxic people before you get in too deep. If you have any advice to add I'd love to hear it in the comments section too. I want to hear stories about times you've been conned or sucked in by bad people and what you could have done or did do to prevent it. I want to keep this from happening to as many people as I can.


Anonymous said...

Beware of any person or group trying to isolate you from your friends and family. That is a common technique used by abusers.

My mother married an abusive man when she was quite young long before there were battered women's shelters and help group. She finally got away, thank God, but it did leave some scars. My sister and I thankfully broke the cycle and are both happily married.

Wide Lawns said...

Yes! Thank you and yay for you for breaking the cycle.

Anonymous said...

I'm the daughter of a con. Trust me, he's tried (and sometimes succeeded) to work me for all kinds of things, material and emotional my whole 38 years. My advice, find out if they are or a recovering addict. Addicts lie. Period. I hate to generalize, and of course, I'm sure there are exceptions, but honestly, I've known many and it always proves out that they are untrustworthy. Also, ask to meet family and friends. There is a reason if they can't come up with any. My dad has six siblings. None speak to him, nor do I or his six ex-wives. Yes, I said six. And, I have never met a friend of his except people who knew him as a child and not in the 50 years since or someone that met him a week ago. Most importantly, follow your gut instinct. Does it seem to be to good to be true? Then it is. Do your friends/family think the person is not good for you? They're almost always right. Cons look for the weak in the herd, just like a lion looks for the hurt gazelle. If you seem desperate, they will take you. Bet on it. Protect yourself accordingly.

Chiada said...

My husband got conned about a year ago. It was a Friday night, he'd just gotten paid, and he was going to the bank to deposit his check. He never uses the drive-up (why, I don't know!) but likes to walk in. I guess it's good to meet the tellers face to face to establish yourself as a customer and all that. Anyways, he was walking in to the bank when these two guys came up to him in the parking lot and started giving him this story about how they had these stereo systems they were selling and they only had a couple more left to sell and wouldn't he help them out, because they had to sell all of them, and they were a really good deal, etc. etc. etc. etc. Hub-E was like No Way. He knew we didn't need a stereo, we have a great one at home. He said Sorry, went in and deposited his check. On his way back out the guys accosted him again and kept pressuring him until finally he gave in and bought the darn thing. Why, I have no clue! He said they were talking really fast and confusing him, not letting him think it through or be reasonable. He came home with this thing and nearly cried, knowing he had been conned, feeling helpless about it. I was so steaming and thought "how could you be so easily swayed? Just say no!!!" but I had to be nice because he felt so bad about it. He spent over $200 for it. We ended up selling it at a garage sale for $80 just to get rid of it and the memory. So I guess the moral of the story is to just stand your ground and say no when people are fast-talking you and pressuring you. Don't get caught up in their whirlwind of words. Just remain reasonable. Be silent and count to 10 in your head when they ask you a question.

Anonymous said...

I could not agree with you more on your point about being with someone b/c you want to, not b/c you need to. I hear so many times from other women that it is important for the guy to make a lot of money so that they can be "taken care of". I say, take care of yourself and if the relationship is worth anything then the rest will fall into place naturally.

kerry said...

Wow. I'm looking forward to the rest of the story- it's always good to have advice on spotting red flags.

My personal method is to be careful who I have for friends. I don't have a zillion friends, but I trust every one of the few I do have. No worries, no concerns.

You're right that blaming the victim is an unpopular stance, but sometimes it's true. Often it's true. I guess I've been lucky because even when I was young, stupid and drunk, all I got taken for was sex. I wanted love and thought sex was the way to get it. I was wrong. But I didn't get pregnant and I didn't "catch" anything, and I know better now. Sort of. :) I still make some of the same mistakes but I generally have a better clue what I'm doing now. I have a lesser fantasy, which is good, but still a need. I need to find a better path to my goal.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the daughter who said ask to meet the family and friends. Someone with no friends = problem.

sallyacious said...

That part about fantasies is key. Life and relationships are not Disney movies. It's not happily ever after, you still have to put forth some effort to make things work.

