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Yikes

May 10, 2009

I thought Friday’s discussion; about how to balance physical and emotional needs, particularly in relationship to sex, was important and productive. However, the brainstorming about how we can protect ourselves from sexual assault left me profoundly disturbed. The suggestion that rape is an inherent risk of certain behaviors is highly problematic. The idea that not going home with someone that I do not know or trust, or not getting too drunk, or not walking alone at night, or not wearing revealing clothing is an effective deterrent of sexual assault, is just totally false. Women can be raped in the safety of their own homes, by their own husbands. It happens all the time. The idea that there is something that I can and should be doing to prevent sexual assault is a form of victim blaming, and it was really disheartening to find this attitude within the body positivity group. I can respect myself through my growing thigh love and my vocal affirmation of all that is beautiful in me, and I can try to establish trust and communication before physical intimacy, but that offers no guarantee that I will not be harmed. Bad things happen to everyone. And if I decide, one night, that I want to drink five beers and wear a miniskirt, and even follow someone up the stairs into his apartment, I am in no way asking to be treated as less than human; I am not inviting, and should not have to expect criminal behavior. It makes me really sad that we live in a world where a group of empowered women can sit in a room and discuss the ways that we can avoid sexual assault; that we come to expect, and in a way accept, the reality of rape; that we change the standards of our own behavior and limit our own freedom rather than holding perpetrators wholly accountable for their crimes.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. Ashley permalink
    May 10, 2009 6:40 PM

    I know right, it’s fucking bullshit. This kind of victim blaming is so prevalent in people’s minds and it makes me sad. Especially if I find myself having thoughts like that; because you pretty much said it all. We shouldn’t have to live our lives around the fear of being sexually or physically harmed; we should be able to live with the comfort of knowing that we won’t be harmed. Unfortunately that is not the world we live in.

  2. May 10, 2009 7:57 PM

    It makes me really sad too. And angry.
    Not only is it sexist and defeatist and offensive for a billion other reasons, but it’s also pointless and useless. Given the number of rapes that occur when the victim knows and trusts the perpetrator, or is in a place she could conceivably believe is safe (for example, her home, a public toilet in daylight hours) there is no way that women can prevent rape through their actions.
    Why are (straight) men who are bashed outside a nightclub not blamed for being there? Why are men who are mugged not blamed for wearing clothes that make them look like an easy mark?
    I guess all we can do is keep talking about this and writing about it until the victim-blaming isn’t the norm anymore.

  3. brittalinn permalink
    May 10, 2009 11:51 PM

    To be clear: I did not mean for this post to be particularly gendered. People of all genders are both perpetrators and survivors of sexual violence, and I think perhaps even more victim blaming and shaming goes on towards non-female survivors.

  4. cellardoor10 permalink
    May 11, 2009 12:05 AM

    One thing I want to note: I did not attend this discussion, so I don’t know exactly how things went, but I do want to say that there’s a difference between blaming the victim and suggesting ways people can be careful and practical in the world we have to deal with – and that’s definitely a fine line, in my opinion. I don’t blame any person for being raped, assaulted, mugged, etc., but there are ways of putting yourself at less risk. And yeah, it is unfair and ridiculous that it happens, especially to so many, but for now, being smart and having a friend check on you or knowing self-defense techniques or understanding where the more crime-prone areas of town are, are at least some ways to reduce your risk of harm in general, whether sexual, physical, or whatever.

    I wish we could do whatever we wanted and have no risk, and yeah, the stuff I mentioned up there is mainly about stranger or acquaintance rape/assault, but it’s still not a bad idea to do those kinds of things. A world without any form of violence, victimization, and assault does not exist at this time, and thinking about ways to be ready if it does happen is a smart way to plan.

    Note: I worked really hard on this comment to avoid blaming victims while encouraging precautions and recognizing how unfair that is, but it will never satisfy everyone – I am not trying to offend, only trying to state my opinion.

    • Jill permalink
      May 11, 2009 11:05 AM

      But how do you take precautions? Does that mean never drinking? Never wearing a short skirt? Never going to parties? Never being around men? Doing those things is not like leaving your front door unlocked; sexual violence is forced entry.

      What can we reasonably ask ourselves to do?

