Because Rape is Rape

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*Trigger Warning* This post discusses the topic of sexual assault and rape and therefore may be distressing for some readers. 

Recent controversy and an explosion on social media drew my attention to this post by Mia Freedman. Given it’s a topic I feel strongly about, I felt that I needed to respond in some way.

Freedman wrote in her article that, when it’s the right time to speak to her daughters about sexual assault, she will be telling them that “getting drunk when she goes out puts her at a greater risk of danger.” The article is directly addressing the issue of rape.

In the context of sexual assault, there is no right time and there is no “old enough” to begin discussing the issue. There is also no room for victim blaming. Never, in any society should the fact that a woman was intoxicated have anything to do with whether or not she is at risk of being raped. Apparently passing on this delicate piece of advice to our younger female generation is common sense.

I would have thought that common sense is informing our girls that when they are being violated, or when they feel they are at risk there is nothing in this world they could have done to have made it their fault. Responsibility is making sure they feel comfortable enough in knowing there is no judgement and they aren’t going to be blamed when they come forward about abuse. Because, you see – abuse can and does happen anywhere. When we give advice to young girls about sexual assault and violation of their trust we need to be incredibly vigilant about the message we are sending them. There should be no implication of blame when talking about rape.

I agree that it is incredibly important to highlight risky situations, but don’t let them feel that because they are in that situation they are asking for it. It needs to be incredibly clear that if something happens they will be believed, listened to and supported. Talking about rape when someone is drunk should not be any different to talking about rape when someone is not drunk – for example, in their own home, at school, work, or out in public. Rape is rape; there is no reason to redistribute the blame from the perpetrator to the victim.

There is an incredibly strong focus on explaining to girls the risks surrounding rape. Mia states in her article that “conversations with my daughter will be different because women are physically more vulnerable to sexual assault than men.” I’m not going to pretend that’s not the case. And I’m not going to pretend alcohol isn’t a factor.” Women are physically more vulnerable?” This statement both confuses and infuriates me. Because women have a vagina, because they have two x chromosomes, they’re bound to be a victim of a male who cannot understand the meaning of consent? When are we going to start having discussions with both young men and young women equally, that young women should never have to feel as though they need to watch their behaviour to reduce risk of rape, and young men should understand that if a girl is in any way incapacitated, or if she very clearly says no, hesitates or is unsure in anyway he is not to have sex with her. And, of course, vice versa.

Because rape is rape.

It doesn’t matter what the situation, or who the victim is. If there is no consent, on either part, it is rape. We can’t tell girls to avoid certain places or situations to reduce their risk of being raped. That implies that because they were in that situation or place they put themselves at risk, and therefore they are partially to blame. We need to tell girls the importance of increasing their safety, absolutely, but we also need to tell them about the importance of being open and telling someone when they feel violated. Because it might not be that drunk guy at a party they will go to when they’re 16, 17 or 18. It might be their older sibling, or their soccer coach or the local priest, and it might be now, when they’re children.

The difference between them being told “if you’re drunk you’re more likely to be raped” and “if anyone, at any time, violates your trust or puts you in a situation where you are uncomfortable you can tell me and we will work through it together” might be the difference between them revealing a perpetrator straight away or enduring years of abuse as they’re trying to work out whether they’re to blame for what is happening to them.

They should never feel as though the clothes they were wearing, or the amount they have had to drink, or the colour of their eyes is the reason that someone has taken advantage of them.

Do you think warning women not to drink to excess is victim blaming? What would you tell your daughter?

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  • http://johnanthonyjames.com/ John James

    I know I’ve been making the same comment on a lot of sites this week, but here goes again…

    I think we should be talking to our kids about how to drink responsibly, and also warn them about the dangers of binge drinking, not just from the long-term health issues related to binge drinking, but from the problems related to binge drinking – violent behaviour, risk taking…

    I think this discussion should be gender neutral… as young women are now joining our young men in the binge drinking culture, the number of cases of binge-drinking related episodes of violence and risk taking are rising in the female population… it’s no longer just a problem with our young men.

    I think it’s wrong to narrow our discussion of binge drinking down to just one issue – sexual assault for example – and make it an issue about gender. It’s not a gender issue, it’s a behavioural issue.

    So, disclaimer, I drank as a young man, but never to excess – and I’ve been a teatotaller for about 20 years now – I’m not against drinking or alcohol – I just think this obsession with binge drinking is a problem in our society and needs to be addressed. As I wrote on my blog a few months ago ( http://johnanthonyjames.com/post/52492957915/im-going-to-eat-til-i-puke#.Umb03_lkO9w ) going out with the sole aim of trying to drink as much as possible isn’t normal behaviour, and we shouldn’t be turning a blind eye to that fact.

    Going out and having a few drinks with your mates is fine – it should be fun – it can be fun. Going out to simply see how much you can drink in a single session is not fine… it’s a problem. That’s what we need to be teaching our kids – not “if you drink and get raped it’s your fault” – that’s a stupid thing to teach our kids.

    • Hayley Ashman

      Nailed it!

