One of the most frustrating things about discussing rape prevention is that there is often a lot of equivocation going on. We’re told that rape isn’t really related to normal sexual behaviour: studies of convicted rapists show that these men are predators. They’re not ordinary guys who made a mistake, but rather a category of men who get off on holding women in their power.
I believe this is probably true of convicted rapists – because the sad truth is that the vast majority of everyday rapes never get reported, and those that do almost never result in convictions. The rapists that end up being studied in prison are a minority. They’re the ones who make male police offifers’ skin crawl, and that cause male judges to fear for their wives and daughters: that is, they are the type of offender who deliberately goes out of their way to commit rape.
Most rapes, however, do not fall into this category. The vast majority of unreported sexual assault involves alcohol or drugs (often both parties have been consuming). It involves consensual activity that then leads to non-consensual activity. It involves guys who have no premeditated intention to rape, and no particular desire to dominate women sexually. These guys do not fit the profile of a rapist that you get if you look at men who have been convicted. Most of them are not on the prowl for victims and they don’t even think of themselves as having committed sexual violence. In their minds, there was just a miscommunication, they thought there was consent, they lost control.
Yet because the myth of the monster predominates in discussions of rape, there are certain suggestions that seem to be almost out-of-bounds. If you propose that actually a lot of rapes are preventable, and that people can prevent them by making changes to their behaviour, folks usually get defensive. Yes, some of these measures may be intrusive. Yes, they may involve lifestyle changes. You might not be able to do some things that you want to do, and you might have to take precautions before doing others. But, really, given the seriousness of the consequences, these are reasonable measures to take.
Here are a few proposals to reduce the risk:
If You Plan to Drink, Don’t Go Alone
Most of us know when we are going out to let loose, and we know that we make bad choices while intoxicated that we might not make sober. So if you’re heading out to a party or a bar, take someone with you. A trusted friend. Someone who plans to keep his head and who will be able to say to you, “Dude, that girl is way too drunk to be able to meaningfully consent,” or “She’s really not interested, I think you need to leave her alone now.”
Cat-calling, making lewd comments about girls’ bodies, rating women on a scale of one-to-ten and bragging about your sexual “conquests” are all forms of immodest speech. Groping and grinding against women on the dance floor, also immodest. These types of behaviours give the impression that the sexual objectification of women is normal, that it’s how guys behave. Even if you personally would never rape someone, you’re helping contribute to a culture where guys feel entitled to women’s bodies and think it’s okay to say and do things that make women feel threatened and uncomfortable.
Alcohol impedes consent. If your plan is to go out, buy a girl a bunch of drinks, and then hopefuly “get lucky,” your plan is to play rape-roullette. You spin the wheel, hop in bed, and don’t find out until morning whether it was rape or not. This is really not a fun game for either party, and if you are playing it you are basically willing to commit rape…you’re just hoping you’ll get away with it.
Never Invite a Stranger Back to Your Room
If you’ve just met someone, the chances that you’ve formed a really deep connection with them and that you know how to read their signals correctly is pretty low. They may be in a really vulnerable position for reasons you don’t know about. They might feel pressured. They may be a victim of long-time abuse who thinks their role in life is to fulfill male expectations. They may be higher or drunker than you think. Or, conversely, you may be higher or drunker than you’re admitting to yourself. Consent is infinitely easier to navigate in the context of a real, human relationship, so to be safe you should hold off until you actually know someone before you start trying to have sex with her.
A lot of unwanted sex happens because of crossed wires: one party wants to make out, the other party wants to get it on. When women are seen as solely reponsible for setting limits and saying “no,” this creates a situation where consent is conceived of in a minimal way. If you can get her to say “yes,” or even just “okay,” or “I guess,” or…nothing, but at least not “get your hands off me or I’m calling the police!” then it’s all good. But the purpose of consent is to make sure that when two people have sex, they both actually want it. If you’re willing to pressure or pester a woman who seems reluctant, you’re basically trying to coerce sex out of her after she has told you she is unwilling. You may be loathe to ask permission directly because you know that seduction strategies are more likely to be successful, but the reason for that is that asking permission tells a woman that it is safe and okay to actually think about what she wants. A non-rapist is a guy who cares about his sexual partner wants.
I realize that some of these suggestions would demand major lifestyle changes for a lot of men. But if you think about it, what’s worse: placing reasonable restrictions on your own behaviour to make sure that you treat your sexual partners like human beings, or spending the rest of your life wondering whether that girl you screwed back in college still has PTSD?