It’s not the empty street that causes rape

Today’s Guest Post is a crosspost from JoAnne Schmitz of Jupiter9.

Edited to add: a link from Pandagon to this particular post was actually meant to link to this other post on passive/active voice by Lauredhel instead. Please do read JoAnne’s excellent post here as well, because it’s also relevant to the general points raised by Amanda, but from a different direction ~ tigtog

There’s been a lot of discussion on blogs recently about blaming women’s actions for rape. Every time someone says something like, “you shouldn’t go out alone in a miniskirt and belly shirt and get drunk” to women in general, there is a (justified) stink raised that no one says “you shouldn’t go out and rape a woman” to men in general.

Another recent blog post described the missing subject in a lot of rape discussions. “Women get raped,” not “Men rape women.”

And yet…the idea of not warning women of rape seemed wrong to me, somehow. I mean, true, women get warned about it all the time. And rape keeps happening. It’s not like no one’s warning them already.

The question is, why do the warnings not help? Is the warning not strong enough? I don’t think so. I don’t know any women who don’t consider rape a realistic threat to them, and I don’t know any women who never alter their behavior because of a fear of rape.

Well, the obvious answer: Rape keeps happening because rapists keep doing what they’re doing. Because it works. So how can what they’re doing work if we have all these strong warnings about?

The warnings women get are misleading. They leave out the acts of the rapist himself. They focus on the situation. They also may focus on the “kind of man” the potential rapist is. If he’s a friend of a friend, or your uncle, he’s “safe.” It’s the stranger who’s the threat.

And we know that’s not true.

So, the discussion shouldn’t be “don’t go out alone.” Or “don’t drink too much.” Or “stay out of places like X.” It shoudln’t be “stay away from strangers” or “look out for the high school dropout.”

Being alone, on a street late at night, drunk, is not what gets you raped. Talking to a stranger or someone who doesn’t have a college degree isn’t what gets you raped.

It’s the act of the rapist.

This seems so obvious. It’s not the alcohol. It’s the act of the rapist. It’s not the bar. It’s the act of the rapist. It’s not the revealing dress you’re wearing or the shoes you can’t run fast in. It’s the act of the rapist. It’s not that he wasn’t in the Boy Scouts, that he’s unemployed, that he’s poorly dressed or doesn’t watch Friends. It’s his act of raping.

So why not codify and then learn to identify rapist behaviors, the ones that happen before the rape? This won’t prevent all rapes, but it does two things: help prevent some rapes, and give warning to rapists that their game is recognized.

The precursors lie not in the situation, not even in the man’s “character,” but in the man’s actions. This puts the focus where it belongs.

For example, isolating the victim is a technique many rapists use. But this doesn’t mean the isolation itself is the problem. Being alone obviously isn’t how you get raped — someone else has to do the raping.

Rape is usually premeditated. The rape occurs in the mind of the rapist long before the rape occurs, and often long before the victim even meets the rapist. The rape is *in the rapist*. Identify the rapist and you may be able to derail the rape.

As many rape survivors know, you can’t go by “reputation.” The rapist’s “character” may seem wholesome. He may have lots of friends around him, he may be a member or officer of a respected organization, he may be a popular and revered figure in society. But his actions will tell.

It’s the actions of the rapist. It’s the manipulation of the situation that the rapist uses to separate the victim from others, put her in a position where she is uncomfortable with moving towards them or away from him, keeping his victim from getting help when she needs it, keeping her from telling anyone with threats of exposure or embarrassment or violence. That manipulation is studied, learned.

None of this is to say that a woman who doesn’t recognize the signs is to blame, or stupid, or deserved anything she got. No one is perfect at defending from all threats. And not all rapists use these techniques. But any time a woman can avoid being raped by reading the signals is a time to cheer.

It’s to say that we need to stop wasting our time warning women about the wrong things, and make the warnings we do give relevant and useful.

Rather than painting the world itself as big and scary and full of threat, rather than making it sound like it’s the big empty street that’s going to jump up and attack her, we need to make it clear that the threat is in particular people, doing particular things. By making the behavior we don’t want clear, we’re making a statement that that behavior is not acceptable. We can’t just say, stalking and terrorizing women is okay so long as you don’t “actually” rape them. All those behaviors are wrong.

In fact, these behaviors are wrong in personal interactions even if they don’t lead up to rape. Manipulation is wrong. Pressure is wrong. Lying and misdirection is wrong. Shaming is wrong. We all know this.

Categories: gender & feminism


13 replies

  1. Yes the ‘you shouldn’t have been out late at night etc’ arguments fall down when it happens in your own home, or you are a Muslim woman covered head to toe, or any of a number of other permutations which don’t involve being scantily dressed, drunk or in the wrong place at the wrong time but still lead to men raping women.

  2. Exactly, which is why I’ve also added JoAnne’s post to one of the Feminism 101 FAQs: FAQ: -What’s wrong with suggesting that women take precautions to prevent being raped?
    The discussion thread on that one is rather interesting too.