      • http://johnanthonyjames.com/ John James

        It’s about the 5th time I’ve made this comment this week on different sites… practice makes perfect I guess… 😉

    • Lucy

      Yes, I agree with you on this JJ, but in the context of the article being discussed it’s not exactly that we shouldn’t be warning girls not to binge drink, it’s that we shouldn’t be linking this discussion about the dangers of binge drinking with rape.

      As I mentioned in the article, there should never be any connection between the behaviour, or appearance etc, of a rape victim at the time of their rape and the crisis they are going through. Whether they were drunk or not is irrelevant to the fact that they were taken advantage of and their rights have been violated.

      Binge drinking is an important issue to discuss with anyone, the heath, psychological and social risks involved need to be discussed to, but do NOT, EVER discuss binge drinking in the context of “if you have been raped, and you were excessively intoxicated at the time, then there was something you could have done differently that may have prevented this from happening.” which is ultimately the attitude that is so clearly displayed in Mia’s article.

      • http://johnanthonyjames.com/ John James

        Yep – agree with you 100%

        Mia was totally wrong to link rape with being intoxicated…

        But I suspect that the root of Mia’s point of view may have been a reaction to our binge-drinking culture… but the argument she chose to make was completely erroneous.

        • Laws for Clouds

          As far as out binge drinking culture goes, I am by far more concerned that my son will be assaulted (or commit one himself) than I am my daughters will be assaulted. Women are told all the time to be careful and to protect themselves, and even when you are very drunk your fear of sexual assault is real. Fear is a strong emotion. I have always found after a few I feel more vulnerable to attack as I am slower to react and recognise when I’m in a bad situation. I can’t speak for all women though.

          I imagine that for a young man, beer breeds bravado (although I am only saying this from observation). We should be telling young men to lay off in case it makes them miss the signs of non-consent such as hesitation, inability to say no, etc.

  • Hayley Ashman

    I’ve been going back and forth on this topic. Most of what I think has been summed up by JJ. Binge drinking is a big issue.

    The feminist in me hates to say that women should have to modify their behaviour in any way due to the behaviour of men. But I’m also a realist. It’s not just a women’s issue. People need to feel safe while enjoying alcohol and there needs to be a lot more education before that is going to happen.

  • http://iamevilcupcake.com/ iamevilcupcake

    What I want to know is, if mothers have this talk with their daughters, and it still happens anyway, what then? Will the mother then blame the daughter if it happens, “Well love I warned you not to drink, so you’ve got no one to blame but yourself?” I know people who would do that, you’ve been warned, so accept your fate.

    I was reading a website in the UK (http://www.rapecrisis.org.uk/commonmyths2.php) that said that only 9% of rape cases are by people not known to the victim. 9 PERCENT. This means that 91% of rape cases the perp is known to the victim. How do you warn your daughters about that Mia?

    • Lucy

      Exactly – there are a very, very small number of rape cases where the perpetrator is a stranger to the victim.

      A lot of the time, sexual assault happens in the family home, or the community, and it’s a neighbour, uncle, or older brother, even aunt or sister, who is the perpetrator. A lot of the time rape occurs when the victim is younger, and vulnerable, and also impressionable as the perpetrator is able to influence the victim and convince them that if they are to report the assault, something bad will happen to them. This is where we need to be super careful about victim blaming when we’re discussing what to do about sexual assault with our girls, because if they do happen to become a victim they’re already likely to be told it’s their fault by the perpetrator. To have this notion reiterated by someone they should be able to open up to makes it harder for them to believe it wasn’t their fault.

      A large number of rape cases aren’t actually reported. Victims stay silent and battle their guilt and shame alone, and I’m convinced a lot of this is because of the victim blaming attitude so blatantly displayed in articles such as Mia’s.

  • Laws for Clouds

    My issue is that by making this about strangers on the street (which, according to the research Mia Freedman linked, accounts for 7% of sexual assaults in Australia) you are missing the other 93% of assaults that happen in your home, at your friends house, at work…

    By talking primarily about this rare manner of assault, you are making it easier for people to groom your child/friend/relative for assault. The way sexual predators usually work is they convince you it’s okay, and if you think assault is something that happens when you walk on the street at night when the baddies come out, you are going to be more easily convinced, especially if someone has given you the impression that women are responsible for both their own and men’s sexuality.

    I’d also like to see the idea that rapists are mysterious baddies that hide down alleys disappear. You are most likely to be raped by someone you know, not a mysterious bad guy.

    Sure, I’ll tell my kids to stay together as a group, to not drink too much, not to trust strangers, that IS common sense (for reasons beyond the risk of rape). But I’ll also talk to them about how if you feel uncomfortable in any situation, it’s okay to say no and remove yourself and come to me and *I will support you no matter what*.

    • Lucy

      Exactly. The majority of rape and sexual abuse cases come from within the home or community etc. Random attacks are actually quite rare, and sensationalist, fear mongering like this creates an element of naivity that if we warn our daughters about stranger danger, not to get too drunk, to always ensure they aren’t acting in any way that will put them at risk, then they are protecting themselves from being attacked. Unfortunately then, when abuse occurs and it is a family member or friend who is the perpetrator, the child isn’t aware of how to protect themselves and they’ve been taught this attitude that they have to alter the way they behave to protect themselves, so they must have done something to have made it happen to them now. (sorry – I think that was a bit ranty, not sure if it makes sense.)

