Mike the Mad Biologist

Hemlines Don’t Rape People, Rapists Do

While one might think that would be pretty obvious, this article suggests otherwise. Whenever when there are discussions online about rape, particularly ‘date rape’, there is usually someone who implicitly or explicitly blames the victim.

What has always puzzled me is the emphasis on the rape victim, instead of the rapist. No rapist that I’ve ever heard of ever slipped on a banana peel and ‘accidentally’ raped someone: the decision to rape is a conscious, deliberate act by the rapist.

Here’s the thing: I’ve lived long enough to accumulate some gray hair, and I’ve successfully managed not to rape anyone. I don’t really remember putting much effort into not raping anyone either. I didn’t have to write Post-It notes that said, “DON’T FORGET NOT TO RAPE ANYONE.” There isn’t a lot of advanced coursework or assigned reading either.

I’ve been around drunk people, nekkid people, and drunk, nekkid people, and, somehow, I managed not to rape anyone. I’ve been around people physically smaller than me, and I managed not to rape them either. You also don’t have to be much of a radical feminist (or even one at all). You just have to not rape people.

As Shakes put it (italics and bold original):

Left to my own devices, I never would have been raped. The rapist was really the key component to the whole thing. I was sober; hardly scantily clad (another phrase appearing once in the article), I was wearing sweatpants and an oversized t-shirt; I was at home; my sexual history was, literally, nonexistent–I was a virgin; I struggled; I said no. There have been times since when I have been walking home, alone, after a few drinks, wearing something that might have shown a bit of leg or cleavage, and I wasn’t raped. The difference was not in what I was doing. The difference was the presence of a rapist.

Enough blaming the victim. Enough.

Until we stop asking women, “Why did you get raped”, and start asking men, “Why did you rape someone”, we still have a very long way to go.

Comments

  1. #1 The Ridger
    January 3, 2007

    Ah, but if you blame the victim you are able to say “It will never happen to me/my mother/my sister/my wife/my girlfriend because she doesn’t act like that.”

    How comforting that statement must be. How relieved you must feel, and how safe. How little you are inclined to listen to those who will tell you otherwise.

  2. #2 writerdddd
    January 3, 2007

    Bravo. Thanks for posting this.

  3. #3 Tyler DiPietro
    January 4, 2007

    I think a lot of what is be considered “blaming the victim” in the feminist world is really just pointing out the obvious: that the behavior that leads up to it is sometimes flat out stupid and irresponsible. In an abstract moral sense, a woman certainly should be able to do whatever she wants, including getting drunk in the early morning hours and walking around inebriated in the streets of Boston and New York. And also in an abstract moral sense, I should be able to walk around those same places in the middle of the night with a $500 watch and $50 bills hanging out of every pocket. The thing is, if I do that, I’m a fucking idiot. And no one would hesitate to tell me.

  4. #4 Shakespeare's Sister
    January 4, 2007

    It’s always so charming to see the wanton and unwanted abuse of my body compared to property theft.

    Honestly, I can’t even begin to tell you how much you don’t get it if you can construe a woman walking alone and inebriated with a man walking alone with valuables hanging out of his pocket. If you want an honest comparison, here’s one: And also in an abstract moral sense, I should be able to walk around those same places in the middle of the night and not expect to have someone incapacitate me and cut my dick off.

    The reason that doesn’t leap to your mind is because men’s bodies aren’t considered community property for the taking as soon as they get drunk, like women’s bodies. Or visible $50 bills.

  5. #5 Roy
    January 4, 2007

    I think The Ridger is right, but that only works for women and teenage girls.

    Nobody raises the question of ‘dressing provocatively’, or ‘inviting trouble’, or ‘asking for it’, when the rape victim is a child. Or a man.

    I think that for most people the driver behind blaming the victim is trying for the illusion of safety, although I’m sure there are men who would like to think themselves blameless when they commit rape.

    I do find it peculiar how inconsistent our society is in assigning partial blame to victims. When a rich guy cruises in a bad neighborhood and gets carjacked, robbed, and beaten, they’ll say he should have known better, but if he also gets raped, they’ll have nothing helpful to say. Nobody blames the bank when it gets robbed, yet people will blame the victims of purse snatching.

  6. #6 Tyler DiPietro
    January 4, 2007

    Shakespears Sister,

    Yes, I’ve heard it before. I don’t get it. I have unexamined white male privilege. I’m a misogynist. Yadda yadda yadda. Spare me.

    Reality isn’t isomorphic to abstractions of morality. In real life there are perverts, psychos, rapists and all form of vermin everywhere. If you think you can convince a rapist with feminist moralizing then you’re welcome to try. Otherwise a good dose of street smarts can go a long way.

  7. #7 Julie Stahlhut
    January 4, 2007

    I think a lot of what is be considered “blaming the victim” in the feminist world is really just pointing out the obvious: that the behavior that leads up to it is sometimes flat out stupid and irresponsible.

    There are a lot of actions that are irresponsible. But there are other actions that are criminal.

    Flashing wads of money around is irresponsible. Armed robbery is criminal.

    Someone who drunkenly insults strangers in a bar is irresponsible. Breaking that person’s jaw is criminal.

    A disobedient child is being irresponsible. Battering your child is criminal.

    There really isn’t anything “abstract” about beating, raping, or robbing people. Crime is crime.

  8. #8 Tyler DiPietro
    January 4, 2007

    Nobody raises the question of ‘dressing provocatively’, or ‘inviting trouble’, or ‘asking for it’, when the rape victim is a child. Or a man.

    The question is not one of blaming the victim, and it doesn’t apply in all circumstances. There are stupid things you should not do, that’s all I said. But I predictably had the feminist Orwellian thought police come down on me for it.

