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Women Speak on Rape

DED Space discusses what it means when rapists have culture on their side.

Echidne of the Snakes takes apart Steve Gilliard’s prescriptive etiquette for women, in other words, his essay on How Not To Get Raped (Echidne later provides an astute update stemming from the comments in her previous post). Pseudo-Adrienne takes on this Gilliard essay as well. Shorter Steve Gilliard: “Yes, some guys are assholes, but it’s still your fault if you get raped.”

After surveying her class during the Kobe Bryant trial, Alley Rat finds that rape myths are alive and well among well-educated, middle-class boys and girls. Some of these comments are incredibly disappointing.

Amanda states the obvious: “Women cannot stop rape. And I’m sick of being told women don’t do enough to stop assault on us.”

Pinko Feminist Hellcat can’t win for losing. She discusses how others negatively perceive her precautionary tactics.

Both Amanda and PFH write on something I was criticized for just a few months ago, taking precautions out of what the author described as a “sad” fear. When I walk to and on campus at night, I turn my headphones low, make sure I’m wearing shoes I can run in, and loop my house keys through my fingers. I listen for footsteps around me and maintain a confident walk as though my confidence can somehow protect me. Sometimes I justify my late night solo walks with a statistical likelihood: if it happened to me once what are the chances of it happening again?

I have my wits, my strength, and my logic in my favor, but if a man decides he wants to do something to me, there is little I can do about it short of turning myself into a warrior.

These are my precautions to ensure my safety, I will not apologize for them. Safety does not mean indoors after eight.

The author who criticized these things as sadly fearful didn’t understand why I would take these precautions unless I had been raped or something. I left a comment replying that my first introduction to sex was rape and that after eleven years this summer I still live with the legacy. What he didn’t understand is that fear of assault does not result from having been raped, but from living in a culture in which, as PFH says, trust can mean peril.

43 thoughts on Women Speak on Rape

  1. Well there’s a blood-pressure-raising set of links.

    It’s been a long time since I’ve been tempted to be ashamed of being male. God damn people like Gilliard for trying to drag me back there again.

    I mean, it’s not like I ‘ve always been supremely diligent in challenging my own male privilege. But I can’t imagine wilfully being that blind to it, not without my head exploding from the contradictions.

  2. I’m so sorry to hear about your experience.

    I remember a boyfriend lecturing me for being “paranoid” when I told him that I always check the back seat of the car before getting in. This is classic “how not to get raped” advice, and sadly practical, but he treated me like I was crazy.

    He apologized later after he got a clue.

    A lot of men just don’t get what it’s like to live in a rape culture. That’s understandable; I just wish some of the talkers would shut up and listen for a change. Admit that they don’t know, and try to work with us on reducing rape.

  3. As a guy, I can’t imagine what kind of precautions women must take, both psychologically and physically. I mean, when I’m alone in an unfamiliar location, I get my who’s gonna fuck with me radar up, and I’m not worried about being raped, just with the need to defend myself from dudes who want to mess with me just to fight or to mug me. Have to remind myself that women deal with this shit ALL the time, not just occaisionally, and it’s worse because rape IS in fact one of the concerns.

    Is it just the States? My wife and I lived in Europe for several years, and neither of us worried too much when she came home late alone.

    And Chris, I hear what you’re saying. The thing that most guys don’t get about feminism is it’s truly revolutionary realignment of the sexes. I mean, for feminism to fully take root, it has to affect change inside the minds of men, not just women. That’s something most guys don’t get or aren’t willing to do. It’s like one side is trying to play a game of tennis, and the other side is watching TV and drinking beer and not even noticing the tennis balls bouncing near them. No wonder a lot of women are pissed by Kos’s and others’ reposnses. It’s yet another instance of guys willfully not getting it. And being a male feminist (a designation I am reluctant to claim for myself ’cause it seems too self-congratulatory) doesn’t mean giving up your masculinity or maleness or whatever operational style you want to call it. It just means having an openess to seeing the world through the eyes of women and to take action accordingly. An openess which obvioulsy fewer men have than had previously thought.


