Tags: feminism

obama, bullwinkle, palin

It's not the empty street that causes rape

There's been a lot of discussion on blogs recently about blaming women's actions for rape. Every time someone says something like, "you shouldn't go out alone in a miniskirt and belly shirt and get drunk" to women in general, there is a (justified) stink raised that no one says "you shouldn't go out and rape a woman" to men in general.

lauredhel's recent blog post described the missing subject in a lot of rape discussions. "Women get raped," not "Men rape women."

Passive Aggression: Foregrounding the Object.

And yet...the idea of not warning women of rape seemed wrong to me, somehow. I mean, true, women get warned about it all the time. And rape keeps happening. It's not like no one's warning them already.

The question is, why do the warnings not help? Is the warning not strong enough? I don't think so. I don't know any women who don't consider rape a realistic threat to them, and I don't know any women who never alter their behavior because of a fear of rape.

Well, the obvious answer: Rape keeps happening because rapists keep doing what they're doing. Because it works. So how can what they're doing work if we have all these strong warnings about?

The warnings women get are misleading. They leave out the acts of the rapist himself. They focus on the situation. They also may focus on the "kind of man" the potential rapist is. If he's a friend of a friend, or your uncle, he's "safe." It's the stranger who's the threat.

And we know that's not true.

So, the discussion shouldn't be "don't go out alone." Or "don't drink too much." Or "stay out of places like X." It shoudln't be "stay away from strangers" or "look out for the high school dropout."

Being alone, on a street late at night, drunk, is not what gets you raped. Talking to a stranger or someone who doesn't have a college degree isn't what gets you raped.

It's the act of the rapist.

This seems so obvious. It's not the alcohol. It's the act of the rapist. It's not the bar. It's the act of the rapist. It's not the revealing dress you're wearing or the shoes you can't run fast in. It's the act of the rapist. It's not that he wasn't in the Boy Scouts, that he's unemployed, that he's poorly dressed or doesn't watch Friends. It's his act of raping.

So why not codify and then learn to identify rapist behaviors, the ones that happen before the rape? This won't prevent all rapes, but it does two things: help prevent some rapes, and give warning to rapists that their game is recognized.

The precursors lie not in the situation, not even in the man's "character," but in the man's actions. This puts the focus where it belongs.

For example, isolating the victim is a technique many rapists use. But this doesn't mean the isolation itself is the problem. Being alone obviously isn't how you get raped -- someone else has to do the raping.

Rape is usually premeditated. The rape occurs in the mind of the rapist long before the rape occurs, and often long before the victim even meets the rapist. The rape is *in the rapist*. Identify the rapist and you may be able to derail the rape.

As many rape survivors know, you can't go by "reputation." The rapist's "character" may seem wholesome. He may have lots of friends around him, he may be a member or officer of a respected organization, he may be a popular and revered figure in society. But his actions will tell.

It's the actions of the rapist. It's the manipulation of the situation that the rapist uses to separate the victim from others, put her in a position where she is uncomfortable with moving towards them or away from him, keeping his victim from getting help when she needs it, keeping her from telling anyone with threats of exposure or embarrassment or violence. That manipulation is studied, learned.

None of this is to say that a woman who doesn't recognize the signs is to blame, or stupid, or deserved anything she got. No one is perfect at defending from all threats. And not all rapists use these techniques. But any time a woman can avoid being raped by reading the signals is a time to cheer.

It's to say that we need to stop wasting our time warning women about the wrong things, and make the warnings we do give relevant and useful.

Rather than painting the world itself as big and scary and full of threat, rather than making it sound like it's the big empty street that's going to jump up and attack her, we need to make it clear that the threat is in particular people, doing particular things. By making the behavior we don't want clear, we're making a statement that that behavior is not acceptable. We can't just say, stalking and terrorizing women is okay so long as you don't "actually" rape them. All those behaviors are wrong.

In fact, these behaviors are wrong in personal interactions even if they don't lead up to rape. Manipulation is wrong. Pressure is wrong. Lying and misdirection is wrong. Shaming is wrong. We all know this.

[ETA the link to lauredhel's blog entry that started me thinking on this.]
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