    I never said that rape is anything but entirely the moral liability of the rapist, but common sense tells us that there are avoidable situations that one can, well, avoid. I don’t think there is anything misogynistic about that.

  9. #9 Tyler DiPietro
    January 4, 2007

    Julie,

    No shit, I never said anything different from what you did. Try to read what I wrote.

  10. #10 Shakespeare's Sister
    January 4, 2007

    If you think you can convince a rapist with feminist moralizing then you’re welcome to try.

    Gee, I didn’t think that asserting my cunt is not equivalent to a dangled watch was “feminist moralizing,” and I didn’t think I was trying to convince a rapist–I thought I was trying to convince you, whom I didn’t assume to be a rapist. Are you saying that was a foolish assumption?

  11. #11 Ross
    January 4, 2007

    I think the biggest part of the problem is that we have a hard time distinguishing between “responsible” and “(I can not think of a non-loaded word to go here. ‘Contributing’ is closest, but it carries senses I don’t want)” — and the more anathema the action is, the harder the distinction becomes.

    If an arsonist burns down a building, the arsonist is *to blame*, but an arson investigator will list the fact that the building is made out of wood as a “contributing factor”, and no one will claim that the builder shares the blame for the fire because he chose not to build out of steel. And, of course, there are cases where we might want to hold the builder partially responsible, if he made negligent building decisions which made the fire worse: the worse the event, the more blame we want to parcel out.

    I’ve read that studies do show that “blaming the victim” is directly linked to how frightening the blamer finds the scenario. The “blame” is not really the point: the point is that they want, desperately, for there to be something the victim could have done to stop it — blame goes along with that, even though it shouldn’t.

    There is one thing about this that trouble me a little (Beyond the substantial troubling that the whole context does). The first is that we really do engage in this kind of behavior over many other sorts of crime and tragedy: I was hit by the bus because I didn’t look both ways before crossing the street; The dumb white guy was murdered because he went walking alone at night in a bad neighborhood; The man was killed by the burglar because he didn’t have a gun to defend himself; the towers fell on 9/11 because we weren’t more dilligent about homeland security. But this particular case seems to bother us differently than the others. With the possible exception of being hit by the bus, people might claim that the examples I just gave are wrong, but, by and large, people would not see it as exhonorating the criminal.

    The reason this troubles me is that I see a potential for backlash: in our zeal to not-blame-the-victim (and I agree that we should not), we risk making it taboo to suggest that the victim could have done *anything* differently to reduce the likelihood of the rape. I’m sure there are many cases where that is true, but, frankly, that sounds almost as misogynististic as blaming the victim, implying that rape is some sort of force of nature that women are totally powerless to stop. And if we are afraid to acknowledge that there are higher- and lower- risk behaviors, and identifying which are which, it seems like that would lead to more rapes — and that’s not exactly a price I think many would be willing to pay.

    Mike, you said that we should, “Stop asking women, ‘Why did you get raped’, and start asking men, ‘Why did you rape someone’.” That seems a little off-base to me. The answer to the second question is pretty simple: because they’re bad people (I’m not one for simple answers, but in this case, it’s good enough for me. Frankly, I don’t care about “why” in this case). That question gets us nowhere. The question we *should* be asking is “How can we stop this from happening?” — the *problem* is that when you ask that, a lot of people just hear “Why did you get raped?”

  12. #12 Fox Laughing
    January 4, 2007

    Everyone has done “something stupid” that a criminal could take advantage of — left the car or house unlocked, run out of gas, taken a wrong turn, wrote down the wrong address for a destination, or gone jogging alone, just to name some possibilities. Yet when something bad happens as a result of one of those “stupid actions” there is no automatic blame assigned to the victim. Unless the victim was a teenage girl or premenopausal woman, and the crime was rape.

    If a house is burgled, there is no discussion about how it was really the homeowners fault, because they did not have an expensive burgler alarm, or a dog, or no places where someone could hide while gaining entry. It is certainly never suggested that the homeowner always stay at home.

    Women get told that if they are raped, its all their fault, because they did “something stupid”. Dress provocatively, dress comfortably, dress conservatively, go out of the house, stay home, get drunk, get sick, get the mail, walk alone, answer the door, go to work, go home from work, go to a friends place, smile, say “Hi”; its all “something stupid”.

    And that means that rapists are off the hook — if it’s ALL her fault, then its NONE of his.

  13. #13 stogoe
    January 4, 2007

    Well, Ross, I sure want to know ‘why’ rapists rape. Figuring out why people decide to rape (and it is a decision, not just upbringing and genetics) can help us learn how to defuse more and more factors that contribute to the decision to rape someone.

    That seems a lot more constructive to me than saying, “Welp, boys will be boys. Now, why did you wear a short miniskirt and walk through that alley drunk, ya whore?”

  14. #14 Shakespeare's Sister
    January 4, 2007

    if we are afraid to acknowledge that there are higher- and lower- risk behaviors, and identifying which are which, it seems like that would lead to more rapes — and that’s not exactly a price I think many would be willing to pay.

    Good point. And considering that lots and lots of men and women go home alone after a few drinks every single night all across America, and the vast majority of them are not the victims of any type of crime, it seems to me that it should be properly considered a low-risk behavior. That, however, is ever a most scandalous thing to suggest, undermining as it does the ability to accuse women of engaging in high-risk behavior when they have the unmitigated temerity of doing something people do all the time without getting victimized.

    Mike, you said that we should, “Stop asking women, ‘Why did you get raped’, and start asking men, ‘Why did you rape someone’.” That seems a little off-base to me. The answer to the second question is pretty simple: because they’re bad people (I’m not one for simple answers, but in this case, it’s good enough for me.

    Ah. Good enough for you to just chalk it up to boys will be boys–err, rapists will be rapists. Well, that’s unfortunate, considering that it’s precisely that kind of apathy toward rigorously investigating and addressing the sources of rape that perpetuates the problem.

