If you’ve come across some of the nifty ideas out there to help prevent rape, you’ll notice that the majority focus on what women can do to protect themselves against this almost inevitable fate if they are to insist on leaving the house. Before I go any further, it is important to note that there are some useful pieces of common sense out there that do apply to anyone wanting to stay safe. For example, keep an eye on your drink when you’re out in a bar or nightclub, or try to avoid walking home alone late at night, or keep your bag on you, and don’t lend money to friends you met five minutes ago at the bar, etc. Sound pieces of advice that can be adopted by men and women alike to prevent a multitude of criminal activity aimed at them. However, when it comes to women and sexual assault, the advice all gets a bit muddled. And by muddled, I mean of course, excruciatingly wrong.
While working in a nightclub during my undergraduate degree, I was privvy to a good few drunken conversations and acted as a sounding board for many a customer’s wise opinions and ideas of life. The sort of amazing ideas you often hear at 1.30am in a nightclub when you’ve lost your friends and you’re trying to squeeze in another drink before getting escorted out of the premises. One night, while I was standing at my little station to break up my laps around the club collecting glasses and trying not to notice any vomit I would have to clean up, a woman came to chat and bestowed some of her own nuggets of wisdom. These gems focused largely around her thoughts on all of the outfits that the female customers were wearing and finally ended with the statement; “like seriously, you’re really just asking to be raped in an outfit like that, the little slags”. Delightful. As grateful as I am to listen to the thought processes of inebriated strangers, I edged slowly away to walk into the staff area when I noticed one of the managers of the nightclub was standing behind us. He had heard the women (who had now shuffled off to further spread the joy) and upon noticing my exasperated eye-roll he commented bluntly “she is right you know, most of these girls are just asking for it”. Having not equipped myself with how to engage in conversation with complete morons yet (a skill I am still mastering), I did the tutt-loudly-shake-head thing and went about my business. My business at that moment in time being that I had to go and fix my uniform – the extremely tight, short, plunge-necked dress that the management made me wear as part of my job as a waitress.
Of course, your wardrobe is only one thing you can change to avoid sexual assault as a woman. There is so much more – your make-up, your personality, the tone and volume of your voice, your alcohol intake, the number of people you sleep with because you actually want to, your general existence, and of course, the number of locks you have on your underwear. That one has to be the shining example in human voluntary blindness to facts. For those who have never heard of this new endeavor to save women from themselves, there is actually someone out there who has had the idea of developing and marketing “Anti-Rape” underwear for women which has secure front panels and a combination style lock. Otherwise known as a chastity belt. Firstly, I hope I don’t even need to tell you how inconvenient this would be to the average woman who goes out socialising in establishments were there are frequent queues for the toilets. Should we be dialing in the combination while we stand in the queue? I mean, is it safe to actually take them off to relieve ourselves in a public loo or will the toilet attendant hear the click of the lock opening and alert the rapid sexual predators in the area that now is the time to strike? When I do finally get home, covered in my own urine from not getting the combination right in time after a few beverages, am I safe to take them off then? Should I get a male relative to clear the area first? Or what if I’m with someone I actually do want to sleep with? Will the old combo click of the underwear now be taken as proof of my consent? Or what if it’s wash day for the chastity belt, and my friends have asked me to join them for a night out. Will I be blamed if I get sexually assaulted because my underwear with the locks was in the wash? What about when I’m going to work, or when I’m relaxing at home? Seeing as the vast majority of rapes are committed by someone the victim already knows, surely I should wear my chastity belt all the time. Do I seriously need to go on any more about how this is a terrible idea?
Unfortunately it seems that I do. It would appear that there are a lot of people out there who think that preventative measures for rape include things only women can do. Inevitably, in these debates, someone always throws in the old “well if I left my front door open it would be my fault if I got burgled” or “if you don’t want men to act that way, you shouldn’t let it all hang out”. I don’t know what the exact metaphor for the front door thing is supposed to be. Is my visible skin the open front door? My outfit? My being out unchaperoned? It’s a pickle. I think we’ve realised by now that people who say things like this are also doing a real disservice to men. Many men manage to get through their whole lives without sexually assaulting anyone. People who use the “boys will be boys” argument are reducing men to no more than a bunch of unevolved, sex-crazed creatures who are slaves to their testosterone-driven urges. It implies that it is everyone else’s job to keep men from causing damage, because left out there in the wild, who knows what havoc they will cause. It’s like saying women are responsible for three billion dogs who keep humping everyone’s legs. This has to stop, men are so much better than people who excuse rapists give them credit for. In this one example of rape prevention which actually is aimed at men, the poster suggests that too much alcohol will lower your inhibitions so much that you will turn into the natural rapist that all men are inside. Alcohol does lower inhibitions, I’m more likely to force friends and family to listen to me singing show tunes for example. But that’s because I like show tunes anyway. Consuming alcohol can’t turn someone into a rapist who didn’t already have seriously wrong notions of sexual entitlement regardless of consent beforehand.
We know that rape transcends culture, space, and time. It can happen anywhere where there are human beings present. Locking your front door to prevent burglary is a terrible metaphor for rape prevention. Using this logic, the list of things women can do to prevent rape is just a list of things that any woman has ever done or will ever do, ever. Rape can happen whether women are wearing a bikini or a niqab, whether they get pissed as a fart every Friday night or have never touched a drop, whether they have had many sexual partners or none at all, whether they are married or single, flirtatious or shy, and undoubtedly, whether they wear underwear with a lock on it or they don’t.
Yet we still live in a society which places the responsibility for rape at the doorstep of victims. From high courts to student awareness posters, women who drink are still being blamed for sexual attacks. While rapists who drink use it as a defence. It seems that people are still looking for the magic common denominator of rape, is it alcohol? Clothing? Accessible underwear? No, it isn’t. The the common denominator is a rapist. If we put all of this energy into educating young people about sex, relationships, consent, and gender equality, and if we invested in trying to understand the underlying thought processes and motivations behind perpetrators of sexual violence, maybe we could actually save more people from it. Urging women to change themselves to avoid rape doesn’t work, and even if it did, it would do nothing about the number of people out there who consider rape as an option. This is what rape prevention strategy needs to focus on.
Looking at a rape victim and trying to figure out why he or she was raped by scrutinizing their own behaviour and lifestyle without looking at the wider context of why someone would do this to another person, is like walking into your house after it’s been burgled and blaming yourself for owning the house in the first place, rather than attempting to catch a thief.