You're Accused Of Writing A "Rape Manual." Now What?

I wrote about the website Kickstarter yesterday, which offers authors, musicians, and others the ability to raise funds to develop and release projects they’re working on.

You may remember that the website apologized recently after users complained that an author writing a seduction guide—which some people referred to as a “rape manual” due to some of the author’s advice that appeared to encourage non-consensual sexual behavior—was using their website to raise money. (You can read the original article here.)

Well, something interesting happened this morning. The author of that book, Ken Hoinsky, saw my post and tweeted this to me:

Ken Hoinsky Tweet

I responded to Ken a few times on Twitter, which led to a 30-minute phone call this afternoon. (He is not a client, I do not represent him, and we have no confidentiality contract between us. He allowed me to ask him several question on the record.)

The biggest piece of advice I offered Ken—or would offer anyone else in a similar situation—is this: You must focus your response, laser-like, on the people who were most hurt by your comments. If you don’t make it right with the people who were most offended by your words, you’re sunk. And it’s not enough to simply say the right things; the right words must be paired with sincere action.  

In this case, the people who were most deeply offended by his comments were likely women who have been raped or sexually abused, those who fear being a victim of violence, and the organizations that advocate for their welfare. The success or failure of his response will be determined largely by how well (or poorly) those women and organizations perceive his actions from this point forward.


Screenshot of the video author Ken Hoinsky made to promote his book


If he comes across as a man who reflected on his harmful words, understands that they could lead to violence against women, and pledges to learn from the experience and change his approach, he might be able to salvage his reputation long-term. If he looks like he’s acting to preserve his own interests instead of those of the people most offended by his words, he won’t.

The story is now largely out of the headlines. If Ken makes a donation to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), for example, there’s a chance it may not generate any headlines for him and help him restore his reputation. I hope he’ll do it anyway. Doing the right thing is always good PR.

I also hope he’ll follow through on a pledge he communicated to me to work with these organizations to help ensure that his final book draft doesn’t contain any seduction techniques that could put women at risk. If he develops a long-term and sincere relationship with those organizations, they may eventually say positive things about his commitment. Of course, they may not. He should do it anyway.

The bottom line is that every action he takes from now on will be scrutinized using these questions: Is he sincere? Is he offering help for the right reasons or to help restore his reputation? Is he going to be an advocate for women long-term, or is he just going to be around until this controversy dies?

If he’s on the right side of each of those questions, he has a chance to make some good come out of this incident. I hope he is.

An Excerpt From Our Interview

What have you learned?

“Being a writer, your intentions don’t matter. I didn’t set out to write a book that people would think had rape advice – that people interpreted it that way means it wasn’t coming across right. Coming to terms with the fact that I wrote something harmful has been humbling.”

Do you see the point your critics are making?

“I absolutely get it. It’s one of these things that as a man in society, we really don’t think about the fear of rape or sexual assault; it’s a privilege we have as men. The fear of being raped is in the forefront of most if not all women’s minds. The fact that the words I put on a piece of paper could lead to someone being raped or sexually assaulted is horrifying. I 100 percent understand the reason why those words were so offensive. Having had a chance to reflect on it…since this scandal broke…the things that I said and the feedback that I’m getting has given me the opportunity to understand that what I’ve said is hurtful to women who have been raped, fear being raped, and I want to apologize.”

What are you going to do about it?

I want the outcome of this to be a positive one….If I can in some way open up the dialogue about these issues about men who are seeking out advice to get better in relationships and women concerned about some of that advice being harmful, I’d like to bring those sides together — that would be a lasting legacy I would be very proud of. I am reaching out to anti-rape and abuse organizations, seeking their advice and assistance to go through the advice in this book to make sure it’s beneficial for everyone…I’m going to be donating a portion of these proceeds back to anti-rape charities.”

How has this affected you personally?

“The thing that keeps me going is that the people who know me outside a few words have across the board sent messages of support and understand the bigger picture. That has allowed me to keep my sanity and feel like the whole world isn’t against me. I’m not the type of person to dwell on things I can’t control. I’m looking for an opportunity to make something good happen in the end.”

What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.