    Why is it, do you think, that a man is less likely to rape if he is sober, and increasingly less likely to rape as he ages? Is it because only bad people drink? Only the bad die young? Anyone who’s serious about being part of the solution to the epidemic of rape would do well to forego giving women advice on how to avoid it and endeavor instead to turn their attention on how to prevent the creation of rapists in the first place.

  15. #15 Ross
    January 4, 2007

    I should have known better. I did try as hard as I could to avoid sounding like I was saying something other than what I wanted to say.

    Fox, I disagree that this is unique to rape. I from time to time neglect to lock my back door. If my house were burgled, you bet your ass someone would say “It’s your own fault for not locking the back door.” When a rich white kid turns up dead in a bad neighborhood, you bet your ass people say “He had no business being there in the first place.”

    I think I have a fundamentally different opinion over the nature of the “why” question — to me, asking “why” sounds like an attempt to shift the blame. If there’s a “why”, it’s not the rapist’s fault: stogoe, you point out that it’s not a matter of genetics and upbringing. I agree wholeheartedly, and that’s a big part of the reason that the “why” question doesn’t interest me: I don’t want to say “This person became a rapist *because* of factors X, Y, and Z,” precisely because, to me, that is shifting the blame away from the rapist and onto X, Y, and Z (eg., “He couldn’t help it; he’s genetically predisposed toward doing it”). That may not be so distasteful as shifting it onto the victim, but it still, at least in my reading of it (and, stogoe, I note that you phrased the question differently from Mike: Mike asked “Why did you do this?”, while you asked “Why did you *decide* to do this?” — and there is a world of difference, to me, between these questions, though not a big enough world), points away from a decision. I see now that my choice to answer the question with “Because they are bad people” was a mistake — it led not one but two of you to take me to mean “boys will be boys”, ie., that the rapist is just acting out his nature qua being-a-rapist, which is totally the opposite of what I wanted to convey. In this context, I take asking “why” to be a search for something *other than the rapist* to blame — looking for an outside thing that caused it. Let me retract and rephrase my original answer, then: The reason the man raped someone is that he *decided* to rape someone. He made the decision, and the reason he made that decision is important only insofar as it helps us prevent the decision being made. I don’t care if he had a bad childhood, I don’t care if he’s drunk, I don’t care if he saw some suggestive advertising. He had a choice. He *made* a choice. The important question is “How” — “How do we stop him making that decision,” The ‘why’ may inform the answer to that question, but it is not, in and of itself, a useful question.

    I don’t think blame is all-or-nothing in the eyes of (almost all) of the people who make the “blame-the-victim” argument, and I don’t even think that most of the people who make it actually want to *blame* the victim — what they want is to have something they can *do*, to end up with a little pamphlet titled “Here is what to do to avoid being raped”. It’s a forlorn hope, but it’s not about placing blame on women. And it seems pretty disempowering to say that what you can do is “exactly nothing”.

    Personally, I’m all in favor of short skirts, taking control of one’s own sexuality, and all that. But I’m also in favor of taking responsibility for one’s actions. There are places where I should not wear flashy jewelery, there are places I should not park an expensive car, there are places I should not wear red, there are places I should not go *at all*. There are ways people should not dress in certain places, this is true for men as well as women — the difference is that the stakes differ according to gender, dress, and place. Ought it to be this way? Probably not. Is it this way? Yes. Ignoring that results in more of something there ought to be less of.

  16. #16 Shakespeare's Sister
    January 4, 2007

    I don’t want to say “This person became a rapist *because* of factors X, Y, and Z,” precisely because, to me, that is shifting the blame away from the rapist and onto X, Y, and Z

    It’s not shifting the blame for a criminal act to identify the factors that contributed to creating the criminal. It’s an attempt to find out how to prevent more crime by addressing those factors.

    By your rationale, avoiding even the mere appearance of mitigating the blame of rapists is more important than creating fewer rapists. As a rape victim, consider me unimpressed. I’d rather have not been raped than be granted your agreement that my rapist was singularly to blame.

  17. #17 sari
    January 4, 2007

    Let’s take the idea of the short skirt.

    Say I decide to go out to see a show, like I did last night, and I decide to get dressed up and I wear a short skirt and cool boots and makeup. My dress and makeup is completely appropriate for the event and situation. Or maybe I decide to go to a book reading and a cute guy I like is going to be there so I get all dolled up: short skirt, etc. At what point in the evening am I being irresponsible or possibly contributing to the possibility of my rape?

    When I got dressed in a short skirt to go out and have a fun night?
    When I decided not to leave before 11pm, even though dangerous men are more likely to lurk after 11 (or 12? or 1am? or – when is the cut-off anyway?).
    When I decided to park my car in the only available spot, which is a 15 minute walk from the venue (I live in Boston, after all!).
    When I decided to have a martini, which will definitely affect my responses and reflexes, although not to the point of incapcitation or DUI?
    When I decided to stay even when my one male friend went home early because he has an early meeting – leaving me without a male escort to walk me to my car?
    When I get lost on the drive home and have to get out of my car in a strange neighborhood to ask directions at a gas station?

    Or was it when I bought the skirt and lipstick, etc. in the first place?

    The point being: When does my “appropriate” outfit become “irresponsible” or a “contributing factor?”

    You all keep mentioning “certain” situations or factors – but when do these come into play over the course of an evening or a life? Certainly there are places where I behave more cautiously, but plenty of women get raped in what are normal places to be in their lives: their homes, their walk home from work, the walk from a downtown club to a parking lot. You seem to think that women are only raped in urine-drenched, unlit, back streets in skanky neighborhoods.

