“It’s just common sense” versus “Victim blaming”

“All the ad does is point out that drinking leaves you more vulnerable to being raped, and that you can protect yourself by not drinking as much,” he told me adamantly.

“But can’t you see that that’s victim blaming? The message it sends is ‘if you get drunk and get raped, well, it’s kind of your fault,” I replied with both passion and exasperation.

“No it doesn’t! You have to read that into it! All it says is that not drinking or drinking less can reduce your chance of being raped. And inasmuch as that is true, it’s a good thing to tell people. It’s just common sense!” he insisted.

We were discussing a Pennsylvania ad campaign which sought to discourage teens from drinking by drawing a connection between drinking and getting raped. Our conversation went on for two hours, he insisting over and over that it was just common sense to encourage young women to watch their drinking, to dress less provocatively, and to take other precautions, all in the name of not getting raped. He likened it to the precautions you take to keep your house from getting robbed – I mean, they do say you should make sure your lawn stays mowed even when you’re on vacation for a reason! And me? Well, I just kept pointing out that these “suggestions” come within, and help perpetuate, a culture in which young women who are raped are told that it’s their fault because they were dressed too conservatively, or that the fact that they drank so much meant that they were asking for it.

All this background is to say that when a reader sent me a link to this image, well, this wasn’t a discussion I was a stranger to in any sense.

In other words, if you would take precautions to avoid being robbed, having your identity stolen, or having your car burgled, what’s wrong with saying you should take precautions to avoid being raped? It’s common sense!

I want to open this up for discussion, but before I do that I want to share my initial thoughts.

One of these things is not like the other

The statements the man in this panel makes are not actually parallel, even though he apparently thinks they are. In all the original statements, he tells the woman about cool security features. His last statement, though, is very different. If he had said “carrying a can of mace with you can be handy if you find yourself assaulted” or “it’s a good idea to have a friend call and check up on you the morning after a first date, just to make sure you’re okay” then yes, it would be parallel to the rest and I wouldn’t have a problem with it. But that’s not what he does.

If you want to avoid being raped, you should not dress like a slut.

Let’s compare. When he was talking about cars, he talked about this handy new mechanical thing and said it was “a great theft deterrent.” Did he say “if you want to avoid having your car stolen, you better buy this handy new mechanical thing”? No. He didn’t.

I know you want male attention, but when you seek it out by dressing a certain way, you can’t control whose attention you’re attracting – rapists or decent guys.”

Let’s compare this with the car statement again. Did he say “if you don’t buy one of these handy mechanical theft deterrent things, well, you can’t control the fact that your unprotected car will attract thieves.” No. He didn’t.

This might seem like a nitpic, but turns in language like this do matter. With his statement he’s placing the onus for not getting raped on the woman in a way that he does not place the onus on the woman when it comes to not having a car stolen. In other words, these statements are not parallel.

Two more quick notes regarding wording:

First, his use of the word “slut” is an automatic turnoff. Seriously. I am so over the virgin/slut dichotomy. Hows about letting women exercise control over their own bodies and make their own decisions without throwing around derisive terms, huh? All slut technically means is “someone who is sexually permissive” but it’s generally used in a negative way to target sexually permissive women as something unacceptable or undeserving of respect or normal courtesies and legal rights. Do we have a parallel word for men who are “sexually promiscuous?” No? Why ever not? Oh, that’s right. Promiscuous men are “jocks,” to be respected and looked up to, but promiscuous women are “sluts,” to be demeaned and looked down on. Ugh, there’s just too much in this for me to unpack right now. The point is, you can’t use the word slut the way he does and then act all innocent like “what did I ever do to upset you?” Not going to fly.

Second, what’s with the assumption that we dress the way we do simply to attract male attention? I wear what I do in an effort to feel comfortable, and to feel more “me.” For instance, I started dressing more provocatively than my conservative upbringing after I was happily married, and I didn’t change out of a desire to attract male attention as much as out of a desire to feel confident and express myself. I find that the idea that women who dress in certain way must necessarily be doing so in an effort to get male attention, rather than because that’s their style or how they feel most comfortable, offensive.

“Rape Culture”

The cultural context surrounding the “doing X will help you avoid being raped” is totally different from the cultural context behind saying “you should always lock your car.” Let’s do a thought experiment, shall we?

Let’s imagine a culture in which people who leave their cars unlocked and then have them stolen are told it’s their own fault – they should have locked their cars! A culture in which people who park on the wrong side of town and have their cars stolen are told its their own fault – they shouldn’t have parked in that area of town! A culture in which people who give someone a ride in their cars and then have them stolen are told its their fault – they never should have let someone into their car in the first place. By leaving their cars unlocked, or parking on the wrong side of town, or letting someone else have a ride, they were asking for their cars to be stolen! But at the same time, in this culture, locking your car or parking on the good side of town or never giving someone a ride does not actually guarantee that you won’t have your car stolen. In fact, doing all those things doesn’t necessarily lessen your risk of having your car stolen. Locked cars parked on the right side of town by people who never give others rides, it turns out, are stolen with no less frequency.

In this culture people who steal cars are frequently let off the hook because, well, the owners of those cars shouldn’t have left their cars unlocked. Or shouldn’t have parked on the wrong side of town. Or shouldn’t have been in the habit of giving people rides. In this culture people who never give rides, never leave their cars unlocked, and never park on the wrong side of town and then have their cars stolen are afraid to admit they had a car stolen for fear of being told it was their fault anyway – and because they’ve internalized the idea that it was their fault, somehow. In this culture locking your car doesn’t actually guarantee that it will not be stolen (or even limit the risk), but instead simply means that if it is stolen you have a greater chance of being viewed as a “legitimate” victim of car theft. Unless, of course, you parked that locked car on the wrong street. Or gave people rides. Then you were clearly asking for your car to be stolen whether you locked it or not. In this culture when you call the police to tell them that your car was stolen, the first thing you’re asked is “did you leave it unlocked? Where did you park? Have you ever given someone a ride in your car?”

Now, imagine living within this culture and hearing someone say “make sure to lock your car, or else it might just get stolen.” Perhaps you had a car stolen at one point, and never reported it because you had left it unlocked and correctly realized the police would just dismiss your report because of that. When you hear this statement, what you hear is “yes, it really was your fault.” Someone else living in this culture, someone who has stolen a couple of unlocked cars, hears “yep, I didn’t do anything wrong, they were only getting their just deserts for leaving their cars unlocked.” Others hear “people who leave their cars unlocked shouldn’t be surprised if they’re stolen because they’re asking for it.” People in the jury of a trial of a suspected car thief hear “it’s only natural that he stole that car because, after all, it was unlocked.”

And remember that, even with all this, locking your car, or parking in the right place, or never giving rides, does not actually lower your risk of having your car stolen. Trying to convince people to lock their cars, or park in the right areas of town, doesn’t do squat to fix the problem, which is that people are freaking stealing cars. Instead, all it does is contribute to a culture in which people stealing cars get off the hook and the victims of car theft are themselves unjustly blamed.

In other words, the surrounding cultural context matters.

And if you’ve always wondered what was meant by the phrase “rape culture,” well, I think the above paragraphs are a good starting point – though I should note that any analogy only goes so far, and when we’re talking about rape we’re talking about women’s bodies, not an external possession like a car.

[Edit: Several commenters have pointed out flaws with my analogy given that in the real world locking your car does help prevent it from being stolen, but in rape culture, studies have found that what a woman wears actually does not affect her risk of being raped. The supposed "safety precautions," you see, don't actually do any good given that, for instance, the vast, vast majority of rape is committed by someone a woman knows. Mea culpa for the flawed analogy. For more, read the comments - there's some seriously good stuff there!]

I’m running out of time here, but I want to mention two more things. First, doing XYZ does not automatically protect a woman from being raped. Rather, most women who are raped are raped by an acquaintance, and some rapists specifically prey on modestly dressed women. Second, all the emphasis on getting women to do XYZ risks sending the message that women who do not do XYZ are clearly “asking for it.” This means that a woman who doesn’t take all those precautions and ends up raped can end up blaming herself for what she did wrong. It also means that men can end up viewing a girl who is dressed provocatively and drinking too much as, well, “asking for it” and therefore fair game. And it means that society, yes, can talk about things like “legitimate” rape.

And you know what else? It means that the emphasis is taken off of consent and placed instead on what a woman has to do in order to avoid being raped. 

Additional thoughts?

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Ibis3

    A few more thoughts:
    *in the car theft analogy, there’s also half the population that “gets to” drive around, park anywhere they want, leave their car doors open, drive with a different passenger every day of the week because most car thieves don’t like the kind of cars they happen to drive
    *the whole “watch what you wear” thing is BS. There’s evidence that shows clothing makes absolutely no difference to incidence of rape. The car analogy is flawed in that respect too. It’s not like women, by wearing burqas (because anything less is “immodest” to someone, right?), are “locking their doors”
    *what’s also troubling, is that *all* the cultural emphasis is placed on women’s appearance and behaviour and next to nothing on *not raping*. When was the last time you saw a PSA talking about ensuring consent with your partner? about not having sex with someone who’s been drinking or who’s otherwise impaired? about *everyone* not going into isolated places unless you really know the person you’re with?

    • Contrarian

      When was the last time you saw a PSA talking about ensuring consent with your partner? about not having sex with someone who’s been drinking or who’s otherwise impaired?

      Just curious – when was the last time you were on a college campus? Where I work, the university has put up posters pointing out that you HAVE to ensure consent or else it’s rape, you can’t have sex with someone too drunk to consent, etc.. Additionally, the freshman orientation includes PSAs about those topics. It’s information that the university works pretty hard to get across to students (although since Greek life is big and it’s a party school to boot, I don’t know how much is actually transmitted).

