SAFETY TIPS OR VICTIM BLAMING

I’m a true believer in offering varying points of view. I feel they further discussion on important topics. We may not always agree, but different opinions give us all the opportunity to gain new vantage points and potentially shift our positions on specific topics.

The below email was sent by Sally. Her Twitter handle is @arthurstodgyn. It has been re-posted in this blog in its UNedited form and in its entirety, WITH her permission. My response to her writing will be found at the conclusion of her email to me. Thank you again Sally for reminding us about information that sometimes gets lost in the discourse taking place on this topic.

To those readers of this blog – - please try to read Sally’s email from a non-judgmental point of view. It’s people like her that are doing WAY more than just sitting on the side-lines commenting about the game. I don’t agree with every point she’s made, but it’s very clear her writing was extremely well thought out and presented.

Email:

Dear Richard,

I have an idea for how to end rape: stop people raping.

Your approach is to blame the victims. Let me explain using examples from your tweets:

“Tip 52: Girls walking home from school should always walk with another person.

Imagine a situation where a school girl walking home alone is raped. You’ve just given the rapist and their supporters a convenient get-out clause: “She was walking alone. It was her fault”.

“Tip  37: If riding public transportation, ride as close to the front of the bus or train as possible.”

In this victim-blaming scenario one can say “the silly woman rode in the wrong part of the bus”. If only she’d stayed at the front of the bus, or: if only her rapist had decided not to rape her.

I see that you have responded to some of the criticism of your tips on Twitter with words such as “Sorry you feel that way. We’re all just trying to make a positive difference”. The problem is that you are making a *negative* difference by excusing rapists – and the majority of men, with words like “Most men don’t just go away.” – - by using victim-blaming language that suggests it’s women’s (incidentally, men and those with non-binary gender identity can be raped too) responsibility to avoid being raped and not men’s (incidentally, women and those with non-binary gender identity can perpetrate rape too) responsibility to avoid raping. This actually gives a free pass to those considering raping (“go ahead, it’s their fault they aren’t protecting themselves properly”), and gives the friends and family of a perpetrator an easy way to avoid the uncomfortable realization that someone they like and/or love did a terrible thing (“it was her fault. She shouldn’t have been jogging with earphones”).

Thank you for reading this far. I’ve pointed out the serious problems with your approach and am hopeful that you are genuinely interested in making a positive difference rather than perpetuating victim-blaming. This is what you can do to have a positive impact:

Teach people not to rape.

Tell your audience that their bodies are their own and others may not touch them without permission and that they must respect the bodily autonomy of others. Tell them that an absence of “no” is not the same as “yes”. Tell them that consent under pressure is not consent. Tell them that everyone has the right to withdraw their consent to sexual activity at any time, however far along you are. Tell them that there are never any circumstances when someone owes them an orgasm. Tell them that consent to a certain activity on one occasion does not equal consent to do that activity again. Tell them that sleeping on public transport does not make someone available for sex. Tell them that erect tissue does not substitute for consent. Tell them that a lack of resistance does not substitute for consent. Tell them that someone who identifies as (for example) kinky/a slut/gay/a swinger/polyamorous/bi/queer, or wears a skirt/makeup/heels, or is drunk at a sex party in your bed has to give active consent before you can touch them. Tell them that consent to (for example) penis-in-vagina sex is not consent to oral sex, that consent to one particular sexual act is not consent to another sexual act. Tell them about power dynamics: that factors such as physical strength, gender, education, race, social class, financial power, and social status can skew a power dynamic so that a person may find it difficult to withhold consent. Tell them that when they are in a power position it is their responsibility to make sure the consent they receive would still be consent if the power dynamic didn’t exist. Teach them to be mindful of power dynamics and the steps they must take to mediate them. Tell them that consent to sex with a condom is not consent to sex without a condom. Tell them that consent when you have withheld facts that may mean they would not give consent if they had known them (for example that you have an STI or you are cheating on a partner) is not consent. Tell them about the consequences of rape, for both the survivor and the perpetrator, and their family and friends… The list could go on and on. I hope you get the idea.

You are in a very strong position: as a male role model you can educate other males (and maybe some women and genderqueer/genderfluid/intersex people too) not to rape.

I look forward to reading your reply.

Yours,

Sally Russell

MY RESPONSE:

One thing I state to many people is the very fine line that must be walked when presenting safety tips so as to NOT inadvertently crossover into blaming the victim for the crime. Rape and Sexual Assault (SA) are the only 2 crimes I know of that the victims must CONSTANTLY prove that a crime was actually committed and who must continually defend themselves against a public that is all-too-quick to blame them for having caused the crime to come about in the first place.

In a perfect world, rape and sexual assault would someday disappear. The problem is, there are certain people who just aren’t good people. Some call these people sociopaths, others call them A**holes, but whatever we choose to term them, they are people who for all practical purposes, do not care AT ALL about how their actions and/or words impact those with whom they come in contact.

Robbers, burglars, rapists, and other bad guys have been with us since the dawn of man. There is NOTHING that leads me to believe they will one day magically disappear, thereby enabling us: to leave our purses in our cars with rolled down windows and unlocked doors; to no longer fear walking alone at night or through a “bad” neighborhood; to park our bikes outside grocery stores without being chained to trees; etc.

