Many supposed experts on the subject of sexual assault talk about what a woman can do to make herself less of a target for rape, including always parking under a streetlight, not leaving a drink unattended or wearing headphones while jogging, and so on.*
Protecting yourself from a potential assault is all well and good, but there are two problems with telling women what to do to avoid being raped.
LET’S JUST MOVE THE TARGET
Problem number one:
I don’t want other women to be raped either.
I’m all for protecting myself against rape by whatever means necessary, except that protecting myself does nothing to actually stop rape. All of my precautions might stop a man from raping me, but they don’t stop a man from committing rape.
If I do everything I can to make myself a difficult target for rape, that doesn’t mean a man won’t commit rape; it often means that he’ll just move on to another, easier target.
If a man is so far gone in his thinking that he’s going to rape a woman, but realizes it would be difficult to subdue me for any reason, he’ll simply find another target; a woman who is out alone, who is struggling with her bags in a parking lot, who can’t twist a cork out of a wine bottle with her bare hands.
In this world, there will always be women who are vulnerable to rape for some reason, many of which can’t be helped; disabled women, petite women, women who work nights in an isolated area, etc., are often prime targets for assault. I don’t want a man to just move on to any of those women because it would be easier to rape them than me.
Even if a woman is more vulnerable to being raped because of her own actions – perhaps she’s had one too many drinks, lets some contractor she hired into her house to use the bathroom, or went jogging at night – I don’t want her to be raped either! None of those women deserve to be assaulted, and I find it horrendous that the best solution offered when it comes to rape is to take the target off my back and move it to another woman’s back.
WHY ARE YOU TALKING TO THE WOMEN IN THE FIRST PLACE?
The July 8, 1980, Awake magazine, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses, contains an article about rape titled, “How You Can Protect Yourself.” The article offers much of the same information above, telling a woman how to reduce her risk of rape by making herself a less vulnerable target.
However, the article also quotes some unnamed police officer, which takes me to my second problem with this advice:
“Prevention is the key,” one police officer says. “I maintain that 95 percent of all rapes could have been avoided.”
~ July 8, 1980, Awake magazine
That’s interesting, as I personally maintain that 100% of rapes could be avoided if men stopped raping.
This is the dialogue often missing when talking about rape prevention; there are lists and lists of things women can do to prevent a man from raping her, with very little instruction to men to simply stop raping women. Where are the instructions telling men to stop whatever thinking goes on in their head that makes rape okay to them, stop themselves the minute they feel an impulse to assault, accost, or harass a woman in any way, stop thinking they’re somehow entitled to assault a woman because she’s alone or wearing a short skirt or a bit tipsy, stop acting as if they can’t help what happens with their own penis?
Where is that information, however? Where are all the instructions to the men about their part in all this?
Rather than stopping the actual threat, everyone seems to just talk about how a person can reduce that threat to them, and them alone. In other words, let’s not address the lunatic out shooting random members of the public; instead, tell those members of the public the best bulletproof vest to wear throughout the day.
Someone might argue that women need to protect themselves from rape because there is no way to really stop men from raping, so “better safe than sorry.” I get that; again, I’m all for protecting myself as much as possible.
However, I would also respond that there is little incentive for men to stop raping if society keeps putting the burden for prevention on the woman, not to mention remaining painfully silent when it comes to holding men responsible for not raping in the first place. Imagine how much less rape there would be in the world if people were as dogmatic, vocal, and opinionated about men who might commit rape as they are about what they think women can and should do to prevent it.
WHY IS LAW ENFORCEMENT THINKING I SHOULD DO THEIR JOBS?
It’s interesting that the quote above is from a police officer, as he or she is, in effect, telling women to do their job! Law enforcement has their part to play in preventing rape, not just catching someone after the fact. How so?