  18. #18 Mark C
    January 4, 2007

    The difference between blaming the victim of rape and blaming the victim of a property crime or any of the other scenarios mentioned here is that “she was asking for it” is seen as a legitimate defense in many quarters. At the least it is often a mitigating factor in sentencing. Leaving my car keys in the ignition is not a defense for a car thief and won’t get him acquitted or a reduced sentence. It’s this double standard that rankles more than anything.

  19. #19 Rabbit
    January 5, 2007

    Well said sari, I have often wondered the same thing myself.

    It’s all well and good (well, actually not really at all) to talk about the “appropriate” precautions but what the hell are these precautions and who gets to define what’s appropriate?

  20. #20 Virignia
    January 5, 2007

    “who gets to define what’s appropriate?”

    Precisely, Rabbit. The question here is that it is always somebody else who gets to decide what is “appropriate,” “reasonable,” and “responsible” behavior for me, and it is almost always after the fact. What’s interesting is that the person always thinks his definition of what is reasonable is commonsense. I laugh, because oftentimes another equally cocky person will have a very different set of expectations for me. One person tells me it is “a reasonable, appropriate precaution” to lock my doors and windows at night. Another will tell me I should get an alarm system. Another will tell me not to live alone. And each person believes they have the true understanding of what is reasonable. It isn’t so clear, folks. Is it reasonable for me to spend $250 on a security system? What about $550? Are chastity belts reasonable? Is it reasonable for me to stay late at work – to get ahead to keep up with those men, ya know ;) – as long as I leave before 9 pm? Or should it be 5 pm? Who decides? Why not ME, a well-informed independent woman?

  21. #21 Ross
    January 5, 2007

    Sari: you say, “The point being: When does my “appropriate” outfit become “irresponsible” or a “contributing factor?””

    Part of the problem is that you link “contributing factor” with “irresponsible”. Some people may say that they’re one in the same, but not me. A thing can be a contributing factor without its presence indicating irresponsibility or even mistakenness of the person responsible for it. Just like in the arson example I gave before, building my house out of wood wasn’t irresponsible, but it *absolutely* was a contributing factor to its being burned down.

    It ought to be possible to say “there are precautions you can take to reduce the likelihood” without the implication that “you are at fault for not taking these precautions.”

    Mark: Yes, of course it’s a tremendous abomination that rapists can walk free because there are people on the bench who think a short skirt equals consent — but I’m not sure exactly how we get around it. I mean, obviously, the onus is and should be on the state to prove the criminal is guilty, not on the accused rapist to prove that the alleged victim consented, that’s part of the fundamental basis of our legal system. And of course, if there is a good reason to doubt that the crime took place, it follows that the man should go free. Again, basis of our legal system. There is a problem with what doubts are being considered “reasonable”, but how do we fix this without creating a system where accused rapists are assumed guilty until proven innocent? And even if you happen to think that it would be worth it to bend the normal rules of criminal justice, I’m not sure that the knowledge that one could at any time be wrongfully convicted of this crime would actually be much of a deterrent.

    And finally, Shakespeare’s Sister: It’s not that I disagree with your logic. I legitimately do not believe that “why” is going to have an answer which helps us with “how”. Unless it turns out that there is a “rapist gene” which we can disable via Science, the “why” is almost certain to turn out to be something so complex and irrational that we can’t control for it. I mean, I can’t imagine a satisfying answer to the “why” question that would be actionable, can you? You asked earlier, “Why is it, do you think, that a man is less likely to rape if he is sober, and increasingly less likely to rape as he ages?” I ask: Why does it matter? It is enough for us to know *that* a man is less likely to rape when he is sober and *that* he is increasingly less likely as he ages. What “why” answers could there be to those questions that would lead to a “how can we stop it?” solution? It feels to me like you’re looking for a magic bullet — it’d be nice if one existed, and lots of times there are such thingsm and it makes sense to ask the “why” question. But in this case, I don’t think you’re going to find that it ultimately comes down to not a bum gene or being spanked as a child or not getting enough fiber.

    Asking the “why” question, at least to me, feels like you are looking for one specific “root cause” action item. Something you can grab and do something about and fix the problem. If it turns out that the whole thing comes down to some sort of hormonal imbalance or transient brain event or something like that, then this is the answer. I don’t think it is, because, fundamentally, this is a *decision that a man makes*. The answer to the “why” question is not going to be something actionable. It’s going to be a confluence of everything in society, in the man’s past, in the man’s DNA, everything. To stop it by stopping the root causes, you’ll have to dismantle socieity and start over — and that’s not a very pragmatic course of action.

    So for me, the real question has to be “how can we stop it?” And if “why” answers that, great, but I really don’t think it does.

  22. #22 hoary puccoon
    January 5, 2007

    Mark C says, “leaving my keys in the ignition is not a defense for a car thief.” True– But Budget Rental charged us almost $900 after our rental car was stolen because we couldn’t produce the keys. My husband had “stupidly” turned them over to the thief WHEN THE GUY HELD A COLT 45 TO HIS TEMPLE. (This was at 4:30 pm on a fairly busy road.) Sometimes, in the case of property crimes, the victim does get blamed.
    I would like to think that one way in which rape is different is that we can all relate to wanting a car or other property, but most men simply don’t want to commit rape. I suspect that the idea of sex with a frightened, disgusted partner is a complete turnoff to normal men. I think it’s hard for them to imagine a man would actually enjoy it. But most men have had experience with crossed signals in a courtship situation, and a lot of them seem to be afraid that they could get accused of rape if they read a woman’s signals wrong. So they think of themselves in the position of the rapists– without an understanding that a rapist’s wishes are very, very different from their own. That’s why I think it’s important to figure out the X, Y and Z factors that make rapists want to do what they do. Normal men will have an easier time unhooking and saying, “I can’t imagine myself wanting to behave the way this man does, and I can’t believe the length of a woman’s skirt has any effect on a psycho like that. He needs to be locked up for the good of society.”

