Trigger warning: the picture after the cut is disgusting and horrible and awful, and can be triggering for victims of rape. It showed up in my news feed not long ago, thankfully from somebody who found it reprehensible, but the fact is, shit like this is out there. And it is revolting.
If you find something like this on your feed, what is the appropriate response? I always give a short, cut-and-paste-able rebuttal, but it’s hard for me to come up with anything more for this one than, “Fuck you, asshole.” I guess your next best option would be:
“A person who was raped *is not* responsible for the action of rape. The rapist is. Nothing about drinking, or wearing a certain type of clothing, invites rape. By posting something like this, you are encouraging rapists to continue raping, and shaming victims into silence. Congratulations, you are enabling rape.”
If the person is willing to engage, though, I do think it’s worth deconstructing the crapdate.
Let me get something out of the way. This is painful for me, but it is important, as it helps to illustrate my stance. I once sympathized with the poster of this crapdate. I was young, I was ignorant, I had spent my formative years deep in the buckle of the bible belt. I distinctly remember saying to a close friend that “the girls who go to the frats dressed like whores are really just asking for it.”
She didn’t respond, just looked terribly hurt, and looked away. I found out later that she had been raped. To this day, it is one of my most shameful moments.
But it is important to come clean, even if it is painful to admit, because this belief is so pervasive, so subscribed-to in much of America, that for many, it isn’t even something they question. The fault of rape lies, at least partly, with the victim. It’s just one of life’s truths.
I also make this confession because, in spite of how reprehensible I find this type of thinking, I truly believe that there are a lot of people who subscribe to this belief who are not assholes, but who have lived in our rape culture long enough that they don’t question it. This does not make it okay, but it does give us an incentive to help the person think about their words, and everything that they are perpetuating with such speech.
Let’s first examine the idea that women who drink are making the choice to put themselves at risk, and are thus in some measure culpable for the crime.
It is generally accepted that alcohol abuse is associated with rape, although the numbers vary. It is widely stated that 90% of rapes on college campuses involve alcohol, although I could not find the actual source of this number. A more reliable number says that 74% of perpetrators and 55% of victims of acquaintance rape had been drinking at the time of the assault.
These numbers, in and of themselves, are disturbing to me. The high rate of alcohol abuse that is “associated with rape” includes those cases when the perpetrator is the one drinking. It includes the cases of a person having a drink. Numbers are thrown out that seem to be inclusive, but are only dealing with one aspect of rape (college campuses in the first case, acquaintance rape in the second). The numbers are frightening, but they are spun in a way to make them as high as possible. This, in and of itself, is a kind of victim-blaming: the incidence of alcohol use in rape is inflated, to scare people away from drinking.
Looking at it another way ““ 45% of the time, a woman who is raped by somebody she knows has not had a drop of alcohol.
I don’t really give a shit about how many of the rapists are using alcohol, to be honest.
But the fact of the matter is that alcohol can increase your chance of being victimized in any way, because somebody who has been drinking is more vulnerable to assault.
The tricky part about this, as evidenced by the recent Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board ads, is the conflation of risk factors with causation. Alcohol can make a person more vulnerable, which leads many to say that, well, if somebody chooses to partake in a behavior that increases their risk, they are at least partially to blame for the crime.
Let’s think about this another way. When is the last time you heard someone, upon hearing of a drunk driving accident, say, “Well, the victim chose to drive on the highway on a Saturday night after 7 p.m. I’m not saying it’s his fault that he was in this awful accident, but he really should have thought about potential consequences before putting himself in that situation.” Never. It’s absurd to think that a victim of drunk driving, regardless of when they chose to leave the house and what path they chose to drive on, is to blame for the accident.
There is another aspect of this victim-blaming, and that is of a woman being “too tempting,” dressing like a slut, wearing shorts that are too short. By dressing in a certain way, they are inviting rapists to assault them.
Let’s imagine a situation wherein a handsome, strong man in a muscle shirt and flattering jeans drinks himself into a stupor. While incapacitated, another man rapes him. He wakes up the next morning with a vague memory of said guy helping him walk up the stairs to his apartment, then blurred moments of horror and pain and an inability to push the man off of him.
In which universe would anybody suggest that the victim was asking for it by wearing flattering clothing?
Not in this one, that’s for sure. In both of these scenarios, the victim has put themselves at risk ““ driving at a more statistically dangerous time of night, drinking too much, dressing in a flattering manner ““ and increased their chance of being victimized. But in neither of the scenarios does it seem logical to say, “I know they didn’t want for it to happen, but they are equally to blame for the crime.”
Why is this? In a recent Facebook argument I was sucked into, the other guy said, “You fail to see the distinction between intent and cause.” In other words, the rape victim may not be asking for it, but their actions cause it to happen.
My dog jumped up on our table once, knocking over and breaking an expensive vase. He didn’t intend for it to happen, but without his actions, it could not have taken place. His actions caused the vase to break.
My friend’s mother was in a parking lot when her car was hit by another driver. The accident could not have happened if she hadn’t chosen to go to the store that day. She didn’t intend for it to happen, but without her actions, it could not have taken place. Do we say that she caused the accident? No.
The difference? My dog broke the rules. My friend’s mother did not.
Which is, I think, at the root of the victim blaming. As far as we’ve come in gender relations in society, there are still rules that women are expected to follow which don’t apply to men. Women should be sweet, modest, “ladylike.” Good girls don’t get drunk, and don’t show too much skin. Good girls don’t flirt.
So when something bad happens to a girl, two reactions kick in for people who do not challenge (or even recognize that they believe in) these rules. First, that somebody who broke the rules deserves to be punished. In this case, the punishment of not being a submissive woman is to be forced into submission in a sexual way. The second reaction is that if you just follow the rules, you can shield yourself from monsters. By victim-blaming, we are able to reinforce society’s rules while at the same time believing in an ability to protect ourselves.
So when somebody blames the victim of a rape, what they are really saying is that they believe that women should behave in a way that is subservient to men, and when they do not, they deserve to be punished.
I hope I don’t need to say how harmful these ideas are. When you make somebody feel ashamed for being the victim of a crime, not even mentioning the psychological torture you are piling onto someone who has already gone through rape, but you are justifying the actions of the rapist, and encouraging them to keep raping.
Fixing this problem is an enormous challenge, and one that will not be rectified for a long time, even if people work hard to fight for this goal. These types of beliefs are deeply instilled, even in many people who seem enlightened, and difficult to contest because they are often invisible and unquestioned.
But as we work toward fixing the gendered expectations of society, the first thing we can do is combat these ideas with the best tools that we have: logic and reasoned explanations. It worked on me.