This is perhaps the most potentially volatile post I have ever risked. I fear it will be misconstrued or not read thoroughly, and that I will anger many women (and some men). But it’s been on my mind off and on the past few months, and stories I’ve read recently on rape and victim blaming has finally set me over the tipping point to post.
First off, let me be crystal-clear before I begin my thoughts, rants, etc. …Rape is a reprehensible, horrible act and one of the most heinous crimes around, sharing the top slots with such acts as child sexual abuse, torture and murder. Rape is a crime, and victims of that crime are victims—they didn’t ask for it, they didn’t provoke it, they didn’t deserve it and they shouldn’t be blamed for the crime perpetuated against them in any way. Given the percentage of women who are sexually assaulted in life, which is frighteningly high, the number of women who “invite” rape is so vanishingly small one might as well consider it zero percent.
That said, I don’t like the trend lately for people speaking out against rape to lash out at articles, campaigns, online interactions or other efforts that provide caution and advice for women to lessen their chances of being raped and/or to survive the crime.
I realize there can be a fine line between good advice and victim-blaming, but I don’t think that rape-minimization tips (for lack of a better term…obviously, one cannot really avoid or prevent rape, though those two words are often used) are by nature the latter. While the line may sometimes be thin, it still exists, and I don’t like the increasing tendency to cast all (or nearly all) such advice as a subtle form of blaming the victim.
I comprehend why the protesting voices do what they are doing, because it is only when we stop seeing women as being a cause of their own rape that we will start to put more force behind actually charging and punishing rapists appropriately and working toward fewer rapists being created to begin with.
So, when well-meaning advice is offered, the critics often see it as an attempt to say “You could have prevented your rape if you did this” even when such isn’t the intent. They complain that even suggesting that a woman might have been able to do something will fill her with feelings of failure, shame, self-loathing and more.
But I can’t support the kind of thinking that says: “Don’t warn people to be cautious lest they end up being blamed or blame themselves somehow.”
Because common sense isn’t so common.
For decades, criminals have stolen cars, broken into cars to take things or simply reached through an open window to grab a purse or a stack of DVDs. Why? Because people insist on doing things like leaving their doors unlocked, windows open and purses inside while they’re somewhere else. People will still leave the doors to their homes unlocked even though there are robbers, rapists, killers and more aplenty out there who love not having to climb through a window. There are tourists and business travelers who still insist on drinking and then wandering down little-traveled streets in neighborhoods they don’t know and get beaten, mugged, raped, killed or all of the above. People still drive on the roads not paying attention to the other drivers, as if their own driving is all that matters…or they drive doing unsafe things assuming they are such good drivers that they can do what everyone else is warned not to do for safety’s sake.
And I have seen many an article warning people of all those types not to do those things. Not because it will guarantee their safety but because it will reduce their risk.
No, there is no woman who can prevent a rapist from attacking. But if the woman looks like she might put up more of a fight or seems more aware of her surroundings than the average woman, the rapist will be more wary about picking her as his chosen target.
The advice that is unwarranted would be things like “don’t dress sexily.” That’s the biggest piece of idiot advice, because it’s pretty much been shown that rapists don’t attack women because they look sexy but because they simply want to overpower them and force them into sexual situations against their will. Age and appearance of the woman are often irrelevant.
But advising women to keep track of their drinks so no one slips them a roofie is good advice. Hell, I don’t let my drinks out of my sight for fear of some numbnut spitting in it or slipping me some acid as a prank, and I’m not at much risk of being raped unless I get sent to prison for some reason.
Reminding women that they should probably avoid being alone in unknown places or should refrain from getting totally wasted when out alone at bars isn’t bad advice any more than reminding people not to drink and drive would be. You remind them of these things because people like to think they are invulnerable, especially teens and young adults. When my wife, who knows I’m a very good driver, says “Be careful out there” when I head out to drive, especially at night or on a drink-oriented holiday, I don’t snap at her: “I’ve been driving for nearly 30 years now; I know what I’m doing” or say: “It doesn’t matter how safely I drive if some other idiot isn’t paying attention.” No. I say “OK” or “thanks” or “I will.” Because it does matter if I’m cautious and it does reduce my risk and getting a reminder sometimes makes me more mindful and less complacent.
People “know” that they shouldn’t take up a habit of smoking but that doesn’t stop us from putting warning labels on packs and running articles about the unhealthy aspects of smoking.
I don’t like seeing victims of rape be blamed because they didn’t follow the “rules.” That’s not fair and it shifts the guilt to the wrong party. But neither does it serve anyone to blame people for giving what is, frankly, good advice that should be followed by people and often isn’t.
What also bothers me is when critics of rape-minimization advice to potential victims say, “We should teach our boys not to grow up to be rapists instead of telling women how to not get raped.”
Mind you, I’m not irritated by the notion we should teach boys and men to avoid raping folks. What bothers me is that in most of the cases I’ve seen people rail against safety advice to women, they spend a very small amount of time talking about reducing the number of rapists but spend gobs of time ridiculing the safety advice.
It seems to me that most of the energy should be spent on telling people why it’s good to educate male folks about not raping and explaining the positive benefits to society of doing so…as well as explaining to people why you don’t blame victims of crimes…rather than spending so much time blaming the safety tip providers for creating an atmosphere of blame. The safety tips don’t produce the toxic atmosphere of blame; people’s fucked up attitudes and twisted notions and evil tendencies do that.
The safety tips aren’t the problem in terms of vicitim-blaming, any more than porn is a cause of rape (in neither case does one lead to the other). Yes, safety tips can be used as guilt bludgeons and yes, a very small percentage of porn glorifies rape but that doesn’t make them the problems. The former is an example of misuse; the latter is an example that there is always someone who can eroticize anything. We don’t blame the cars for running down pedestrians or blame the knife for a stabbing.
We also need to remember that we can never, ever eliminate rape. Even when we tell our kids not to steal and not to be mean to others and not to use violence to solve problems, there will always be some who grow up to be thieves, bullies, killers and whatnot.
That said, we should do a better job of teaching boys and men that being a stand-up guy means not taking a woman just because they can and being a decent human being means stopping when she gives a clear “no.” It also means teaching men to remain in control of their faculties and not, for example, to get drunk if one is prone to violence when under the influence. We need to teach responsibility.
That is something we haven’t promoted enough. That is true. But it needs to be in addition to, and in conjunction with, good safety advice to women. Because the fact it that we do need to be careful out there.
And all of us need reminders of that.