  4. I don’t really understand how one avoids being “fearful” in this culture. I mean, all you have to do is run through one week’s worth of crime shows on tv to see that the rape, abuse and murder of women is standard fare. That I’m willing to walk alone at night, or even alone during the day, or travel by myself to foreign countries, is not because I’m not afraid (“wary” might be a better word) but because I’m not going to refuse to live my life just because some people might view me as prey.

    To a number of people I am prey — but even prey animals have teeth and claws. We shouldn’t be made to feel silly for being ready to use them. And we definitely shouldn’t be made to feel like the actions of predators are our “fault” when those teeth and claws aren’t enough, or even when we won’t, don’t or can’t use them.

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  7. I’m still amazed every time I do something or say something about how I protect myself when I’m by myself and my boyfriend will be surprised that I do that. When I told him that I often memorized where pay phones were, or where there were open businesses in case I felt the need to run into a place late at night, along my walk home from the bus or train he seemed confused, and then sad. He understand why I do it, but his suprise at the actions I take without thinking about them angers me. And then I have a “It’s not fair!” moment before it passes and I go back to doing what I feel like I need to do to permit myself to have the life I want without feeling like a prisoner in my home.”

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  9. Hi Lauren,

    I just read your original post and I am sorry to hear what happened to you. Also sorry to hear about the lack of belief, which is something I have faced as well.

    Anyway, I have a male partner who travels a lot. When he’s away, I sleep with my mobile phone, home phone, house and car keys, wallet and shoes right beside me. So if someone breaks in I can get out and away as quickly as possible, call the police or whoever.

    I was telling some men about this and they were bemused. I told my female friends, some of whom have similar living arrangements, and they all had a similar “escape plan”.

    This is in my own home — I don’t feel safe here, alone, at night. What does it take to make people — men, women, everyone — that this is not MY responsibility?

    I too, refuse to live in fear — I go out alone after dark and I try my best to be strong and independent, sensible and cautious all at the same time. But fear is still there, all the time, and it’s exhausting.

  10. A few months ago I wrote a brief review of “Loving to Survive” which covered some of the same points as your example on campus. You have to take the precautions necessary to feel safe. I might suggest that those who critiqued you for your preparations probably unconsciously take measures as well. Are you overprepared? Well, that won’t be answered until there is a situation that needs those preparations. I hope that is never but hope isn’t much of a deterent.

  11. Lauren, I hadn’t known about your story. It’s moving and scary. Must have taken a huge amount of courage to write about it; thanks for sharing it with everyone.

  12. you have to become stronger because of these things…not exist with the mentality “ will”Empowerment is the key. My friend Susan K has written a lot about rape, and has been raped at least twice as I believe she has told me. She has written and talked about it alot. It takes courage….

  13. I had a different take on the Steve Gillard thing that I posted about on my blog. My first sexual experience was also a rape which continued until luckily for me he died in an accident else it would have gon e on longer.. i=iitwasfoodime

  14. Lisa, I am sorry to hear about that horrible experience. I makes it only harder for me to understand why you try to justify Gilliard’s post and subsequent comments (it is important to underscore that he is not only a “male blogger”; he is also a self-proclaimed “liberal”).
    This is the first time I go to your blog and I notice you have an ad for a “Sexy Personals w/Pix” site that says: “Browse 1000s: Find a New Lover Tonite“.
    You may know that Internet dating sometimes result in rape (probably more often than reported, but I don’t have any statistics to back that up), for obvious reasons (anonymity making delusion easier, etc.). Would you feel any responsibility if this happened to a woman (for instance a young adult like the one in Aruba) who’d have clicked through the ad on your blog?
    This is not to be harsh or anything, I’m interested in your reponse. The contradiction seems obvious to me, but I may be wrong (I doubt you would favor living in a Taliban-like society).

  15. Jimmy, are you kidding us with this? You question Lauren because of a link to a dating site, where women consciously search for partners for romance and consensual sex because maybe some rapists use that forum to identify victims? That moves responsibility so far from its proper locus as to be utterly nonsensical.

    I direct your attention to Amanda’s post at Pandagon. The sense of it is that by wondering loudly what mistakes women make when they get raped, we’re obscuring the simple, significant fact: that rape is the rapist’s fault. There are over 100 comments on the thread. I think if you read it and listen to what women are saying, you’ll understand why your question is dangerously close to asking why feminists don’t just endorse the wearing of an abaya.

