I’ve been trained to take a menace down with a coffee mug. Lodge the base in my palm and swing for the temple. The police officer instructing me in deadly force, deadly serious. I stopped going after that class, preferring the earlier sessions showing me the way to twist my body to escape grabs from behind, use momentum to break free from the fingers locking on my wrist.
The night frightened me. So did the day. Having lived through a sexual assault when I was 16, I tried to be smart. Learn how better to protect myself. Read books. Went to therapy. Took self-defense courses. Tried to avoid potentially dangerous situations, which ultimately left me feeling fearful to leave my house on my own any time after dark. Even in the sunlight, always alert, eyes scanning, guard up.
But by never wanting to be a victim again, I became the definitive victim.
It wasn’t until I accepted that there was virtually nothing I could do to prevent myself from being raped, that the responsibility to stop rape was not mine, but the rapists and the population that produces most rapists, that I started to become a survivor instead of a victim.
When a student sitting in the center of the school library is gunned down by a classmate, no one would ever think of implying she should have known better than to make herself so vulnerable. You wouldn’t hear media pundits commenting, “School shootings happen. Everybody knows that. Why wasn’t she smart enough to protect herself and sit at a carrel in the back, away from the door? And why was she wearing such a bright colored shirt that made her stand out. Didn’t her parents have the sense to teach her better than that?” Instead, the blame, and the focus for preventing future school shootings, falls where it should, on the gunman and the culture that produced the gunman.
Blaming a rape survivor for being raped is equally ludicrous. It doesn’t matter if a women is out alone at night, wearing a short skirt, intoxicated, or even unconscious. Any statement insinuating a women’s culpability after she’s been raped is outrageous, reprehensible, offensive, and unacceptable. Survivors are not responsible for being attacked.
The painful fact is the majority of rapes are committed by males, approximately 99%. One particularly startling and heartbreaking research project documented that a third of men surveyed said they would commit rape if they could avoid detection. Until men take responsibility for making rape socially and culturally unacceptable, one in four women will be raped in her lifetime.
Men need to stop rape. They need to stop it by conveying the message to their peers and to boys that women must be treated with respect, and are not sexual objects, despite their potential to be consensual, sexual partners. They need to stop perpetuating the fallacy that a man’s self-esteem should be tied to the number of women with which he’s had sex, and that is acceptable to use any means to achieve that objective, be it deception, manipulation, coercion, or brute force.
For us to make any real progress on significantly reducing and eliminating sexual assault in our communities, men need to take responsibility. We need to stop blaming the most common victims of rape: women, children, the elderly, and the most vulnerable amongst us. We’ve spent centuries telling them it is their fault if they were raped. They should have done a better job, been smarter, about protecting themselves from attack. This will not work to eradicate rape. It hasn’t. It won’t. In truth, we need to put far less energy and effort into teaching girls and women how not to get raped, but rather create a culture where men don’t rape.
If you’re interested in reviewing more facts about rape: