Thursday, November 29, 2012

I'll Wear my Hair However I Please: Why Rape Prevention Tips Don't Work

(TW for rape, rape apologia, rape culture, victim-blaming, slut-shaming)

I just finished reading this link (which also carries the same TW as this post and which I highly recommend you read, as well, but the Reader's Digest version is "Here's yet another tutorial on how not to get yourself raped"): Through a Rapist's Eyes.

I've actually seen this before on various other sites and in various incarnations, but every time I see it, it makes me RAGE. I get it, I really do; the authors of these posts think that they're doing us wimminz a favor by showing us how not to get raped, but the reality of the situation is that NOTHING WE DO AS WOMEN WILL PREVENT RAPE. The clothes we wear, whether or not we take the elevator or the stairs, how much we drink, what time of day we decide to venture outside, will not prevent us from being raped. The fact that we still have to remind people of this is truly sad: the only people who can prevent rape are rapists and those who would be rapists, and all that these "rape-prevention" tactics accomplish is the perpetuation of the belief that the safest place for women is in the home.

You didn't actually think the public/private sphere dichotomy disappeared, did you? The only difference is that there's a more obvious threat inherent in the rhetoric: "If you as a woman don't do as you're told, something bad's going to happen to you. Something very bad. And nobody will believe you when it does." These articles rest on the presumption that every woman who is ever raped in her life will only be raped by a stranger while walking down a dark street at night (which we shouldn't have been doing in the first place, natch); they completely ignore the fact that more than half of all rapes are committed by someone the victim knows.

The whole point of this article is apparently to explain to women what we can do to avoid getting ourselves raped, and it appears that their goal is to educate women on these varying tactics. What I learned from this post are the following things:

1) Don't wear your hair in a ponytail or a fact, don't grow your hair out at all. Just shave your fucking head.

2) Despite the fact that many of these rapists apparently carry scissors to cut clothing, please make sure you don't wear clothing that will provide a rapist with easy access. This rule is arbitrary and the police officer who takes your report will get to decide if your clothing was too "slutty"...I'm sorry, I mean if it gave the rapist easier access to your body.

3) Never multi-task while walking. Also, since the top places for a rapist to attack you are grocery store parking lots, office parking lots/garages, and public restrooms, never go grocery shopping, never go to work, and never use a public restroom. As a matter of fact, just stay home.

4) If a man is attempting to rape me, I must ALWAYS put up a fight. This is because there is absolutely no chance that he has any sort of weapon on him, such as a knife, gun, etc. that he can use to injure me or kill me should I resist. There is also absolutely no chance that I was drugged and physically can't fight. If I don't fight off my attacker, then I was clearly making myself an easy target, or perhaps I wasn't really raped.
  • Should my attacker have a gun (despite the fact that this is clearly improbable) and (this one is a direct quote from the article) "you are not under his control, ALWAYS RUN! The predator will only hit you (a running target) 4 in 100 times. And even then, it most likely WILL NOT be a vital organ. RUN!" This is perfectly reasonable because there is absolutely no chance that the person attacking you will run after you and rape you and/or kill you the instant he catches you. Also, in the 0.04% chance that your attacker does succeed in shooting you and he doesn't hit a vital organ, there is absolutely no chance that you will be completely debilitated by the injury, giving your attacker ample opportunity to finish the job.
The commonality that I notice in all of these "tips" is that each one acts as a restriction of what a woman can and cannot do, should and should not do, in a public space, if she should even be in that public space to begin with. None of these tips act as a restriction of what rapists can and cannot do, should and should not do, in a public space...such as not sexually assaulting women. The problem here is that the onus is put on the victim to prevent her attack, not on the rapist not to rape. Women, by very virtue of rape culture, are forced to limit our activities and our comings and goings so that gods forbid we are ever attacked, we will be more believable. These articles about preventing rape do nothing to ameliorate this, especially since the police officers, lawyers, judges, jurors, etc. who hear our case will more likely than not ask us in one way or another if we followed these tips, and if not, why didn't we (with an added tinge of suspicion of our innocence, of course)?
Now granted, the kicking out the back lights trick is pretty good to know for if I'm ever put in the trunk of a car, but articles like these that give advice about how to prevent getting yourself raped do nothing more than perpetuate a misogynist, rape-apologist culture that says that a woman shouldn't be allowed to go out at night and drink and dress sexy and have a good time, etc., and that if she does so, she made herself an easy target and she deserved what she got. These articles, while oftentimes written and shared with the best of intentions, do nothing more than perpetuate the belief that if a woman does everything on the list exactly as stated, she will not be raped; if she does get raped, then she didn't do a good enough job.