  16. Jimmy, you’re online. Presumably, you support your service provider through monthly or hourly fees, and support internet commerce as a consumer. And you know–you must know–that the internet has been a valuable tool for predators, both rapists and pedophiliac rapists. Thousands of children, minors, and vulnerable women have been approached online, many of them subsequently victimized. Nor is the internet merely a conduit for molesters! Elder abuse, credit-card fraud, false advertising, rudeness, and even sarcasm have all become infinitely easier with the advent of the web. And yet, here you are, perpetuating the cycle of violation.

    Have you no shame? Are you really that complacent, that selfish, with your gmail and your chat rooms and your blogrolls? Can you not think of the children?

  17. Sorry, my computer died last night so didn’t realize a partial post had occurred.

    How can I defend Steve’s position? It’s not a matter of defending it, it’s a matter of agreeing with him that there are times when parents should use more common sense in making sure their children are protected. As I wrote on my blog, look at Michael Jackson, how may of us as parents would actually let our child sleep in the same bed with him? Or as the local story I wrote about where a five year old girl was raped by a man who had a prison record and smoked crack…why would you let your child spend the night at his house? While the men who committ these crimes are ultimately responsible, as no one asks to be raped or molested nor deserves it, there is still the intial question that I think Steve raised, if you put yourself in dangerous situations you are increasing the risk of something happening. It’s our jobs as parents to protect our children, sure we cannot prevent every monster out there from getting to them, but we sure don’t have to make it easier for them either.

    That was my point and what I got from Steve’s blog.

  18. Lisa, this woman was eighteen. I demand to live in a world where an eighteen year old woman can be in the company of three men and not be raped and killed. I demand it from men.

  19. Well Thomas, while you are demanding it I as a parent would not send them on trips when they will not be properly chaperoned, and tell them to never ever ever go anywhere with anyone without telling someone where they are going and who they are with. When my older two lived at home and were over 18 they still told me where they were going, when they would be back and who they were going to be with. On trips they check in even though they live on their own now.

    So while you are trying to make it happen by demanding it I’ll continue to do my best as a parent to make sure mine are as safe as possible. Can I prevent it all? Nope, didn’t prevent it from happening to me, but I will do my best to make sure none of my children go thru what I did.

    Would you walk thru the most crime laden area of your town at night alone flashing large amounts of money? It’s the same principal, common sense. You don’t have to instill fear in them to the point where they look behind every bush, afraid to go anywhere, but there is a balance.

    So while I understand your demand, until the world becomes the one you want? Reality is different.

  20. Would you walk thru the most crime laden area of your town at night alone flashing large amounts of money?

    We’re talking about a woman’s body, here, not a money clip.

  21. That goes without saying Piny, it was meant to be an example of common sense protection not as a comparison to a woman’s body.

    If you would take precautions to protect your money, surely taking precautions to make sure you were not raped would make even more sense.

  22. parents should use more common sense in making sure their children are protected.

    Eighteen, I remind you. At that age, I lived in a dorm room with a stranger, and I was answerable for my whereabouts to exactly nobody. At that age I travelled overseas, and while I stayed with relatives, I took the train into the big bad city and stayed all day unsupervised.

    At eighteen, one can both drive and own a car, carry a passport and leave the country, make legally binding contracts, file tax returns. One can enlist in the military, fight in a war and die. One can consent to sex with a man or a woman in every state of the union.

    Eighteen. She was an adult. She had a right to do things her parents didn’t want her to do. She had a right to go to a beach with three good looking guys. She had a right to try to hook up with one of them. Or all of them. She had a right not to be raped and murdered for doing so.

    I am NOT going to dignify the social enforcement of rules of good-girl behavior by engaging in this hand-wringing over how we can’t stop rapists, so women will have to be more careful. Women don’t rape themselves, and they don’t get themselves raped. Rapists rape women.

