Victim-Blaming & Rape-Permitting

The R word, being discussed in a blog post written by a man. This rarely ends well.

Any time you discuss the topic it’s bound to get heated. Any topic that involves such trauma for both the victims and the people connected to those victims is going to be a powder keg, no matter how well-intentioned those discussing it are.

Last week, and not for the first time, the suggestion of women being able to avoid rape by avoiding particular scenarios – like binge drinking – was raised, and discussed quite a bit.

I figured I’d take a crack at explaining the issue in simple terms, and I’m also going to suggest a new way of talking about it.

The Good News

This is a debate where both ‘sides’ agree there’s something horrible going on, and both sides don’t want that horrible thing to happen. This is actually an excellent starting point. There’s not many public debates where both side A and side B want the same result – in this case, both sides want to stop women getting raped.

But arguing out of well-intentioned care doesn’t mean you’re right, and it doesn’t mean you’re not causing more harm than good.

Theory A

The suggestion, on a very basic level, seems like a sensible one:

  1. A lot of rape happens when women are drunk
  2. Therefore don’t be drunk

So what’s wrong with that?

First, it puts the onus on the women to not be drunk (something she has every right to be), rather than the rapist not to rape (something the rapist doesn’t have the right to do).

The natural response to this is that much like you can’t reason with a rabid dog, you can’t reason with a rapist. Women have to be the proactive ones here because we can’t offer advice to rapists, by the nature of a rapist they’re not going to listen to it.

The problem is a rapist isn’t a rabid dog. A rapist is a human, and a human who is part of our society, whether we like it or not. In the US, around 2/3 of rapes are committed by someone known to the victim. Not a stranger, or a cultural outsider.

When a rapist hears someone say a raped woman shouldn’t have been wearing those clothes, in that place, he doesn’t hear that someone put themselves in the path of a rabid dog. He hears that the fault lies with the woman, not the rapist – so as a rapist, he’s not so bad. He doesn’t think of himself as a rabid dog, something taken as a given by non-rapists.

He’s just going ahead with what everyone seems to agree is inevitable. He didn’t decide she was going to dress like that. This is her choice. What did she expect was going to happen?

That’s our context.

Theory B

The problem, and its solution, are therefore:

  1. A lot of rape happens when women are drunk
  2. This is because our culture makes rapists think rape isn’t that bad
  3. We need to change our culture

You might say that in the short term we could avoid a lot of rape by telling women not to get drunk. But this just perpetuates the real problem: a culture that says rape is the woman’s fault, by only talking about her choices, not the rapist’s.

New Term Required

As much as we’d like to, we can’t discuss social issues in a bubble. Rapists aren’t some outside alien incursion, they’re people living alongside us.

Victim-blaming, and victim-shaming, are big problems. But those terms don’t seem to be communicating what the problem is to a lot of people, and still makes the whole issue about the victim. So let’s instead say¬†rape-permitting. By suggesting a drunk or ‘immodestly’ dressed woman bears responsibility for a rape occurring, you’re giving rapists permission to rape those people.

Plenty of people will still argue that regardless of the scenario you’re best off acting in a particular way to avoid a horrible scenario. But remember, communication isn’t about what you say, it’s about what is heard. Rape isn’t some fringe issue, it’s a huge problem in the West. When you make a statement about rape, that’s the context you’re stepping in to, and rapists are listening.

Binge drinking is a problem that needs addressing. Rape is a problem that needs addressing. But blurring the two issues is not only illogical, it does more harm than good.

  • Jo Bain

    A lot of rape happens because there is this persistent (wishful thinking) belief on the part of men that when a woman says ‘no’ she means ‘maybe’ or ‘yes, but I want you to still respect me in the morning so I am going to pretend I am a ‘nice’ girl. And yes, there are occasions when that is exactly what it means. But, the difficulty arises when it is not what she means. Better to err on the side of respect, than on the assumption she really means ‘yes’ don’t you think? That way, if she really means ‘yes’ she is just going to have to say yes, before she gets what she wants, and the rest of us can retain our dignity and self-respect.

    • Helen Tilbury

      This No when you actually mean YEs sounds like a scenario from the 1960’s when I was a teenager. Has nothing changed? Surely in 2013 nearly fifty years on No means NO?