- 73% of sexual assaults are committed by a non-stranger
- 38% of rapists are friends or acquaintances of the victim
- 28% are intimate partners of the victim
- 7% are relatives of the victim
- 6 in 10 rapes occur in the home of the victim, or in the home of a friend or relative of the victim.
In discussing rape, we need to get away from the idea that rapists are hiding in parking garages or in the often-called-upon "dark alley." We need to stop making the assumption that rape, on the whole, happens when someone leaves a bar with a stranger. These rapes do happen, and are still entirely problematic, but they are not the norm. As the statistics show, most victims know their rapist, and most rapes occur in a home setting. Statistically, you are more likely to be raped by your boyfriend or husband than you are by a stranger. Hanging at home or at a friend's house puts you at more risk for rape than going out to a bar. The first thing we need to be able to do if we want to have honest, open discussion about rape is challenge the assumptions we have about where rape happens and who commits it.
In the comments on Thursday's post, a lot of people raised the point that it is ignorant and dangerous to assume that women can do nothing to prevent, or at least decrease the likelihood, of being raped. Obviously, people of all genders should work to protect their own general safety. People should listen to their intuition in situations that make them feel unsafe or uncomfortable. People should surround themselves with friends and family that look after each others' best interests. Everyone everywhere should be expected to use good judgement in how they conduct themselves in day-to-day life. I think most people already do; it's human nature.
Despite this fact, which I very much believe to be true, I stand by my assertion that, on the whole, there is no way for women to prevent rape. Using good judgement is great, but in a world where most rapes are committed by acquaintances of the victim in a home environment, judgement isn't really going to be helpful in preventing rape. It is easy to pull the "good judgment prevents rape" line of thinking in an abstract argument, but in reality, should I avoid Uncle Jim's house because he is statistically more likely to rape me there? Should I never have a boyfriend due to the high degree of rapes that are committed by intimate partners? The "judgement prevents rape" argument falters in reality, at least 73% of the time.
Perhaps there is something women can do to prevent being raped by the 27% of rapists who are strangers-- to avoid being attacked in one of the 4 in 10 rapes that occur outside the home. I threw this question around with a lot of people this weekend, and none of us could really come up with a technique that seemed particularly convincing or effective. For the most part, people act in the interest of their own safety, regardless of gender. We could say, "Stay out of that dark alley!" but you probably already are for the most part. Maybe you should avoid hitchhiking on rural interstates alone at night, but honestly, I don't think anyone even does that anymore outside of horror movies. Any of the things that we could think of suggesting had nothing to do with rape at all, but instead with protecting general personal safety, which is something people of both genders do already for the most part. Perhaps you venture into a dark alley from time to time, but there is not doubt you calculate the perceived risk and reward before doing so.
All of the gendered suggestions seemed moot as well. Should women dress more modestly to avoid being raped by strangers? This idea is crap. People are raped in sexy, going out ensembles, but they are also raped in sweatpants, baggy tee shirts, burqas, and suits. Dress does not imply consent, and historically rapists do not appear to put much thought into what a victim is wearing in deciding if they should rape them or not.
Someone raised the point that perhaps women and girls should avoid hanging out unsupervised in all-male groups, or hanging out one-on-one with male friends. This argument is incredibly insulting to men. It implies that men have no moral compass that would incite them to stop one friend from raping another, and that they are entirely out of control of their ability to monitor their own behavior. If these implications are true, then yes, women should avoid spending time in isolation with men. If these statements are untrue, then this suggestion is just as useless as the rest. Readers, you can asses the validity of these implications on your own. I think the conclusion is pretty obvious.
And finally, yes, maybe you could take a self-defense class. This might help you fight your way out of a rape situation. If you succeed in fighting off an attacker, perhaps you will not get raped. But there is still a rapist out there, and there are still lots of women who are unqualified or physically incapable of fighting off an attacker. You might have protected yourself, but this action does little to stop rape on the whole.
So yes, I honestly do believe that there is nothing women can do to protect themselves from rape. Many people, including many women, regard this view as radical and stupid. I think a lot of this has to do with fear. It is not comforting to hear that there is nothing that you-- as a rational, thoughtful woman-- can do to avoid being raped. I understand the scary nature of this thought, but I do not recognize fear as sound reasoning for rejecting truth.
Currently, society puts an emphasis on "don't get raped" as opposed to "don't rape." Logically, I think it would make sense to invert this mode of thinking. Most of the (above stated) techniques suggested by the "don't get raped" camp are useless. They rarely succeed in helping people to avoid or escape rape, and even when they do, they contribute almost nothing to the cause of ending rape as a whole.
Addressing rape from the supply-side seems like a more logical and effective method. Right now, we make efforts to implement an assortment of semi-useless techniques that are rarely effective and contribute nothing to actually eradicating the act of rape on the whole. Addressing rape from a "don't rape" perspective makes much more sense, as it pays off manifold in the long term. A "don't rape" campaign could reduce the number of rapists, whereas a "don't get raped" technique merely quells the number of rapes. It seems pretty obvious to me which one would be a more worthwhile expenditure of energy, money, and time. It also seems pretty obvious to me which one would reduce rape in the long run.
I'll post later this week with some thoughts on what I think a "don't rape" campaign could look like. If you have any thoughts on this, feel free to leave them in the comments.