    And I am NOT going to join the chorus of hand-wringing over her parents’ perceived failures. I don’t know much about them, or how she was raised, and neither do you, really. Maybe she thought she was safer with three guys she had spent the evening with than only one, because maybe her parents taught her that being alone with a guy she barely knew was dangerous. Or maybe they told her that all men were dangerous and she should spend her life having no fun, sipping tea and waiting for a Southern gentleman to come ask for her hand. I don’t know what they told her.

    I’m going to go ahead and be an asshole and say that you’re playing the “it couldn’t happen to me” game. You say your adult children check in with you, and you sleep at night by throwing your judgment at the less “good” parents of this woman. But most who are raped are raped by men they know. The ability to report the identity of these men is not in question, yet it doesn’t stop them. Sure, reporting your whereabouts, learning self-defense and walking to the car with keys in your hand will, on the margin, improve the odds, but their real impact is psychological: they’re talismans against a social force that no one woman has the power to change. So is your certainty that your superior powers of parenting can protect your children. Hold that talisman all you want, but it will not protect you.

  23. Would you walk thru the most crime laden area of your town at night alone flashing large amounts of money?

    I hate this analogy. I wish people would stop using it.

    First: Flashing a money clip in a bad neighborhood is a stupid, clueless thing to do. It is stupid because it is voluntary. Being female is (with a very few exceptions) not voluntary. Women cannot generally hide their gender inside their shoe, the way I would with a hundred dollar bill in my old neighborhood.

    Second: analogizing men to a “bad neighborhood” may well reflect a perception that women have gained through sad experience. But no one should accept that as they way things are. Least of all men. It’s an offensive stereotype. I have huge sympathy for women who mistrust all men. But we’re not all evil, and any solution other than armed separatism will need our cooperation.

    Third: if you’re going to analogize theft of cash to rape, then *most* rapes are the equivalent of the woman leaving her purse snapped shut in her house, doors locked: her housemate then takes her ATM card out of the purse and goes off to drain her account.

  24. Chris, that’s exactly right. I leave my wallet unattended in my own home all the time. I take out my wallet to pay for things in crowded stores and bars all the time. It’s absurd to suggest that I stop offering to pick up the tab because I might expose my money to my friends and business associates. I can’t just stop going out to dinner – it’s part of my life!

    The things people so blithely tell women not to do are offensive.

  25. Like I already wrote it was merely a comparison of common sense precaution — just as you would use common sense to make sure you were not robbed you should use common sense to not place yourself or one of your children in a situation that increases your chance of abuse, rape or injury.

    Sean Hannity last night was going on and on about how no one should dare talk about the victim or even mention the fact that she was drinking or shouldn’t have gone with three men she did not know. So I disagree with him as well as some of you. This constant pretense of making it appear if you dare to say that was a really stupid thing to do is blaming the victim or not placing enough blame on a rapist does nothing to stop the next 18 year old girl from realizing…gee maybe I don’t want to go with these three guys without telling someone where I’m going. Or the next parent….gee maybe since there is not going to be enough chaperones this isn’t something I want my child to do.

    So again, hopefully for the last time, did she deserve to be raped or killed? Of course not, who is ultimately to blame for this? Whoever raped or killed her but to expect us to be able to just blindly do whatever we want without taking precautions doesn’t make sense.

  26. Lisa,
    What you don’t seem to be getting is that a woman can take every reasonable precaution (hell, even unreasonable ones) and still be raped. Another woman can engage in so-called dangerous behavior and not be raped. That’s because it’s *not up to women* whether or not they get raped. It has nothing to do with what she has or hasn’t done. It has nothing to do with where she is or isn’t. It has everything to do with whether or not there is a male who decides he’s entitled to a woman’s body. You and I and all women are powerless when it comes to guaranteeing that we will not be raped. To pretend otherwise is what doesn’t make sense.

  27. I think I clearly have stated rape can happen no matter what, even when you take precautions. I find it very interesting that I being a former rape victim who is stating very clearly that parents need to do a better job in making sure their children are as safe as possible being interpreted the way it has here. I was 14 years old when I was raped. It changed my life in some very drastic ways. I knew my rapist. While I don’t believe the rape could have been prevented in my situation, that doesn’t make me any less cautious when it comes to giving my children the tools they need to survive in a world where not everyone is going to be trustworthy.

