Wednesday, February 20, 2013

An ounce of prevention?

Recent politics is rife with conversations about rape and its prevention. The eyes of the nation have most recently been drawn to the state of Colorado for a pair of controversial statements. First, Joe Salazar a Democratic State Representative argued that women should not need concealed weapons to protect themselves from rape because “that’s why we have call boxes, that’s why we have safe zones, that’s why we have whistles.” His concern, not wholly without merit, is that a woman who fears for her safety might shoot an innocent person who had no intention of raping her. A second story out of University of Colorado at Colorado Springs concerns a school website that lists "Last Resort Tips" to avoid sexual assault. These include telling the potential rapist that you are menstruating or have an STD and/or urinating or vomiting on the attacker to dissuade him from raping you. The legislator from Colorado apologized and the university took down the list of “Last Resort Tips.”

More important than the apology or the removal of the webpage is that these two stories show how fundamentally wrong our discussions about sexual assault can be. By reframing rape as a gun control issue, the focus falls on women to prevent rape by carrying a gun or a whistle, depending on which side of the gun control debate someone happens to fall. By suggesting a woman scream or bite or tell certain things to her attacker, the onus once again falls on women to prevent their own rape. The logical conclusion of the prevention argument that many people fail to acknowledge is that victims somehow bear some responsibility if they fail to ward off their attacker. As if the woman is to blame for not preventing a man from raping her. That notion is unacceptable.

Victim blaming is nothing new. Over the decades of the victim services movement, we have heard questions about how short of a skirt the victim was wearing, how much she had to drink, or even how many sexual partners she had before the rape. This new brand of victim blaming is more insidious, however, because it is couched in terms of prevention. The bottom line is that no matter how many steps a woman takes to prevent rape, if a man is determined to rape her, it will likely happen. A woman can carry a gun and a rape whistle and still be raped. A woman can scream and kick and fight and still be raped. A woman can use an emergency call box and still be raped before help arrives.

Everyone can and should take steps to make themselves feel safer, but the only sure way to prevent rape is for men to stop raping women. Rather than teaching our girls how to vomit on command or how to shoot to kill, we need to teach our boys not to rape. Women should not have to look at every man as a potential rapist. Men should not settle for having to prove that they are not a rapist before a woman will engage them. Both genders deserve better than that. It is time for a real discussion about why rape happens. 

We need to ask ourselves as a society why rapes occur. Although we don’t have all of the solutions, we know that "a lack of prevention by women" is an unacceptable answer that puts a misplaced burden on women and an unfair stigma on men. It is not a woman's responsibility to prevent rape; it is up to men to choose not to rape. That understanding must be the starting point for a meaningful discussion on how to address the issue as a society.
Comments by: Jessica Meyers, Director of Advocacy Services

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