Increased attention to the issue of sexual assault, both here in the United States and abroad, has led to larger conversations about how best to prevent rape. But often, those conversations have a misplaced focus. Instead of coming up with ways to encourage a culture of consent and respect, and crack down on the assailants who violate those boundaries, most of the advice for preventing sexual assault involves coming up with things for women to do to mitigate their risk of being attacked.
Here are just a few of the things that responsible women are supposed to keep in mind, if they don’t want to become a victim of a sexual assault:
1. Get married.
A piece published on the Washington Post on Tuesday argues that in order to prevent violence against women, more women should “get hitched to their baby daddies.” The site quickly changed the headline to slightly reframe the issue, and it now reads that women would be “safer with fewer boyfriends around their kids,” but the underlying message remains the same: Preventing rape is related to women’s decisions. If women allow boyfriends around their kids, they’re increasing their kids’ chances of becoming the victims of abuse. It’s victim parent blaming.
2. Take a self defense class.
The idea that women can prevent rape by learning to physically defend themselves is a deeply entrenched trope that emerged again this week, after a contestant for Miss USA suggested that young women need to take more self-defense classes. When asked a question about the campus sexual assault crisis, Nina Sanchez responded that she’s a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and more women need that training. “You need to be confident and be able to defend yourself,” Sanchez said. She went on to win the pageant, and her comments sparked a fierce debate about placing the onus for rape prevention on women instead of men.
3. Drink less alcohol.
Like the call for more self defense classes, the argument for less alcohol consumption has become one of the most common reactions to the epidemic of rapes on college campuses. The assumption is that college students are simply drinking too much, and if girls avoid getting too drunk, men won’t prey on them. But that’s actually a fundamental misunderstanding of the way sexual assault occurs. In reality, the research into rapists’ behavior has found that alcohol is simply one tool they use to accomplish their goal of assault — and if alcohol isn’t available, they’ll just use a different coercive tactic. On top of that, it’s not even clear that there’s an epidemic of binge drinking among young women in the first place.
4. Wear more clothing.
Women’s bodies are considered to be so inherently tempting to men that it becomes impossible for men to control themselves. So women are frequently told to cover up so they don’t tempt predators into taking advantage of them. This concept starts young, as female students are told to adhere to strict dress codes that won’t “distract” their male peers. The international Slut Walk movement has pushed back against this concept, as topless participants march down city streets and demand to know if they “deserve” to be raped for baring so much skin.
5. Stop taking public transportation.
After a fatal gang rape that occurred on a New Dehli bus sparked international outrage, an Indian political leader made matters worse by suggesting that women simply shouldn’t take buses at night. That enraged women across the country, who pointed out that they shouldn’t be forced to hide in their homes for fear of being sexually assaulted. Women ended up launching a Board the Bus campaign, coinciding with International Women’s Day, to reclaim public transportation.
6. Make it seem like less fun to be a rape victim.
Earlier this week, Washington Post columnist George Will provoked a backlash after he published a column suggesting that the focus on campus sexual assault has ensured that victimhood is now “a coveted status that confers privileges.” More college women are reporting rape because they want that status, Will argued. Sexual assault survivors were quick to mobilize around the hashtag #SurvivorPrivilege to point out that becoming a rape victim doesn’t actually come with any special perks, and isn’t something anyone would choose for fun.
7. Buy special underwear.
One company made waves last fall by marketing a pair of special “anti-rape underwear” that promised to give women peace of mind when they go out in public. Like a modern chastity belt, the underwear is intended to be difficult for a sexual predator to remove, allowing women to feel safer when they’re “going out on a blind date, taking an evening run, ‘clubbing,’ traveling in unfamiliar countries, and any other activity that might make one anxious about the possibility of an assault.” It was widely panned. Nonetheless, it’s hardly the only product that’s hoping to corner the anti-rape market.
8. Download a GPS tracking app.
In addition to anti-rape products, there are anti-rape apps that are intended to help women feel safe by allowing their movements to be tracked by family members and friends. Some apps allow women to quickly alert first responders. Others allow guardians to check in on women’s location when they’re out on a date. “Safety is in your hand,” one app promises, rather optimistically.
9. Carry a gun.
In response to the controversy over rape on college campuses, guns’ rights enthusiasts argued that female students would be safer if they were allowed to bring concealed weapons on campus. That proposal isn’t very popular among rape crisis counselors or college presidents, who point out that introducing a gun into that type of encounter between students could actually end up being dangerous. Indeed, some victims of sexual violence end up getting shot with their own gun.
Of course, keeping individuals safe from violence and rape is an admirable goal. But when women are constantly told about the rape prevention strategies that they’re supposed to follow, they’re sent a clear message: It’s their responsibility to avoid becoming a victim, and if they fail at that task, it must be their fault. If you’re a rape victim who keeps an anti-rape checklist in your head, it’s all too easy to assume that there must have been something you should have done differently before your consent was violated. That attitude is exactly what leads society as a whole to blame survivors — instead of placing the blame squarely where it belongs, with the perpetrators of the crime.