    It is out of my desire that NO ONE ever experience what I did that makes me state as I have that while it cannot always be prevented there is no reason to create situations that make it more possible or had some basic common sense been applied would probably not have happened.

    As to her being 18 and Thomas’s whole selection on that….do you have children Thomas? If you teach them prior to them turning 18 then chances are once they are 18 they will remember it. If you don’t have children, how did you learn how to be an adult? Since you didn’t like my crime analogy here’s a few different ones.

    Do you teach a child to look both ways before they cross the street or to run into the street without looking hoping the cars will stop or avoid hitting them? Do you teach a child to never swim alone so that if there is trouble there is some one there? Do you teach your children that while many people are nice and loving there are bad people out there and they need to be careful in trusting someone just because they “seem” nice. Responsible parents teach their children that safety precautions make sense. Do bad things still happen? Of course. I’d love to live in a world where children didn’t have to learn about strangers or rape or sexual abuse but I don’t. So if you have a problem with me realizing that some of these situations could have been avoided had some simple common sense have been used? Don’t know what else I can tell any of you.

  28. I think I clearly have stated rape can happen no matter what, even when you take precautions. I find it very interesting that I being a former rape victim who is stating very clearly that parents need to do a better job in making sure their children are as safe as possible being interpreted the way it has here.

    Clarification: I wasn’t imputing any “blaming the victim” to you. I think you’ve been very clear on that issue. I hope my response to you didn’t make you feel like I was denigrating your idea. I didn’t like the simile you used, but that’s all. A responsible parent will certainly let a child know about all of the dangers that face her/him out in the world.

    And a responsible parent will also encourage the child to go out and make that world better.

  29. I agree Chris, I try not to go into personal stuff on the internet as a rule, so if I appear over-sensitive that is not my intent. My intial intent was to offer my point of view on the basic premise of Steve’s blog, minus the sex crazed american part….

    Hopefully our children will make the world a better place, it’s overdue……

  30. But that’s just it: a woman doesn’t create those situations. If rape occurs in such an endless array of situations, how does anything a woman does protect her against it? It’s the man that creates such a situation. I mean, we all agree that the man is the key element, right? A woman can’t get raped if she’s alone at a house party. Or if she’s alone in the middle of the night on the street. No, what rapes her is the rapist. Of all the rapes we’ll ever talk about, that’s the commen element. The only one present in each situation. And since everyone here has agreed that women don’t rape themselves, I think it’s pretty clear that we need to start talking about the rapist’s behavior. Maybe talk about what guys can do to stomp out the attitude in men that leads to women being seen as objects. Maybe talk about what they can do to help other men see past their entitlement issues. Why are we having the same conversation over and over again, when obviously it does no good? Women have been told to change their behavior forever. It hasn’t done a damn thing. We still get raped.
    Do you know what’s even worse than that? Since a woman isn’t protected by her actions anyway, she’s curtailed her freedom, her life, her possibilities, for nothing. She’s traded in control over her life for the illusion of control. Because nothing she does can protect her against rape. NOTHING. It won’t even lower her chances. So can we change the subject and talk about men changing rapists’ and potential rapists’ behavior?

  31. I disagree a woman can lower her chances in some situations, not in all but in some. We cannot change rapist’s behavior, so we are left to deal with what we can do.

    We can choose not to be easy targets as a victim. We can choose to not let our children be easy targets. We cannot prevent rape in all situations.

    We can make it hard for a rapist. We can make sure that if a rape is going to happen it will not be without a fight. We can make sure that those that are convicted as rapists are really punished rather than being given a basic slap on the wrist. We can make sure our sons are raised with enough love and security that they do not feel they have to try to strike back at women by using rape as a power tool. We can make sure our daughters are secure enough to not only demand respect but to eliminate this whole porn image of No No No really means yes that some of these men believe. We can make sure our sons are raised to know that sex is not something they can demand it is something that is mutually given. A woman causing him to have a hard on by mere flirting or her appearance is not an automatic license to force sex.

    We can find a way to help those men that feel their only way of demonstrating power is to rape women that this is not them gaining power, it is a mere issue of causing physical submission that does not give them power, it in essence takes it away as the real power is in earning love and a sexual relationship not taking it by force.

