Sunday, February 04, 2007

How to *really* prevent rape.

A while ago, those of us sick of being sent emails about how to not be raped (no ponytails, girls!), posted and emailed a lot about those awful 'rape prevention advice' emails which go round. My response at the time is here.

I was very glad to be sent a link to the following article today. We need more of this stuff.

One violent crime and the female victim by Emily Maguire.

If you're a woman, chances are you've received at least one version of the "how to not get raped" email. Even if you haven't, you will be familiar with the contents, because it's the same stuff you read in the newspaper whenever there's a known sex-attacker on the loose. It's the same stuff the women's magazines publish under headings like "How to stay safe".

Again and again, women are told that we can avoid rape if we don't go out alone, don't get drunk, carry our car keys as a weapon, take self-defence classes, don't dress revealingly, don't talk to strangers, and on and on. We get it. We live it. And we still get raped.

Women get raped sober and drunk. They get raped when they're out and when they're home. They get raped wearing short skirts and wearing burqas. They get raped by men they know and by men they don't know. If one woman avoids rape by using her self-defence skills, a woman unable to defend herself gets raped instead. Whatever women do or don't do, men continue to rape them.

Here's a radical suggestion: direct the rape prevention message to men. Write emails and advice columns that say: don't rape. Don't rape drunk women, solitary women, sleeping women, flirtatious women, any women. Seriously, just don't.

Men who rape may be in the minority, but that's no reason not to direct the message to all men. Not a single woman has caused her own rape, not ever, and yet women are bombarded with advice that can do nothing except cause our would-be rapist to find a different victim.

Rape is a male crime. There are female rapists but they are so rare as to be statistically insignificant. Acknowledging this in no way minimises the suffering of their victims, nor does it excuse the perpetrators. It does, however, stop us from pretending that rape is a gender-neutral crime and thus allows us to confront those responsible for most rapes.

There is a culture of acceptance about the rape of women. This becomes clear when we think about the way male-to-male rape is perceived. Male-to-male rape is seen, rightly, as a horrific, unprovoked crime. The victims are never blamed for putting themselves in harm's way by getting drunk or walking down a street alone. Men are not lectured on how to behave so as not to attract rapists.

Consider why rape is thought to be more serious if the victim is a straight man or a female virgin. The thinking is clearly that a person who has sex with men willingly in other circumstances shouldn't be so upset at "having sex", albeit unwillingly, in another circumstance. The huge misconception here is that rape is just a rougher form of sex. It isn't. Rape is to sex what being beaten unconscious is to peacefully falling asleep. It is an act of violence visited upon a person's body and it is as traumatic for a sexually active woman as it is for a virginal one or a man.

This same misconception about rape-as-sex is evident in discussions over consent. Rape, by definition, cannot be committed with the victim's consent, yet this question comes up again and again. When a woman is raped she must prove she has not consented. What did she do to stop her attacker? Did she fight hard enough, say no often enough, scream loud enough? Wasn't she dressed like she wanted to be violently penetrated? Didn't her drunkenness indicate she was up for anything? The answers to these questions are often used in lieu of evidence to determine that an alleged rape was just a big misunderstanding. If only the woman had been clearer about not wanting to be raped…

Am I arguing that women shouldn't be held responsible for their behaviour? No. If a woman drinks to excess then falls over in the street, loses her wallet and vomits all over herself, she has only herself to blame. But rape is not a consequence of getting drunk. It's a consequence of a man deciding to rape someone.

Likewise, if a woman commits a crime while drunk - driving a car or assaulting someone, say - she should be held responsible. But being raped is not a crime; raping someone is. In no other situation do we hear the victim being told to take responsibility for the criminal's actions.

Telling women they're responsible for rape doesn't keep them safe; it just keeps them scared. It also lets rapists know they can get away with their crime as long as they pick the right victim - one who "makes herself vulnerable" by refusing to live according to the edicts of a rape-tolerant society.

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Anonymous said...

Wow. What a brilliant article. I love it when people just tell it how it is!

Thanks for this.


stormy said...

I will second that - totally brilliant, concise, telling it like it is.

More writings of this type needed in the mainstream media and news.

sparklematrix said...

YES! I got in for once...and now I've forgot what I was going to say, in the excitement.