I have a friend who keeps making really bad decisions, one right after the other, because she has this fantasy about how the world is supposed to work, despite a lifetime of evidence to the contrary. She makes poor choice after poor choice and things keep getting worse, but instead of examining the relationship between her choices and their outcomes, she just assumes that the next time, the results will be different. She's convinced that just buckling down and making a life for herself through work and determination is not the right choice for her. She's going to magically be saved from this life somehow instead. She's ripe for a con, and nothing I can say to her about reality sinks in. It's so hard to watch it happening.

Anonymous said...

We had a con artist couple in our church that preyed on the old people. By the time Hubby was able to force them out, we had discovered they had spent over 10 years in jail between the two of them and bilked our congregants out of many thousands of dollars. They did it by telling everyone they were coming into a lot of money and that they were going to share the wealth when it finally came through. I saw through them from day one and they threatened and harassed me so badly I had to contact the sheriff's department.

I know you don't talk about religion in your blog, but one of the red flags has GOT to be if they say they are collecting money for "church things" check them out before you give.

Ugh, this whole topic just raises my hackles.

NeekoalinAZ said...

And can I add to all women who are physically or mentally abused. You CAN make it on your own, do not tell yourself you cannot do it. Quit the excuses!

I was hit ONE time by my ex husband. I left him 7 months pregnant and with a 4 year old in tow. I moved 4 states away and started over. Yes we ate bologna and cereal but my 4 year old daughter will NOT repeat the cycle. I taught her that it was NOT ok to be abused and that she is strong enough to make it on her own. Today she is a happy and healthy 15 year old and my son is fabulous.

Most importantly, I made it, I'm a homeowner now, a home I bought on my own. I went from homeless with 2 kids to a homeowner with a great job. Take that evil ex!

Man, I'm empowered all over again just typing that story!

Wide Lawns said...

And Neekoal don't you feel so great about yourself because you have those accomplishments now and like no one can ever mess with you again? Yay for you!!!

People get self worth from accomplishments. Not from people blowing smoke up their asses all the time, but from seeing that they can do things and take care of themselves.

Martee said...

yea, they are out there...

We knew this guy through mutural friends, he had spit with his wife and deperatly needed a place to stay.
The guys seemed nice and had no place to go, he begged us to let him stay in our spare room.
Us being kind hearted let him "rent" a room for us.
He never paid us a dime and he stole checks, jewelery, anything of value right under our noses!!
He did it very slowly and took things that we would not notice right away.
He would let people in our house while we gone who did some of the stealing I am sure.

Sadly I learned, don't trust ANYONE!!!

Anonymous said...

I'm the first reply on here, and first I want to thank "wide lawn" for posting this information, and second, I want to say how happy I am to see such strong women posting here.

Knowledge is power.

~Mad said...

Widowed, divorced and my ex is transgendered - talk about blindsided!

Two things I have learned:
1) if something looks or feels "too good to be true", it probably is!

2) Before becoming any kind of intimate/close/friendly to someone, watch then "away" from you when they don't know you're watching - you'll see the real thing usually.

Great book by Henry Cloud and John Townsend, SAFE PEOPLE, biblically based and chock-full of great information on choosing friends, lovers, whatever.(www.cloudtownsend.com)

Good info whether you are a believer or not...tho I hope ya'll are.

~Mad(elyn) in Alabama

Fae said...

I used to date cheaters. One thing I noticed after a while, was not their behavior but mine. I think I have a strong protective subconscious. When someone (usually the man I was dating, but others too) would lie to me I would be persistent in a line of questioning. I wasn't thinking about it, it didn't consciously seem like something was off, but my unconscious would pursue the issue and I would then find out that person had been lying to me. So, the point of this is to really pay attention to your conscious and unconscious behavior and learn what your unconscious patterns are and how they serve you. I am rarely tricked now, and when I am, I always had a sense that something was off, but I didn't want to pay attention to it.

Anonymous said...

My goodness. You appear to be 100 years old with all your knowledge and wisdom. Everything you say is perfectly on point. The bottom feeders are out there in the bars looking for lonely women to rescue and partners to defraud. I don't mean to be a prude, but it appears that alcohol and/or drugs are the magic potions to help them accomplish their foul deeds.