The organization End the Backlog, founded by actress Mariska Hargitay, brings attention to the fact that many law enforcement agencies fail to test, and even outright destroy, rape kits. This practice allows rapists to go out and commit another rape, as they note on their website:
“As of January 2018, testing these backlogged rape kits has resulted in the identification of nearly 1,313 suspected serial rapists. These serial offenders, linked to kits in just three cities, have committed crimes across at least 40 states and Washington, D.C. They have not just committed rape—many have been linked to other violent crimes, as well.”
If you missed that point, let me explain; law enforcement agencies collected evidence of alleged rapes from victims, then allowed that evidence to sit in a storage room, refusing to test it for identifiable DNA, etc. Once this organization, End the Backlog, stepped in and pressured them to do their jobs, those kits were finally tested and led to some 1,313 serial rapists being identified, meaning men who commit rape again and again. So, if law enforcement had done their jobs the very first time a rape was reported to them, those future rapes, and the other crimes committed by these men, could have been prevented.
Keep in mind that criminals are locked up to punish them, yes, but also to keep them from being a further danger to society. Failing to test actual, physical evidence of an alleged rape, and thoroughly investigate every allegation of rape, does nothing to stop a rapist from committing the act again.
When law enforcement does their job and tests rape kits and investigates every single allegation of rape, this does help to stop future crimes, as End the Backlog continues:
“In March 2016, researchers at Case Western Reserve University published an analysis of serial vs. one-time sexual offenders, based on a random sample of cases associated with previously backlogged kits from Cuyahoga County, Ohio. Their analysis found that more than half of these sexual assaults were connected to serial offenders, suggesting that serial offenders are more common than previously believed.”
So, according to this study, more than half of the rapes they finally investigated were committed by serial rapists; in other words, investigating an initial rape and taking that person off the streets might stop half of the rapes that occur every day!
Yet, law enforcement agents, like the police officer above, will talk about what women need to do to stop those rapists from targeting them. The ignorance is astounding; it’s as if it’s the job of women to stop rapists, more so than the job of cops with guns and badges and actual physical evidence of rape in their possession.
NOT BEING RAPED DOESN’T REDUCE THE FEAR OF RAPE
Note, too, that telling women what to do to avoid rape might keep a woman from being physically assaulted, but it does nothing to help alleviate the fear of rape that women live with every day. Think about that for a moment; a woman goes through a daily checklist of things to do to avoid being raped; she rethinks where she parks or jogs, holds her keys like a weapon when she’s out, and refuses to use a public restroom. Women often stand in an open doorway for several seconds after arriving home, looking and listening for an intruder, and look out for each other at a party, all while constantly looking over their shoulder and being hyper-aware of their surroundings and any men in the vicinity.
Why do women do all this? Because many women are always afraid of being raped. Always. Most women are in a state of fear and vigilance every minute of every day. They go through a checklist of preparedness long before they leave the house because of that fear, and are even afraid of being raped while in the safety of their own home.
All of these things that women are told to do to prevent rape might keep them from actually being raped, yes, but how do they protect her from the constant fear of rape? How do they alleviate her tension and anxiety, and even outright trauma, about rape in the first place?
Going through a laundry list of things to do to prevent rape; that might potentially protect a woman’s body, but how do they protect her mind, her mental well-being? For many women, life is like being a spy in a hostile country; you haven’t been caught yet, but your entire day is spent in constant panic and fear of that moment.
This is another problem with the foundation of these instructions to women; it’s as if having women go through this big laundry list of actions to prevent the actual crime of rape is enough to make us feel safe, enough to take care of the problem. In truth, putting this burden on women while glossing over the responsibility of law enforcement, not to mention the actual rapists themselves, only adds to that fear. We know we’re on our own, abandoned by cops who want to know why we didn’t do their jobs in preventing our own rape, abandoned by random strangers who want to know why we didn’t go through that laundry list of daily tasks, who talk about what we were wearing or where we parked.
In other words, why didn’t we do enough to move the target off our own backs and put it on another woman’s? What a lovely thought.
*For the sake of this article, I’ll be referring to rape victims as female and perpetrators as male, although I fully acknowledge that men can be victims of sexual violence and women can perpetrate that violence, especially against children and underage boys, as well.