Dating, Relationships, & Sex, Pop Culture, Race & Politics, Theory & Essay

“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 isn’t the most effective way to lower 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 campaigns that target young men and boys.  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.  For so long all of our energy has been directed at women, teaching them to be more “ladylike” and to not be “promiscuous” to not drink too much or to not wear a skirt. Newsflash: men don’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— and I’m trying to say this as delicately as possible — as the article continues, and lines such as “Consent can be withdrawn by the words “no “or “stop” and in many states, a woman doesn’t have to say no at all.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, 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) 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 boys and educating women how not to put themselves in certain situations? 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 women definitely 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 sexually assaulted, they shouldn’t thumb their noses to common sense either.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

***11:07 edit***

(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.

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Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a contributing editor for EBONY.com. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at damon@verysmartbrothas.com. Or don't.

  • Corey

    WOW. Lifting heavy today are we?

  • http://www.womenaregamechangers.com Women Are Gamechangers

    I completely agree that everyone needs to be educated on this subject. People will say how a woman should dress or act but that is not educating anyone how what rape is, how it effectives the victim or what happens to the rapists emotionally and if caught legally. I think more people should educate themselves as well as others on this very subject. Talking is always the first step but it should not end there. Young boys and men need to fully understand that their actions have consequences and it does not make them a man.

  • http://mrweethomas.wordpress.com weethomas

    I think the issue is the context where your . . . followups to her article is being made.

    In a discussion about rape and victims. . . not really good.

    As a separate, stand alone, primer on appropriate behavior between men and women, yes.

    Here’s an example of what I mean. 5 seconds after your gf is involved in a fender bender is the WRONG time to talk about always checking your blind spot. While important and perhaps something she needs to do more often and perhaps if she was more aware she could have taken some steps to attempt to avoid the accident, still not the best time.

  • Scipio Africanus

    There was just a clusterfork post that touched on nearly identical themes on
    OKP yesterday.

    Like I said there, this is a nearly impossible topic to discuss.

    It’s hard to say what you’re saying without getting branded as a rape apologist.

    The only people who can make the argument you’re making and live to tell the tale, reputation intact, are women with lots of credibility. That excludes ALL men, and most non-credible women (overtly conservative women, women hostile to feminism, Chrissy Jones, etc.)

    This has become one of those topics I’ve just decided to keep my opinion to myself on and let the feminists now it if they want it.

  • Mo-VSS

    I want to comment but I just can’t. Way too close to home.

  • Iceprincess

    Obviously this article is talkn bout date rape only, because i promise u the man dragging u into the bushes @ knifepoint or climbing thru your bedroom window cud care less what u drank, wore, or when u said “no”. Rape isnt about sex. Its about power. The rapist inflicts control over the victim thru a violent act. U’d have 2 b a pretty big pathetic loser 2 rape 4 sex. It comes from a waaay more sinister place than that. Thats y rapists are so dangerous & need 2 b put UNDER the jail. Ok im done.

  • http://twitter.com/kjnetic King Jordan

    i see what you’re saying Champ.
    i’d add my 2 cents, but i think this is a touchy subject, and i probably should just chill.
    i peep’d your article in that mag, keep doing your thing sir *salute*

  • Sharyon Culberson

    I work in this industry – the long and the short is we teach folks how NOT to take advantage of each other. I don’t COMPLETELY disagree with you – HOWEVER, you’re talking about RISK REDUCTION (not getting too drunk, walking on lit streets, etc) vs. RAPE PREVENTION…the only person who can PREVENT a rape – is the rapist. THE END. The “don’t be vulnerable” lesson is shoved at most women since day one, but VERY RARELY do we hear “don’t fukk someone over just cause you can”….THAT is why there’s more article’s like your friends out there – and GOOD FOR HER :)

  • Hawaii

    YOOOO!!!
    I can’t even get pass the picture! Lmao!
    I know. I’m sure y’all are like, “What in thee phuck is she talking about?” but there’s a story behind that image for me and as I was typing the URL in to come over here, I was thinking about the someone that has something to do with the story behind that pic and…. yeah. My bad.
    I’ll return to comment after I read the post now.

  • http://sisterescape.blogspot.com Le Chele

    You’re point is well taken. However, most women are raped by people they know. Most women are raped in the daylight. Almost all rapes are at least partially planned. I say all of this to reinforce what rape is really about: control. And the victim, has absolutely no control. To preach to future victims (ie- women) about what they can do to prevent getting raped is ineffective, not to mention offensive. Men (the usual offenders) usurp the power women have. THAT is why there needs to be a anti-rape campaign targeting women, they are the ones with the control.

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