Video from a Scottish Anti-Rape Campaign, selected for its relevance and fantastic accents.
There is a pervasive notion that women can somehow prevent rape by keeping themselves “safe”. We know not to drink, walk alone after dark, or wear sexy clothing without a protective male around. We know to watch all beverages with a CONSTANT VIGILANCE that outdoes Mad-Eye himself. Even hairstyles can affect our rapability, with one popular chain-mail imploring women not to wear a ponytail or have long hair because that is easily pulled and thus makes you more of a target. The litany of things women should not do sometimes makes me wonder if we are each assigned our very own potential rapist, who will lay patiently in wait for us until we forget the rules. The fateful day we get pissed, tarted up in a mini and long grabbable locks, wearing unhelpful shoes for running or stabbing with the heel (thanks for the tip Spike High Heels Self-Defense!), we run into a rugby player (or six) in a dark alley. The rugby player seems nice but intellectually unable to distinguish between yes and no, and he invites some buddies from ADFA to film the whole debacle. Somewhere afterwards, somebody will say “She shouldn’t have gotten herself into the situation/should have known better/it was unsafe situation anyway/generic rape-blame sentiment of choice here”. The moral of the story is don’t be dumb and then you won’t get raped.
This is clearly absurd. Nobody is telling me I have a personal rapist-in-waiting, and the sort of rapist mentality evident in a small percentage of footballers and Defence Force members is more about a lifetime of misogyny, not something created out of nothing. I’m clearly exaggerating some sound advice on caution. But then again, I remember after the rape on campus a few years ago at ANU, a female colleague smugly told me “That girl was just dumb for walking around campus late at night”. I remembered how many times I’d walked to Civic from Chifley Library late at night. If I’d been raped, would I have been a dumb bitch for doing something so unsafe? Probably. Would filing charges against my rapist been a painful, prolonged and emotionally exhausting process which resulted in almost no repercussions or punishment for the rapist? Almost definitely. Having seen the process of reporting rape firsthand, I can confirm it is horrible and disheartening.
Rape-blame is prolific. The alarming results of a survey by the Havens Service to Rape Victims in Greater London revealed that 71% of women surveyed believed that after getting into bed with somebody, the victim should assume responsibility for the rape. Men tailed slightly behind this with only 57% thinking the same thing. Provocative dressing too gained a high score, with 31% of women and 23% of men believing it meant the victim should take some responsibility. This survey was not an outlier, and merely reconfirmed the results of a previous Amnesty International report that a significant minority of British people blamed rape on the victims themselves. I can’t think of any similar study in Australia, but I have a feeling the results wouldn’t be drastically different here either.
The difference between genders in these results is probably because women internalise the rules of rape avoidance at an early age. The whole point of following the no-drinking, no-short-skirts-or-pullable-hair rules is to safeguard yourself. Be the clever one. Outwit the rapists. Most women watch their drinks carefully or text friends when they get home safely. I’ve quietly memorised the painful points to hit in case I need to run. I’ve mentally run through how I would need to respond if attacked. So have my friends. Yet they’re minimal protection at best. I still know women who’ve been raped. Because they weren’t the extremely rare stranger rapes, none of these tips or rules afforded them any help at all. It seems women can be as careful and risk-averse as they want, but they still might be raped, and almost definitely by somebody they actually know or trust. More spouses rape than strangers, so your beloved husband may statistically be less of a protection and more of a threat (not the first time Barnaby Joyce has proffered terrible advice, although obviously most husbands are not rapists). This is because rape usually occurs in situations where women are already meant to be protected, and the only problem with this apparent safety is the rapist.
Maybe this is because so much discussion on rape focuses on the situation, removing the acts of the rapist. We counter-intuitively complicate what should be a simple case of blaming a rapist for a heinous and unforgivable act into a situation somebody should not have “gotten into”. Clearly, it was the rapist that shouldn’t have raped, not the woman wearing culturally standard clothing and engaging in culturally standard activities. The women and men who responded to the Havens survey were expecting the victims to take responsibility for an act they did not even commit. If you’re not a rapist, you just don’t rape, regardless of the situation. As Ross Lincoln said in I Am Not My Cock “I have never died from blue balls. I have never exploded because some sideboob accidentally came into my line of sight. I have never raped anyone. Shockingly, I also think this is a pretty normal state of affairs. This isn’t something I’m proud of. That’s because I can’t be proud of not raping people anymore than I can be proud of not shitting on myself whenever I laugh. Not being a rapist is the default fucking setting.” Clearly being a rapist is the aberration, not being “rapable”. The implication that women should safeguard themselves perpetuates the concept that they’re the aberration, that to be rapable is the problem. A young choir boy raped by a Catholic Priest is not blamed for his rapability. Should he not participate in an expression of his faith because of some well-publicised child molestation cases in the Catholic Church? Of course not.
Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali said “If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the garden or in the park, or in the backyard without a cover, and the cats come and eat it … whose fault is it, the cats or the uncovered meat? The uncovered meat is the problem. If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab, no problem would have occurred.” The Australian public responded vehemently to this statement, as well they should have. But it was just an explicit version of the pervasive “should have known better”. Instead of merely implying that women should make themselves less rapable, he just thought a piece of meat was an appropriate analogy for the same sentiment. Taj Din al-Hilali was responding to the series of gang rapes led by Bilal Skaf which shocked the nation and ignited a furore over race, immigration and cultural differences which can still be felt today. As a nation we shuddered at his words, but out of our Christian rejection of Islam and racism. We don’t want our women to sit at home in hijabs, they have the right to do what they please! Except anything which puts them in danger. Anything they please except all these things which cannot possibly alter whether or not a rapist is present. Which is the only necessary or relevant ingredient for rape.
Freda Adler said “Rape is the only crime in which the victim becomes the accused.” And it’s true. Barnaby Joyce wants me to get married because then I’ll be safe. The unspoken subtext is that if I’m not safely with a man, then I am somehow blameable for my rape. In the meantime, I should be cautious and look after myself at all times. This is a central myth of identifying as female; that to do so must necessarily entail a life lead in partial fear. To that I say fuck you, I will live my life as I should, full and exuberant and without terror. I hope I’ll never be raped, but if I am, it won’t be because of how I lead my life, it will be because of the rapist.
(I would like to apologise for the female-centric focus in this article. It begun as a response to Barnaby Joyce, and it wasn’t until the end I realised how much it excludes other experiences of rape. I in no way mean to imply that male or intersex experiences of rape are not a part of the culture of rape-fear, and do not face many of the same problems. The gender centric language is an unfortunate by-product of the article’s more specific origins which should have been corrected earlier when the topic became broader, but due to time constraints I have not had time to fix what was already written. I sincerely apologise, and I promise to write more balanced and inclusive rape posts in the future.)