      • Ibis3

        Yes, college/uni campuses are generally better at this type of universal anti-rape culture education (perhaps because the awareness campaigns have had heavy involvement by feminist campus groups at least in the past twenty years or so). But in the general public, the record is pretty poor.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      Hey Ibis, do you have some links talking about there being no connection between how someone dresses and getting raped? It’d be good to have those to refer to in the future, because it’s an extremely important point! (Which I actually edited the OP slightly to reflect.)

      • Ibis3

        I’ll try to find something. For example, I’ve seen a reference recently to a study that asked rapists if they knew/noticed what their victim(s) were wearing, and the answer was pretty clearly no.

      • Ibis3

        Here’s the study I was thinking of: http://scholarship.law.duke.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1109&context=djglp#B139

        And some analysis/commentary: http://slutmeansspeakup.org.uk/post/20186312572/to-avoid-being-victimised-dont-dress-like-sluts

        Rapists go after people who are vulnerable or who are in vulnerable circumstances*, not people who are “too hot to resist”. They plan in advance or take advantage of opportunities. They don’t “lose control of themselves” because of temptation, they purposefully take control away from their victims. Since that’s the reality, it’s not a surprise that what their victims are wearing is not much of a factor.

        *And as normal human beings going about our daily lives–walking down the street, going out to have fun or to do business, getting into relationships and being alone with people we regularly interact with–we’re going to often be vulnerable. That’s not the victim’s fault or responsibility, and unless they expect us to live under a Talibanesque system where women aren’t permitted outdoors unless covered in a tent and accompanied by men (who might turn out to be rapists themselves), they’re going to have to stop this “helpful advice”.

  • http://thaliasmusingsnovels.com/ Amethyst

    How does Derp know I want to attract male attention? Maybe I want to attract female attention. :P

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne


  • Contrarian

    Precautionary measure Y decreases the probability of bad thing X happening. If it’s true, does this imply anything about guilt or blame if person A doesn’t take precautionary measure Y? Of COURSE not! To draw any conclusion about guilt or blame requires additional assumptions — assumptions that are not present in the argument itself, but must be added from context. In the case where X is rape, any immoral conclusion about the assignment of guilt or blame comes from rape culture, not the argument.

    When it comes to any argument, there are precisely two relevant questions:
    (1) is it true?, and
    (2) is it valid?
    If context makes the argument problematic, then attack the context, not the argument! To do otherwise is to tacitly legitimize the contextual assumptions people are making. When you attack, “Don’t binge drink or else you might be raped!” for victim-blaming, you’re not attacking rape culture – you’re agreeing with, and therefore reinforcing, those tacit rape-cultural assumptions about the nature of guilt and shame in sexual assault. We need to direct our ire against immoral and asymmetric assumptions about guilt and blame and against the people who make those assumptions without realizing them.

    • jemand

      yes but that example *isn’t* actually outside of the cultural context you think can be separated by the argument. It isn’t actually supported by any logic or statistics in the statement you gave, and I don’t actually know if it is *correct.* The reason such an argument even exists, isn’t because of good data and a study of social dynamics, but of stereotypes common in rape culture. A more accurate statement would be, “if you binge drink and are raped, fewer people will care and you aren’t likely to get any justice…” but instead of making it a statement like that, it is couched as an *order* to the woman you are talking to, and which carries, in the word choice itself, shades of the rape culture you think can be separated from the statement.

      Oh. I guess I just noticed your name. I think I recognize you from somewhere. Whatever, I guess I’ll still respond this once.

      • Contrarian

        It isn’t actually supported by any logic or statistics in the statement you gave, and I don’t actually know if it is *correct.*

        Well, sure, that’s a criticism of the argument’s correctness. Maybe there’s no correlation between a woman’s dress and her chances of being raped, women can’t meaningfully affect their chances of being raped, etc. Then the argument is *wrong.* But that’s what I’m saying we should do: focus on whether the argument is right or wrong, instead of on whether the argument should be *made in the first place* because it perpetuates blah blah blah.

        Also, yes, we know each other elsewhere. I like arguing with you – we should disagree more often!

    • Rosie

      There is, I think, another consideration on which to judge the merits of your proposed argument, and that is “how much does this advice interfere with a person living a normal life?” In the case of the argument at hand, “precautionary measures dress modestly, don’t drink alcohol, don’t turn your back on your beverage at a party, don’t go out alone at night, etc. reduce the probability of rape happening”, the argument is not only patently false (and therefore invalid), it also tends to place pretty heavy restrictions on women’s lives. And then it turns out that women who DO restrict their lives heavily in order to stay “safe” have JUST AS MUCH likelihood of being victimized anyhow. And depending on their social circle, they’re almost as likely to be blamed for it when it happens, too.

      • Contrarian

        That’s certainly a reasonable point. I’d add, though, that the argument by itself doesn’t imply anything about restrictions on women’s lives – it’s just one piece to balance in living life. To deduce from “to minimize chances of X, do Y” that a person should do Y, we must assume that the person *only* cares about minimizing the chances of X. But if the person has other values and desires, then (as you point out) it certainly doesn’t follow that they should do Y!

        Another reason to focus on the asymmetric placement of blame embedded in rape culture, rather than on arguments that supposedly perpetuate rape cultural assumptions.

      • Paula G V aka Yukimi

        But the thing it isn’t it supposedly perpetuates the victim blaming and the slut shaming because this comic is actually doing it, not supposedly. How do you think rape culture embeds itself into people minds? Hearing this stuff unchallenged contributes to victim blaming and slut shaming and rape culture. There are more venues for it but this type of statements like the one above certainly helps perpetuating it.

  • machintelligence

    This may seem only marginally related, but bear with me. Several months ago Chris Clarke had his Jeep stolen, and he posted this on his blog:

    I’ve second-guessed myself to hell and back, of course, and Annette has quietly felt guilty about not finding some brilliant storage solution for the camping equipment, possibly involving a Tardis. Normal behavior for crime victims. It’s understandable that you blame yourself, because that gives you more of a sense of control over the malevolent randomness of the universe: “This is MY fault somehow. I did this.” But we haven’t taken it seriously, and no one else has been anything but supportive.

    No one else has been anything but supportive.
    No one has suggested that I should get over it.
    No one has asked for corroborating evidence of my allegations that someone took my Jeep without my permission.
    No one has suggested that I was asking for it by having a $300 tent and a $250 sleeping bag stored in moderately concealed fashion in the back of the Jeep, (Well, I have to myself, but no one else has.)
    No one has asked me if I ever left the Jeep’s doors unlocked on any previous occasions, and if so if that didn’t indicate I was really okay with strangers entering my Jeep.
    No one has asked me if I formally reported the “so-called theft.”
    No one has implied that Palm Springs’ economic woes are due in part to potential visitors spurious fears of car theft due to my ill-considered complaining in blog posts and social media.
    No one has joked that they “disagree that my Jeep was ‘too ugly to steal.’”
    No one has complained that I’ve treated everyone in the Coachella Valley as a potential car thief, made hectoring arguments about the presumption of innocence, or criticized me for assuming anyone capable of holding a slim jim is “Schrodinger’s Thug.”

    If Chris had been female, I would bet that someone would have made at least some of those very arguments. It seems like women are supposed to “think like potential victims” and “take more precautions”. There is a lot of subconscious misogyny in our culture.
    BTW the Jeep was stolen again shortly thereafter with the following result:

    • bluefooted

      I don’t think it is misogyny, although it might look like it. The culture you are seeing, at least how I see it, is a culture of women need help. I am not entirely sure why, but we treat women and children as, well just children. They are kind of lumped into that same category. If your child lost their bike, often times the parents will do the same thing. “Did you lock it up?”, “How long were you gone?”, etc.

      Now from my personal view, when I was in high school, girls in general didn’t care about things that were basics to living. Such as finances, investing, budgeting, etc. They also weren’t interested in fixing things, and generally being self suffient. Now that is not everyone, perhaps it was only 20%, but it was enough to get the impression.

      Now education is when you get the most of your experience of the opposite gender. So this is when the impressions are made (not to mention first impressions). So our minds find this trend, and the trend that I think men tend to close in on is that women need help. Be it fixing their problems, cars, and what not. And honestly, I found more women would thank me and be much kinder to me if I fixed something for them. So in order for me to get attention of a girl, I found fixing / helping them to be a great way to meet someone. I met my wife by fixing her computer. But I digress.

      So my belief, is that the misogyny that you see, the questioning after a crime, would be asked of a woman in almost any crime. Be it getting robbed, assaulted, or even raped. Just as we would most likely question a child if the same things happened to them.

      How do we fix this? I have no idea. But I honestly do not belief that questioning the details surrounding the event, even to your friend if someone asked “how they got in” that would not be victim blaming. I see no problem with getting more details. I think it comes from our desire to help someone out, to fix their problems, that cause us to ask these questions. Men, which in my experience, tend to be problem fixers, so they tend to ask those questions. Women, on the other hand, I find tend to be more supportive, trying to reconnect you back to familiar ground after having your world crash. Perhaps it is genetic to want to fix vs console someone in these times, but again, I would not call advise, even if misguided, victim blaming. If the person thinks of it as victim blaming, I can only think that is because they are conditioned to think that way. Conditioned in that if someone says, “what where you are wearing?”, we have conditioned her to think that is “victim blaming” thus making that misguided advise actually become victim blaming. If we would rather teach that “what where you wearing?” was a question from someone trying to help you, not place blame, I think many would see the exact same question in a different light.

      Last point, this is not to be confused with people who are actually victim blaming. I am merely saying you cannot judge misguided, but good intended advise as victim blaming. The question is how do you distinguish between the two. I would say by what is said next. If the next line is “well what did you expect?” then yes, that is victim blaming. If the next line is, “maybe you should be concerned with how you look then.” as good nature comment, even if misguided.

