Let’s get this straight: rape is as much of a women’s problem as poaching is a rhino’s problem. Looking to women to avoid rape is a way of distracting the focus away from perpetrators committing the crime in the first place, but because it comes in the form of ‘concern for women’s safety’, it doesn’t seem so obvious.

I found this message shared on my friend’s facebook feed:

“Ladies beware im not sure if its been broadcast but there have been two violent sexual attacks in [redacted] over the last week. One only two nights ago under the bridge by the [redacted] Theatre please be careful!”

Sure, I’m a woman, I’d like to know if these things happen in my area. However, though this message is thoughtful, it’s the ‘ladies beware’ that irks me. It’s a message designed to instil fear in women, to encourage them to somehow protect themselves from an attack that is deemed inevitable. What is my gut response? Don’t go out near there, and if I do, make sure I’m accompanied by a strong-looking man. I hate that that is my gut response.

Now, a message I’d much rather see is:

“Rapists beware. Please take care by locking yourself away in your home, thereby permitting half the population to make their journey home without fearing for their life.”

It’s just all too often that I’m told “Be careful/ Call me when you’re home/ Do you want me to walk you back?”. It comes from a place of concern, and I’m not ungrateful for that warning, but it’s just so easy to pass the responsibility to ‘not get raped’ (I’ve been jokingly told on numerous occasions “Don’t get raped!”) onto a woman. The alternative would be to challenge rape culture, rape and prevent it happening in the first place. So, to everyone who tells me to be careful on my walk home, thanks, but I’d be much more grateful if you went about this in a structural-change/ let’s stop rape kind of way.

— – —

So, I was happy to end that thought there. I dutifully commented on that gentlemanly warning that it was directed at the wrong audience if we want to prevent, rather than avoid, sexual assaults happening. But then someone was wrong on the internet, and like any self-respecting feminist I wasn’t going to back down. The ensuing dialogue reveals a LOT about the rape culture we live in:

Enter Daniel and his comment:

“Yeah, because rapists will really read your post and obey. It is directed at the right people, even if they are unappreciative…there is a big difference between scared and careful. Nobody is suggesting that you should be scared. Do you feel you will be safer if you don’t know of dangers?

What we can summarise from Daniel’s comment:

  • Rapists can’t read and definitely aren’t just humans that use the internet, they’re an illiterate breed altogether
  • The post is better directed at women because they are more responsible and likely to “obey” instructions from men
  • Women should be ‘careful’, so they don’t get raped. Rapists should not be careful not to rape. The responsibility for a rape not happening falls squarely on the woman’s shoulders.
  • Women should feel ‘safer’ knowing of the ‘dangers’ of walking unaccompanied in public spaces (which we’ve been reminded of every single time we left our houses since forever- what do you think Little Red Riding Hood was about?)

He advocates the typical myth about rapists: that they are evil strangers who jump out of bushes. Evidently, in these cases, the attacks did happen in public spaces. Even so, they are not necessarily committed by social pariahs who cannot read; anyone has the potential to make that decision to violate another’s body, and subsequently they also have the option of NOT violating someone’s body. And society has the power to tell them that it’s not ok, rape is always the rapist’s fault, and should not be dismissed with impunity. But, realistically, the responsibility isn’t seen to lie with them because rapists are perceived as animals that have no control, and must be successfully fought off by able-bodied victims.

In sum, Daniel proposes that instead of ending sexual violence altogether, women just avoid it happening to them. Also, how gross is the word “obey” in this context?

So, I told him all this. By no means do I think that writing a facebook status to warn rapists not to leave the house if they can’t control their actions will change much, but it’s a step in the right direction. It’d definitely be a nice change in the discourse surrounding rape and victim blame if people could start locating rapists’ responsibility within discussions on rape.

And then Daniel continues:

”It’s all about attitude. The ideal attitude will have the awareness to avoid trouble and ability to handle it if it comes. Intelligence, assertiveness and if necessary, aggressiveness will get even a small woman out of 99.99% of trouble [that includes preparation by training the mind and body]. Bleating idiocies about rapists changing from a facebook post they will never even see and crying for others to take the responsibility to defend females are sure signs of poor victim attitude. Fix up.

Sound the klaxon: we have a rape apologist in the house!

First, he believed that rapists were only monsters who hid under bridges and didn’t have any social interaction. Then, he tried to tell me that his ‘ideal attitude’ for a prospective rape victim (assumed to be a woman) is awareness, intelligence, assertiveness and aggressiveness. Because that will save her from her own rape? Because it’s her responsibility to undergo mental and physical training to be able to defend herself from rape? What does his 99.9% statistic (clearly pulled from the air) have to tell us about sexual violence within marriage, relationships, against children, pensioners, disabled people?

If it’s all about ‘attitude’, why aren’t we talking about the attitudes of perpetrators of sexual violence? Attitudes that are endorsed and entertained by pop culture, lad culture,  masculinity and society.

Because I’ve proposed turning the discussion on rape around to focus on rapists and rape prevention, I possess ‘poor victim attitude’. Am I, as a woman, expected to “fix up” and prepare a “good victim attitude” for any encounters with perpetrators? What Daniel said chilled me to my core; with some skewed logic of misunderstood ‘gender equality’ and a good dose of victim blame, Daniel believes that women should not be “poor victims” and instead prepare themselves for attack, in order to fight off perpetrators.

What about victims who can’t fight back? Who are no physical match for their perpetrator? What about victims who physically and verbally resist but are still dominated? What about rapes that aren’t deemed to be ‘violent’ enough to be actual rapes? (I hate that one) What about victims who become paralysed by fear? What about victims who are in love with their perpetrator? Who are friends with their perpetrator? What about victims who are drugged, drunk, or asleep?  What about victims who are men?

Finally; asking others to re-assess the way they talk about rape is not ‘crying for others to defend females’, it’s hopefully requesting that there is nothing to defend in the first place, because there is no attack. Why is there no attack? Because society would understand that a rapist can control their actions. Because rape wouldn’t be committed in a community of silence, impunity, shrugged shoulders and victim blame.

In a rape apologist’s world, rhinos should train to fight poachers; rather than poachers just dropping their guns. Yet, rape is far more sinister than that analogy: rape is committed by humans against humans. Rational humans who can read, comprehend social norms and values, and not make the decision to rape. As it stands in Daniel’s eyes, the responsibility for stopping rape lies with the victim, in the moment of the attack, rather than in the mind of the attacker, long before the incident even happens.

I really don’t like the term ‘rape apologist’, and I try not to use it. But really, to avoid being labelled with that term it’s best not to… I don’t need to explain, do I?