It’s uncomfortable to talk about Utah college student Mackenzie Lueck’s murder right now because it’s so raw, so recent, so grisly.
It’s heartrending that a bright young life was ended in such a brutal and senseless way, leaving unwitting observers helpless save the compassion for the acute suffering of her family and friends.
At the same time, teaching moments are just that — the moment we’re in. And this seems to be one.
Reflection a year from now might help, too. But however painful, it’s far better for the wider community of witnesses to this preventable tragedy to delve into the topic while it’s near at hand.
I agree that Mackenzie Lueck didn’t deserve to die. The homicidal maniac who allegedly killed Lueck bears 100% responsibility for the act of her murder. Mendacious killers always bear sole blame.
But there’s something simplistic to the way her friends and others have jumped to Lueck’s defense in the wake of her murder, essentially lighting over her own risky behavior to flatly conclude, as Lueck’s friend Katie Kvam did in a FOX News interview, that, “Her death is not her fault. And for people to say things other than that is hurtful. It’s hurtful to us. It’s hurtful to her family. It’s hurtful to other victims out there. It just doesn’t make sense.”
Now, Kvam’s right. Lueck’s murder is not her fault.
Yet it’s also fair to say that, in all probability, had she not been, as is alleged, participating in a dressed up form of online prostitution as a “sugar baby seeking sugar daddies,” and meeting unvetted strangers in their un-cataloged cars in darkened parks in the dead of night, she would likely be alive today.
This is not to pass judgement on self-driven prostitution (or even desperation-driven prostitution). I’m essentially a feminist (though not one inclined to the #groupthink driving too much of feminism today) and I definitely believe women should have bodily sovereignty.
But most things have risks. And both online dating apps and hookup sites carry some of the same risks of any form of sex work, from that labeled paid-for companionship to the kind involving walking the streets. This is a simple, blame-free observation. To suggest such an observation should be suppressed contributes to the already stifling anti-intellectual, anti-nuanced, emotionally-driven mood governing contemporary American dialog today across almost all subjects. And it sucks.
We should be doing the opposite. We have the intellectual faculties and historic perspective to go deep on issues, and to be real about them.
We have at our fingertips and in our pockets 24-hours a day seven days a week the world’s most comprehensive encyclopedia of information and knowledge assets. Under this paradigm we should be talking up rather than dumbing down the host of issues facing contemporary life, national society, and even world culture, such as it is.
Given the manifest dangers in the world throughout all time, particularly for girls and women, we have to be able to talk about risky behavior in an adult, frank, open way if we’re to help prevent other senseless rapes, murders, and crimes against women in the future.
The Truth Hurts
The rationale Lueck’s friends give against examining Lueck’s own role in her untimely and vicious demise other than that “it’s hurtful,” is that to look at and define Lueck’s risky behavior is inherently “victim blaming” and “victim shaming” without any worthy purpose.
Lueck’s friend Ashley Fine told FOX News that looking at Lueck’s role, “Hurts victims and it stops them from coming forward…We want victims to come forward regardless of the potential to be shamed.”
These comments come from two of Lueck’s equally young and now shocked and grieving friends, so it’s understandable that they’re acting in a protective capacity toward Lueck.
But I’ve got some news for Fine and others who advance this line of thinking: Dead victims don’t come forward. They’re dead. And live persons are at greater risk of a damaging or deadly situation if they’re never required to consider or examine their own risk-taking behaviors, especially in the seedier corners of the Internet.
Since the rest of us are not in Lueck’s friends’ position, we shouldn’t ourselves be shamed into forsaking vital observations in order to buy into an emerging and very perverted notion of women’s power — the idea that women should possess total personal autonomy and authority while being absolved of all responsibility.
Or worse, to be expected to advance the flawed notion that because a woman should be safe in all situations that she will be safe in all situations, no thinking or strategy from her required at all, thank you very much!