  • John Small Berries

    Panel 1: “Just moved into a bad neighborhood? If you don’t want your house broken into, you should not appear wealthy. Don’t maintain your house so that it looks nice, don’t park a new car outside, and don’t have anything expensive inside that can be seen through the windows. Also, never put cardboard boxes out on the curb for garbage pickup if they signal that you’ve just bought something expensive. Basically, if you own anything nice and live in a bad neighborhood, you’re pretty much asking to be robbed anyway, because robbers can’t help themselves – so it’s your job to help them not break the law.”

    Panel 2: “Want a nice stereo for your car? If you don’t want it stolen, you shouldn’t let anyone know you have anything worth stealing. Don’t play any music on it where anyone can hear, and cover your dashboard with a towel whenever you leave your car. But even that might inflame the passions of any thief who can fantasize about what might be under the towel, so if you didn’t want your nice stereo stolen, I guess you shouldn’t have bought it in the first place, you dirty audiophile.”

    There, now at least those two are a little more equivalent.

    • spidergal

      How about for number 3: If you don’t want your car stolen don’t buy a nice car/a car of a brand that is regularly stolen. I think that would make that example more compatible with the rape one.
      It really really boggles the mind…*sigh*
      It’s amusing that this side of the fence advocates “not dressing like a slut” rather than say “take some self defense courses” – That would possibly be more equivalent to the other examples (locking doors, theft devices).

      • Rosie

        I dunno…that’s a bit like saying “if you don’t want to be raped, don’t be born female”. Which is, now that I set it down in words, what most rape apologists are actually saying. They just don’t want to put it quite so honestly.

  • http://equalsuf.wordpress.com Jayn

    “It’s not like women, by wearing burqas (because anything less is “immodest” to someone, right?)”

    It’s not the best example because it comes from fiction, but I mentioned to my husband the other day an example of how anything can be construed as ‘doing something wrong’ using a Star Trek reference. In that universe, the Ferenghi are a male-dominated society in a very similar vein to patriarchal religions here on Earth. One difference, though, is that their women aren’t allowed to wear clothes. There’s a TNG episode where a Ferenghi talks about how humans let our women be clothed as an example of how depraved we are, because it encourages men to take their clothes off. Some of ST’s analogies are pretty forced, but I like this one because it keeps the element of making women responsible for men’s actions while also reversing the argument from what we’re used to.

    And really, if men can’t be counted on to control their own actions, why the hell are they allowed out in public unsupervised?

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      haha, yes, I always loved that detail of Ferengi culture too, for the same reason! That was one of the more clever analogies in the Star Trek Universe. Thanks for bringing it up, fellow nerd. :-)

  • Contrarian

    “What, you didn’t look both ways before you went through that green light? Well, I guess it’s your fault that he T-boned you.”

  • smrnda

    The problem with the ‘take preventative measures’ arguments is that they are being made for situations that are not equivalent at all. I have a bicycle. If I do not lock it up, it will be stolen, and so far locking the thing up with a U-lock I have never had it stolen.

    Let’s take the locking your house analogy. If I have my door unlocked people would still agree that nobody should be going from house to house in my neighborhood trying the doorknobs to see who left their door unlocked so they could get in. A person doing that would be stopped by the cops, the cops wouldn’t go “well, the guy’s only going to rob people who are asking for it.” People would also be aware that if a guy got in an unlocked house, that he shouldn’t have been trying the doorknob in the first place.

    But, a woman can do everything she’s told to prevent rape and get raped anyway. The problem is that rapists are like the person going from house to house in the above paragraph – they are out looking for women (or men) to rape. The difference is that people refuse to acknowledge that rape happens not because some woman suddenly got drunk and passed out dressed ‘provocatively’ and now a guy can’t control himself, but because rapists are, in an analytical and calculating fashion, out looking for women to rape.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      The difference is that people refuse to acknowledge that rape happens not because some woman suddenly got drunk and passed out dressed ‘provocatively’ and now a guy can’t control himself, but because rapists are, in an analytical and calculating fashion, out looking for women to rape.

      Ack! This! Wow, so much this!

      • smrnda

        I think Christians might often be unable to grasp this because they view all issues of sexual morality in terms of either having self-control or not. I read and hear over and over again that sexual sin (which can be both rape or masturbation) is a lack of self-control. The problem is that rapists don’t suddenly get the urge to rape and they can’t resist it – they think it through and plan it, and spend lots of time perfecting their talents of being manipulative, deceptive and appearing trustworthy when they are not. If it was widely accepted that rapists weren’t men who have out of control sex drives it would expose that ‘sexual sin is sexual sin’ is a bullshit notion, because it lumps in calculated crimes against others with just having a normal, human sex drive. If conservatives and Christians had to admit that ‘rape is totally different than other sexual sins” the whole ‘sin is just sin’ would crumble and fall down.

    • jemand

      YES! So much of the advice really boils down to is just this “there are rapists out there, they’re on the prowl, we’re going to do nothing to try to stop them… just try to be a *little* less targetable than the next woman out there.”

      It’s that joke about I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun YOU, but yet writ large as a huge cultural assumption and actually *taken seriously.*

      Um, if we really have bears lose in our streets, perhaps call animal control? Not like, just sacrifice the most vulnerable as we race to improve our relative standing compared to them?

  • JenL

    *the whole “watch what you wear” thing is BS. There’s evidence that shows clothing makes absolutely no difference to incidence of rape. The car analogy is flawed in that respect too. It’s not like women, by wearing burqas (because anything less is “immodest” to someone, right?), are “locking their doors”

    That’s my (first, easiest to explain) issue with the argument. “Don’t dress like a slut” probably means something *very* different to me than it means to the next 5 women you ask. And I seriously doubt that 5 random men would give a range of answers that match the range of answers given by 5 random women.

    The next (easiest to explain) issue is with “especially if you’re going to a party and there’s going to be guys and drinking or drugs”. Telling people (male and female) that it’s unwise to drink to the point that it affects your inhibitions or ability to reason – that’s a safety tip. “Don’t drink and drive. Don’t drink to the point that you forget it’s bad to drink and drive. Don’t drunk text. DON’T drunk text your boss, or your significant other’s mother.” Common sense stuff that sometimes needs to be pointed out. (Common sense stuff along the lines of “be sure to lock your car, and don’t leave your laptop where it can be seen, no matter how good you think the neighborhood is.” Seriously, we had a tv news report a few weeks ago where a woman’s laptop was stolen out of her car in her driveway, and her husband, on the air, commented that they’d bought that house because it was such a nice neighborhood that they didn’t think they had to worry about stuff like that.)
    But that’s SO VERY different from “women, don’t dress like (my definition of) a slut when going to a party with guys and drinking”. In other words, it’s only common sense that I should make extra sure to dress “modestly” to attend the office Christmas bowling party, because someone there might drink? Even though I have no intention of drinking? Really? And I suppose that if I’m going to a community social function where alcohol is NOT being provided, I should still be careful because some of the attendees might have had a few drinks beforehand? I’d certainly need to be careful before going to a public event like the jazz and rib fest, or a football game. Hmm… I wonder where I could go to be sure that no men were drinking? Church? Well, I suppose, unless it’s a Catholic church where the priest has to finish off the wine, since it’s been blessed… Except that apparently, to dress attractively in church is to draw the thoughts of men away from god. http://thinkprogress.org/election/2012/09/14/851401/values-voters-women/

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Men don’t need to have been drinking to rape, though. Plenty of rapists are stone-cold sober when they commit rape. So, really, you just need to be careful of men in general. Don’t ever be in any situation where a man could possibly be rape you, like being alone with a man outside the earshot of anyone who would help if you screamed. (Which you will do, right? When you are being raped, it’s very important to keep your head about you enough to put on a sufficient show of terror so others will know that you didn’t actually want it. Being raped is no excuse to forget about what others might think of your response! I’m just saying this to you for your own safety.) So that probably means no close friendships with men. No romantic or sexual relationships with men either. Just stay away from men. Of course, that’s no guarantee that men will stay away from you, though. Have you tried just not being a woman? That will decrease your chances the most. And, really, by being a woman, you will be perceived as asking for it by a lot of people so it’s kind of a stupid thing to do. Just some more safety tips!

  • Niemand

    “Don’t dress like a slut” probably means something *very* different to me than it means to the next 5 women you ask.

    Not to mention what it means to the next 5 men you ask. When I was in college, a complete stranger to me, a middle aged man, propositioned me and told me I was “asking for it” because I was dressed “like a slut”. This confused me, because I was wearing pants, a long sleeved shirt, and a parka, it being winter in the midwest. Apparently, my pants were a bit tight and that was what convinced him that I was dressing in a “slutty” manner. Actually, I was just showing my freshman five (well, ok, ten) and lack of money to buy new clothes. If a rather nerdy woman bundled up for winter can look “slutty” anyone can. Including a woman in a burka. Don’t even bother dressing any certain way: if the man involved wants to think you look “slutty” then you do.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Yep, last winter, I was walking home from a party and a guy slowed down his car to shout “slut!” at me. I was wearing a knee-length dress with not-very-high-heeled boots and my winter coat over it. I know, such a slut! Good thing that guy was kind enough to slow down while driving to let a woman walking home alone late at night know that she was rape-bait.

      • smrnda

        This happened to a friend of mine in winter when she had a long coat on and a scarf wrapped around her head, meaning she was showing no more than is permitted in Saudi Arabia.

    • http://ripeningreason.com/ Bix

      The most frightening, hostile incident of street harassment I’ve experienced came when I was walking down the street in the middle of winter in Boston. Knee-length coat, hat, scarf, mittens, boots. Go ahead, try to argue I should have dressed more ‘modestly’.

