Friday, September 11, 2009

In exercising our "rights" are women asking for it?

Listening to Between Ourselves this week I followed with horror the stories of two women who had been raped. Although most rapes are apparently conducted by rapists who know their victims, on the programme, both women had been raped by strangers. The stories were terrible in different ways. One of the women was violently raped by a man who was known to her friends and who offered to walk her home from a night club. The other woman was taken advantage of by a man who had sex with her against her clearly stated will in a dark corner of a hotel at a party. Again, this man was known to friends of the victim. In both cases the women were drunk and in the second case the woman was raped while she was physically incapable of putting up a fight.

Although both victims bitterly regret getting so drunk that their judgment/physical capabilities were impaired, they both articulated that woman should have "the right" to go out and have a good time in what ever way they choose. They maintain that raping someone is a choice and rapists can choose not to rape. I agree with them on both points, but sadly feel they are being unrealistic.

Second point first: Committing any crime is a choice. I agree, criminals make choices to commit crimes. Pointing out the blindingly obvious is not going to stop rapists from choosing to rape if they get the opportunity. In an ideal world, there would be no rapists. In our world, surely the real issue is making sure the rapists who clearly exist do not get the opportunity to exercise their choice? First point second: I wonder if either of these women leaves her doors unlocked, her purse unattended, or the keys in the car? I doubt it. It would be great if they felt they could do so but I am certain they do not. I am certain they take preventative measures to avoid being burgled as, with regret, do I.

Today, I consider staying relatively sober and relatively modestly dressed as preventative measures against rape just like locking my front door is a preventative measure against burglary. I have not always taken precautions against rape and I have been lucky: At a university frat party I passed out stone cold due to too much vodka and when I came to several hours later I was on the floor of the loo with my coat over me and my hand bag and shoes next to me. A year later, at a different frat house, a girl was gang raped while she was unconscious. Believe me, I count my blessings most days.

The problem is that a lot of women react with hostility if you suggest that part of a rape prevention plan should be relative modesty and relative sobriety. Suggesting either seems to be tantamount to asking them to wear a bin liner and stay home and scrub the loo. The "asked" inevitably think the "asker" is some kind of unliberated desperate square who is on the side of the potential rapists and who believes women wearing short skirts are "asking for it" and I resent that.

As women (and men) of course we have the "right" to go out, get pretty naked, get hammered, and dance on tables whilst snogging the bouncer if we want to. We also have the "right" to leave our doors unlocked but I bet that most of us don't. I wish it were different, I really do, but until it is different I will continue to advocate that a little modesty and a little sobriety are the best preventative measures we have got.


  1. Jane-I love this post. Thank you for the honesty in telling your story.

    Sadly, as I wish I had more compassion for these girls (don't get me wrong, what they went through is NEVER merited and never deserved), I can't help but think-where was their sense?

    Feminists beware what I am about to say: men are stronger than women, physically speaking. Knowing that, you have to think very carefully at the bait that you put out in the sea of horny fishes so to say. I would never say that someone "asked for it" because I think that is wrong. However, do I think that one HAS TO USE THEIR SENSE when it comes to the real world, absolutely.

    In order to have this discussion, one has to define "good time." I take great pride in my ability to enjoy myself. However, I do not ever feel put in great danger. To me, dressing scantily clad and drinking into oblivion is neither wise nor least not the day after. Even so, if that IS your definition of fun-you need to BE SMART about it. Be with fellow gentlemen whom you trust, don't travel without others-newsflash: this is not new advice.

    These stories should not be fueled to making women upset about not being able to "have a good time." Nobody is asking anyone to become a hermit playing scrabble on a Friday night. These stories should be used to raise awareness that we have ALWAYS got to be careful and wise. We are living in a dark world, and that is not changing anytime soon. Heart-brokenly I conclude, we have to change with it, or pay the price.

  2. Hmm. Very depressingly, I see the logic and sense behind the argument about modifying behaviour from a pure self preservation perspective. Where I get troubled is if those personal judgements and decisions about dress and alcohol intake made for sensible personal reasons trickle into becoming relevant to how a victim is viewed in the eyes of the law, and become a factor in the analysis of consent - which is always the danger and arguably the logical end game to this sort of discussion.

    We would all accept that it is instinctively abhorrent that absent consent, how drunk someone is or how they dress should influence a decision on whether or not an alleged rapist is culpable. But that must be a risk if it becomes accepted and promoted that it is in effect irresponsible for a woman to behave in a certain way. The problem is not only simply the one of personal freedom, but also of uncertainty. Locking a door or a car is different. It is an all or nothing, objective act. You cannot half lock a car and you won't get 5 people offering 5 different views at to whether or not you locked it correctly or not. But you will likely find a wide spread of opinion on what constitutes modest dressing and relative sobriety based on all sorts of things; age, social, religious and cultural background. Who is to be the judge? Your relatively modest dressing might be viewed by someone else as frankly slutty. Should they get to judge that and judge you, and so judge whether or not you were irresponsible and in effect contributed to getting raped?

    Then where do you drawn the line in terms of what is irresponsible behaviour? Is it just dress and alcohol, or is it going out alone, or not carrying an alarm, or mace, not having gone to self defence classes, or just being naive and making incredibly stupid but innocent decisions? I exaggerate to make a point, but I was an example of the latter when I was 19 and didn't end up a rape statistic or worse solely because the man concerned turned out to be decent when he realised I hadn't intended what he may have thought. I was lucky. Had it turned out differently, an analysis of consent which had allowed in anything other than as objective a measure as possible could have found me a contributor to the outcome.

    I appreciate this blog piece is aimed more at behaving a bit more carefully to look out for yourself, which must be right and sane, but the difficulty it seems is always going to be to maintain a bright line distinction between that,which is fine, and any hint that failure to behave in such a manner (judged by whose standards) should impact on how a victim and the alleged rapist is viewed by the police, the CPS and the Courts. And I am not a criminal lawyer, so it may be that there has already been some of this creep into the courtroom. I hope not.

  3. To Kerry and Callie - our three perspectives demonstrate just what a loaded debate this one is. Callie, I am delighted that someone a generation younger than me sees my point: it makes me feel less like a grumpy old woman. However, Kerry, as ever, has honed in on precisely the right point: everything is in the eye of the beholder and, sadly, if a case comes before the authorities, the beholder may be a prejudiced judge or police officer. The main point is, as ever, that no means no. And even a woman in a bin liner who is stone cold sober may be the recipient of unwanted attention from someone who does not care whether or not she has said no. From a practical perspective, I still maintain that women have to look out for themselves and try not to give anyone the opportunity to rape them. This means having at least all physical and mental capacities in place to fight off an attacker. Of course, even with physical and mental capacities in place, women (and men for that matter) can still get raped which is a terrible truth. And, if raped, they can be (and frequently are) not treated fairly by those in authority. The UK has a very low rate of successful rape prosecutions and the experience of many women at the hands of the authorities is unsympathetic at best and traumatic at worst. The woman in the programme who reported the rape wished in hindsight that she had not done it because her experience in doing to was so bad. The fact that there is no hard, bright line means it is even more important for people to look after themselves as best they can. Stay with friends and stay alert and capable is probably the best advice - better advice than dress modestly, I admit. Game to Kerry.