      • Laws for Clouds

        The thing is, as a parent, I find it really hard to align ‘You can’t trust anyone 100%’ with ‘If something bad happens find an adult you trust to help’ and ‘you must respect adults’.

        So that’s why we feed out the be careful at night lines, because that’s easy.

        • Lucy

          Discussing these issues in any way will never be easy, but it will be so much harder to deal with if these discussions haven’t happened. I don’t think “You can’t trust anyone 100%” is what we should be telling our kids, but more that if they feel their trust is being violated, or they feel someone they are close to is making them uncomfortable, then no matter what that person tells them it is okay to talk to another adult that does make them feel safe.

          Being respectful to adults is an important lesson, but also if they are showing signs of disrespect, and inexplicably so – it’s important to investigate with. Hostility or hesitation to engage with a certain person may be the indication that there is something amiss.

  • SonjaLouise

    The NSW Rape Crisis Centre has produced a factsheet dispelling a lot of myths about rape in Australia (http://www.nswrapecrisis.com.au/Portals/0/PDF/Sexual%20Assault%20Myths%20and%20Facts.pdf) as well as others that talk about grooming tactics, how to console someone who has been sexually assaulted and where to get help etc.

    In my mind, anything that places any responsibility on the victim is, in essence, victim blaming.

    I know it’s been said before, but I’ll say it again: The majority of sexual assault is committed by someone the victim knows, in a place that is familiar to them. For me, personally, I know this to be true.

    While it’s important to educate our young people on the effects of binge drinking…it’s an entirely different topic to sexual assault. I think we need to be better educated on consent and the different types sexual assault and how they can occur. (http://www.nswrapecrisis.com.au/Portals/0/PDF/Sexual%20Assault%20The%20Law%20and%20Statistics.pdf) I think we need to empower everyone, even little children, with the idea that their body is their own and no one – NO ONE – is allowed to touch it without their ok. I think we need better support systems for people who have been sexually assaulted. I think we need to get better at seeing other people as PEOPLE in general.

  • Kris

    Mia’s (as far as I have observed) not a big drinker, either, so I think maybe she doesn’t really get the “going out and getting pissed” culture – which is by no means a new thing. I think this article (I heard about it on GOMI) was yet another of her ill-considered stream of consciousness things where she was thinking about a couple of things and they somehow got linked.

    I got kind of pissed off with the “why do people think it’s their god-given right to go out and get shitfaced and expect to be OK?” line that I saw when I had a look (can’t remember if it was her or in the comments). Well, you know what? Yeah, actually, it IS a right. Same as it’s my RIGHT to expect to be able to live without being, you know, assaulted, in any way – no matter what damn state I’m in.

    • http://johnanthonyjames.com/ John James

      I think we kind of agree, although I don’t agree 100% with your “right” to get shit-faced.

      We as a community have every right to question any behaviour that affects other people… binge drinking is not victimless… binge drinking can, in some people, lead to risk taking or violent behaviour… this is why I have to avoid certain parts of the city on certain days at certain times… because my chances of being physically assaulted are increased when I am in the presence of people who have been drinking excessively…

      So, I work right opposite Star Casino in Sydney. Let’s say, hypothetically, I have to work late tonight. On the way home I am assaulted by some men who have been drinking late at the casino.

      The victim blaming take on this would be that I should have known better – and that I should have avoided walking past the casino and got a cab home…

      The correct response should be that these men should have known better – unprovoked physical assault is not acceptable under any circumstances – if your consumption of alcohol is directly linked to your violent behaviour, then you shouldn’t consume so much alcohol…

      So, within the context of “if you can’t handle your drink without becoming violent” then we as a community do have the right to question if your alcohol consumption is a community issue.

      I am, of course, assuming (I hope) that you don’t assault people when you’re shit-faced. If that’s the case, then get shit-faced by all means! 😉

      But if not – then I think I’d have the right to question your alcohol consumption.

      • Kris

        I think the vast majority of people who get pissed are not out to hurt anyone else, though. If people are beating other people up (or doing whatever else) when they’re pissed, they’re just arseholes. “I was pissed” isn’t an excuse. And I think tarring everyone who gets pissed as “dangerous binge drinkers causing trouble” is just as problematic.

        • Kris

          ^^ Just as problematic as suggesting that people who get pissed and have something happen to them had it coming because they were pissed.

      • Melinda Christmas

        While I do agree with you, my biggest problem with the whole thing is that, telling ourselves that its the other persons fault, doesn’t change the fact that if I walk down a dark ally, and I’m thinking… get to the car, get to the car, get to the car… because I don’t trust the area/situation… if I were to get attacked etc. and believe the blame is on the other person, because they did something that was not acceptable. I’m still the one assaulted. Trust is the only thing that changes. Whatever the situation, no matter how dangerous or safe – when trust in your environment, in a stranger, friend or family member changes… generally we can only react after the fact. Which is why its so horrible.