*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?