  23. #23 mekhit
    January 5, 2007

    It ought to be possible to say “there are precautions you can take to reduce the likelihood” without the implication that “you are at fault for not taking these precautions.”

    OK, so since most rapes are committed by someone the person knows, a good “precaution” for women to take would be to not have male friends, to not have boyfriends, to not live in the same house as or be alone with male relatives, etc. See, as soon as you start going down this road, there’s no end. As Rabbit and Virginia have said, how the hell are we supposed to know what precautions to take? Now, mind you, most women know these perfectly well, but what type of a life do you expect to lead when you MUST follow these precautions and more, or you’ll be blamed for someone else raping you?

    1. Don’t wear anything too revealing

    2. Don’t go out alone at night

    3. Don’t go to “certain” neighborhoods (a precaution with some pretty fucking racist undertones in most cases)

    4. Don’t be alone with a man you don’t know that well

    5. Don’t flirt

    6. Don’t get drunk

    7. As you’re at a club drinking your Coca-Cola (since you can’t drink alcohol or being raped will be partly your own fault) make sure to keep an eye on your drink in case somebody slips something in it.

    8. Don’t do any type of drug.

    9. Be careful of what people feed you at parties in case it has some type of drug in it.

    10. Don’t talk too loudly or bring attention to yourself.

    11. Wear good athletic shoes in case you have to run away from an attacker

    12. Don’t stop for directions if you’re lost

    13. If you’re hopelessly lost, be careful of where you stop for directions

    14. Actually, don’t get lost, period, because if you get raped doing anything to get yourself un-lost, it’ll be your fault as there is no truly safe way to become un-lost

    15. Don’t wear your hair in a ponytail because an attacker can grab onto it.

    16. Take a self-defense class, which will be expensive, especially given the fact that you make three-quarters what your male colleagues do.

    17. Carry pepper spray.

    18. Read the directions on your pepper spray carefully, because if you spray somebody without first checking which direction the wind is blowing, it will come back and hit you in the face. And then being raped will be partly your fault because you didn’t stop to check which way the wind was blowing. But if you’re attacked because it took you too long to figure out which way the wind was blowing, everybody will wonder why you didn’t use your pepper spray when you had it on you.

    19. Don’t smile at strangers.

    20. But if said stranger seems like they’d be pissed if you don’t smile back at them, smile.

    21. Don’t talk to strangers.

    22. See number 20.

    23. Don’t talk on your cell phone because it will distract you from your surroundings.

    24. Do talk on your cell phone because then if something happens, perhaps the person on the other end will figure it out and call the police.

    25. Don’t walk through an abandoned garage or parking lot at night.

    26. Don’t take public transportation at night….Oh, wait, I forgot! I’m not supposed to go out at night at all! So let’s just cross out 25 and 26.

    27. Don’t fight back — you’ll only get hurt even worse.

    28. Do fight back — a court will wonder why you didn’t.

    I could keep going for ages, but do our apologists here get it yet? Women have been trying to prevent rape forever, and it hasn’t worked yet. You know why? BECAUSE IT’S NOT OUR BEHAVIOR THAT CAUSES RAPE. IT’S THE FUCKING RAPIST’S. And if certain behavior is supposedly so rape-inciting, then tell me why, in cultures where alcohol is discouraged and women dress modestly and don’t go out at night, rape is even MORE common? Controlling women won’t prevent rape — if anything, it encourages it. And we could argue that keeping women at home all the time puts them at even greater risk of rape, since women are more likely to be raped at home than in public. Men go out and get drunk and don’t expect to be raped — how the hell is it fair to expect us to live our lives in a cage just because some men out there like to rape women? And look at how some men behave at clubs and bars, coming onto women and trying to convince women they don’t know to go home with them — if they were women and got raped, society would totally blame them. Like Shakespeare’s Sister, I’m a rape survivor, and I’m so fucking sick of having to have this debate, mostly with men (though props to the guys here who get it). It’s so exhausting to have to explain to people why ANY type of victim blame, even when it’s the Victim Blame Lite that some here are advocating, will get us nowhere in ending rape. If it worked, we wouldn’t be sitting here having this discussion because rape would be practically nonexistent.

  24. #24 Mark C
    January 5, 2007

    It’s the double standard that’s so sickening. That’s the point I was making in my earlier comment. And, as mekhit points out, you’re really damned if you do and damned if you don’t. For some sickos, a woman is asking for it simply because she has 2 x chromosomes.

  25. #25 nolo
    January 5, 2007

    Sometimes, in the case of property crimes, the victim does get blamed.

    By insurance companies. Think about what that means for your analogy.

  26. #26 Marcella Chester
    January 5, 2007

    Ross wrote: “in our zeal to not-blame-the-victim (and I agree that we should not), we risk making it taboo to suggest that the victim could have done *anything* differently to reduce the likelihood of the rape.”

    Risk making this taboo? I’ll celebrate making this taboo.

    What many people don’t realize is that every victim blaming word they speak or write sends a message to rapists that feeds their rationalizations and it sends a message to people who see the “risky” behavior as a reason to think there is a reasonable doubt that the rape might be consensual sex as the defendant alleges.

    The combination of those two means that the so-called effort to make women safer actually puts them at greater danger of being raped and having their rapists get away with their crimes.

  27. #27 John B
    January 5, 2007

    “19. Don’t smile at strangers.

    20. But if said stranger seems like they’d be pissed if you don’t smile back at them, smile.

    21. Don’t talk to strangers.

    22. See number 20.”

    I know this is supposed to be serious, but that was pretty funny.

    On the serious side, i once had a conversation with my girlfriend about what it’s like to take public transit on a regular basis. I don’t think most guys would believe the picture she painted of the trouble she’s had, just with wierdos and creeps. Nothing getting close to rape, just inappropriate, or uncomfortable wierdness from guys on buses and the subway.

