I know I owe another post back from before Christmas, and I will get to it, I promise. For today, though, I want to address this very important and very disgusting social problem. Rape.
I read a few news articles from my four typical sources (HuffPost, MSNBC, CNN, Boston Channel), and I was overwhelmed with how many “above the fold” headlines had to do with sexual violence. I wasn’t surprised. Disgusted and disappointed, yes, but not surprised.
Before I get started, I want to give a little perspective on rape in the United States. Numbers will likely drive the point home more sharply than my words. Every hour in the United States, 30 women are raped. 1 out of every 6 women will be raped in her lifetime. This hurts so badly.
So let’s talk about rape prevention. Reading the comments of the articles I read this evening, there were a lot of suggestions on how to prevent rape. Googling “rape prevention” yields over 1.5 million results faster than I can blink. We have a lot of ideas on how to make this stop, and yet rape still seems to be an overwhelmingly present danger in the life of the female experience. What are we doing wrong? Well, let’s take a look at our collective strategies for preventing rape:
- Be aware of the possibility of being raped….it could happen to YOU.
- Avoid unsafe situations and strangers.
- Keep using your mind to think of alternative actions for escape.
- Do not walk alone or take short take short cuts where you would be in a deserted area.
- You should always try to be where there are plenty of people around.
- Carry something that can be used as a weapon.
- Don’t wear revealing clothing (or if you’re a Toronto judge, you might suggest that women “not dress like sluts.”)
- Don’t drink too much – always be aware of your surroundings!
Here are just a few examples of the many ways to prevent rape. But what do we notice about this list? When we think about rape prevention, it’s easy for us to think about the things women should be doing to protect themselves. What this tells me then, is that my number one tip against preventing rape is:
- Always think of yourself as a victim.
- Always be prepared to be raped.
Seriously? Because I live alone and work late nights and have to walk to my car in the dark, should I always be ready for a rapist? I’m not alone when I say that because I live alone and work late nights, I am always preparing for a rapist. I follow the “rape prevention rules” by dressing modestly, staying sober, keeping a cell phone near me, locking my doors and windows, keeping my keys laced between my fingers when I walk to my car, etc etc. Is it reasonable for me to say, then, that because I follow the rules I can avoid rape? Here is one woman’s response to the rules:
I was sober; hardly scantily clad … I was wearing sweatpants and an oversized T-shirt; I was at home; my sexual history was, literally, nonexistent — I was a virgin; I struggled; I said no. There have been times since when I have been walking home, alone, after a few drinks, wearing something that might have shown a bit of leg or cleavage, and I wasn’t raped. The difference was not in what I was doing. The difference was the presence of a rapist.
Bingo. I think if we are ever to successfully prevent rape, we need to acknowledge that as far as the “rules” are concerned, the only thing that actually matters is the presence of a rapist.
I found this post on another blog about refocusing our rape prevention tips. Instead of telling women, “you are a victim – always be prepared to be raped,” this list speaks directly to the rapist and says, “don’t rape her.” Let’s look at this list and discuss, hokay?
If a woman is drunk, don’t rape her.
If a woman is walking alone at night, don’t rape her.
If a women is drugged and unconscious, don’t rape her.
If a woman is wearing a short skirt, don’t rape her.
If a woman is jogging in a park at 5 am, don’t rape her.
If a woman looks like your ex-girlfriend you’re still hung up on, don’t rape her.
If a woman is asleep in her bed, don’t rape her.
If a woman is asleep in your bed, don’t rape her.
If a woman is doing her laundry, don’t rape her.
If a woman is in a coma, don’t rape her.
If a woman changes her mind in the middle of or about a particular activity, don’t rape her.
If a woman has repeatedly refused a certain activity, don’t rape her.
If a woman is not yet a woman, but a child, don’t rape her.
If your girlfriend or wife is not in the mood, don’t rape her.
If your step-daughter is watching TV, don’t rape her.
If you break into a house and find a woman there, don’t rape her.
If your friend thinks it’s okay to rape someone, tell him it’s not, and that he’s not your friend.
If your “friend” tells you he raped someone, report him to the police.
If your frat-brother or another guy at the party tells you there’s an unconscious woman upstairs and it’s your turn, don’t rape her, call the police and tell the guy he’s a rapist.
Tell your sons, god-sons, nephews, grandsons, sons of friends it’s not okay to rape someone.
Don’t tell your women friends how to be safe and avoid rape.
Don’t imply that she could have avoided it if she’d only done/not done x.
Don’t imply that it’s in any way her fault.
Don’t let silence imply agreement when someone tells you he “got some” with the drunk girl.
And if you are still confused, try this:
How to Prevent Sexual Assault
1. Don’t put drugs in people’s drinks in order to control their behavior.
2. When you see someone walking by themselves, leave them alone!
3. If you pull over to help someone with car problems, remember not to assault them!
4. NEVER open an unlocked door or window uninvited.
5. If you are in an elevator and someone else gets in, DON’T ASSAULT THEM!
6. Remember, people go to laundry rooms to do their laundry, do not attempt to molest someone who is alone in a laundry room.
7. USE THE BUDDY SYSTEM! If you are not able to stop yourself from assaulting people, ask a friend to stay with you while you are in public.
8. Always be honest with people! Don’t pretend to be a caring friend in order to gain the trust of someone you want to assault. Consider telling them you plan to assault them. If you don’t communicate your intentions, the other person may take that as a sign that you do not plan to rape them.
9. Don’t forget: you can’t have sex with someone unless they are awake!
10. Carry a whistle! If you are worried you might assault someone “on accident” you can hand it to the person you are with, so they can blow it if you do.
And, ALWAYS REMEMBER: if you didn’t ask permission and then respect the answer the first time, you are committing a crime- no matter how “into it” others appear to be.
I want you to be completely honest. Did you giggle or smirk or find any humor in this list? (It’s okay if you did.) There is a reason we chuckled at some of these. I giggled at how ridiculous some of these tips are. I would argue it’s because we’re uncomfortable with this paradigm shift. We are so used to reading rape prevention tips that are geared toward the victim, so to turn it around and speak to our rapists is uncomfortable and unsettling.
While this article does an excellent job of redirecting our focus from victims to rapists, it still has has the same consequences as the first list. While the first list I posted depends on all women defining themselves as perpetual victims (and all victims as women), the second list defines all men as rapists (and all rapists as men).
This is still not okay! UGH!
So, readers, how do we address rape and sexual violence in a way that doesn’t define an entire gender as the vicim and the other gender as the rapist?