      And I love that the response to sexual harassment and violence is basically to remind women that they’re vulnerable. Due to incidents such as the above, I already realize that. I hate feeling that way, but I also know that it’s not my fault, and the onus is not on me to change it.

    • Rae

      This is so true! The only time I’ve been actually groped by someone, I was wearing a full-on snowsuit – not just a parka, but big fluffy snowboard pants to go with it! And it was a boy’s parka and snowboard pants! And a matching masculine-looking ski cap (remember the ski caps with the flames that were popular way back when? Yeah, one of those) that covered almost all of my hair, so I’m a bit impressed that he even figured out I was a woman!

      All of the other times, from me getting harassed when I was wearing my favorite oversized college sweatshirt and jeans, to the time I was leaving the beach and it was 104 and I was like “it’s too hot for that clothes nonsense” and took the bus home in my bikini (and wasn’t the only one who did that LOL!), I’ve almost unilaterally experienced a direct correlation between the amount of clothes I’m wearing and the severity or frequency of harassment and nasty comments, despite the modesty brigade’s insistence on an inverse correlation between the two.

  • SteveS

    Libby Anne, I don’t have much to say except thank you so much for turning my question into a full-blown blog post! I wasn’t expecting that! I’m getting some really great insights from the discussions above as well.

    Once again, thank you!

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      You’re welcome! It was a conversation I’ve had before, and I have to say, I’ve lost a lot of respect for that cartoonist now. I was shocked! Plus I knew everyone else would have fascinating things to say…I swear, half the fun of my blog is the comments sections!

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        I have to wonder what this cartoonist ever did to GAIN your respect. He seems like a douchebag to me. I mean, I’ve heard guys make this “argument” before but, I have to say, this iteration of it is particularly nasty.

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

        I don’t know much about this cartoonist, all I know is that I know people who read his work regularly, other nerd friends, so I guess I thought it was sort of like XKCD or something. I know better now!

      • JVB

        Not exactly relevant to the point of the post, but I just wanted to point out that these little doodle comics with Derp and Derpina are not by a cartoonist as such. Not at all like xkcd. They are memes, which means once upon a time someone on the internet drew these guys and they became popular to express ideas. They’ve formed a sort of open-source-esque format known as rage comics. Anyone can take these little drawings and lay them out how they want and add whatever text they feel like. There are also generators that presupply the image and you just add the words. These things are not done by one guy, but rather anyone with an internet connection. So odds are that any two comics are probably done by two different people. And they are unfortunately quite popular with the Nice Guy TM set. There’s boatloads of them about “the friendzone,” the quintessential Nice Guy mindset. “Oh no, I treated this woman as a friend so I could get laid, and now she sees me as a friend and not a sex object like I see her. Woe is me!!”

  • wanderer

    I like what you pointed out about the difference in approach and tone this drawing shows from the “safety tips” to “rape prevention tips”. Good points.
    I will say though…. there is an element to which I do (as a woman) take extra precautions because the world I live in is NOT as safe for me as a man. So no, it’s not fair. And no, it’s not my FAULT I am at greater risk for almost everything. But out of self-preservation, I do it anyway. For example, I would totally have the right to brake-check someone who is tailgating me. But I live in a place where, to be quite frank, that person may have a gun in the car. And I’d rather be annoyed than dead. So I do what I have to do to survive.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      I think there’s a difference between choosing to take precautions yourself, and a public figure or agency advising women to take those precautions. Just because I know that I won’t be victim blamed if my house is robbed, and just because there isn’t a public campaign telling me that I should get a dog if I want to keep my house saved doesn’t mean I won’t decide to get a dog, for example, and feel safer for it.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      We all do. As I’ve said to many men in my life before, I don’t know any women who go around like “I’m going to go the sleaziest club, wearing the skimpiest clothing I own and then get black-out blasted and be alone with as many strange men as possible because FUCK YOU RAPE CULTURE!!!” Women understand the concept of “safety” and, for the most part, we practice it and there’s nothing wrong with us doing so.

      The problem to me is the greater discourse surrounding it. It’s one thing to say “it can’t hurt to do x, y and z” and another to make the ENTIRE conversation surrounding rape prevention about x, y and z, with no focus placed on the fact that rape exists because of rapists, not because of drinking or walking home alone or whatever. I’ve known plenty of well-meaning and some not-so-well-meaning people who have compared these “rape prevention” tips to things like wearing a seatbelt in a car or a reflector on your bicycle after dark, to prevent being in an accident or being injured in an accident. It doesn’t cross their minds that this analogy doesn’t remotely work because rape is not an accident! They’re so focused on what women can do to “prevent” the Bad Thing in question from happening, that they forget that the only reason this Bad Thing happens is because of human agency and intent–unlike a driver accidentally hitting a cyclist because they couldn’t see her. Nobody rapes somebody because “I didn’t even realize she was there!”

      That’s the problem with having the entire discussion about rape being about safety precautions. Nobody is saying that women shouldn’t take precautions (although, we have to be realistic about how effective they really are, as in, not very), just that they shouldn’t be the main focus.

      • jemand

        The other thing is… it really does invisiblize the woman involved. Her motives, priorities, and risk assessment, are completely subsumed to the amount of risk the *speaker* thinks is reasonable, and then her actions are automatically assumed that they ought to line up right away with the speaker’s, or she is being an idiot and unreasonable!!

        Well, what if she actually VALUES the experience of going to the club late on her own? It’s exciting, she KNOWS she lives in the culture she does, that’s not exactly a shock to her, but the discussion usually goes down the assumption that everyone listening has the same acceptance of a given risk level, and the same assessment of the rewards of a situation, and that the ONLY REASONABLE response, is to DROP EVERYTHING you were doing different, and comply with the ordered statement to just go ahead and forgo that experience.

        Sometimes dangerous things are fun… I rock climb, I do my best to reduce the risk, but it’s obviously there, some people sky dive, same. I will identify wild plants & mushrooms and eat them, I am very careful with this, but there *is* obviously still a risk I will make a mistake. The reward is worth it to me, however. But all of a sudden, when it comes to how women ought to behave themselves in the presence of rape culture… the individual inclinations and preferences of the woman involved suddenly just *POOF* out of existence like they don’t matter one whit.

        I hate that part of the equation– the idea that the women involved don’t actually matter as individuals whatsoever.

  • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

    Just found some interesting statistics here

    Here are some statistics from a study of college students:

    *One in four college women have either been raped or suffered attempted rape.
    *84 percent of the women who are raped knew their assailants.
    *57 percent of the rapes occurred on a date.
    *One in 12 male students surveyed had committed acts that met the legal definition of rape.
    *75 percent of male students and 55 percent of female students involved in date rape had been drunk or using drugs.
    *33 percent of males surveyed said that they would commit rape if they could escape detection.
    *25 percent of men surveyed believed that rape was acceptable if the woman asks the man out, the man pays for the date or the woman goes back to the man’s room after the date.

    • Qindarka

      These statistics are horrifying.

  • smrnda

    Another issue on the cartoon – telling women ‘don’t dress like X” to avoid getting raped is a lot more restrictive than ‘lock your door’ or any of the other suggestions. It’s like saying ‘if you don’t want to be an assault victim be an expert in hand to hand combat, if you get beat up by a group of people it’s your fault for not training.” there are times when a precaution is reasonable, other times when it’s not.

    • Rosie

      THIS. Not only is the advice demonstrably ineffective, it’s also incredibly restrictive.

      • Christine

        I never understood, in the uproar that led to “Slutwalk” why more people weren’t upset about the fact that it demonstrably doesn’t work! (Forget if it’s a risk that you think women should take). If that’s some of the advice he was giving, what was the quality of the rest of the advice he was dispensing?

  • jose

    Here’s all the original advice in that comic translated so they’re actually analogous to the one about rape:

    - “If you don’t want to avoid being robbed in your new neighborhood, you should not live in a house that looks too tempting to thieves. I know you want attention, but you’ll be attracting criminals as well as decent people.”
    - “Want a nice stereo for your car? Think about getting a modest one. You should not be provoking the robbers’ desires.”
    - “If you want to avoid having your car stolen, you should not buy a too ostentatious one. A modest car that won’t attract attention is a great theft deterrent.”
    - “Heading to a convenience store at night? If you want to avoid walking in on the middle of a robbery in progress, you should go to a modest store that won’t pick the robbers’ interest.”
    - “Same goes for using an ATM. You should try not to look too tempting to muggers.”
    - “Drive slowly and modestly. If you want to avoid accidents, avoid distracting others by using flashing lights, honking, or passing other cars. I know you want the drivers’ attention, but when you seek it out like that you might provoke an accident.”
    - “Phishing scams are big money for fraud artists these days. If you want to avoid being victim of a scam, your email address should not be too flashy. I know you want attention, but you can’t control who will notice your address and try a scam on you.”

    Finally, here’s a piece of advice about rape that is analogous to the seven original ones:
    - “Sexual violence is a serious concern these days. Phone apps like Circle of 6 may help a great deal if you get involved in an undesirable situation and prevent it from escalating.”

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      That app is BRILLIANT. And you’re right. Mentioning that app IS analogous to the other safety tips! Love your comment. :-)

    • jemand

      Another one for the last panel that might be analogous: Sexual assault often comes from someone you know, trust your instincts if you feel like someone is becoming dangerous and don’t ignore anyone who is ignoring any kind of social boundary you, or another person in your group, has tried to set.

      Or even possibly, one I wish I’d thought of while alone with a taxi driver who was increasingly scaring me with sexualized discussion, “If you have a working cell phone with you, and if you feel increasingly uncomfortable while otherwise alone with someone, see if you can find a pretext to call a friend on the phone. Even if you don’t feel comfortable describing the situation for fear of escalating the situation, just having let someone know where you are, and being able to be talking to another person may help diffuse the situation”

      Or possibly even, “some sweet or fruity drinks hide well the taste of alcohol, try to recognize any social pressured to keep up the same number of drinks as someone who might be larger than you, metabolize alcohol differently than you, or who might have more experience with alcohol than you. If someone shames you for not keeping up, consider this a red flag of their character.”

