All Rape is Rape: Advice is not Apology
I’m thinking back to age thirteen. My parents must have worried about many things but I’m sure my being at my friend’s house wasn’t one of them. Maybe if her parents had been away they would have felt differently.
I know it would have changed everything for me. I wouldn’t have been touched by her father for one thing. I wouldn’t have spent almost a decade carrying a secret.
Short of ‘trust no-one’ or ‘never visit friends,’ no advice to my thirteen-year-old self could have prevented what happened. As a woman, however, I would learn that there would be times when I could take things into my own hands, by following advice, protecting myself and being cautious. Not because the abuse was my fault – victims are NEVER to blame – but because I would bend over backwards to make it difficult for anyone to ever have the opportunity to abuse me as a woman.
- I carried a personal alarm. It wasn’t because I deserved to be raped if I didn’t.
- I carried a taxi number or used a black cab. It wasn’t because I deserved to be raped if I didn’t.
- I didn’t go home with strangers or invite people home. It wasn’t because I deserved to be raped if I did.
It was because I had learned – early on – that what does happen and what should happen are two very different things. By thirteen I had known a girl, aged just ten, who had been violently raped and murdered, I had been inappropriately embraced and kissed by one man showing me a paper route, and I had been intimately touched by another in my best friend’s bedroom. As a result, I was never going to let ‘I should be able to…’ be my guiding principle.
Rape is rape. There is never any justification. Unfortunately, there will always be people who rape. There is no weakness in making it harder for them, in owning the little control we do have.
Advice Did Later Save Me
Despite my experiences, or perhaps because of them, I refuse to adopt the mentality that I have no control over my own security. I know I should be able to walk where I want and wear what I want. I ought to be able to leave my door unlocked or answer it without the chain on. I also know that every advice leaflet I’ve ever had about personal safety or home security was sent out because the ideal world of ‘should be able to’ is very different from the world we live in, the real world of ‘you just can’t’.
This was brought home to me one night, when I found myself making a quick real world/ideal world decision. Around ten o’clock, there was frantic knocking on my door. Keeping the chain on, I faced two men begging to use my phone to call for an ambulance. Their friend was having a severe epileptic fit. I could have let them in but why on earth would I – 18 years old and living alone – risk it? I called the ambulance, passed on the details, watching the door like a hawk. I should have been able to let the men in, just like I should be able to walk past strange men at night, slightly tipsy, in high heels and a skirt. I didn’t take the risk, though I’m sure no one would have blamed me for trying to be a good Samaritan. Twenty minutes later I received a call from the emergency services. There had been no ‘friend’ having a seizure; by the time the ambulance arrived, the men were long gone.
Some Bad Advice Does Not Mean All Advice is Bad
I think we’ve all seen the – since thoroughly debunked by Snopes and other sites – advice about rape avoidance: don’t wear hair in a ponytail, don’t wear overalls, do carry an umbrella, etc. The idea that women could be safer by cropping our hair, wearing jeans with difficult to undo buttons or carrying a parasol caused law-enforcement professionals and criminology experts to raise some serious eyebrows.
Such advice is absurd; no question about it. But we should not assume that this sort of ignorance is representative; i.e., that all advice is bad advice. Nor should we assume that trying to educate potential victims is merely a substitute for tackling the issue of rape. Nor, perhaps most important, should we confuse heeding good advice with being a rape apologist, assuming victims are always to blame—any more than we can accuse the homeowner who decides to buy an alarm of being a burglary apologist.
Educating Men Is a Start, But It Isn’t the Whole Answer
Women’s advocates often argue that ‘Men should be educated, not women’ and it’s true, men should be educated – particularly about commonly held fallacies such as the idea that date rape is somehow not ‘proper’ rape (Rape is Rape by Jody Raphael is a superb book to read on this).
Figures published by the Scottish Government in 2010 showed that 17% of respondents thought that a woman was partly, mostly or totally responsible for being raped ‘if she is dressed in revealing clothing’ while just under a quarter (23%) of respondents thought that a woman was partly, mostly or totally responsible for being raped ‘if she is drunk’.
This survey sparked the ‘This Is Not An Invitation to Rape Me’ campaign. So far, such campaigns have had some success. In Vancouver, for instance, reported rape statistics dropped by 10% last year, largely attributed to the ‘Don’t Be That Guy’ campaign.
