Girls should “stay out of harm’s way”. Yeah, no.
A few days ago I stumbled on this piece from Mercatornet: “Why taekwondo won’t save girls from date rape”, with the subheading, “What they really need is to stay out of harm's way.”
Sadly, it is not unusual to see the burden placed on women to not get raped rather than on men to refrain from raping, the whole premise that women even have the ability to stay out of harm’s way is grossly ignorant at best. Mercatornet advises girls:
The basic rule of self-protection for young women should be don't be in the wrong place at the wrong time. That includes a man's room, his apartment, an alcohol-laden fraternity party, or even a well-known "party school."
Leaving aside the fact that the author just advised women to avoid entire college campuses so as not to get raped, I refer to The Crime and Safety Survey by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
In 58% of the cases, the offender was known to the victim. (RAINN’s statistics suggest this number is two thirds, or up to 73%, but at any rate, it is a significant majority.)
One of the most frequently recorded locations for sexual assault was the victim’s or another’s home (40%). While women can be raped by a stranger on a dark street, the far more likely scenario involves women being raped or sexually assaulted by someone they know- an intimate partner, a family member, a friend, co-worker or acquaintance. In their home. Tom Meagher, husband of murdered Jill Meagher, wrote a powerful piece illustrating this very fact.
What good is advising victims to avoid dangerous places when almost half are sexually assaulted in their own home, a supposedly safe place, by someone they know, who is supposedly trustworthy? Given this, what hope do women have of avoiding sexual violence?
Last year #SafetyTipsForLadies was trending on twitter. It was a brilliant and enlightening hash tag where women shared advice they had been given since they were young on avoiding sexual assault, highlighting how women’s lives are dictated by even the threat of men’s violence. As women pointed out often pointless and even contradictory advice that was impossible to carry out while functioning in the real world, it became increasingly clear that women have no real power to prevent men’s violence against them. The distinct message was that teaching women ‘don’t get raped’ does not prevent rape- that in order to see any meaningful change we must go to the source, and teach boys and men not to rape. We need to teach them to regard us as human beings rather than conquests or sexual objects whose bodies they are entitled to access as they please.
Mercatornet went on to suggest parents enroll their daughters in a religious school in order to avoid rape. Like religious institutions have the best track records when it comes to sexual abuse. Like men who go to religious schools don’t rape women.
I was seventeen when I met Jay at church. He was twenty-four. We hit it off quickly and became best friends. He was a guy from church, so I thought he was safe. The first time he sexually assaulted me it was at his house. His parents were home. There was no alcohol, I wasn’t enrolled in a party school, I was just at my friend’s house. I could not have conceived that my friend from church could have been a threat to me.
“Staying far out of harm's way is the best form of self-defense,” says Mercatornet. If only ‘staying out of harm’s way’ was even possible.