    • jemand

      Ah ha! should have looked at the circle of six app. It’s kind of similar to my second suggestion. But as someone who doesn’t have a smart phone, and who often lets her regular stupid cell phone battery discharge most of the way, these options aren’t going to be *always* effective.

      The other way I like these suggestions better, is that they suggest *options* and not *orders.*

      There are things I value and things I don’t, getting a new cell phone to follow someone’s ORDER that I use circle of six (if the suggestion were phrased the way these “safety tips”USUALLY are framed, it’d be an order), is just not in my value system. Keeping my phone *charged,* well, possibly I should be doing this anyway, but hanging “or you’ll be raped” over my head is kinda… well, it’s a bit coercive and over the top. It’s exceedingly annoying, and honestly, I don’t actually think it’s going to be technologies that are ultimately the most helpful to me, but the degree of my ability to go against my conditioning and not be “nice” when being “nice” becomes dangerous (and to be looking for social red flags that might let me know when such a scenario is incipient.).

      • jose


        All I said is “Sexual violence is a serious concern. This app may help prevent this”.

        I never ordered anybody to do anything. I didn’t even suggest anything. I didn’t state consequences of not using it. Why are you using quotation marks as if I have said those things?

        Seriously, wtf?

      • jemand

        SORRRYYYY! My second statement, was *if* the app statement was couched in the same tone as the *usual* anti rape “safety tips”

        It did NOT apply to your comment. I was making a commentary on how the “regular” safety tippers would change how you presented the suggestion before they’d offer the solution.

        I kinda ran with it and didn’t edit myself enough though. Does it make sense now?

      • jose

        Oh, no problem then :)

  • Charlie

    It is so upsetting that someone can think that telling someone not to dress like a slut is the same as telling people to remove their stereo faceplate.

    Saying “Don’t accept mixed drinks from someone you don’t know at a party” might be useful advice for a young person (male or female). Telling girls that if they dress a certain way in a place where men are drinking is the same as saying “Have at it boys!” is ridiculous.

  • Richard

    I dislike the message that you need to dress/behave a certain way in order not to get raped because it creates a 2-tier society where men can dress/behave however they want but women must conform to some norm defined by men or be “justifiably raped”.

    Men can go jogging late at night, men can go on dates, men can drink. But as a woman? No, no, no.

    Realistically, the only criteria for becoming a rape victim is simply being a woman. So the parallel advice is, if you don’t want to be raped, don’t be a woman. What, you can’t control that? Then rape for you. It’s just common sense.

    • Ibis3

      Exactly. This is it in a nutshell.

  • Niemand

    Random thought about this ad: Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like the woman in the second series of panels is kind of putting up with the guy’s giving her unnecessary and condescending advice, humoring him, until he finally goes too far and she simply can’t bring herself to say “good idea” any more.

    • jemand

      hahaha, that’s awesome. And does sound kinda true :)

  • smrnda

    Sometimes even innocuous sounding advice is really bullshit because the person giving the advice is privileged and has no idea what the person they are talking to is already having to put up with. The ‘what to do to avoid rape’ is probably comparable to when white males explain what young Black males ought to be doing so they will not be hassled by the cops. Remember when Geraldo argued that Travyon’s hoodie was to blame for him getting shot? I just realized how similar it is when men tell women what to do to ‘avoid getting raped’ as in when white people tell young Black males what they should do to avoid police attention.

    • jemand

      Yup! And I think they intersect, too, as often the “bad areas of town” aren’t *just* based on the level of crime, but of perceptions of crime based on the skin color of the residents…

      I’ve definitely run across, if not explicit, at least implicit messages that I should be more worried about black men or other nonwhite men than men of my own race, white, when in reality, I think if it isn’t equal, it’s likely the opposite is true. For one thing, in a given day I simply see *more* white men in this particular area I live in, but on the other hand, I tend to think in the courts a black man is more likely to be railroaded while innocent, as well as more likely to be picked up if guilty, and I’m pretty sure he knows it, too. It’s the people with 100% of their entitlement not at all checked or even noticed that I’m most scared of, and while I’ve met several white men who fit that to a T, never a non-white man.

      For somewhat similar reasons, I’m less scared of homeless or otherwise “ratty looking” men than the culture would tend to tell me I should be– in such a scenario, who would police believe and might they even be *looking* for an excuse to nail that guy? And doesn’t he know that as much as I? Maybe I’m naive, but with that analysis, I just don’t feel like he’s not likely to hurt me. It’s the stranger in the suit with plausible deniability of his social standing and pressuring me to get into his car and he’ll give me a ride out of this “dangerous neighborhood” that’d really scare me in the dark.

      • smrnda

        After hearing reports of police raping women while on duty and often getting away with it, or getting excessively light penalties, I tend to be mistrustful of cops when they act all paternalistic and protective towards me.

        I’m also more worried of being on a college campus than about anywhere else. As someone pointed out, colleges *do* try to do things to raise awareness of rape, but I feel like I have more to fear from a bunch of over-privileged white boys with attitudes of massive entitlement than some inner city minority males, so I totally agree with you there. I am occasionally in Black neighborhoods in what would be considered a ‘bad area’ in a large city, and public sexual harassment there isn’t a problem like it is in college towns.

      • http://AztecQueen2000.blogspot.com AztecQueen2000

        I’ve felt sexually threatened three times in my life. In all the three cases, the men were white. In two cases, they were Jewish. One was Orthodox.
        I knew all three men. In two cases, I was on a date. In the third, the man was my employer (I babysat his children, and he made a pass at me.) In all three cases, I was dressed in long sleeves, high collars, and either long, loose-fitting pants or a long, loose skirt. Neither my clothing or my lack of inebriation protected me. The only thing that did was enough assertiveness to say, “I’m not putting up with this.”

  • Alexander

    You certainly have the point, and the link is indeed quite stupid.
    But does it mean that the advice to drink less is useless? If you think about it as a big picture, such ad may be seen as promoting “rape culture”, but suppose that in this particular case we are more concerned about how to make these Pennsylvanian women a little bit safer right now. Does drinking less reduce the risk of being raped? Yes it does. Thus, at least in the short run such ad may be able to reduce some risks for some women, which isn’t that bad afterall.
    To sum up I would say that without any doubt we need to fight with tradition of “rape culture”, but it doesn’t mean that anything which is not concerned with this problem is harmful.

    • Ibis3

      You are assuming that girls aren’t being told this by everyone from the time they can pick up a glass.* The money would be much better spent focusing on teaching about enthusiastic/unambiguous consent. Put the onus for once where it belongs.
      *Even though, as Richard says in his comment above, this makes women into 2nd tier people.

      You know what? All my life, I’ve seen countless ads and public messaging about drunk driving. Don’t drink and drive. Make a plan. Get a designated driver. Don’t let a friend drive drunk. Never have I seen an ad that said: All you responsible citizens out there? Don’t go out on Saturday nights when you have a greater chance of being hit by an impaired driver. Don’t drive at night when most drinking and driving happens. Don’t cross the street unless there aren’t any cars in sight because one of them might have a drunk driver behind the wheel. Don’t go to bars even if you’re not planning to drink or not planning to drive, because some asshole drunk driver might hit you on the sidewalk or in the parking lot outside. Don’t even go to areas of town where you can buy liquor. Don’t park your car near a liquor store in case someone steals it and drives around in it drunk.

      • ArachneS

        I would like to upvote this a million times.

      • http://ripeningreason.com/ Bix


    • Chris Algoo

      Alexander, did you even read the post? Please read it again, and slowly.

    • Rosie

      Correlation is not causation…and even the correlation is pretty slim in this case. See the stats in the previous comments (#41 or so).

  • Sarah-Sophia

    I read somewhere that in rape cases involving alcohol, it’s actually the rapist who’s been drinking.

  • http://jesusandvenus.com Ryan Stauffer

    It’s all about acceptable level of risk for normative behavior. To take an extreme example: an attractive woman walking naked through a bad neighborhood probably runs a high risk of being raped. So even though said rape would not be in any sense her fault, most people would probably encourage her not to do that. And that’s not much of a problem because that is not normal behavior; no woman really wants to do that. The more normal the behavior becomes, the more we feel we should be entitled to do it without risk.

    Unfortunately, while risk may approach zero, it never quite reaches it, and that is why we get these kind of warnings. As long as there are rapists in the world (which will be forever) women—and everyone else—will run at least a minute risk of being raped. It’s up to each individual person to decide how extreme their safety measures will be. Personally, I think a woman should be able to get drunk in public without worrying about getting raped, but I wouldn’t blame any lady who decides that is too high a level of risk for her and she’s willing to give up that degree of normal behavior in exchange for greater likelihood of safety. Having the moral high ground in principle doesn’t make a person less raped in practice.

    • jemand

      I… DON’T actually think an “attractive” woman walking around naked in a “bad” neighborhood has anywhere near what you consider a “high” risk of being raped. Such behavior… well, it *really* doesn’t necessarily turn “sexual,” it’s more like, WOAH, that person needs mental help, STAT.

      Rapists are human beings who integrate well into our social structure, they tell themselves internal stories that justify their behavior, they can blame a woman for doing something “asking for rape” but even then someone who has gone SO far outside of normal social behavior, is likely NOT going to be in their “easily rapeable and nobody will care” category but, “if someone sees me doing this, there is no socially acceptable narrative in which this makes sense.” Not near as much as raping a drunk girl in a party, say, a naked woman on the street is much more likely to be sent to mental health or have the police called than be raped… It’s just that far outside of the cultural narratives of “normal.”

