“Rape Responsibility,” And The Fine Line Between Victim-Blaming and Common Sense
Zerlina Maxwell is a friend of mine, and I understand where “Stop Telling Women How to Not Get Raped” — her latest piece at Ebony.com — is coming from.
I definitely agree that “Telling women that they can behave in a certain way to avoid rape creates a false sense of security and it isnâ€™t the most effective way to lowerÂ the horrible statistics which show that 1 in 5 women will become victims of a completed or attempted rape in their lifetime.”
I also agree that “We need anti-rape campaignsÂ that target young men and boys.Â Campaigns that teach them from a young age how to respect women, and ultimately themselves, and to never ever be rapists. In addition, we should implore our men and boys to call out their friends, relatives, and classmates for inappropriate behavior and create systems of accountability amongst them.”
I even agree that “Our community, much like society-at-large, needs a paradigm shift as it relates to our sexual assault prevention efforts.Â For so long all of our energy has been directed at women, teaching them to be more â€œladylikeâ€ and to not be â€œpromiscuousâ€ to not drink too much or to not wear a skirt. Newsflash: men donâ€™t decide to become rapists because they spot a woman dressed like a video vixen or because a girl has been sexually assertive.”
But — and I’m trying to say this as delicately as possible — as the article continues, and lines such as “Consent can be withdrawn by the words â€œno â€œor â€œstopâ€ and in many states, a woman doesnâ€™t have to say no at all. Consumption of alcohol can prevent a woman from being able to legally offer consent” begin to seep in,Â the tone seems to shift from “men need to take full responsibility for their actions” to “men need to take full responsibility for their actions…and women have carte blance to act as recklessly and stupidly around men as possible without any trace of accountability.” and I just can’t agree anymore.
I know that rapists are going to rape regardless of how women decide to dress, what (and how much)Â women decide to drink, where women decide to frequent, and what women decide to do. For rapists, all a woman needs to do to “ask for it” is be born.
But, why can’t both genders be educated on how to act responsibility around each other? What’s stopping us from steadfastly instilling “No always means no!” in the minds of all men and boysÂ and educating women how not to put themselves in certain situations?Â Of course men shouldn’t attempt to have sex with a woman who’s too drunk to say no, but what’s wrong with reminding women that if you’re 5’1 and 110 pounds, it’s probably not the best idea to take eight shots of Patron while on the first, second, or thirteenth date? Yes, sober womenÂ definitelyÂ get raped too, but being sober and aware does decrease the likelihood that harm may come your way, and that’s true for each gender.
It seems as if the considerable push back again victim-blaming has pushed all the way past prudence and levelheadedness, making anyone who suggests that “women can actually be taught how to behave too” insensitive or a “rape enabler.” And, while the sentiment in Maxwell’s article suggests that victim-blaming is dangerous, I think it’s even more dangerous to neglect to remind young women that, while it’s never their fault if they happen to get sexuallyÂ assaulted, they shouldn’t thumb their noses to common sense either.
—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)
(I left this as a comment below, but I wanted to attach it to the end of the entry as well.)
So, although I realized while writing this that it may be a touchy subject, I admittedly underestimated exactly how potentially explosive it was going to be. I read some of these responses late last night and early this morning, and I’m genuinely shocked at the level of anger and hurt this entry has caused. I really did not expect this to happen. And while I don’t apologize for expressing my viewpoint, but I do apologize about being so flippant and not being more careful to articulate exactly what I meant to convey. Considering the subject matter, leaving lighthearted footnotes and links to my appearance in Essence at the end of the entry was a very bad idea.
Anyway, as far as the actual article and responses, my intent wasn’t to imply that any victim of rape should be held “accountable” for what happened to them. I also realize that the majority of rapes are done by people who know their victims — boyfriends, co-workers, friends, dates, etc — making it almost impossible to defend against, and in no way did I want to spread the message that staying sober and out of shady situations is all a woman has to do to avoid being raped.
All I was trying to do was respond to a theme — men always have to be hyper-vigilant, hyper-careful, and possess the ability to read women’s minds. women, on the other hand, can do whatever the hell they want — I got from Zerlina’s article, the comments attached to it, and the Twitter convo it sparked. And, I still believe that this is a dangerous way to approach things.
I’m aware that all the education and conversation in the world about learning how to protect yourself and stay out of harms way and properly vetting men isn’t going to prevent men from raping women. A woman can do all of that and still get sexually assaulted. I’m also aware that the onus of responsibility falls directly on the shoulders of the rapist, and no where else.
But, my whole point is that young men AND young women need to be taught how to behave around the opposite sex, and I don’t see how saying that suggests that I think women should be held responsible for their own rapes. Perhaps I’m being too obtuse, tone deaf, or insensitive, but I just don’t see the connection between “everyone should be educated and learn how to take responsibility for their actions” and “rape is the woman’s fault”
You know, before logging on and leaving this comment, I called up a friend to ask her to read the post and let me know if people were being way too sensitive or if I was crazy in thinking “what the hell is everyone so upset about?”
Her (paraphrased) reply:
“Yeah, I think you should have left this topic alone. Any time a man writes about rape and even puts women and accountability in the same sentence, you’re going to anger people and come off as either completely tone deaf or dangerously insensitive, even if you don’t actually say or feel that women need to be held accountable for what happens to them. Maybe you could have worded your feelings better, but there’s really nothing you could have said besides “rape is wrong. the end” that would have made much of a difference.”
I think she’s right.