Rape: An Ugly Subject

Rape chart
Blackburn Center Against Domestic & Sexual Violence #NeverYourFault.

The other day I re-posted a post I saw on Facebook that featured the above chart on rape. The chart lists a number of typical “causes” of rape. It was posted by Blackburn Center Against Domestic & Sexual Violence  with the hashtag #NeverYourFault. The chart is a reflection of the growing awareness that a victim is not the one at fault.

Let’s look at the chart bullet point by bullet point:

Short skirts – I have spent much of my life being criticized for wearing my skirts too short. Once, someone even told me I was intimidating the other women in the office. Puh-lease. I wear short skirts because I like them. Unless the back of your skirt says “RAPE ME,” a short skirt is not an invitation to rape.

Alcohol – I am currently on a hiatus from drinking, but I certainly love my whiskey. I am well aware that after too many drinks I make bad decisions. So, when I do go past that second drink, I make sure I am with people who will prevent me from putting myself in harm’s way. (Please note: that does not mean they will not let me do stupid things. The volume of stupid things I’ve done is epic and my friends bring them up way too often for my comfort.) However, I’m sure I’ve never said “RAPE ME,” while under the influence.

Flirty behavior – I have spent much of my life accused of being a flirt. For the record; if I’m breathing I’m probably flirting with someone. Despite my fear of being that old lady who hits on young men, I can’t help responding with what I consider to be great wit when someone says something funny or stupid. In a lifetime of flirting, I’ve never once said “RAPE ME.”

Walking alone – I am a loner when it comes to working out. I almost always ran or biked alone when I was training. To this day I will take walks alone that last more than an hour. There’s something mentally stimulating for me to be outside moving in solitude. I am cautious about what time of day I go out alone and I am even more cautious about where I go when alone. Not once, in all those years of solitary walking and running, have I worn a shirt that said “RAPE ME.”

Television – I understand that the chart is referring to the perceived phenomenon of people getting violent ideas from television shows. What I’m not sure of, is how they rationalize all of the rapes and violence against women that occurred before television or movies. I have heard of subliminal messages being flashed across the television screen to influence our subconscious mind, but I’ve never heard of one that said “RAPE ME.”

This same chart created an interesting dialogue between me and a good friend of mine. I’ve known Kim for almost forty years and she is an intelligent caring person whose opinion I value. Her input was valid and needs to be considered:

I know I’ll catch flack for this, but I wish it were that simple. Just talking about America and not about other countries where rape is a part of wartime atrocities or in cultures where women are considered second class (or lower) citizens. Yes, absolutely, rapists are the cause. But we have a responsibility to not put ourselves in dangerous situations. Being robbed or mugged is caused by robbers and muggers, but if you’re walking alone at night in a sketchy part of town, you’re increasing your risk of being attacked. Rape is a crime of violence not of sex, so it doesn’t matter what you look like, how old you are or what you’re wearing. But – just as a single example – if you get stumbling drunk at a frat party full of drunk frat boys, you’re putting yourself in harm’s way. Is it your fault that drunk frat boys are assholes? NO! Is it acceptable if one or more of them take advantage of you? NO NO NO! But it’s a very dangerous situation and we owe it to ourselves to not put ourselves in such situations. And we women need to advocate for and protect each other, not look the other way when we see something happening. I knew a young woman who told me she had been raped 5 or 6 times (she wasn’t sure) while drunk at fraternity parties. This was multiple occasions, not just a single event. My first thought was that she really needed to address her drinking problem and get counseling to understand why she kept putting herself in these horrible situations.

I agree with every word she said. But, I also know that too often when a woman is abused, mentally, physically or sexually, the court of public opinion too often blames the victim. My response to her:

Absolutely. Being aware of your surroundings and listening to your instincts is the most important tool we have in our survival arsenal. But, as you well know, too often victims of crimes are placed on trial instead of the perpetrator. Is this an exaggerated chart? Yes. But I think sometimes we need to exaggerate to make a point.

No one deserves to be raped or assaulted, but there are things ALL people can, and should, do to minimize their risk. The four basic ones I’ve always tried to honor are:

  • Be aware of your surroundings. I love living in the city and exploring the neighborhoods, but that doesn’t mean I’ll go anywhere at any time of day;
  • Keep your ears open. This means that no matter how much easier it is to walk or run with music, DON’T. You need to be able to hear someone’s footsteps behind you;
  • Look people straight in the eye and acknowledge them. When you avoid people’s eyes or you act scared, you are presenting as a victim. This won’t make you bullet-proof, but it does make you look like a stronger person who would put up more of a fuss if assaulted. Most “bad guys,” want an easy mark;
  • If you get a “hinky” feeling while you’re out alone, honor it. That “fight or flight” instinct was given to us to help us survive. Just because we’re no longer living in caves doesn’t mean it isn’t there for a reason.

Rape is a very uncomfortable subject but it has to be addressed. I am so proud of all the media attention that is trying to shift the focus away from the “blame the victim,” mentality of the past. But, as my friend pointed out, every one still needs to avoid situations that increase your risk of becoming a victim.

Have fun and enjoy all that the world has to offer us, but be safe.

If you are attacked, please contact the police, but don’t accept any victim blaming you may run into. There are lots of clinics that advocate for the victims of violence and they are there to support you through the trauma. Please use whatever support is available.

2 thoughts on “Rape: An Ugly Subject”

  1. Blaming the victim seems to be a knee jerk reaction with some people. I can remember one of my neighbors telling me that she thought it was a rape victim’s fault that they got raped, because they hadn’t locked their car door. Basically she felt that women only got raped if they put themselves in harm’s way. Reflecting on it, I believe that people tell themselves such things to reassure themselves that it will never happen to them. Too bad they have to short-circuit their compassion in order to reassure themselves.

  2. I agree with both you and your friend. You haven’t even touched on date rape. Yes, she agreed to spend time with him. Yes, she agreed to go back to his place for a drink, to watch a movie, for dinner, whatever. Did she implicitly agree to have sex with him? Not necessarily. Is she at fault if he rapes her? No. But try telling society that. I’m raising a daughter who is very comfortable with men and has a lot of male friends. She often spends time hanging out with one or another. I am walking a fine line between accepting her trust in her friends and asking her to be careful, prudent, etc.

What are your thoughts?