Anonymous said...

While I agree with most of this, I hate to bring the wank wagon, but this statement:

"I know a girl who is constantly abused by men in some way. She has been date raped twice and in both cases she was drinking heavily. In one of the cases she was even drugged, which is a whole new level of awful. Still though, in some way, it was her fault because she put herself in a situation where she was impaired, could not think or act optimally and could not defend herself."

way not cool. While its true she put herself in a stupid situation. But to suggest that this woman deserved to be raped is unreal. Yes, people make bad decisions and they put themselves in their bad situations and they should fucking know better, but NO ONE is at FAULT for someone else's fucked up, destructive behavior. It's true that she didn't protect herself, but the fact that those assholes had the desire to do that in the beginning has nothing to do with her.

Jeannie said...

Very good post. My mother once let it slip that she got conned out of $10,000 but refused to say more.

My sister back in the day - got conned and pregnant, married him, he cheated on her more than she knew until later, left her and has gone through 2 or 3 more wives. For years she was still in love with him or thought she was. One day she realized that he wasn't her Prince Charming. He was a man who looked like her prince but she had superimposed a fantasy character in place of the real thing. My sister-in-law did the same thing.

I tried to be a good friend to some very needy clingy people but realized after a while that they simply don't give back. I back away from such people now - they can suck the life out of you and then turn on you when you have nothing left.

Green said...

I may link to this post on my own blog.

From the time I was young my father told me "If it seems too good to be true, it probably is."

He's right.

hebba said...

Also, beware of people who play on your emotions and your tendency to see the good in people. In my 20's, I dated someone whom I had known for a while beforehand. He seemed like such a goodhearted person, and though he did have some problems, they certainly did not seem unsurmountable. Well, it wasn't until later that I discovered that "drinking a little too much" didn't begin to describe him. He was a full blown alcoholic!
I now know that as much as I wanted to, I could not help him. I tried. But his problem became my problem. And then it somehow became my FAULT. He only drank because I nagged him too much. I never gave him a break.
Also...the first time he hits you, leave.
I don't think he ever meant to act the way he did. I think he was truly sorry. But I deserved to be treated better. And he deserved to get help by somebody who could actually help him.
Lastly -- and I will diverge a little from what widelawns said here -- don't ever believe that you are responsible for somebody else's behavior. I had too many people tell me that I must have liked being treated that way or else he never would have treated me that way in the first place. Not true.
Hindsight is 20/20 and I learned a lot from that relationship.
Mostly, to be a little more compassionate to those who find themselves in similar situations. And sometimes just saying "You know, you deserve better. I understand. It happens to the best of us" is enough to let somebody know they are not alone.

Wide Lawns said...

Anonymous I would never say that a woman or anyone DESERVES to get raped. Oh my God that's horrible.

But in these situations she set herself up for it by drinking to the point of oblivion. Had she not done that she never would have been raped because it would have been too difficult for the rapists. They likely would have chosen another drunk girl.

Date rape is extremely prevalent now, especially on college campuses. I recented read the books "Smashed" and "Pledged" both of which are non-fiction and somewhat journalistic accounts of college life. The first one deals with the culture of binge drinking. The second is about sorority life and binge drinking is an integral part of that culture. Both books give several true accounts of young women who have been date raped, or at least severely taken advantage of because they were so drunk that they either passed out or couldn't defend themselves. This practice is so common (having sex with girls who are so drunk that they are incoherent or unconscious) that the guys don't even think there is anything wrong with doing it and don't consider it rape. So I don't think the girls deserve it at all, but I do think they are setting themselves up for it and I'm pretty confident that if they stopped drinking these incidents wouldn't happen.

But of course they arent ONLY to blame. The guys need to learn that this is not ok, that women can not be treated that way and taken advantage of and that to do so is rape and is evil and can cause serious psychological harm to a young woman. Part of the reason they think its ok is because they get away with it because the girls can't press charges because they were so drunk that they lose credibility, can't remember what happened sometimes and because they don't want their parents to know they were binge drinking to such an excess.