Are we (myself and many others) trying to cause a shift in the culture? Absolutely! The actions of people like Sally and thousands of others will definitely reduce the incidence of rape and sexual assault throughout the world. The problem is approximately 20% of rapes and sexual assaults take place where the victim does NOT know her/his attacker. These attacks are committed by Serial Assailants. Serial Assailants will NEVER just “not rape,” no more than serial pedophiles will just not commit crimes against children, and no more than robbers will just stop robbing. These people don’t have the tiniest ounce of humanity to be concerned with their victims. They are committing crimes in spite of the potential of spending life in prison or receiving other forms of punishment for their crimes. These people will NEVER say, “Gee I think I just won’t rape anyone ever again.” They aren’t wired like that.

The culture shift we (Sally and the rest of us) are seeking is that which impacts the Situational Assailant (oftentimes occurring through date rape). The Situational Assailant commits the crimes of Rape and SA, because of mood, timing, thought processes, current environmental factors, etc. Many of these attacks could potentially be prevented through organized efforts to put these individuals in touch with the actual damage they are causing their victims. Many of these offenders would NEVER want their mothers, their sisters, or their girlfriends to be raped or sexually assaulted, yet somehow it’s okay for them to perpetrate these acts upon other people’s mothers and daughters. This is the consciousness shift we must work towards.

This being said, it is incumbent upon all parents to not only spread the word to bring about a shift in culture, but to still do everything in our power to protect our daughters from the criminal element – - whether robbers, burglars, or rapists.

The tips I provide are merely tips. The printer of my books once told me, “Richard, these books aren’t just preventing sexual assault books – they’re excellent crime prevention books.” I responded, “I know. These strategies are victim avoidance strategies – - some of which apply to young women, some of which apply to 50 year-old men. But I’m writing because a 14 year-old girl, or boy for that matter, does not have the life experiences to recognize potentially bad or dangerous situations. This information is for them.”

My tips are not intended to EVER allow a perpetrator of ANY crime to make the claim, “Well just look at what she was wearing.” Or “She was walking on the wrong side of the street.”

My tips are in NO WAY ever meant to lead any person to believe that if a woman had only done such and such she would not have been raped. When one woman’s window is locked at night, a Serial Assailant (predator) will merely move to the next residence and the one after that until he finds the UNlocked window.

Self-defense, safety tips, and other things we do to protect ourselves from the criminal element absolutely does NOT mean that when we fail to do these things we are giving permission to bad guys to commit crimes against us.

But we MUST acknowledge that people know they shouldn’t be waiving wads of cash around because they may be robbed; we know not to leave our purses in unlocked cars. But the second we tell a young woman, “It’s not safe to trail jog alone” suddenly we are victim-blaming, or at the very least, implying that IF something does happen to her – - “See. She didn’t follow my advice.”

I have NEVER done this. Nor would I EVER.

NOTHING gives a man the right to lay his hands on ANY woman or child.

But given the violent world we live in, at a certain level we must take steps and precautions to ensure our safety.

As parents, we have a duty to our children to protect them from criminals; not just close our eyes and say things such as “Tell the drug dealer to ‘stop dealing drugs’” – - instead of warning our children on the dangers of drug use. “Tell the burglar to ‘stop breaking into homes’” – - instead of locking our doors and windows at night or when we go out. “Tell the rapist ‘just don’t rape’” – - instead of taking steps to ensure our personal safety.

What parent will say, “Oh tell men just don’t rape” while at the same time NOT telling her daughter that it’s not safe to walk alone, it’s not safe to be out late at night, it’s not safe to do this or do that.

We try to protect our kids by making them wear helmets when they ride bikes, wear jackets when it’s cold, to not play with fire, to not smoke or use drugs, but suddenly when we try to warn them about how their actions can potentially result in a sexual assault, we are engaging in victim-blaming – - or worse yet, excusing the behaviors of violent criminals.

If a bad guy were to pull a gun on my daughter I would DEFINITELY want her to know EXACTLY what to do – - so that she is neither raped NOR killed – - which is the outcome in 95% of the occurrences where guns are involved in female abductions. I don’t want my daughter or anyone else’s to die because she didn’t know what to do in such a situation. And I will risk being called a victim-blamer LONG before I will stop speaking the message of keeping young women out of harm’s way.

Do I want and hope for a shift in culture? Absolutely! Am I willing to ignore common sense actions that people could take to avoid being victimized by bad people? ABSOLUTELY NOT.

Sally’s writing ends with a long paragraph about the conversations in and around rape and sexual assault. Her points in this paragraph are BEYOND REPROACH. Young women need to be taught that in EVERY CASE their bodies belong to them. And young men need to be taught that in NO CASE is it EVER acceptable to breach another person’s right to exercise personal boundaries.

[NOTE: I do realize men are victimized along with trans-genders and others. However, female victims make up almost 100% of all rapes and sexual assaults. And young women, aged 14 to 23, make up 75% of these – - at least in America. I needed to try to reach the largest group impacted by these crimes. This does not make commission of these crimes by or against people other than women any more acceptable.]

Thank you for your email Sally. It was a reminder that I don’t address these topics nearly enough.

I look to the day where women no longer have to even think about the other half of the population as being potential aggressors.

Best to all and Stay Safe.

Richard

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