Thursday, January 19, 2012

How not to get raped: Always victim-blaming?

Zerlina Maxwell, writing for Ebony magazine, thinks so. In the bluntly titled "Stop Telling Women How Not To Get Raped," she says:
New rule for 2012: No more ad campaigns and public service announcements targeted at women to teach them how to avoid rape.  It’s not effective, it’s offensive, and it’s also a lie. Telling women that they can behave in a certain way to avoid rape creates a false sense of security and it isn’t the most effective way to lower the horrible statistics which show that 1 in 5 women will become victims of a completed or attempted rape in their lifetime.  The numbers for African American women are even higher at nearly 1 in 4. 
We need anti-rape campaigns that target young men and boys.  Campaigns that teach them from a young age how to respect women, and ultimately themselves, and to never ever be rapists.  In addition, we should implore our men and boys to call out their friends, relatives, and classmates for inappropriate behavior and create systems of accountability amongst them. 
There are a number of men who do not understand what constitutes a “rape”, which is a consequence of the “stranger in the alley” falsehood presented in movies and popular culture.  You don’t need a mask and a gun to sexually violate a woman. The truth is that rape can happen with a woman you are dating whom you’ve had sex with previously, in a monogamous relationship, and even in marriage.  If one party withdraws consent at any time then it’s rape.  Consent can be withdrawn by the words “no “or “stop” and in many states, a woman doesn’t have to say no at all.  Consumption of alcohol can prevent a woman from being able to legally offer consent. Therefore, it is important for men and women alike to be very clear about their intentions and prioritize consent over the excitement of getting some. 
Our community, much like society-at-large, needs a paradigm shift as it relates to our sexual assault prevention efforts.  For so long all of our energy has been directed at women, teaching them to be more “ladylike” and to not be “promiscuous” to not drink too much or to not wear a skirt. Newsflash: men don’t decide to become rapists because they spot a woman dressed like a video vixen or because a girl has been sexually assertive. 
How about we teach young men when a woman says stop, they stop? How about we teach young men that when a woman has too much to drink that they should not have sex with her, if for no other reason but to protect themselves from being accused of a crime? How about we teach young men that when they see their friends doing something inappropriate to intervene or to stop being friends?  The culture that allows men to violate women will continue to flourish so long as there is no great social consequence for men who do so. And while many men punished for sexual assaults each year, countless others are able to commit rape and other crimes against women because we so often blame the victim instead of the guilty party.
Here's where I agree: a lot of men and boys do not know what rape is, if they think it's all about strangers in back alleys leaping on unsuspecting women. They do not know what rape is, if they think it can't happen within a marriage or established relationship. They do not know what rape is, if they think it has to involve violence. Or if they think that it's not rape if the word "No" or "Stop" hasn't been spoken aloud. They need to learn. They need to be told by women, and also other men so that it doesn't seem like women are the only people who are of an accord about preventing rape from happening.

Here's where I disagree: teaching men not to rape and women how to avoid being raped are not mutually exclusive, and the fact that most rape is of the acquaintance variety does not mean that suggestions about how to protect oneself are absolutely useless and/or only amount to suggesting that a woman is responsible for her own rape if she doesn't employ them. I think we can recognize that there is no fail-safe way to prevent oneself from being raped while simultaneously living a free, un-sheltered adult life, but also that it's a good idea for somebody to know when and where you're going on a date. That it might not be the best idea to bring a date home or go to his home, if you don't know each other very well. That if you're out drinking, it's probably a good idea to keep an eye on your drink at all times and make sure you have a safe way of getting home.  A person can recognize value in these precautions without any transference of blame whatsoever.

So yes, let's absolutely hold rapists accountable and tell men and boys (and women and girls!) what rape is in addition to how wrong it is. But I don't think that equates to a moratorium on making suggestions for women on how to be safe. Victim-blaming is absolutely a problem and it needs to stop, but I'm not convinced that refusing to encourage caution is the way to do it.

1 comment:

  1. Superb post as usual, Gretchen.

    It surprises me how seldom feminists discuss the dramatic recent decline in rape.  If they consider reducing rape an urgent national priority, wouldn't you expect them to celebrate this success--and rigorously evaluate what specific public policies might allow the trendline to continue downward? If we live in a 'rape culture,' the ostensibly pro-rape masses seem surprisingly undisappointed with rape's dramatic reduction, don't they?


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