I just think it's horrible and I wish girls would have a little more good sense and pride in themselves and stop drinking and putting themselves in harm's way.

Anonymous said...

*sigh* Yep, your post is dead-on, W-L. Something I am coming to terms with now that I am in my 30's is that it doesn't matter how good a person you are, that doesn't mean others will also respond with kindness and gratitude - some people just see it as an invitation to take advantage. For us "nice" people, especially women, it can be frightening and intimidating to stand up to people and protect our rights, especially if the con-artist is using every emotional lever to tell you you're bad for doing so. I have a mother who is incredibly emotionally abusive and refuses to acknowledge that her behavior is out of line, and I have a sister who has had substance abuse problems who will lie to you as easily as taking a breath, and yet that part of me that wants to fantasize about having an ideal, happy family lets them stomp on me over and over again because I just can't bring myself to admit that they're never going to change. Now that I'm a mother myself somehow it's easier to say no to them when it comes to protecting my children than it is when it's protecting myself, but I'm learning to do that too.

As an aside, if this guy stole more than $10K from your sister he can be tried for grand larceny. I know someone whose daughter was also taken by a fiance for $12,000 and he ended up with significant jail time. Seriously, you should file as many criminal charges against the guy as possible, it will make your sister feel better. I'm so sorry that it had to happen to her though, what a rotten thing to go through.

I got conned by a homeless man at 4am in my apartment building in NYC many years ago. Our front door was broken and he must have figured this out because he came and knocked on my apartment door and asked me for $35 for cab fare to Montefiore hospital so he could go see his doctor to manage his AIDS. He certainly looked like someone that was 2wks away from dying and because it was 4am and not a time when I do my best thinking I gave it to him. I actually thought he would pay me back the next day! He was pretty well-spoken for a homeless crack dude, lol. ;) He even came back the next night, but my boyfriend at the time was there that time and said, 'Thanks, but I think you've gotten enough already.'

We've all been ripped off at least once, the point that I think you were trying to make is make sure you learn from it instead of repeating it over and over.

Crabby McSlacker said...

What a great post. It's so sad the way people (especially old people for some reason) will let their vulnerability, wishful thinking, and open-mindedness get them in trouble.

I'm fairly neurotic and insecure, but have been pretty much con-resistant my entire life. I'm so damn skeptical and pessimistic and grumpy, that I figure that anything that sounds too good to be true probably is. I don't trust undue flattery or people who seem to be trying to wheedle something from me or who lie about things or anyone who tries to control me.

But I've seen it happen to others and it breaks my heart.

Fancy Schmancy said...

Another thing you can do for yourself is Learn your Lesson the first time! That your friend got date raped Twice makes me almost sick to my stomach for her. How could she have put herself in that situation the second time? Do you just want to shake her? It is so hard watching someone self-destruct and not be able to save them from themselves.

I so mistrust my own ability to be attracted to a decent man that I literally stopped dating. The last sociopathic abuser convinced me that I need to focus on being a mother more than I need to get laid. I haven't dated in 7 years.

Melisa said...

Look, for me, this is a numbers game. If 1 & 1 don't add up to 2, there's something wrong. It took a couple of lairs in my life to figure things out.

Always string together each person's story and ALWAYS BRING UP INCONSISTENCIES IN STORIES. The trick is to be subtle. If you question a person directly (i.e. call them out on their sh*t to their face), they will always have an excuse ready.

WL: I agree 1000% with everything you've said. Incidentally, I have a friend (who's a drunk girl) and some bad things have happen to her because of how she acts. I've also stopped hanging out with her socially because of her actions. I can't wait for part 2.

nandy said...

After ignoring several red flags, and marrying my ex, then divorcing after 13-1/2 years, I have a very tight list of things that I look for in a relationship. Honesty is number one.

My ex lied the night we met, although I didn't find out about it for over three years. He lied about other things along the way...and that advice about meeting family and friends would probably have saved me those years of ignorance if I had known it was important.