    That was the first time I ever appreciated the completely unearned (and completely untested) sense of safety I blunder around with. I seriously haven’t felt the need to worry about the people around me since i was a child. I just sort of assumed she felt the same way, but I couldn’t have been further off-base.

  28. #28 Kristine
    January 5, 2007

    Tyler DiPietro, are you aware that the vast majority of rapes (and child molestations) occur in a woman’s home, workplace, or place of worship (if any), and involve someone that she knows–often a relative?

    Stranger-rape is actually relatively rare. Your pockets-with-money-hanging-out is a sad cliche.

    With the understanding that I never deserved to be accosted at all, I nevertheless try not to put myself in situations in which I am not in control, but quite frankly, I ride the LRT and bus late at night from school and have rarely had a problem. Problems that I did have (including three years of being stalked) involved people that I knew and in some cases trusted (two situations were in my childhood church).

    I just watched a documentary on the life of actress Louise Brooks, and she was raped at age nine by a middle-aged neighbor who placed candies on his doorstep to get her into his house. When Brooks’ mother found out, she lambasted the girl for “ruining” this man’s life. I was reminded that the famous photographer, Lee Miller, was also raped by a family friend at age nine and given an STD.

    So, were these girls “fucking idiots”? What would you tell them to do differently?

  29. #29 John Phillips
    January 6, 2007

    Part of the problem is that we still live in a largely misogynistic world and one where women are still seen as property by many men. When that is allied with religion, both muslim and xtianity, where the woman is seen as at least a temptress, Eve anyone, if not the outright source of evil, it is not that difficult to see why so many can feel justified in blaming the victim. Generally, it says far more about those blaming the victim than it does about the victim. Additionally, if the argument about clothing was a valid one then one would assume that in societies where women routinely have little choice but to go fully covered, such as muslims ones, rape would be significantly less. In fact it is not, though it is even more under reported than it is in the West. Though this can have much to do with the women often being directly blamed for their rape in some societies and ending up getting punished not the man.

  30. #30 d melski
    January 6, 2007

    Part of the problem is that you link “contributing factor” with “irresponsible”. Some people may say that they’re one in the same, but not me. A thing can be a contributing factor without its presence indicating irresponsibility or even mistakenness of the person responsible for it. Just like in the arson example I gave before, building my house out of wood wasn’t irresponsible, but it *absolutely* was a contributing factor to its being burned down.

    I think the difference is this: that wearing a short skirt could be considered a “contributing factor” should be simply unacceptable — women should not have to wear burqas. Similarly, that I am likely to get mugged if I walk in the wrong neighborhood should be unacceptable — a sign of societal failure. In contrast, the fact that wood burns is acceptable — not something we should change society over.

    But most men have had experience with crossed signals in a courtship situation, and a lot of them seem to be afraid that they could get accused of rape if they read a woman’s signals wrong.

    The worry, “does she or doesn’t she want intimate contact?” is very easy to get past: ask. Many people object to that advice as unromantic, but it’s unromantic only if your timing and phrasing are really bad. Furthermore, we have to get past the idea that romance requires mind reading. (Sexual assault is always unromantic.)

    If you ask people, “How do you know she wants a kiss?” you get all sorts of answers like, “you just do,” “the moment is right,” “the way she looks at you,” etc. Yes, non-verbal communication is powerful, but it is never as clear as verbal communication. Most of us are not given lessons on reading and “writing” body language. (As opposed to graded English essays that help ensure we speak a common language.) When are women taught, “if you want him to kiss you, look at him like this?” When do they get feedback that, “no… that look says you want more?” Or, “are you sure that’s the message you intend to send?” When are men quized on what look mean what, so they can be sure of their interpretation?

    I understand where the anxiety over “mixed signals” comes from, but men are already equipped with the superpower required to solve it.

    So they think of themselves in the position of the rapists– without an understanding that a rapist’s wishes are very, very different from their own.

    People are susceptible to wishful thinking (positive outcome bias). In the case of “courtship,” this means men must be careful of mis-reading (or even imagining) non-verbal communication as being in favor of intimate contact. The effects of wishful thinking can be so powerful that “nice guys” can find themselves in the position of committing sexual assault, and maybe even rape.

    (Wishful thinking might also lead to men wanting to overclassify women as sluts, or to over-identify consensual sex, which might also explain empathy with alleged rapists.)

    I don’t think it is, because, fundamentally, this is a *decision that a man makes*. The answer to the “why” question is not going to be something actionable. It’s going to be a confluence of everything in society, in the man’s past, in the man’s DNA, everything. To stop it by stopping the root causes, you’ll have to dismantle socieity and start over — and that’s not a very pragmatic course of action.

    The “you’d have to dismantle society” argument is usually used to say social change is not worth any effort. I don’t think that’s what Ross is saying, but I’m not sure he has proposed any solutions, either.

    In any case, societies can and do change. In fact, they seem to change in response to “movements” (e.g., sufferage, civil rights). Our society ought to be pushed to change its attitudes and thinking about rape. There is a lot society can do to influence the “decision that a man makes.”

    I used to do volunteer work for Men Stopping Rape. I do not agree with all of their beliefs, but the key tennet that I do believe is the importance of verbal consent. We, as a society, ought to expect verbal consent as a prerequisite to sexual contact.

    Of course, society ought to respect the autonomy of women and their bodies (and then there would be no rape). Here are some of the advatages of preaching verbal consent:

    o It provides a concrete modeling of what “respect” means. (Concrete and simple is important for teenagers and other wishful thinkers.)

    o It helps to fight, “blame the victim.” First, it emphasizes consent. Rather than teaching girls, “don’t wear short skirts,” it teaches boys that short skirts are not reliable indicators. If the expectation of verbal consent is near universal, then it teaches juries and judges that “short skirts” are not a mitigating factor.

    o It also ties into broader themes of responsibility. Consider how society inveighs against drunk driving: there should be similar pressure against making assumptions of consent. (Alcohol and consent touches off another conversation.)