Any drop in the number of rapes is worth celebrating. Nevertheless, it makes no sense to rely on every potential rapist having a change of heart because he happens to have seen a clever campaign. Nor will educational campaigns stop men who know rape is wrong and choose to do it anyway.
No single profile provides an answer to why men rape. Opportunity, emotional illness, lust–it happens for all of those reasons, yet often for none of them. […] […]One of the most consistent elements in rape of all kinds is the absence of empathy; attackers are able to persuade themselves that the victim wanted or deserved to be raped.
If there’s no clear profile and lack of empathy is a consistent element, isn’t taking the ‘Educate men, not women’ approach just putting all our eggs in one very badly-made basket?
Blame the Rapists, Empower the Potential Victims – We Can Do Both
Although the 2010 survey revealed worrying attitudes about rape, it also revealed that huge numbers of women are taking unnecessary risks. In a huge 3-year UK study, a staggering 98% of rape victims who believed they had been drugged had actually been under the influence of alcohol. As worrying as the use of Rohypnol is, in 98% of the study cases, the rapist didn’t need it. That’s more frightening to me. Alcohol is a factor in over 60% of rape cases (90% of campus rapes). Ignoring these facts may be politically correct, but does political correctness justify not sharing these statistics? Absolutely not.
In the 2013 UK Home Office Overview on Sexual Offending, the risk of victimisation was shown to be highest amongst 16-19 year old females. It was also increased amongst regular night club and pub visitors and full time students. In other words, young women, potentially with little experience with alcohol and not used to living away from home are at most risk. Is it so wrong to make them aware that certain situations will significantly increase their risk of sexual assault or rape?
In March, Business Insider wrote about anti-rape public service announcements that ‘blame the victim’. The image has a clear message: get too drunk and you might not be able to say no. Is this true? Yes. Does this message blame the victim? Not in my mind. While the rapist is clearly to blame, women need to understand that risks are increased in certain situations – regardless or whether or not they should be.
There are precautions we can all take against the possibility of an assault, but many of us, it would seem, are still quite blasé when it comes to being safe (Wake Up To Rape Summary Report, 2010). For example:
• Almost a half of Londoners have walked home via back streets on their own months (46%)
• Over a quarter have left a drink unattended in a bar (26%)
• One in five has been so drunk they have lost their memory of an evening (20%)
• One in five have got into a taxi without checking that is it licensed (20%)
Isn’t the failure to warn potential victims of the risk in such situations a grave disservice to women?
Taking a ‘Men should be educated, not women’ approach may seem empowering – again, it’s true, men should be educated – but surely embracing our own education should be empowering too.
In An Ideal World
“Crime has been with us since Adam and Eve and, surprisingly, God didn’t spot the solution. Rather than punishing the miscreants, it might have been better had he put the forbidden fruit higher up the tree.”
Nick Ross, Crime: How To Solve It, and Why So Much of What We’re Told Is Wrong
When Nick Ross released his book earlier this year, a flood of controversy followed. Whilst I agree with that taking steps to discourage crime is a good idea, it seems far too much of a stretch to imagine that this is the ‘solution’. But Ross’s book in general does raise an interesting point: there’s a difference between the ideal world and the real world and we seem able to accept this for all crimes, except rape.
We know that there are things we should be able to do. Not doing them because we want to protect ourselves is not the same as judging others for having done them in the first place. We’re grown up enough to know that if we lock our doors or hide our valuables, it’s not because victims of burglary are to blame. If someone is mugged and after that makes sure they never carry a lot of cash, it isn’t because they asked to be mugged. If a woman decides not to get drunk, it’s not because she’d deserve to be raped if she did. These are precautions that we know we can take. It may infuriate us that we have to take them, but this is the real world.
Perhaps we are giving up a type of freedom when we change the way we live because others do things that are illegal or immoral. Of course they should be the ones to change. Trust me, though: 20 years of dreadful nightmares, sleep problems, anxiety, panic attacks is a bigger cost. Knowing ‘I should have been able to…’ is never enough to outweigh ‘I wish he’d never…’
We can work towards creating the ideal world; until then, let’s keep rape in the real world perspective. If any reasonable measure can prevent someone being raped, abused, assaulted, how can we argue against it?