Last year I wrote a post on my blog about the victim-blaming rape culture we live in, in which the primary focus is still on telling women to alter their behaviour in order to avoid rape, when what we need to be doing is addressing the rapists and condemning them (which, thankfully, at least some places are doing, with apparently positive results)
“Oh but everyone knows rape is wrong, what’s the point in that? Nothing wrong with giving people some well-intentioned advice about staying safe.”
No, sod off. Clearly everyone does not know it’s wrong. That alone is clear, since if you leave the word ‘rape’ itself out of questionnaires and phrase them carefully, a shocking majority of people will admit to thinking force is justifiable in certain circumstances.
Recently we had an outcry directed at ITV and Eamonn Holmes specifically for his callous comment to a high-profile rape survivor, who aided her assailant’s conviction by deliberately leaving genetic material for later forensic detection.
For some reason he decided it would be a good idea to tell this woman that she should just take taxis in future. Right, thanks. Because no rapists are ever found driving licensed cabs.
With this in mind, some female friends and I, in a pre-Christmas 2011 exercise, received the following e-mail from Transport for London:
Dear Ms Baker,
I am writing to remind you that unbooked minicabs picked up off the street are dangerous and put you at risk of sexual assault. The safest way to get a minicab home is to:
- Book it – by phone, email or in a minicab office to guarantee your trip is carried out by a licensed, insured driver and vehicle
- Check it’s yours – ask the driver to confirm your name and destination before you get in the car, and check the driver’s photo ID
- Sit in the back – and carry your mobile in case of an emergency
Our Cabwise text service makes it easier to find and book a licensed minicab or taxi near you.
For further details please visit tfl.gov.uk/cabwise
Director of Community Safety, Enforcement and Policing
Well, gosh, thank you, Steve, for your care and concern. Apparently getting in random cars isn’t a good idea any more, because you’re likely to get raped. It’s not like we haven’t been hearing the don’t-trust-strangers message since we were children, is it?
Interestingly, this mail only went to female users of TfL. There was no suggestion to men not to let their friends – male or female – take unbooked cabs. There was no suggestion that men taking them might also be putting themselves at risk of violence (sexual or otherwise).
You can put a hundred women in outfits of differing styles, in varying degrees of drunkenness, with or without friends and with different personalities into the same kind of situations over and over. But it’s not victims who cause attacks, it’s the attacker. It is their presence, not a woman who’s drunk or wearing a short skirt, that results in the crime. She can go about her business in the majority of situations, but only when she comes into contact with a rapist is that violation going to occur.
Someone recently commented on my post:
Applying the same logic to other crimes highlights the absurdity of it all “sorry I just couldn’t help myself, he just looked so stabby in that flimsy t-shirt that I just couldn’t help plunging the knife into him, why did he have to wear that t-shirt?!” etc.
If there really is evidence that unlicensed cabs are the problem here – harbouring a particularly high number of (known or suspected??) rapists, then how about tackling that issue, instead of targeting the victims and innocent among us? We all keep ourselves safe as best we can. No one wants to be the victim of an assault.
This kind of communication holds within it the suggestion that the problem is in fact women – our actions and behaviour – if only we changed that (silly women, just be more sensible!) then maybe everything would be OK. Well no, it wouldn’t.
Target the criminals, please, and leave the rest of us to go about our business – stop making us think we could and should have done something different to help ourselves avoid whatever horrible things might befall us.
Our culture finds it perfectly acceptable to shift the blame onto the victims of certain crimes – particularly sexual assaults – and it is this that we should be recognising and addressing. Constantly telling women to be careful achieves nothing except belittling victims, discouraging people from coming forward and generally normalising the idea that sometimes it’s OK to do what you want because there are certain excuses that are acceptable.
A 1984 study looked into the justifications used by a cohort of convicted rapists. The general themes included:
- women as seductresses (she’s asking for it really – tacit consent)
- women mean “yes” when they say “no” (again, she does want it despite what she says)
- most women eventually relax and enjoy it (we all want to be dominated!)
- nice girls don’t get raped (her past could be justification for your crime)
- guilt in a minor wrongdoing (people don’t self-identify as rapists, though they will often admit to something less serious).
Men should be more offended by the suggestions so often trotted out about them being unable to control themselves. Here in our society, this often translates into friends covering for friends they may suspect, while elsewhere it manifests as laws requiring women hide themselves from view almost entirely, to avoid provoking the menfolk.
Don’t patronise us, Tfl, and don’t blame us for the failings of law keepers and our rape-sympathetic culture.
We’re not asking for it.