Anyway, the honesty thing has become so important to me that I brushed off a potential date when I found out the man had initially lied to me about his age. He made himself about ten years younger in his profile, but came clean about it when we conversed. He sadi he did it because his doctor told him he looked younger than his actual age, he could get away with it.

Sorry, I said, even though he was eventually honest, I didn't think it was the right foot to start off on in a relationship. Does lying and then telling the truth make it OK? I don't think so.

Wide Lawns said...

Nandy I agree with you. I wouldnt have gone out with him either. Lying about your age, esp. 10 years is a big deal. It's deceptive and it shows the he could be insecure and/ or immature, both of which are things you don't need to deal with. Good decision.

elise - All Or Nothing said...

I'll try to make it back soon to leave a comment with a story, but I will say that I TOTALLY agree with you about the "victim not being without fault" thing. I think it's SO MUCH more damaging to allow someone to continue on with a victim's mentality than it is to just face up to the fact that most of the time, you made some mistakes that ALLOWED this to happen. Not to absolve the con people - but anyway.

Have we talked about this before? I think we have. Anyway, great posts lately - I can definitely see a difference since your Iowa trip. You were good before and now you're really getting great. Love it!

JoeinVegas said...

Are you becoming a counselor now too, in addition to teacher and writer? Good work!

Emily said...

Wow, that really hit home for me since fantasies, being a dumb-ass and drinking too much pretty much defined my college years.

Thankfully nothing terrible ever happened to me, but it sure could have.

Based on the comments here, it's clear you've struck a nerve. Good for you for trying to turn what happened to your sister into something positive. Hopefully a lot of people get something out of your message.

Lu said...

I agree with most of what you said but I would add onto the alcohol section somewhat. I drink. I'm not a drunk but I go out most weekends and get tipsy with friends. It is important to protect yourself while drinking and some of that can be accomplished by having your friends around you.

The other part of protecting yourself while drinking is protecting yourself from yourself. Yes, you may have beer goggles. Yes, you may have told yourself that you shouldn't sleep with some guy at a bar/ give a random person personal information - but if you do it while you're drinking it's not the alcohol's fault; rather, it's yours.

If you didn't actually *want* to go home with some guy or give him your number, you wouldn't merely because you were a little tipsy. So I do think it's important (especially if you cyclically do these things) to examine your own motivations. Once you know why you do something, you can work on diverting that need into a healthier channel.

As an FYI: I'm not saying that every woman has to not drink or only sleep with someone within the confines of a long-term, monogamous relationship. To each his own. This is more focused on those who end up regretting their actions.

Wide Lawns said...

Lu great advice. Thanks for adding. I agree with you. You can drink and sleep with people definitely. I'm focused on those who get hurt or regret it too and I'm talking serious binge drinking, not tipsy. I'm meaning wasted, stumbling, incoherent drunk girls who can't think straight or defend themselves and sadly that is the point that many young girls will drink to.

Kore said...

Well, here's my own advice: don't rush into relationships! Take time to get to know the other person. Don't move in with someone before you've known them at least year and don't get married until you've been with them for two. If your new boyfriend or girlfriend is rushing things, like spouting off about loving you and datatata after the second date, they're probably suffering from Casanova complex http://soundingcircle.com/newslog2.php/__show_article/_a000195-000673.htm and need to be cut off.

bluelikethesky said...

Just about the best advice ever, I think. I've sent a link of this to every friend I have with a daughter three years either side of leaving the nest. It's been passed on to the next generation twice today, and one mom added "This is advice I should have had myself!"

Bring on Part II!!

Melisa said...

Oh, before I forget, I'd like to make a point about the drinking segment.

I've done some stuff that are beyond the 'norm', however, I don't regret them. The most important thing to me was to always do things with a clear head.

Yes, I've gone out drinking with friends and what-not, however, I was always clear not to do things that I would later regret.

If you want to have a one night stand or going into some activities that are not part of the norm, go ahead, it's your body, your business; but do yourself the favor of doing it all with a clear head. That way the next day, you don't give yourself the 'excuse' that you were drunk and only did (or were a part of) X, Y, Z because of the alcohol.

Karen said...


