Carry a small bottle of pepper spray in your purse, don’t walk home alone at night, make sure your bra straps aren’t showing when out in public…all of these are suggestions I’ve been given over the years as to how to avoid being sexually assaulted. There are others, of course, and I’m sure you’ve heard many of them yourself: don’t leave drinks unattended, walk with your keys in your hand when it’s dark out, don’t get on an elevator that is only carrying men, and start menstruating on a man if he starts to rape you (although, last time I checked, my uterus doesn’t have an on or off button, so…). There are a number of issues with tips like these. To start with, they assume that sexual assault occurs solely between strangers (it doesn’t). They’re also predominantly geared towards women interacting with men, failing to acknowledge that both men and women can be assaulted by members of the same or opposite sex.
These tips might be well-intentioned, but they are also examples of victim-blaming: you know, that annoying voice that pops up when someone has been hurt, asking some variation of “Well, what was she wearing? What was she doing? Why didn’t she know better?” But guess what? It’s never up to the victim to know better. And that is what is wrong with these tips. They make it sound like rape and assault are inevitable consequences of easily avoidable situations; that is, if you do choose to walk home by yourself at night and are raped, it must be your fault. It isn’t though. The only person whose fault it is the rapist’s. Women should be able to walk wherever they like, dress however they like, and do whatever they like in public without being at risk for assault or harassment. Believe it or not, sexual assault and rape has almost nothing to do with sex; it is an act of violence that is motivated by anger and a desire for power (no wonder many people consider it a war crime). Women shouldn’t have to hide away at home or feel like they have to dress modestly; rapists shouldn’t rape. That’s all there is to it. *
Many other women feel the same way about these suggestions; some have taken their anger to Twitter using the hashtag #safetytipsforladies as a tongue-in-cheek way to deal with the maddening trend of victim-blaming and to show just how crazy some of the rules women must follow to stay safe are. Check out some here:
Since most rapes are committed by someone you may know, un-know everyone #safetytipsforladies (Katharine Heller @spkheller)
Most rapists are people, so consider only befriending animals and ghosts #safetytipsforladies (Kim @captkimothy)
If you hide your forearms in your sleeves, the rapist will mistake you for a T-Rex and carry on his way #safetytipsforladies" (Hilary Bowman-Smart @hilaryjfb)
Stop being a woman in public. #safetytipsforladies (Mikki Kendall @karnythia)
Check out more on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/search?q=%23safetytipsforladies
*Trust your instrincts, though. If you don’t feel comfortable walking home alone or wearing something revealing in public, then don’t! But do know that none of your choices are responsible for any sexual harassment or assault.