      Rapists tend to operate well within the usual norms of a culture, partially to protect themselves, partially because the rapists who *don’t* are more likely to have been convicted and ended up in jail– and thus, the rapists on the street who would hypothetically be interacting with your proposed naked woman, are *not* necessarily likely to really see this as an easily exploitable situation.

      • smrnda

        Excellent post – I’ve always felt that there was something wrong with the ‘woman walking around naked’ trope I’ve encountered over the years and you put it into words perfectly. And thanks for pointing out about how rapists are pretty in control and calculating about their behaviors – it bothers me a lot when people frame the issue as out of control male sexuality.

      • http://jesusandvenus.com Ryan Stauffer

        Fair enough; I was going for crazy. Feel free to insert any example of a situation where the risk of rape is so extreme that anyone would probably avoid it. I don’t think this diminishes my point, which is that there is risk everywhere (not just risk of rape, but risk of any harm), and people need to find the balance between exercising their freedom without living in fear and taking precautions so they can feel reasonably safe.

        I’m interested, though, in your idea of rapists being able to justify their behavior with a familiar or resonant narrative. I watched a movie last night in which a young man coerces a woman into sex and later admits that this is what he did. He was three-dimensional and somewhat sympathetic in other respects, and I found that very refreshing. We probably need more three-dimensional depictions of rapists and abusers so the real-life versions of those people don’t have the internal excuse of thinking that only evil people hurt others—thereby OBVIOUSLY excluding themselves.

    • Mina

      Wow, way to show internalized rape culture. Attractiveness, or culturally perceived attractiveness, perceived sexual availability, and gender all make rape your fault. Because you shouldn’t look pretty, show that you like sex, or be at all a vulnerable class of gender. (Either female or any level of vulnerable male.)

      But that’s crap, complete crap. Because as Jemand points out–a random woman walking down the street starkers is much more likely to be assumed to be in need of medical help or rescue than to be sexually available precisely because we make it so very clear that women aren’t safe if they don’t regulate their sexual availability to some cultural standard.

      Here’s the other thing wrong with that chart. If someone has a radio in their car, we don’t hold that up to them in society as something horribly wrong with them. “What kind of person are you that you have a car radio without a faceplate? Do you WANT to get it stolen?”

  • Nathalie

    Okay. I really dislike slut-shaming and obviously do not think women should have to dress more conservatively, or not go out, or not drink a lot, but the fact of the matter is that in society, taths what you do have to do. not have to as in its ilegal, but sometimes it is common sense. you can say all you want that women shouldn’t have to be that careful when they go out, but if you’re raped, you’re raped. nothing can take that back. and i know that you may follow all the ‘common sense rules’ and still get raped, but you can also follow all the traffic rules and be a defensive driver and still get in an accident. i just dont like how this thought can cause the idea of being careful to being negative or anti-feminist. no, men shouldnt rape. but guess what, some do. and if there are any precautionary measures that may possibly lower a chance of being taken advantage of at all. take them. and i’m a super-feminist sex-positive college student, so i’m not some conservative slut-shamer.

    • jose

      But Nathalie, the thing is the dressing advice is not grounded on logic, evidence, or reality. It’s just a common misconception people accept without question. Studies show that rapists frequently don’t really pay attention to the clothing (links in comment 6 by Ibis3). And many rapes take place at home where you’re not dressed up. Finally, men rape muslim women who wear hijabs or niqabs, too!

      A real advice would provide you with something you could use in any circumstance and that is based on what actually works.

      • Nathalie

        okay, the dressing provocatively vs conservatively thing is the issue i have the least problem with, based on the statistics about rape. i shold have clarified that. my personal issue is the one with drinking too much or being alone at night- no, women shouldn’t be raped, but being in a situation where your inhibitions are lower or is possibly unsafe isn’t wise either.

      • jemand

        I don’t see how being alone at night is more dangerous– most rapes are by someone you know, in a place you know, like your or his house.

        It makes *much* more sense to advise looking out for minor and non-sexual boundary tests and violations from someone towards anyone in your friend group, and avoiding being alone with such a guy, EVEN if he had just offered to “walk you home because it’s already dark” or something like that…

        i.e., the night isn’t ACTUALLY as dangerous as a predator using that cultural messaging to get me alone with him would be…

      • Nathalie

        @ jemand: the night can be dangerous. there’s a reason you dont send kids out alone at night- because you don’t know who or what’s there and there aren’t too many people around. statistics do say most rapes are by people you know- but personally I’d rather not take my chances and walk by myself at night anyway.

      • jemand

        uh… the reason *I* wouldn’t send kids out alone at night is that kids can get *lost.* And also, traffic is dangerous for children who have less experience of it. On abductions, there are people who wish to raise a child for themselves and *that* is the motive for abduction. I think that type of abduction is actually more common than the sexual variety… and NONE of those things really applies to an adult woman. Although I suppose the traffic/ night has more drunk drivers argument could apply to adults as well- this is not a risk which affects women more than men out at night.

        And then there is the *alternative* to walking home alone at night… possibly walking home with a guy you sort of know, who, given the cultural narratives you both live with, you feel like this is safer, but given the actual statistics and data, and the way women have been socialized to ignore any gut feelings and intuitions and not taught to look out for boundary-testing red flags… is perhaps WAY more dangerous than the night itself…

        To tell the truth, if a guy I don’t know *that* well, or if I *do* know him well and has thrown up a few red flags to me, is insisting on walking me home, won’t take my “no” for an answer… I’m suddenly *FAR* more wary in that situation than I would be traveling 3-6 miles alone in the dark (which I do fairly regularly.) I might even change my path to avoid him. And honestly? Statistics on risk really do back me up on this.

  • H

    Nathalie, the problem is that you don’t know what any given person will consider “slutty” or “conservative” dress (as earlier posters said). A person used to seeing burkhas is going to think that khaki pants and a polo shirt is extremely revealing. The farther you go in that direction, the farther you have to go. Oh, you all wear burkhas? Guess what, now you need to wear the veil in front of your eyes if you want to be “really” modest. These are all just excuses for bad behavior. The clothes that most American women wear today would be considered extremely revealing 100 years ago. Plus, when people cover themselves up, new parts of the body are fetishized (back then, ankles were pretty darn shocking!)
    A better analogy to locking your car would be to carry mace or wear a chastity belt that you own the key to. Dressing conservatively is more like saying that if you don’t want your car to get stolen, make sure it’s scratched up and dented. Depending on what the criminal is looking for, that may have no effect whatsoever.
    It’s kind of funny that just yesterday I was thinking of an analogy of carrying your money in a place that people could see (such as a wallet in your back pocket or breast pocket, or carrying a purse). If you put your money in such an obvious place and then go where other people are, then must be your fault if you get robbed!

  • http://krwordgazer.blogspot.com KR Wordgazer

    I noticed this in the part about the Jeep being stolen. Look at the self-contradictory nature of these remarks (that Chris noticed no one made):

    No one has asked me if I ever left the Jeep’s doors unlocked on any previous occasions, and if so if that didn’t indicate I was really okay with strangers entering my Jeep.
    No one has complained that I’ve treated everyone in the Coachella Valley as a potential car thief…

    This illustrates what bugs me most. If a woman is raped, it’s because she didn’t take proper precautions. But if she takes “proper precautions,” she’s often accused of being anti-male– of “treating every man like a potential rapist.” But what are those “proper precautions” supposed to be about?

    It can’t be both ways. How can it be wrong for a woman to treat every man like a potential rapist, if they’re then going to blame her for not treating the one who rapes her, like a potential rapist?

    If women are the ones responsible to protect themselves against men (implying that men can’t be expected to control themselves), then the men shouldn’t get mad if the women treat them as if they can’t be expected to control themselves.

    • http://ripeningreason.com/ Bix

      That’s a really good point.

    • Anonymouse

      I absolutely get this point. A couple of years ago I went to a technical conference that had evening drinks/discussion/schmoozing. Afterwards, the group I was talking with decided to continue drinking in one of the group member’s hotel room. I was the only woman in the group, and I had only met those men that day, so I politely declined and instead spent a pleasant night in my room watching HBO and checking my emails. The next day word came round to me that I was quite the unfriendly b**** for not going drinking with a group of strange men in a hotel room far from home. Yet had I gone with them and the worst happened, I would have been told it was entirely my fault, and what was I thinking, going drinking with strange men in a hotel room far from home?

      • machintelligence

        If you want a response to this accusation, mention Schrodinger’s rapist and send them here:
        They may not appreciate it.

      • machintelligence

        It occurs to me that to appreciate the title of the blog post above, you should be familiar with the concept of Schrodinger’s cat.

        Schrödinger’s cat is a thought experiment, sometimes described as a paradox, devised by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935. It illustrates what he saw as the problem of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics applied to everyday objects, resulting in a contradiction with common sense. The scenario presents a cat that might be alive or dead, depending on an earlier random event

        See the Wikipedia article for the whole discussion
        This also led to the funny bumper sticker:
        WANTED Schrodinger’s cat
        $10,000 Reward
        DEAD and ALIVE

  • ABaker

    I firmly believe in something I like to call ‘personal responsibility’. When an arsonist sets a fire, it’s because they decided to do so, not because the homeowner was ‘asking for it’. When an executive steals from his employee’s retirement fund, it’s the executive’s choice and no one elses’. And when a man decides to rape someone, it is the rapists’ fault, not the victim/survivor. No one can make that decision but the man.

  • http://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/ perfectnumber628

    I’ve often wondered what the difference is between victim-blaming and using common sense to be safe. There ARE things a woman can do to decrease her risk of being raped, but that doesn’t mean that it’s her fault if she gets raped.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that yes, as women we have to be aware of our surroundings, and take those precautions, but remember that this is not the way it should be. The “rape safety tips” are necessary, but also a sign that something is terribly wrong with our culture.