Ah yes, it's a thoughtful yet in your face message. I have already had the snarky (unapproved) comments of such ludicrous ramblings on my blog re the article - for example ahem - "telling men to stop raping is the same as telling a sperm not to fertilize an ovum" (paraphrased)

Hmm yes, that's what I thought!

ms. jared said...

wow. excellent article. thanks for sharing it!

Rachel said...

Fantastic. A while back a meme aimed at men, ironically called 'How to Prevent Rape' did the round of blogland which many male bloggers forwarded about; in fact, I got sent it and saw it posted on many more men's blogs than womens,

I reproduce it in full here....

A lot has been said about how to prevent rape.Women should learn self-defense. Women should lock themselves in their houses after dark. Women shouldn't have long hair and women shouldn't wear short skirts. Women shouldn't leave drinks unattended. Fuck, they shouldn't dare to get drunk at all.

Instead of that bullshit, how about:

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.
Don't perpetuate a culture that tells you that you have no control over or responsibility for your actions.
You can, too, help yourself.
If you agree, repost it. It's that important.

Rachel said...

Ooops, I see you already posted it, sorry about that. That will teach me not to read every link before enthusiastically agreeing.

Unknown said...

Sparkle*Matrix - how appalling to receive a comment like that! Yeuch!

Rachel - don't worry about repeating it - it can't be repeated enough, as far as I'm concerned!! And enthusiastic agreement is always to be recommended ;)

Everyone - glad you've liked the article. I think it's fantastic too.

thomass said...

Well we could all start with a little teeth brushing for that bad breath.

Anonymous said...

Good thoughts, but..

If tomorrow we told murderers don't murder, burglars don't burglarize, and con men to stop conning people would all of the above crimes come to an end or even be significantly reduced?

Rapists do not care, what their actions do to the physical or emotional well being of their victims. Some do not even care what society thinks of them. The rapist is thinking only of himself and his own personal gratification when he commits the crime.

Increasing social pressure against rape will reduce the incidence of the crime, but it will not eliminate it, particuraly in high risk repeat offenders and in particular sexual sadists.

Rape should be treated as a more serious crime under law as a threat and deterrence and most importantly to keep offenders off the streets. And eliminating the culture that says rape is okay is a must to reducing rape.

But telling would be rapists 'don't' will not stop many of them, as many of their victims know all too well as they begged for mercy from their attackers.

The only way to reduce rape is stiffer anti rape laws, rigid enforcement to put offenders behind bar before they can commit their crimes again. Men should not shield their rapist/wife abuser buddies, be it friends, relatives, police or judges. It should be a serious crime not to report a rape with a stiff sentence.

Police officers should not brush aside accusations of rape lightly. Officers and Judges that let these crimes continue should be held accountable for corruption as if they were in league with drug runners.

However, the risk of rape will never be entirely gone. There will be times when defensive measures are not enough and female victims cannot be blamed for this.

However, just as people reduce risks for other type of crime, measures can and should be taken against rape, many more women would be victims today if they did not take active steps to avoid an attack.

People buy locks and security systems to protect against theft and burglary. People aviod certain neighborhoods and times of day to be out, they don't carry too much money or let people see them typing in their ATM number.

Rape will not be always be prevented, stiffer laws and social exclusion of rapists and their cohorts will not make women fully safe on the street or in their own homes. Risk is a part of our daily lives, all we can do is mitigate risk through smart public policies and take risk reduction measures in our own lives against the threat of any number of crimes.

Ultimately the only thing anyone has control over is their own personal actions, some actions increase risk, some decrease it, but it will always be there so long as there are rapists, and it is highly doubtful even if rape becomes an extreme social taboo such as cannibalism that it will come to a total end.

most rapes and rapists can be stopped at an early age by teaching respect and love for women as equals. That physical might does not make right.

Part of it is social, the view in many cultures of women as objects of desire. In such social circumstances the value of women is reduced and offenders do not consider the impact of their crime on their victims.

The porn industry and societies/industries/religions that demean women are to blame for this. The objectification of women is the primary source of the most common rapes. Be it the frat boy or the muslim extremist the rapist does not view his victims as equal human beings, he views them as objects to be used for his pleasure.

The underlying sexist social roots must first be attacked before the crime of rape can be sucessfully addressed.