Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al (livredor) wrote,
Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al

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The rape prevention controversy

I'm a little bit behind the times on this, but there has been a fair amount of discussion around LJ about this survey on attitudes to rape organized by Amnesty. This parody of dumb rape prevention advice has been doing the rounds a bit (I think I have the original version, thanks to redbird, but it's a bit hard to trace memes to their source), and itself has provoked a range of reactions.

I'm not sure how much the survey actually proves (I'm not crazy about Amnesty anyway). There are some people out there with really horrifying attitudes; does this really surprise anyone? Just just about any survey at all is going to get a proportion of people who will chose headline-grabbingly bad options. I'm more interested in responding to how this survey has been received than in the survey itself.

shreena has a really interesting post about linguistic confusion in the survey results, and in this kind of discussion generally. Thank you shreena; as I've been saying for a long time, it's useful to have philosophers among my friends, particularly if they make articulate LJ posts I can link to.

erbie's piece is the one that has really generated a buzz. I believe the point she is trying to make is that people have total control over whether or not they commit rape, but people have essentially no control over whether someone else rapes them. I don't think she makes the point as clearly as she could make it, however. Some people object to the post because it makes gendered assumptions; I've seen it reposted with disclaimers that make it more gender neutral. I don't really want to get into the debate about whether it's appropriate to talk about men raping women or people raping other people.

My immediate response to it was, that advice is all very well, but it's not going to stop rape. It's like saying, there are a billion people in the world who don't have enough to eat, so you should combat malnutrition by making sure that you eat a balanced diet, and if you see a starving person, don't steal their food. There are probably very approximately a billion people in the world who either have been raped or will be raped at some point in their lives; I would dearly like some reasonable suggestions about what I can do about this intolerable situation, and really, me not raping anyone is not the answer. I'm being overly literal, though, and I'm fairly certain erbie was not intending to simplistically instruct her readers not to rape (though I am not the only one who has read her meme that way).

There does seem to be a consensus emerging out of this debate, namely:

Rape is wrong, and it is never justified by anything a victim may do or fail to do. But women should still take reasonable precautions to avoid being raped, and should be aware that doing stupid things may lead to bad consequences.

This does seem pretty reasonable, on the face of it, so it may be surprising that I want to take issue with it. In fact, erbie herself ended up editing her original list as a concession to this line of argument. I hope the summary I have written above isn't a straw man; I think that's very close to what a lot of people are saying, particularly in objecting to erbie's list.

There are some sick people out there who would actually directly blame victims for being raped; this group probably accounts for some (though I would suggest not all, because of the psychology of the way people answer surveys) of the people who gave the disgusting answers in the Amnesty survey. This post isn't addressed to people who think like that, any more than erbie's post was addressed to actual rapists. No, I want to argue with the apparently reasonable people.

IMO, people who pontificate about what women should do to avoid being raped are well-meaning, but misguided. Many people draw an analogy with robbery: there is no debate that robbery is wrong, and is the fault of the robber, not the victim, but there is also little debate that it is stupid to leave all your doors and windows open when you go out. Again, seems uncontroversial, but I'm going to reject that analogy.

Let's start with on this issue. Because really, if you're going into an internet discussion without starting without even checking whether you're quoting facts or urban legends, you're not getting very far. There's an awful lot of stuff out there about how to avoid getting raped which is sheer and utter bullshit, and the Snopes email forward is a good example. That goes for advice like "Learn unarmed combat" and "Carry a gun" (even though that's illegal in most civilized countries...) and "Wear a spiky thing in your vagina". But hey, sensible advice is ok, right?

No, not really. It's possible to make up all kinds of extreme examples. Let's say... a blind drunk woman who wanders down dark alleys at 3 am while wearing nothing but sexy underwear and high heeled shoes, well, she doesn't deserve to get raped, but she's being pretty stupid and irresponsible, right? Sure, but how many women need someone to point that out to them? Anyway, what if she's wearing normal clothes, or clothes that completely cover her skin according to some religious modesty code? What if she's sober? What if she sticks to well-lit main streets? What if it's the middle of the day rather than 3 am? If you believe that nobody ever gets raped in busy streets in broad daylight, you are sadly naive.

What if she is in fact a he, and he stupidly imagines that rape is something that only women need to worry about? What if our hypothetical woman decides to drive everywhere and not be out on any streets at all, at any time? Of course, sometimes she isn't going to be able to find a parking space right next to the place she wants to go, and what if she's attacked while walking to or from her car, or across the carpark? What if she makes sure she always has someone to escort her, and the person who is supposed to protect her turns out to be a scumbag? What if she gives up her car and takes taxis everywhere? Of course, she's sensible and follows safety advice, so she only takes licensed cabs; do you seriously believe that no holder of a cab licence has ever committed rape?

We're already getting into the realms of the ridiculous. Supposing it's somehow possible for her to stay at home at all times. Someone might come along with some "helpful" advice and point out to her that a great many women are raped in their own homes. And anyway, she would most certainly be responsible for the bad effects on her life of living as an agoraphobic recluse. My question to all the "women should take precautions" people is: which of those situations do you really think is analogous to going out of your house and leaving all your doors and windows unlocked?

The problem with all this reasonable precautions stuff is that it assumes that there are certain rituals you can go through which will stop bad things from happening to you. It's supersitious thinking, essentially. It's comforting to believe that by being "sensible" and putting up with a few minor inconveniences, you can avoid horrible consequences. Sadly, the world doesn't work like that.

A rapist is someone who is depraved enough to think it's ok to force someone into sexual activity against their will. You can't expect someone like that to refrain from harming you because you take care not to dress "provocatively" and to avoid certain places at certain times. You can't expect someone like that to behave rationally; one might think that even an evil rapist is going to prefer to rape in situations where they are less likely to get caught, namely dark, deserted places rather than crowded places with lots of witnesses. The facts don't seem to bear that out, though.

Read misia's Virgin Stories and her commentary on that essay. Being sensible and taking precautions doesn't prevent rape, any more than being a good person prevents bad things from happening to you. Following this sort of advice might, just possibly, increase your chances of being believed if you are raped, rather than being assumed to have consented because why would you put yourself in such a situation if you weren't planning to have sex? But I'm not even sure that's the case, and I should think it's pretty small comfort.

The other problem I have with this sort of helpful advice is that the flip side of it is that it leads to rape victims finding themselves questioning what they might have done to provoke rape, or where they took an unacceptable risk, and feeling like it's somehow their fault. Even though there is a first half to the statement: Rape is wrong, and it is never justified, this disclaimer is weakened by the But women should still take reasonable precautions.

I'm going to give some links to personal testimonies, which are pretty harrowing. Please do read them if you feel at all able, and please think about people like these, before you start mouthing off about the precautions women should be taking to reduce their risk of rape.
deborah_c feels she must have brought her assault on herself by something she did
"Barbados Butterfly" felt that she was to blame for her rape
"HC" was your classic case of did everything risky

I have also read accounts in friends locked entries by people who were raped as very young children, and still worry whether it was their fault. You know what? It's just as unacceptable to imply any degree of blame to someone like HC as it is to a four-year-old. Just as unacceptable. No qualifiers.
Tags: essay

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