Great post. I didn't want to type it all in here, so here's a link to my experiences with cons. And I hope you're not having a hurricane.

Mattie said...

I'm printing this excellent post and giving to my 21 year-old daughter. And the second part as well.

It's such great advice.

FirstNations said...

point #2 is what made all the difference for me. even when everything else was set up for me to lose, and lose big, the simple fact that I knew that 'x' information was a line of bullshit was enough to keep me from going in over my head. example: i had enough literature, GOOD literature, under my belt to be able to see, even at 19, even as madly in love with my Scn. fiancee as I was, that L.Ron Hubbard was a second rate hack with a limited imagination (not to mention all the constant revisions, outright contradictions and giant gaps in continuity contained in his logorrheaic writings). I mean seriously; im no supergenius but I was able to deduce the entire Scientology 'bridge' simply by being able to follow the trend of the mans imagination...and it wasn't exactly a real difficult damn trend to follow either. like how you can see the first five minutes of a hallmark tv special and figure out the entire plot? yeah. the difference between me and Tom Cruise? I USED MY DAMN LIBRARY CARD.

BohoPoetGirl said...

Thank you for this post! I really needed this. :)

CB said...

I've got a story about being conned by a local business which tried to take advantage of our ignorance and not having a certain expertise. My fiance took my engagement ring to be resized and the next day the jeweler called saying that it had turned brown from the heat which meant that it was a "treated diamond". Luckily my fiance had done his research and as soon as he talked to the guy called about 4 different jewelry places to confirm that this wouldn't happen and that they had never heard of anything like it. He ended up calling the cops and even though the cops couldn't do anything, the jewelry guy realized that we weren't falling for the scam (switching out the diamond). He promised it would be fixed the next day and when we came back to get it his excuse was "sometimes stupid people do stupid things" - in other words, sometimes people try to get away with stuff and get called on it.

Sinclair said...

It's not only con-men you've got to worry about. Con-women are just as dangerous. I broke up a friendship after seeing my ex-best girl-friend doing movie-like cons on married men. Sometimes she'd con 3 men at a time!!!

Her hobby is to break up marriages and not even for money, she just does it for the attention. Every married men in trouble with his wife means a gold medal for her. And she works as a wedding coordinator!!! The irony!!!

Aarwenn said...

Firstnations, those ending couple of lines of your comment are priceless. "I USED MY DAMN LIBRARY CARD." Hurrah for libraries!

I tend to be like Crabby. (Hi, Crabby! Love your blog!) I'm too skeptical to be much of a con target. I have given a few bucks to door-to-door type con men before, though, back when I was younger and less skeptical. To your excellent list I would add: Watch out for big displays of emotion. All the successful con men I've known--who were able to con me--were good at crocodile tears, saying they were going to lose their kids if I didn't give them money, saying they loved their kids and their house and they just wanted to be good dads. Some of them were practically bawling as they described the evil social workers trying to keep them from their kids. (Did they have pictures? NO.)

Also, elaborate stories. A con isn't just "Hey, can I have a dollar?" A con is, "Hi, can you help me, I need to buy a lot of food to prove to a social worker that I can feed my kids, I need to show her the receipt, just giving me food won't help, and you have to hurry because the social office closes at 8 and I really want to see my kids, man!"

Corrinne said...

So spot on. I have never been conned like you sister but I have seen the personalities. They switch from sickly sweet and charming to crazy at the drop of a hat.

Hmm Red Flags. If you question the con man on things that seem sketchy and they feel threatened they will usually turn the tables and make YOU feel stupid or like YOU are acting crazy. Same way with cheaters. They are great manipulators. They play on emotions and fantasies. I don't know what else to add you nailed it. And the person who said they like to isolate you. They don't want anyone to talk sense into you.

And I agree that drinking into oblivion is putting yourself at risk. Like you responded to an anon comment, they don't DESERVE to be raped but they could have tried to prevent it. I've been reading a number of things about how to not be a target. Don't wear headphones when you are running or walking, don't go into desolate places alone at night, all sorts of things.

I think education really is key. Other than cheaters I have been very good at picking out con artists. Great post.

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