FAQ: What’s wrong with suggesting that women take precautions to prevent being raped?

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.

[From Grendelkhan, in comments, emphasis added]

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.


Clarifying Concepts:

  • 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)

    [ifritah (GROWL): Facts and Figures.]
  • 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”.

About tigtog

writer, singer, webwrangler, blogger, comedy tragic | about.me/vivsmythe

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130 comments on “FAQ: What’s wrong with suggesting that women take precautions to prevent being raped?

  1. I’m sensing a lot of hate here, and I don’t like the conflict.

    It is not one’s place as person to tell someone not to dress a certain way, or to tell a person not to have an active social life. However, it is useful information to know where the bad parts of town are, that you CAN say “no”, and what affects your legal standing (whether it should affect your legal standing or not!).

    It is also not a person’s place to put down either gender.

    Women have hardships, and men have hardships to. I’m sensing that (and I may be wrong, feel free to clarify {not attack, not that i am claiming anyone here is on the offense}) joeehd wanted to express that hardships some men face are just as real and traumatic as the hardships women face, even though said hardships happen more frequently to women than they do to men. And it felt to me like ginmar (i’m not saying you’re not capable of expressing yourself, im just trying to say what i heard from what you said here) took this as an attack blaming women, an attack which implied their problems are less “real” than his own, or something to that effect.

    I think some miscommunication and unaware insensitivity on both sides started that little fight, and it makes me uncomfortable.

    I would like to remind everyone, also, that terrible hardship, which i am quite uncomfortable of reffering to directly (as reader(s) may have noticed) happens to some men too, and can be just as traumatic, and similarly: societal pressure puts blame, guilt, and even accusations of it ‘not counting’ on those men.

    Some statistical data (which i found shocking) to see how common it is for men can be found here: http://www.1in6.org/man-educating-myself/about-1in6/the-1-in-6-statistic/

    We’re all people, lets try to understand each other, and love one another. I dont want people to face these problems, but I do want people’s problems to be heard as real – and not lesser, unreal, or as exceptions.

    Post Script: I think the whole ‘advice’ thing can happen from people with good intentions, and yes, people who are not blaming the victim – but who dont want to see those they love hurt, and are not realizing their ‘advice’ are causing their loved ones more harm than good.

  2. Apparently you didn’t bother to read all the comments, nor Tigtag’s remarks. Joeedh followed me back to my blog, made incredibly stupid and vicious remarks, then was banned and came back with a new name—-not that differnt from the old one, to demonstrate how little he cared for doing what a woman told him to do or not to do, on her own territory—and this time in his bio, he said he liked killing feminists, and said incredibly offensive things. Which he did here. Thanks, we’ve all seen Joeedh’s. You’re assuming we all just fell off the turnip truck and haven’t considered any of the stupid same old advice we always get.

  3. Wow, the arrogance.

    —“Waiting around”
    —“stand around saying, “rapists should stop raping.” To me, this sounds a lot like waiting around for your Prince Charming or your Fairy Godmother to come around and save you…”
    —“Feminists quite rightly see the man in the situation as the bad guy. But in their fear of being accused of “blaming the victim,” many feminists don’t examine the role of the victim.”

    From the desk of Captain Obvious:
    Women (feminists or otherwise) do not “wait around.” We take proactive precautions every day — precautions that should be considered absurd in a civilized society, but not in a rape culture. We do this despite people’s ridicule (“you’re so paranoid,” “you’re overreacting,” etc.). When I think of all the actions I take every day, things that are completely typical for women, things that consistently include speaking up and aggressive body language and even straight-arming (whatever it takes to keep myself safe) and then read your repeated comments about female “passivity,” my blood boils at your ignorance. I am really, really giving you the benefit of the doubt by assuming it’s ignorance, and that the ignorance is unintentional.

    Let’s talk about this “many feminists don’t examine the role of the victim.” This right here communicates that you have done basically no reading — and certainly no internalizing — of feminist rape material. Because this topic has been done… to… death. For years. By feminists. If you’ve done any real investigation into this whatsoever you could not possibly have avoided seeing a lot of material on just this subject. AND YET: It’s not your ignorance here that is the problem; it’s not that you don’t know what’s been talked about at such length. The problem is that we’re discussing preventing rape, and you are still stuck on the victim.

    Take whatever precautions you want — and women do every day — rapes are still occurring in huge numbers. That’s because *these precautions don’t prevent rape.* Are you getting this message? THESE PRECAUTIONS DON’T PREVENT RAPE. Equivocating forever about “minimizing risk” and “reasonable safety measures” doesn’t change that fact. If these precautions did prevent rape, there would be no rape. Women already live limited, cautious lives because they do take precautions, and rape is still alarmingly endemic. You know what prevents rape? NOT RAPING. How do we get through to someone who is intransigently stuck on safety precautions that don’t work?

    You want to sound rational and reasonable, but rape isn’t like that. Rapists aren’t like that. “Reasonable precautions” =/= safe from rape. It’s not a mathematical formula where you can plug your “reasonable precautions” into the equation and come out with a reduced risk of rape. This seems very hard for some people to accept. They simply can’t live without attributing some degree of “rape control” to victims, and they’ll fight to the bitter end for even a tiny piece of it.

    I personally take precautions, even though I know they won’t save me from someone who has decided to rape me, for two reasons: (1) I’m scared, flat out. I don’t want to be raped. Taking precautions at least gives me the illusion of control and safety over my life. It’s stressful to live with daily fears for one’s safety, and we all cope as best we can. And (2) I know that if I don’t take precautions, and then someone rapes me, the lack of precautions will probably be an effective legal weapon for helping to invalidate the rape. (Boy, isn’t that sad? I have two reasons for practicing safety precautions, and neither of them have anything to do with increased safety. Because unfortunately that relationship — limit your life and you’ll be safer — just isn’t there.)

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