    It has been a while since I have visited this subject, and I am sure I am forgetting important points. But I do believe that there are concrete steps (e.g., education) that we can and should take to change society and reduce sexual assault. (While I myself got fatigued with the fight, the battle can and should be fought.)

  31. #31 d melski
    January 6, 2007

    I am sure I am forgetting important points

    The message “don’t rape” is important, but so obvious that it does not elicit any conversation, and can seem condescending. Talking about verbal consent generates conversation, and offers practical, positive advice about how to help society — and your own relationships. The message, “don’t rape” is repeated (implicitly) for a longer period of time.

  32. #32 hoary puccoon
    January 6, 2007

    I agree with d melski that verbal communication is important. When a woman says back off, a man should back. Period. But I suspect that men who commit rape don’t get this at all. An example that did NOT end in rape– when I was a graduate student living alone in Chicago I accepted a date with a friend of a friend (note: formal introduction, not an unknown.) The guy brought up the dangers of traveling alone at night. I explained that I was always very careful and showed how I sometimes held my house keys, the keys pointed out between my knuckles, ready to defend myself if possible. The guy went ballistic! How could I be so man-hating and agressive? Whoa! If I walk alone at night from my car to my apartment when coming home from a (required) seminar I’m careless and deserve what I get. But if I’m “belligerent” enough to carry an attack weapon LIKE MY HOUSE KEYS(!) then I’m asking for for trouble and REALLY deserve what I get! Naturally, I cut the date short. Is anyone surprised that my polite but firm good night turned into an Olympic wrestling match? My final words to him were, “leave me alone right now, or I will scream for help at the top of my lungs. I mean it.” He left immediately. Because I was firm– or because it happened to be pleasant weather and a lot of people were out and about? I think the latter. I think if it had been cold or raining with no one around I would have been in a lot of trouble. This is not failed communication in the ordinary sense. This guy was seriously off the beam. As Mark C says, some sickos think a woman is asking for it because she has two X chromosomes. I think it’s important for normal men to encourage a woman to speak up and say no when she means no– but I think it’s also important to realize rapes are committed by wackos who can twist any communication at all into a supposed come-on. (How many of you can honestly see yourselves thinking, “gee, she tried to gouge my eyes out with her house keys. She must like me!)

  33. #33 elspi
    January 6, 2007

    If we were talking about chimpanzees or wolves, we would be saying things like “reproductive strategy” and “genetically linked behavior”. What incredible arrogance to assume that this wouldn’t apply to humans also. Personally my father-in-law is not smarter or more self-aware the chimps who have been taught sign language. If a breeder were trying to eliminate this behavior, he would ensure that the animals exhibiting this behavior didn’t reproduce. Automatic sterilization of convicted rapists would eventually end the behavior. (Yeh, It might take hundreds of years, but it would work).

  34. #34 dmelski
    January 6, 2007

    I agree with d melski that verbal communication is important. When a woman says back off, a man should back. Period. But I suspect that men who commit rape don’t get this at all.

    The point of verbal consent is more than, “no means no.” It is that silence (or “no answer”) also must be presumed to be “no.” It is not simply “stop if you happen to hear no,” it is also that you have an affirmative responsibility to elicit “yes” — uncoerced, from someone capable of consenting.

    Obviously, this will not be sufficient to stop all rapists.
    But, I believe that it could help.

    On a different topic: different societies have different criminality rates. How do we change our society to have a lower rate of the crime of sexual assault? How do we increase the opprobrium of committing rape? One possible strategy is to keep discussing the topic (like this discussion thread has). How do you discuss rape (with men) without it devolving into angry flame throwing? How do you make the discussion relevant to men, so that they do not tune out because, “I’m not a rapist?”

    Mike’s post and many commenters pointed out: it is obvious that rapists commit rape. Pointing this out, again and again, is one way to increase the opprobrium of committing rape, and lessen blaming of the victim. How do you emphasize that message without making (non-raping) men defensive? How do you propagandize it, as it were?

    One approach is to hold workshops, asking questions like, what is consent? How does one consent? How do you know someone has consented? Perhaps these exercises just help to “point out the obvious” — but as Mike’s post states, the obvious doesn’t seem to have sunk in. And most people haven’t really thought about those questions, especially in regards to personal relationships.

    So, beyond the point that “verbal consent is a keen idea, especially in new relationships,” there is also this: sexual assault awareness, and discussion of consent, ought to be part of sex education courses, preferably in high school. There are practical things we could try to lower sexual assault rates that are not the unjust “solutions” like, “tell girls not to wear short skirts.”

  35. #35 d melski
    January 6, 2007

    hoary puccoon –

    As sometimes happen, I forgot the most important point, which is: I’m glad your story ended as well as it did.

    It is certainly the case that some criminals will never be disuaded. I hope that many can be.

  36. #36 Marcella Chester
    January 7, 2007

    But most men have had experience with crossed signals in a courtship situation, and a lot of them seem to be afraid that they could get accused of rape if they read a woman’s signals wrong.

    Good.

    But more than being afraid of being accused of rape, they should be afraid that they will be guilty of rape. If their only or main concern is whether they will face criminal charges, their priorities are the same as a rapists. All that matters is not getting caught.

    The impact their actions have on the person they are “courting” must be central to their thinking with no rationalizations allowed.