Driven by the Internet’s own perversions of thought, the emerging colloquial notion of women’s dual inviolability suggests that:
- Women are always telling the truth in every situation and therefore must be believed 100% of the time.
- Women never do anything that might contribute to situations harmful to ourselves.
- Even if a woman doesn’t appear to respect herself, others must respect her in all situations.
Don’t get me wrong — I know that in challenging these notions I’m crossing the SJW line, flouting the defined borders of acceptable thought and commentary about women today. I guess that’s a price I’m willing to pay in pursuit of what I think is a larger and more important truth.
Again, my comments don’t come in jugement of Lueck’s apparent choice to engage in prostitution and/or sexual hookups and/or pay-to-play situations with strangers. More power to ya! Fry it up in a pan.
My interest is in examining the concept and reality of risk.
The Sniff Test
Whenever I’m pricing my goods and services — usually art, writing, and consultations to my marketing clients — I ask myself, “Does this pricing structure pass the sniff test?” In other words, is it a viable fair-market price, equitable both to me and my buyers?
Well I like the sniff test as a metaphor for other situations, too. And that’s where our failure to adequately discuss women’s self-responsibility — our role in our chosen actions — is not holding up to scrutiny.
It doesn’t pass the sniff test!
For example, for any parents out there, or young folks who would be parents some day, do you honestly think you’d sit your teen-aged daughter down for a hearty talk about adulthood and say things like,
- “Honey, you need to be able to get as dead drunk as you want and don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise. You’ll totally be safe.”
- “Sweetheart, fuck ’em and leave ’em — that’s empowerment! Trust Mama, as long as you get off, that’s all you need.”
- “Darling, you need to experience life unfettered, so if ever you have an opportunity to get into a total stranger’s car in a foreign part of town in the dead of night, go for it. It’s awesome!”
The short answer is no.
Almost universally no one is going to tell this to their daughters (or sons tbh — but we’re talking about women today, who we know are at greater risk to be vulnerable to exploitation, attack, or worse).
Adults understand risk. Adults learn to factor risk. Consider risk-calculations an essential part of so-called adulting.
As parents in the Internet age, we have a responsibility to teach our kids to protect themselves from danger by avoiding risky behavior at best or at the least, being extremely mindful and thus personally responsible for the risks they assume. Thought leaders in positions of authority and influence in leadership roles and the national media need to do the same, in the right way of course.
That’s why, in the wake of the horrendously unfair and gruesome murder of Mackenzie Lueck we should make sure that, while only the brutal alleged killer Ayoola Ajayi is at fault for Lueck’s murder, other young people take the right lesson from her senseless death. And that lesson definitely isn’t “you bear no responsibility for your risky behavior.”
A Broader Definition of Safe Sex
Now I get it. Even in the safest situations, women too often find ourselves the victims of sexual abuse.
A woman can be quietly sitting at home watching When Calls the Heart and an intruder can bust in and rape and kill her.
A female of any age from babyhood to her nineties can be out on a busy street in broad daylight and be kidnapped, violated, sold into sexual slavery.
Women are at risk of domestic abuse and sexual harassment at work and date rape and incest and drink-spiking in social situations.
But just because no-risk situations or low-risk situations can also prove harmful to girls and women doesn’t absolve us of personal responsibility in frankly at-risk and high-risk situations that we put ourselves into.
We fear an unwanted pregnancy or contracting an STD so…we practice safe sex. There’s a risk, and so the sensible among us take precautions that will help ward off pregnancy and infections. We share this information with our daughters.
We know that driving drunk is a risk to ourselves and others and so we…practice safe consumption. We stop at one drink and we make sure we eat and we name a designated driver and we use the buddy system and we call a cab. We advise our daughters to do the same.
We know that we want to be taken seriously in the world of mainstream business and employment and so we don’t make a bikini shot our Facebook profile pic or tweet photos of ourselves passed out in someone’s crotch, however fun that night was! We manage our social media profiles toward professionalism if we expect to be taken seriously by conservative with a small c professions. We apprise our kids of this and we hope they comport.