    • Nathalie

      Thank you! i agree with this so much. No, we shouldn’t have to take so many precautions, but that’s the way it is. I’d rather be safe than sorry, and there are certain things you can do, even just to make yourself feel better.

    • http://thaliasmusingsnovels.com/ Amethyst

      A lot of the “common sense precautions” that may or may not decrease a woman’s chances of being raped are also common sense safety precautions in other areas. So why does the focus have to be on rape? How about “Don’t walk alone down a dark alley so you don’t get mugged”? “Don’t drink excessively because your liver will thank you someday”?

    • Rosie

      Trouble is, perfectnumber628 and Nathalie, most of what’s portrayed as “common sense” is not only entirely ineffective, it disempowers women. If I were going to offer “common sense” advice, I’d try to go for something that at least empowers women, even if it doesn’t always work. Something like “train in some kind of martial arts”, maybe. But “restrict your clothing options, your social life, and your potential work places/shifts”…it’s no wonder women get tired of hearing this kind of “advice”.

      • Nathalie

        martial arts is excellent and i recommend it for all women and girls. but its not so much restricting as being aware of your surroundings! don’t restrict your social life, but don’t lose control of yourself. you may have to work in an unsafe environment, but know the area and walk with someone you can trust. it doesn’t disempower women to take precautions to be safe. it keeps them safe.

      • Rosie

        I agree that learning martial arts and practicing awareness are generally empowering things, at least. Even if they don’t always work.

        But as for walking with someone you trust, that’s all well and good so long as the people you trust are in the same location and have the same schedule and interests as you. Otherwise, it can be pretty effing limiting. Or maybe I just really trust exceptionally few people.

    • Christine

      One key thing: do a cost-benefit. Remember, even if you always dress very modestly, don’t go out alone/after dark/etc, don’t accept rides from strangers, etc, you are not guaranteed to not get raped. Even if you “dress like a slut”, walk alone through the park at midnight (although as Amethyst says, doing that is stupid, even for my 2m, 100kg husband, so why do we make it a rape thing and ignore other violence?), drink excessively at clubs, get rids with strangers, you aren’t guaranteed to get raped. Now, I’m not saying that the above is fun, but neither of the situations I describe are.

      The problem is that it’s seen as better to stay home every evening than to go out and have fun, because it’s stupid for a woman to go out alone in the dark. (I remember not wanting to move from the apartment doorway with my newborn at night when I was walking outside with her to calm her down, because I was scared, and worried that I was doing something stupid). Waving at someone in the doorway as you walk to your car (even if no one is there) to make it look like you’re being observed is good advice, because even if it doesn’t work (I don’t know if there have been studies on this), it doesn’t cost you anything. Being scared to walk through the park on a Saturday because there’s no one there on weekends costs a lot. Especially when the park is between where you live and the shopping centre.

    • jose

      Hi, I’ve tried to emphasize that different in my comment above.

      Good advice should give you something you can use, thus making you more resourceful, more able to deal with a situation; rather than limiting the range of things you should do, which not only makes you less free, but also gives you absolutely nothing you can use if you get involved in a situation despite all the precautions you took.

  • H

    Yes, so called “common sense” rules can be extremely limiting. It’s like the bear analogy, you just have to be more modest and less public than the next woman… but if everyone is doing a race to the bottom, you end up smothered in clothing, hiding in the closet. Better to work on making the world a safer place for everyone (a) and (b) not having different rules for different people.
    When you have different rules for different people (which is the norm today), you get no-win situations, where a person can’t go for a certain type of job or can’t get a good deal on a purchase because to go to whatever place that is would be too dangerous, so they are judged for not being financially responsible. See “driving while brown/black”, etc. I’m not saying there aren’t different rules right now, but I am saying that by following them, we are reinforcing them to ourselves and others.

  • Nathalie

    @ jemand- well, the reason I don’t send out kids at night is because I don’t know who’s out there and I can’t see anything and neither can they. and it is more dangerous for a woman than a man simply because men are usually bigger and/or physically stronger than women and can overpower women. I simply know that I feel a whole lot better walking from the library across campus to my dorm in the middle of the night with someone else, preferably a group with guys that I trust. that’s the key- not somene you don’t knw well or at all, thats not safe. but someone you trust. and I’m not saying nothing could go wrong in that situation either- it may lessen risk slightly, but that’ enough for me.

    • smrnda

      Walking with someone you trust isn’t always an option. When I hear someone tell me ‘don’t go anywhere at night unless you’re with someone you trust’ I feel like I’m being told ‘don’t get really sick unless you’re close to a hospital’ and ‘don’t live too far from a police or fire station in case of a crime or a fire.’

      Not to criticize the above – by all means do whatever you can do to feel safe or be safer, but when I hear advice I sometimes wonder if people don’t realize that yeah, I totally WOULD do that all the time if it was possible. I would always walk at night with at least several people I knew and trusted but it isn’t always an option.

      • Nathalie

        I didn’t mean it like that- obviously that’s the ideal situation, and often not possible. when its not we have to take other precautionary measures, take headphones out, be alert, wary of surroundings.

  • Cluisanna

    Since I am all for the truth even if it kind of cuts into an argument I agree with, a lot of insurances won’t pay for your losses if you left your car or your house unlocked or accessable in some other way (e.g. open windows). So in a way we do live in a culture that tells people who don’t lock their cars that it’s their fault.

    That said, the argument “Telling women to not dress ‘slutty’ (what ever that is – remember this story?) is the same as telling someone to lock their car or to not leave/carry valuables where people can see them!” is utter BS, mainly because of two reasons:
    1) Dressing slutty doesn’t make it any easier for men to rape women. If your car gets broken into because it wasn’t locked, this happened because it gave someone an opportunity to do something much more easily than normally. However, nobody thinks ‘slutty’ cloths make you easier to rape. The reason people think ‘slutty’ cloths make you more likely to get raped is because they think men can’t help themselves at the look of an attractive woman.
    2) Almost all women have vaginas. When you hide your valuables in a ‘bad neighbourhood’ (there are a lot of problems with this expression, but that’s for another time) it’s because you don’t want to draw attention to yourself and let people know that you have something that makes you a good target for theft. However, most women have what rapists want – a vagina. So unless she pretends to be a man, just by existing she is showing that she is in possession of something desirable for the rapist. And even if the rapists also desires a (to him) attractive body, no amount of clothing can really hide that – which means if a woman wants to truly stay safe, she has to never leave the house.

    • Judy L.

      Yes, absolutely. Your statement that “The reason people think ‘slutty’ cloths make you more likely to get raped is because they think men can’t help themselves at the look of an attractive woman.” reveals the disturbing truth about those people’s attitudes: Men not only can’t help themselves from assaulting women, but they shouldn’t be required to restrain themselves from assaulting women. Women are then made responsible for men’s behaviour and thus responsible for ‘getting themselves raped’.

  • Judy L.

    Wow, how did I miss this post earlier? I was just thinking about rape-avoidance talk the other day. Rape-avoidance and prevention language simply promotes the idea that rape is a natural phenomenon, like lightening. Indeed, if someone who knows about lightening chooses to go out during a lightning storm with a lightning rod attached to her head, she’s putting herself at greater risk of being hit by lightning. But rape isn’t a natural phenomenon; it isn’t a natural consequence of a woman’s behaviour or choices. An example of a natural consequence of a behaviour choice would be suffering frostbite on your ears because you refused to properly protect your ears from the elements. But rape is not a part of ‘the elements’. Rape is something that (primarily) men DO to (primarily) women, and it’s even less predictable than the weather. The mere syntactic construction of “Women get raped” drives me crazy. Not only does the passive construction remove the agency and role of the rapist, but it makes rape sound like a naturally-occuring event or an accident or even something planned. ‘Getting raped’ isn’t like getting a bad cold or getting hit by a car or getting a pedicure. Rape isn’t a virus that mindlessly invades a woman’s body, it’s not an accidental assault, and it’s certainly not something she makes an appointment for.

    Rape prevention language simply perpetuates the idea that women can have any influence on, and thus bear some responsibility for, the behaviour and choices of men who are intent on rape or who don’t know or don’t care about what consensual sex looks like. Violent sexual assaults aren’t difficult to identify and we have an easy time calling those rapes. But there’s also rape that is a sexual and personal violation that wasn’t intended by the man doing it: So many men, especially young men who’ve received little or no sexuality education (or even worse, bad education), may get the media message that ‘No means no’, but they aren’t receiving the more important message that ‘Yes means yes, and you should be getting your partner’s YES rather than waiting for her NO.” Girls and women aren’t given this message either, that it’s essential to communicate, that it’s okay to say yes to sex when you desire it. Purity culture and sex-negative culture in general tells girls and women that if they say ‘yes’ then they’re sluts, but if they ‘just got carried away, one thing led to another’ then they really aren’t responsible or ‘to blame’ because it’s not something they ‘did on purpose’. But this reliance on not wanting to appear to be wanton sluts means that women have to pretend that they’re not planning sex with their partners. This pretense means not discussing and planning for contraception or for what sex acts are on or off-limits, and men are left trying to interpret ‘signals’ about their partner’s willingness or desire and many assume that she’s taken care of the contraception. Couple this with the romanticized notion that men are supposed to be the aggressors, that a man is supposed to sweep a woman off her feet and know instinctively how to touch her, and that women aren’t supposed to ask for sex and must be submissive or coy and play hard-to-get, and we’re left with sexual interactions devoid of honest communication and explicit, ongoing mutual consent.

    • Judy L.