Bottom line: These "rape prevention tips" prevent nothing - all they do is promote the belief that it's always the victim's fault.


  1. I don't agree with you on this particular point. I think the article gives good and practical strategies to women on how to keep themselves safe. It's not about locking yourself in the house, it's how to protect yourself when you leave it.

    I think you're right in that the point of the article is how to avoid getting raped. I think it's comparable to locking your house door to avoid getting robbed and the police wearing vests to avoid getting shot. Yes, it's ultimately up to the criminals whether or not they proceed, but these are just a few things we can do to at least try [not to die/get raped].

    The fact of the matter is that this world is dangerous. It shouldn't be, it sucks, but some people are horrible. It doesn't mean we should still do whatever we want because that's when people get hurt. With a few precautions though you can do most of what you want and decrease the chances of bad things happening.

    But that's just my opinion.

    Alice =]

  2. Hey Alice! :D

    The reason I have a problem with these tips is that these tips don't actually work. They don't keep women safe. Women can do all of the things on that list and then some, but if somebody wants to rape them, they will. It's kind of like the locking your door to avoid getting robbed analogy; if somebody really wants to rob you, it doesn't matter how well you lock your door: they'll just break a window and get in that way. It's the same with rapists; it doesn't matter if she has a ponytail or a pixie cut, if she talks on her cellphone or not, if she takes the elevator or the stairs. If a rapist wants to rape a woman, they will rape her.

    I'd like to think that there's a better way to promote safety without promoting a rhetoric that blames the victim before she's even been victimized, but it's inherent in these tips. The inherent assumption is that if you get raped, you did something on the list wrong or you didn't do it at all and that means you're somewhat (if not fully) complicit in your attack.

    It's the promoting of these things as the be all and end all of preventing rape, as well as the "this is what YOU have to do to prevent rape," that makes these tips so problematic. People look at these tips and then when women are raped, they wonder what these women did wrong to get themselves raped. They wonder why she didn't wear her hair short and why she was talking on her cell phone and why she took the stairs instead of the elevator. They don't wonder why her rapist raped her.

    1. I can see that point of view too, but it's not practical to me. I like being proactive, and if that means carrying an umbrella on me then that's something I can actually do. Because if I don't do anything, or I do the complete opposite of what they suggest then I would take at least partial blame. I was telling Nick about it and he gave another great example that's not just for women.

      Take walking in a shady neighborhood. You wouldn't wear your most expensive jewelry or walk with your wallet out because that's making yourself more of a target. But if you hide your gadgets and try to blend in, chances are no one will think of you as an easy target.

      I'm not saying the criminals aren't to blame too. But the only way I see myself staying safe is if I can do something about it. I'd rather try and fail then not try at all and have the same outcome. Like the tip about fighting back a rapist. Yeah he might over power me, but on the chances that I can get a kick or a punch in and he's even a little bit debilitated, that gives me an advantage. If you don't fight at all and experience the negative consequences it's definitely not your fault that he picked you, but you also didn't do everything you could to prevent it.

    2. I probably should have made that part clearer: I don't believe that you shouldn't fight back. I believe that if you can fight back (or at least believe you can) without putting yourself at even greater risk of being injured or killed, then fight as hard as you can! But if you feel that fighting back might cause your attacker to hurt you (or worse), then I don't think we should blame the victim for not fighting back. Each woman has to do what she thinks is best in that situation. The problem comes from when public opinion tells women that they should fight back no matter what the circumstances, particularly under the assumption that the woman in question will not be put in more danger if she does so.

      I agree that this is a dangerous world, and I definitely don't object to women carrying pepper spray, an umbrella, or even a knife or a gun (I started carrying a knife on my person a few months ago when an attempted rape happened down the block from my house). I don't even object to women following the tips presented in the post for the most part; what I *do* object to is the people who use these tips as an excuse to blame the victim, to question what the victim did wrong to cause her rape.