  3. Hello Pandagonians! Amanda seems to have linked the wrong post here, although JoAnne’s post is excellent too.
    Lauredhel’s post that Amanda meant to link to is:
    Passive Aggression: Foregrounding the Object

  4. Pardon me for my thickheadedness, but what kind of warning are you left with? It must seem comforting to think that there’s something you can do to make yourself safer, but of course, that brings along with it the blame for anything bad that happens, and it’s, as you point out, a lie.
    Are you saying that it’s possible to identify men more likely to rape, due to a constellation of actions which betray a habit of thinking of women as subhuman? Because, in a self-centered way, I’d like to hear more about that.
    Some time ago, I had a disturbing realization: I realized that a significant proportion of my female friends had told me that they’d been assaulted or abused in the past, and doing a bit of math, I considered that none of my male friends had ever told me about that time they beat up a girl, or that time they raped a girl. If I hadn’t had friends who had trusted me enough to tell me, the whole thing would have remained utterly invisible to me, and rape would have been something that happened to Other People Who Deserved It. It’s a disturbing thought, that people I know and respect might be capable of that, and that there’s no good way of knowing. (Not, of course, as disturbing as the thought that I might be the next victim, but as I said, this is a self-centered thought.)
    There’s a constant chorus whenever rape is brought up that all men aren’t like that, but passivity on the part of men who don’t rape enables those who do. Any way of identifying and sanctioning men who are “like that” is of great interest to me.

  5. grendelkhan: I think there are some ways to identify men as being the sort of person who push and cross boundaries. People who say things about not being able to help themselves, they have to touch you. People who, when you tell them not to touch you or to back off, try to persuade you that it was just a joke or didn’t mean anything. For example if I tell a man he is making me uncomfortable, and instead of hearing that, he tries to explain to me why I should not be uncomfortable or in fact am really not uncomfortable at all, he is exhibiting potential rapist tendencies. Basically a man who does not allocate agency to a woman, but thinks (and expresses through words and actions) that he knows better than she does what she thinks, feels, and “really wants” is sending up clear danger signals.

  6. Warning women about rape is about as useful as warning Iraq about foreign invasion, in my opinion. We should be warning the pool of potential perpetrators about the consequences of raping.

  7. I agree with badgerbag that there are certain behaviours that imply pretty clearly that a man will not listen to or respect women’s personal boundaries. While I cannot presume that all men who behave this way will rape women, or that all men who rape women behave this way, I can declare pretty confidently that my life is much enriched by not spending any time around men like this, because their disrespect of my boundaries is A Bad Thing. It doesn’t have to lead to rape to be bad.

  8. has absolute tons of helpful stuff.
    Please copy and save the following to your hard drive; insert into any old internet thread which looks like it could use a fucking clue:
    In 1998, unfounded rape reports accounted for 8 percent of total reported rapes; however, this number is questionably [too high because] Some police officers incorrectly think that a rape report is unfounded or false if any or all of the following conditions apply:
    “¢ the victim has a prior relationship with the offender
    (including having previously been intimate with him)
    “¢ the victim used alcohol or drugs at the time of the assault
    “¢ there is no visible evidence of injury
    “¢ the victim delays disclosure to the police and/or others and does not undergo a rape medical exam
    “¢ the victim fails to immediately label her assault as rape and/or blames herself.§
    Fewer than 5 percent of college women who are victims of rape or attempted rape report it to police.14 However, about two-thirds of the victims tell someone, often a friend (but usually not a family member or college official). In one study, over 40 percent of those raped who did not report the incident said they did not do so because they feared reprisal by the assailant or others.15 In addition, some rape victims may fear the emotional trauma of the legal process itself. Low reporting, however, ensures that few victims receive adequate help, most offenders are neither confronted nor prosecuted, and colleges are left in the dark about the extent of theproblem.16
    Descriptive studies show that compared to their less aggressive peers, sexually aggressive men typically view relationships with women as hostile and adversarial, have a more promiscuous and impersonal orientation toward sex (Malamuth, Linz, Heavy, & Acker, 1995), and show greater arousal to depictions of forced intercourse (Bernat, 1997; Lohr, Adams, & Davis, 1997). Social information processing and judgments of sexual interactions are further influenced by aggressive men’s rape supportive cognitions (e.g., Bernat, Wilson, & Calhoun, 1997).
    At the individual level, men are more likely to sexually assualt if they have hostile and negative sexual attitudes towards women and identify with traditional images of masculinity and male privilege (Heise, 1998; O’Neil &Harway, 1977). At the level of the immediate context in which violence takes place – typically families or other intimate or acquaintance relationships – male dominance is a strong predictor of the likelihood of sexual violence against women. At the interpersonal level, another predictor especially among young men is attachment to male peers wo encourage and legitimate woman abuse (Heise, 1998). And at the macro-social level, rates of violence against women are higher in contexts in which manhood is defined in terms of dominance, toughness, entitlement to power or male honour, there are rigid gender roles, and violence is condoned as a means to settle interpersonal disputes (Heise,1989).
    McFall (1990, p.318) has stated in his information processing model of rape:”This evidence paints the following portrait of sexually aggressive men. They enter heterosexual relationships holding distorted cognitive schemata that predispose them to sexual misunderstandings and misguided actions. It is as though these men were ‘primed’ by their schemata to read positive sexual connotations into women’s neutral or negative messages; to believe that women secretly wish to be victims of sexual coercion; to misinterpret women’s refusals ofsexual advances merely as coquettish acceptances; to dismiss women’s physical resistance as a primeval sexual ritual; to misperceive women’s cries of pain as squeals of pleasure; and to redefine any attempted rebuffs as proof that womenare ‘teases’ who deserve whatever they get.”
    Descriptive studies show that compared to their less aggressive peers, sexually aggressive men typically view relationships with women as hostile and adversarial, have a more promiscuous and impersonal orientation toward sex (Malamuth, Linz, Heavy, & Acker, 1995), and show greater arousal to depictions of forced intercourse (Bernat, 1997; Lohr, Adams, & Davis, 1997). Social information processing and judgments of sexual interactions are further influenced by aggressive men’s rape supportive cognitions (e.g., Bernat, Wilson, & Calhoun, 1997).


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