      And just to clarify: Rape isn’t analogous to theft. It’s only analogous to other kinds of assault, but we only ever hear men being told to adjust their clothing so as to avoid being assaulted when it’s an issue of looking too ‘gay’ or too ‘weird’. The message sent is that dressing in a way that makes you ‘stand out’ provokes other people and they can’t help themselves, they are compelled to assault you and you’re to blame for being provocative (like when the 18 year-old Mitt Romney and his buddies assaulted a fellow student whom they decided didn’t look ‘right’: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/05/10/1090370/-Teenage-Mitt-Romney-assaulted-a-classmate-in-high-school-for-being-gay).

  • BF

    I understand what you are saying, however, I don’t think that telling someone to take precautions necessarily means that ‘they are asking for it’. Would you take precautions if it means that you will be in a safer environment? It’s like when you stop your kids from doing something because you believe it might endanger them. No-one deserves to be raped or have their car stolen and it’s sad that people out there do such drastic things, but unfortunately these things happen and if we can’t stop them from happening, then there must be another source (taking precautions).

    Rape is not always necessarily random either. Take this scenario for example, A woman seduces a man and consents him to take her to bed. When they get to the bed, they begin their actions. Half way through the woman decides she does not want it anymore, but she doesn’t tell the man clearly enough for him to understand that she does not want it anymore and the man continues. This is classed as rape and even though the woman initiated it in the first place, the man is to blame for it because he continued even though she did not want it anymore.

    It’s a shame to think that a man can be classed as a rapist because a woman who has initiated sex and has gone so far into it then decides she does not want it anymore. Now in this case, this is where men have to take more precautions to make sure the woman has consented.

    Here in Australia, there are signs in car parks that say ‘lock it or lose it’ and also make sure you don’t leave values in the car. I don’t see a problem with taking these precautions. It does not make your life any harder by taking small precautions to prevent something from happening.

    • Rosie

      “Small precautions” like making sure you don’t change your mind before your partner is ready to be done with the sexy-times? It’s a shame that some men choose not to listen when a woman says, “no, I’ve changed my mind, I don’t want this now”, or “I’ve had enough for this evening”.

    • Twist

      I realise I’m like a month late with this, but

      “This is classed as rape and even though the woman initiated it in the first place, the man is to blame for it because he continued even though she did not want it anymore.”

      Um, yes. That’s because it is rape. If a couple are having sex and one of them changes their mind and says stop, and the other ignores them and continues, it is rape. Even if the person who changed their mind was the one who initiated sex in the first place.

      “It’s a shame to think that a man can be classed as a rapist because a woman who has initiated sex and has gone so far into it then decides she does not want it anymore.”

      No, no it isn’t a shame. In this situation, the man who continues after his partner has decided s/he wants him to stop IS A RAPIST. End of. Nobody is entitled to the use of anybody else’s body, ever. However drunk they are, however they may have been dressed, whether or not they had dinner bought for them, whether or not they went back to your hotel room, whether or not they initiated sex to begin with. Once a person has said stop, or otherwise indicated that they do not want to continue, the act becomes rape and the partner who perpetrates it becomes a rapist.

      If you make consent irrevocable, it is no longer meaningful.

      • B

        Thank you. Well said.

  • e
    • M

      I read it, and that essay is so very wrong. It places the onus on women to ‘avoid being raped’ and applauds the ‘millions of … women who avoid being raped’ as though they have been anything but lucky. It perpetuates the stereotype that men just can’t control themselves sometimes, and that if only all women were martial-arts experts and of equal mass to men (I’m 5’3″ and weigh ~100 lbs; good f***ing luck to me in a physical altercation) there wouldn’t be a problem.

      Also, he severely underestimates the rape rate, seeming to see it as something rare. 1 in 6, or 1 in 4, or 1 in 3: the estimates vary, but even the best-case scenario is pretty horrific. I’d really rather rape stopped being treated as a women’s problem. It’s a men’s problem, except women are the victims of it.

  • Alex

    I’d phrase it this way: “It is demonstrably true that doing X will reduce/increase the chances of Y”, where X is a preventative measure that can be taken, and Y is a bad thing that can happen to you.

    E.g. It is demonstrably true that locking your car will reduce the chances of having your car stolen.
    Or: It is demonstrably true that going to a sketchy party will INCREASE the chances of you being raped.

    You should lock your car, and you should avoid sketchy situations, but obviously the perpetrator shouldn’t get off the hook just because you made their crime slightly easier; that’s ridiculous. But it’s ALSO ridiculous to not give women “rape prevention” advice for the same reason that it’s ridiculous to not give people “theft prevention” advice.

    • Rosie

      Except in the case of pretty much ALL “don’t get raped” advice, it is NOT demonstrably true that following those rules/guidelines will, in fact, decrease your chances of being raped. The only thing that is demonstrably true is that following the advice will severely curtail your freedom, and you’re less likely to believed that it was “really” rape when it happens anyway. And that not following the advice will lead to you being blamed when it happens. It’s a no-win situation for women.

      “Don’t go to sketchy parties” is all fine and good, except how does one know if it’s a sketchy party until one is there and most likely has at least seen some bad things happening? At that point, it’s rather too late to be thinking about prevention.

    • ButchKitties

      What if someone told you it was demonstrably true that “Don’t get raped” advice encourages victim-blaming to the point that it does a better job of helping rapists get away with their crimes than it does preventing rape?

      • Alex

        That would depend on the kind of advice they were talking about. It is not useful to pretend that “it’s a good idea to pay attention to your surroundings, and especially to the words and actions of the men around you, in order to identify the ones who don’t respect women and their boundaries and prevent them from getting the opportunity to attack you” or even “it’s a bad idea to drink to the point where you lose situational awareness and motor control, because it leaves you vulnerable if someone wants to rob you or rape you, and also can lead to making bad decisions that will get you into trouble” are in the same class of advice as “don’t dress like a slut.” If someone told me that the latter piece of “advice” encouraged victim-blaming to the point of benefitting rapists more than women, I’d agree that all evidence of which I’m aware supports that assertion. If they told me that either of the former two suggestions had the same effect, I’d say that that seems very improbable, and I’d need to see some very strong evidence to support that assertion before I’d take it seriously. If someone told me that absolutely nothing a woman can do or not do has any effect whatsoever on the probability that some man will sexually assault her, I would conclude that they were not merely wrong, but so far out of touch with reality that it wouldn’t be worth having a discussion with them.

        There has to be some space between victim-blaming and disempowering women — denying their agency — by telling them that they cannot do anything at all to reduce their risk of being sexually assaulted. Rapists alone cause rape, but we cannot, must not depend on rapists alone to prevent rape, because rapists don’t want to prevent rape. Most rapists don’t rape women (or men, for that matter — it’s rarer, but it happens) by mistake (contrary to the view of certain nitwits at the so-called “Good Men Project”); they commit rape because they want to commit rape, and education alone is highly unlikely to change that.

        By all means, let’s teach boys to respect consent, and that it’s never okay to take advantage of a woman who is unable to refuse or resist their advance, or otherwise to have sex with a woman who has not made it explicitly clear that she wants to have sex with them. When some of them ignore those lessons and commit rape anyway, let’s prosecute them to the full extent of the law, and not stop to ask what their victims might have done to “deserve” the assaults committed against them. Let’s all of us — men and women alike, but especially men, because we’re more likely to see it and have opportunities to do something about it — be alert to the cues some men give that they don’t respect consent, that they regard a woman who isn’t ready and able to fight them off as “fair game,” and deprive them of the social license to operate, both by calling them out for their creepy words and behavior, and by warning the women in our social circles to beware of them. There are some men (perhaps as many as three to four percent of men, based on the research of Lisak & Miller and McWhorter*) who we almost certainly can’t teach not to want to rape, but we may still prevent from acting on that desire by deterring them with the threat of prosecution and depriving them of unwary potential victims.

        However, in a world in which some men are inclined to rape, and disinclined to pay any attention to exhortations not to rape (i.e. the world we live in right now and for the foreseeable future), it is worth looking at what potential victims of rape can do to reduce the risk that one of those men will rape them. We have no persuasive evidence that how a woman dresses has anything to do with this, so advice on how to dress is at best useless, and usually counterproductive for the reason you cite: it encourages victim-blaming and excuses rapists. We do, however, have very persuasive evidence, from the very same studies described in the Yes Means Yes post “Meet the Predators,” to which I linked above, that not drinking to the point of incapacitation will reduce that risk: most of the admitted rapists Lisak, Miller and McWhorter interviewed usually, if not always, raped women who were under the influence of drugs or alcohol, because that made it easier both to commit the crime and to get away with it. We also have persuasive evidence, again from those same studies, that it’s not impossible to identify men who have a higher probability than most of committing rape, based on the way they talk about and act toward women, and based on that identification to avoid being alone with those men.

        We have persuasive evidence that most rapists know what they’re doing, and take steps to reduce their risk of getting caught. That means that taking precautions such as making certain, before a date with someone you don’t yet know very well, that one of your friends knows where you’re going, you you’re with, and to expect a call from you later on to tell them how the date went, and furthermore that your date knows that your friend knows that and is expecting to hear from you, may deter your date from attempting to rape you, even if he’s the kind of man who would do that if he thought he could get away with it. This has nothing to do with blaming the victim; it’s about how to minimize the probability of becoming a victim while living in an environment that includes a non-zero number of predators who think of you as potential prey.

        *It’s probably not coincidental, by the way, that that’s approximately the combined incidence of borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, and anti-social personality disorder in the male population.

  • Gavin Greenwalt

    “Let’s imagine a culture in which people who leave their cars unlocked and then have them stolen are told it’s their own fault.”

    Actually my insurance policy says that if there is no sign of forced entry it was my fault and they won’t pay out.

    • Anat

      But if the thief is caught they don’t go free because of that.

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