This FAQ has been updated with an addendum 2010-04-27
Short answer: Because it puts the onus on women not to get themselves raped, rather than on men not to do the raping; in short, it blames the victim.
Why taking precautions doesn’t work
Melissa McEwan points out that whether or not a woman gets raped has nothing to do with her own actions and everything to do with the rapist:
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.
JoAnne Schmitz points out another problem with the “precautions”:
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.
- On consent: Amanda Marcotte (Pandagon): Real Consent Manifesto
- Men against rapists: ross (The Talent Show): I am not my cock
- Rapists are rarely strangers [a 2005 post citing studies several years older then, however patterns have not changed much]:
Stranger rape and sexual assault is only one of several possible types of sexual violence. Here’s the reported percentages according to National Health and Social Life Survey:
- Someone with whom the respondent was in love: 46%
- Someone that the respondent knew well: 22%
- Acquaintance: 19%
- Spouse: 9%
- Stranger: 4%
(Rathus, Nevid and Fichner-Rathus, 565)
- On the contribution of the virgin/whore dichotomy:
One aspect of our language that I want to highlight is our use of the virgin/whore binary. Our understanding of rape and sexual assault involves a dichotomy between women who are innocent, virginal victims of rape, and women who are promiscuous – and therefore can’t be raped. This division is obvious in the ways that female rape victims are treated, as we scrutinize a victim’s history to see: Did she ever have sex? Did she have sex with many men? Did she have sex with the alleged rapist? Did she have sex with him many times? Each ‘yes’ is one more blow against the victim’s case, one more reason that she’s a whore and not a virgin, and therefore not a ‘real’ victim.
One way we can fight against this discursive bias against women is to end slut-shaming. Stop making that division between women whom we like/who are like us and have ‘enough’ sex, and women whom we don’t like/who aren’t like us and have ‘too much’ sex (or too ‘dirty’ sex, or sex with ‘too many’ partners). Stop creating that artificial line which women must not cross, lest their ability to refuse sex no longer be respected. Stop buying into the idea that there even is an amount of sex that a woman can have that invalidates her ability to refuse sex.
And stop, stop, stop using ‘slut’ or ‘whore’ as an insult for women, even in non-sexual contexts, because it just reinforces the idea that this is a label we can use to punish women for doing what they’re not ‘supposed’ to.
Addendum: so what is useful information for avoiding rapists? Check out Predator Theory with regard to serial rapists – how a small minority of men deliberately target and isolate women they perceive as vulnerable in order to rape them, consciously exploiting all the rape culture myths so that the woman feels so shamed that she is unlikely to report to police and if she does the rapist has plenty of plausible deniabilty. How serial stranger rapists will probably use drugs without force to incapacitate their target so that she doesn’t even know what he looks like, and how serial acquaintance rapists, while also using alcohol/drugs, are far more likely to use force and claim it as a misunderstanding later. How if you know a bloke who says stuff like “silly bitch wants it really” or “she’s got it coming” they probably aren’t just joking and instead of their mates “letting it slide” the world would be a far better place for women and for non-rapist men if those blokes’ mates just took the simple stand of “that’s bullshit, dude” and shut that crap down.
The statistics and the description of methods used also show how if the culture surrounding sexual liaisons changed to one where the general standard was explicit negotiation and stage by stage affirmative assent, the techniques used by these serial rapists would be far less likely to succeed, because all their plausible deniability lies in the current social and sadly-still-often-legal standard of “she didn’t say no”.