  32. Rapists should spend life in prison. Period. There’s nothing else that’s going to get their attention. No mercy, no second chance. Rape is a crime against humanity. It is terrorism.

    Lock them up forever. Within one generation, rape in the country will cease.

    Oh yeah, killing your rapist should be a misdemeanor.

    You want to stop rape, get serious about it. Why are politicians soft on rape? Are they pro-rape?

  33. Lisa,

    The problem with all this talk (by mostly guys) about what women can do to prevent rape is that:

    1) It’s discussed as if women who take this advice are preventing rape. They aren’t, they are simply making it less likely that they will be raped.

    It’s understood that when you turn on an alarm or lock your front door that you are only discouraging a potential thief from stealing from you, you are not discouraging theft in general. Why does the assumption seem to be the opposite when it comes to rape? That if this poor young woman had not acted in a certain way, not only would she not have been raped, but rape wouldn’t have happened? Whether it’s the intention or not, by focusing on what women, rather than what society, can do to prevent rape, we are saying exactly that.

    2) It’s all we seem to talk about.

    At one of the colleges I attended, bike theft was rampant, so there was lots of advice on how to protect yourself from theft. It was understood, however, that bike theft was rampant because the police had better things to worry about, not because we were careless or stupid, and that the focus was on our behaviour because the police had more important things to concentrate on, not because this was the most effective way of dealing with the problem. When crime prevention focuses mostly on the behaviour of potential victims, it’s because society has decided that it has more “important shit” to worry about.

    There is a time and a place for discussing self-preservation measures that women can take, and when we are still trying to figure out what happened to this poor woman doesn’t seem to me to be one of them.

    There is also a time and a place for chaperones. Voting and draft age isn’t one of them. If her parents thought she was too immature to travel with just her peers, they shouldn’t have footed the bill. Because, seriously, any 18 year old who sees leaving the country as permission to act in ways they shouldn’t, will find ways around the chaperone as well.

  34. Upon rereading my reaction to Lisa’s post and Thomas’ and Piny’s responses to it, I realise that my comment was quite poorly formulated, and, more importantly, needlessly brutal. With my familial history and my real life experiences I should have known better. I could have thought it over, and waited that the debate that took place afterwards developped.
    In fact, I am troubled by the part of myself that appears in that careless scribbling; I have started writing a more detailed clarification, which I may post later if I make it to the end, but for now, I want to apologise to you, Lisa, and to any other reader I may have hurt.

  35. We can make sure that if a rape is going to happen it will not be without a fight.

    No, we can’t “make sure” of this. If you have a gun in your face, putting up a fight is rarely your best option. If you’ve been drugged and are unconscious, putting up a fight is going to be a little tricky.

    Would you walk thru the most crime laden area of your town at night alone flashing large amounts of money?

    You know, it’s funny you should say that. When I was in law school, I routinely walked through a very “crime laden” area, carrying money to the bank (from my school’s legal-aid clinic). And nobody took this as a divine right to mug me. Even though I was clearly not a resident, even though there were a lot of poor and economically desperate people.

    And if I had been mugged, there would not have been Monday-morning quarterbacking from my classmates, speculating on how visible the bank bag was, whether I took the best route, why I didn’t drive, and so on.

  36. Aside from the fact that, “Well, don’t walk alone at night….” places the onus of preventing her rape on the woman, there’s another big problem: it’s not terribly relevant. It’s like talking about walking around late at night with a lot of cash if the real problem is an epidemic of home invasions.

    Women are most likely to be raped by men they know and otherwise trust: dates, friends, acquaintances, family members. They are most likely to be raped in their homes, at parties, in the homes of their friends, and in other otherwise safe spaces. It’s possible to prevent some kinds of stranger rape by taking arguably reasonable safety precautions. But that doesn’t solve the biggest part of the problem.

  37. When I was an undergrad at the University at Albany, there was a program called “A Few Good Men” that was a one-night session, men only, dealing the sex, violence and rape. Women were never allowed to sit in on it, so I never knew what went on there, but everyone I know that went to it came out aa changed man. (Er, for the better.) Anyone know of other programs like this?

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