  37. #37 Tlazolteotl
    January 7, 2007

    I really don’t think a lot of men get what it’s like to live in a society where rapist’s actions are excused to the extent they are (okay, I’ll call it a “rape culture” as have some feminists), and the victim blamed. It’s quite obvious that a few of the commenters here don’t get it at all. I totally agree with dmelski’s comments and proposed solutions. Yes, men (and no, it wouldn’t hurt for women either) should learn to ask: “Is it okay if I…” and to respect the answer.

    My current partner always asks. Even after 6 years. I find it very romantic, actually – I take it as a sign of his respect for me, and agree with Marcella above.

    The direct from the Dawkins post had given me the impression that Mike was going to say something I was going to be upset with. But you know, I think he’s absolutely right:

    You also don’t have to be much of a radical feminist (or even one at all). You just have to not rape people.

  38. #38 QMickle
    January 9, 2007

    “I think a lot of what is be considered “blaming the victim” in the feminist world is really just pointing out the obvious: that the behavior that leads up to it is sometimes flat out stupid and irresponsible.”

    Except for the little bit where 99% of the time, all of that is simply a segway into explaining why it wasn’t really rape, he shouldn’t go to jail, it was an honest mistake yadda, yadda, yadda.

    Even when that’s not the case, it’s incredibly condescending. As if most women don’t spend an insane amount of time running such scenarios through our heads already.

    It’s also only useful for a very small percentage of actual rapes (as people have already repeatedly pointed out) and so often hurts more than it helps. Not only does such “advice” often focus on the victim at the expense of examining the rapist, but it almost always helps to perpetuate the invisibility of the most common rape scenarios. That last bit alone should make anyone one who actually has women’s well-being in mind stop and reconsider if a comment about what women “should do” is really necessary.

  39. #39 Ana Arguelles
    June 7, 2009

    Thank you Mike for being a decent male human being. I completely agree with Shakes’ comments. Ditto to The Ridger- a lot of the blaming comes from needing to feel safe even I as a victim I blamed myself. It was less frightening than to feel helpless which meant I could be attacked again at any time. Anything I do or don’t do could result in rape again. I made a mistake that anyone could make I assumed a coworker was safe. I agree that due caution is important but there are mistakes that you don’t know are mistakes until it is too late. I felt that blame & rejection like I had done something wrong in being the target of what was a well planned attack.
    We have all done foolish things and living entails risk. Rapist seek someone to rape and you do your best to not be that person but it is going to be someone. I was raped and I don’t go to bars, get drunk or wear sexy clothes. It is presumed that the majority of rapes occur under those conditions when they do not, in fact, I see a lot of women who often put themselves “at risk by their behavior” and are not raped. A lot of people also imagine the date rape situation of a man not stopping when asked. Most of those are never reported and it is true those would actually be helped by clear communication. However, most rapists already know that the answer is no that’s why they use force, weapons or drugs. A lot of victims are children, elderly women and men so the reproductive strategy excuse and the “I had to do her because she was so sexy” excuse have no validity. There are not many rapes that have resulted in the rapist’s DNA being propagated either. Also, these men have access to consentual sex. They prefer to rape. I believe my rapist targeted me because I was a shy, nice person. I think it made it more enjoyable for him (the rape, my suffering after, squashing my psyche) that he could get to me despite my being a very cautious person. All of it was a power trip for him. A lot of rapes are planned well in advance so it is not sex as most people understand it i.e. rapist plan on forcing someone to have sex with him. The forcing is the primary source of enjoyment- the I can make you bitch. As for women falsely reporting rape, I seriously doubt that happens very often. Most of us are raped and never report. I do believe that saying all men are potential rapists is a demeaning statement that shifts the responsibility from the individual to all men and it is counterproductive. It is about consequences. I think if we started sentencing rapists to castration and penis amputation most rapist would stop. Benefits and potential costs. Right now the chances of paying for the crime is very low. Nothing is done. It would take only a few of those to dramatically reduce rape.

  40. #40 Thornhill Invisalign
    August 31, 2009

    Well said sari, I have often wondered the same thing myself.

    It’s all well and good (well, actually not really at all) to talk about the “appropriate” precautions but what the hell are these precautions and who gets to define what’s appropriate?

  41. #41 Razz
    June 24, 2011

    Thank you for one of the best discussions on this topic I have ever read. Yes, /wave, another rape statistic here. Yes, someone I knew. Yes, I had training to help mitigate the danger of assault; I even hold a black belt in tae kwon do. Yes, in my home.

    And yes, in the end, it all came down to a man, in a position of trust, taking something he wanted despite how I felt. Here’s the part that gets really applicable to the discussion;

    His justification? That because I had been sexually abused as a toddler, that because if “another man could touch you that way, then I as your (insert relationship title) have the same right! If you would just let me, you’ll like it with ME.”

    He honestly was frustrated and confused that after establishing himself in a position of trust so intimate that he knew that information, that me denying him the same behavior was not only incredulous, but UNFAIR.

    When I went for help, I was blamed, that somehow him trying to replay childhood trauma with me meant that I was the one broken. That somehow, I should have been able to see that I was setting myself up TO BE ABUSED AGAIN, despite this man being a close companion of everyone I knew – including the very people who railed that I should have known better.

    I knew people spoke out of fear, that despite all my prep work, despite the protection my circumstances afforded me, that in the middle of a herd, a predator could still appear.

    Now, removed from the situation for a stretch, what stays with me, and what I continue to notice, is how often I see people (yes, predominately men, but also women) who seem to have no moral stop to insisting that only their perspectives/needs/situation has merit. Once they close that bit in their teeth, the distance they are willing to do to justify what they want, despite reason/evidence/logic, is astounding.

    Rape can take many forms, only one of them sexual in manifestation. Is it truly so hard to coexist without sacrificing other people for personal happiness/satisfaction/success?

    Isn’t. Really. I’ve seen people live without demanding their reality supersede everyone else’s. I do think we’re moving that direction, as a species. Time machine, anyone?

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