  5. cellardoor10 permalink
    May 11, 2009 12:10 PM

    I guess I think less of preventative measures like not going to parties, and more measures that deal with it if it happens or provide you with an out, like your friend calling as a check up at an agreed time/having a safe word to use with them if your gut is telling you to get out, knowing some defensive ways to get yourself out of an assault situation if at all possible, etc.

    My view is that we have the world we have and we have to deal with it. 1 in 4 women are victims of sexual assault – we can’t just hope that sexual assault goes away. For now, while I don’t advocate policing your behavior like never going to parties, I do advocate being ready as much as possible if something goes awry, whether intentionally or not. I think there is a difference from forcing yourself to live a different life – it’s just like bringing a knife and first-aid kit when you go camping and reading about dangerous animals in the area, just in case something goes wrong.

  6. reviliver permalink
    May 11, 2009 7:41 PM

    The problem with using this approach to sexual violence prevention is that it does not work.

    Women and men get sexually assaulted all the time by people they know and trust. I believe at Carleton this is particularly true. Almost all of the instances of sexual assault I know that have happened here happened between people who knew each other fairly well and there was some degree of trust between them. Their friends, when seeing them leave a party together, knew both of these people well and had no reason to doubt that sexual contact between these two people would be consensual.

    In most cases of sexual assault, your “gut” does not tell you anything. It is unfair to suggest that if victims had a friend call at an agreed upon time, they would know that they would be sexually assaulted by someone they thought of five minutes ago as a friend. Self defense works if you are being assaulted by a stranger, but in an emotionally manipulative situation, it is unfair to say that survivors should be able to “fight back” either physically or emotionally, or even realize what is happening as it happens. Trying to prevent sexual assault by taking fewer “risks” inherently implies that survivors are to blame for not taking these precautions.

    I have enjoyed the discussions we have had about empowering women and building their self esteem in body positivity. I think that this will inspire society to change (respect others’ autonomy and sexual freedom) rather than trying to pretend that rape is preventable on the small scale. While I do not believe there is anything that a lone woman can do in a situation of sexual assault to prevent it, I do believe that as a society we can insist that everyone’s body is respected. This is the only way to prevent sexual assault. Safe words and self defense will not prevent anyone from being assaulted by people they had no reason not to trust.

    • cellardoor10 permalink
      May 11, 2009 11:38 PM

      That’s true. I was thinking more specifically about assault perpetrated by strangers, or preparing if you plan to go home with someone you don’t know. There are absolutely different issues present when it is someone in which you trust or are manipulated by.

  7. Davi permalink
    May 17, 2009 11:41 PM

    I agree with most of what was said above. I think the lens through which we view sexual assault/rape is what’s most important here. Survivors of sexual assault are not to blame (clearly). I believe that putting the dominant focus on stranger rape is inaccurate and harmful in and of itself. It’s something like 80%+ of REPORTED rapes are nonstranger rapes. That’s the reported ones. I’d venture to guess that in reality this is much higher as survivors are less likely to come forward when rape affects their marriages, friendships, families, whatever. I also think that the 1 in 4 statistic is probably really low.

    Retrospectively, I wish I would’ve had a different approach to thinking about rape. I think, while this does instill fear to some degree, people–and more often than not women–should be taught that rape can and will happen to them or someone close to them. It’s almost a given. I know that sounds horrible, but it’s true. I think the best thing to do is to focus on how pervasive rape culture is and try to dismantle it. We do this through shooting down every rape joke/casual mention of getting roofied in daily conversation (you should count these comments. they happen really often even in seemingly intelligent circles). Most importantly, we do this through open and honest communication about what we want and don’t want sexually. I think it’s naive and almost dangerous to focus on miniskirts and late walks home, etc. While I believe that such markers might function as great supplemental common sense, I don’t think miniskirts are the real issue. It’s rapists+larger society’s fucked up attitudes about rape and “nice guys” and “crazy girls” and “sluts” and “asking for it” or whatever. I’m so sick of the burden of proof falling down on the person that’s already been harmed while all of these “nice guys” walk around virtually unscathed (I’m specifically talking about Carleton but assuming this can easily be extrapolated to most other places). We need to believe survivors because quite frankly, who the fuck would make up rape?

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