Today I have been listening to blaming the victim, a radio documentary by Grace Chen. It's well worth listening too. Then I got into a conversation with some friends about it. Sad to say one them responded by claiming that women should be taking precautions against rape and that, in their opinion many rapes could be avoided if women were more careful. Naturally this made me very angry. I don't do well in debates when I'm angry and upset at the same time as I tend to become a bit incoherent and tearful. So, I let my other friends take over for a bit.
Now that I am a little calmer I want to talk about one of the many reasons that women 'being more careful' isn't a good way to prevent rape. For a start, it won't do anything to stop men being raped, so there's that. Also, as long as there are people vulnerable to rape rape will continue to happen. It's not possible to remove all vulnerability by 'being careful'.
When I was 15 I was raped by a boyfriend. I was alone with him in his house, we'd been drinking and I was wearing make-up. My parents didn't know where I was, they didn't want me dating and drinking at that age so I hadn't told them. All of this is fairly standard teenage behaviour but I can see that I had put myself in a vulnerable situation, by lying about where I was, by drinking, by dressing up nicely and by being alone with a boy. However, I have a few questions. Is it unreasonable to want to look nice for a date? Is it unreasonable to spend time, alone, with someone you trust and who is supposed to care about you?
Sure, I shouldn't have been drinking as I was under age. Sure I shouldn't have lied to my parents. Let's look at why I was doing those things, shall we? I had a bit of a drinking problem when I was 15. I had turned to drink as a way to cope with my constant anxiety, in a huge part triggered by the ongoing sexual abuse by my father. I didn't tell my parents where I was going because if I had they wouldn't have let me go out. I desperately wanted to be out because when I stayed at home I was at huge risk of being raped by my father.
I could have hung out on the streets but I had had it drummed into me from a young age that this put me in danger, of rape or other violent assault. I could have been with my female friends. Earlier in the night I was, we all hung around in a nice big mixed gender group. Only it was a school night and one by one people went home. My boyfriend was the only person I knew who's house I could stay at that night. Since going home put me in danger of being raped, this seemed like the safest option.
So, I drank in order to over come my anxiety so that I could bring myself to leave the house. I needed to be out of the house to ensure I wasn't raped by my father. In order to stay off the streets, which is a dangerous place to be, I agreed to go home with my boyfriend. This meant being alone with him, but he'd never previously raped me, I trusted him and he'd promised to always take care of me. So, everything I did - aside from wearing make-up to look pretty for my date - was designed to protect me from rape. Yet I still ended up being raped that night.
I wasn't raped because I wasn't careful enough. I was raped because my boyfriend wanted to rape somebody.
Now, I know this is only my story. Not everybody who is raped shares my experience. The point remains though that being careful didn't stop me being raped. The only thing which will protect people from rape is by creating a culture where rape is not acceptable. Part of that can be achieved by not blaming the victim, or telling people that they can stop rape by being more careful and instead focussing our attentions on the people who want to rape.