So why is it that when it comes to online dating, relationships, sex for money, and our potentially kinky sides that we’re implicitly advancing the idea that safety isn’t an issue for women to own up to and that risk isn’t a factor in their decision making?
By sweeping Lueck’s possible side hustle under the rug, or at least making a pretense that it was a consequence-free endeavor, we leave girls and women believing we have no role in protecting ourselves and thus anything that happens to us is wholly out of our hands, as appears to be the calcifying view of Mackenzie Lueck’s choices.
And this just doesn’t pass the sniff test.
On Dr. Todd Grande’s youtube channel he discusses the risks of sugar daddies to sugar babies, defining the personality traits seen in both figures and thus risk factors to identify for women who would want to go down this path in hopes of…whatever she might be seeking, from cold hard cash to a delusional hopeful future to a desperate grab for stability in a shaken-up world
Even if her motivation is financial desperation or longing to defy socialized female disempowerment, we do her no favors if we don’t acknowledge the very real dangers in sites like Seeking and other online venues. You don’t have to be brutally murdered to be traumatized, dehumanized, disappointed, or led down the garden path.
We can’t stay silent just to protect the feelings of Lueck’s friends. If we don’t examine Lueck’s choices we will create a false sense of safety that will help create a climate for many, many more victims to suffer abuse or to lose their lives. Even now many desperate youngs girls may be learning about sugar-dating and, being both young and seemingly invulnerable, will likely disregard Lueck’s outcome as an anomaly, imagining they’ll escape such risks.
What kind of a society are we if we can’t be honest about what’s out there? Or if we can’t be real that trusting all strangers implicitly is not a smart life strategy? You don’t have to be a quaking fraidy cat just because you’re using common sense self-protective practices. Risk assessment doesn’t have to mean total risk-aversion. Informed risk, creative risk, these are a part of life. But you have to name the risks to assess them.
Don’t BeLittle Women
The sisters feign smoking pipes and talk about their longings and read aloud from their shared writings. And then they reflect on their Christmas wishes, which include pining for money they don’t have.
In the truly perfect Gillian Armstrong script, the eldest sister, the beautiful Meg, chastises the others over their discussion of money woes saying, “Gentlemen! I dislike all this money talk. It’s not refined!” to which Jo March, played by Winona Ryder replies, “Well, if lack of attention to personal finances is a mark of refinement then I’d say the Marches are the most elegant family in Concord.”
Do we want this brand of “elegance?”
It’s not the same thing to assign blame for one’s own murder as it is to dissect how one’s behavior in any situation is a contributing factor to the situation being what it is.
If you’re not trying to be a sugar baby to a sugar daddy you’ve eliminated some major risk factors in your own life, even if other unfair odds are stacked against you as a woman.
If you want to be a sugar baby to a sugar daddy then maybe you need to inform all your prospects that you’ll be archiving their information and taking a photo of their car and license plate before getting in. I don’t know all the safety tactics for this as a chosen or a reluctant lifestyle. But there has to be more than the implicitly held idea that a woman is taking no risk here.
And if we can’t tell this to our daughters and nieces and goddaughters and friends for fear of offense or because it exposes a secret more comfortably concealed or because we imagine that that examination equals blame or because saying so will keep victims from coming forward rather than help prevent victims in the first place then, we might also appear quite elegant and refined.
But if that’s refinement, you can have it.
I’d prefer that my daughters and my friends’ daughters and all girls and women could be women enough to be honest about real-world risks and intellectually empowered enough to name those risks without fear of being doxed or excommunicated from the feminism club.
We do girls and women a disservice if we pretend that we get all of the unquestioned autonomy and bear none of the responsibility to take care of ourselves. That’s infantilism, not womanhood.
If the future is female, we damn sure ought to know what we’re up against.
— Lindsay Curren, Average American