Thoughts on preventing sexual assault--even if we can't eliminate the risk.

A while ago I wrote a post on how parents can help their girls reduce the risk of sexual assault. I was careful to say that we could never entirely eliminate it–after all, a lot of sexual assault is by family members–but that we should do what we can to help our girls be aware of their surroundings, act responsibly and cautiously, and hopefully stay a little safer.

We Should Do What We Can to Protect Ourselves from Sexual Assault

I really tried to state that I do not blame women for sexual assault. But just because they are not to blame does not mean that we can’t take preventative action. Here’s part of what I wrote:

I always wondered, “why would a girl go to a house where there are a bunch of guys and drink that much in the first place?” Does that mean that it’s her fault if she is raped? Again, no. But just because it’s not your fault doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous. God won’t hold you responsible for what someone else does to you, but that’s no reason not to raise our girls to be smart.

We’re spending so much time trying to ram it into boys’ heads that if they force sex on a girl who is drunk, or high, or hasn’t explicitly said yes that it’s rape, but we’ve stopped telling girls that you shouldn’t go to a boy’s apartment alone, you shouldn’t consume alcohol in a guy’s place, you shouldn’t walk home in the dark alone, you shouldn’t accept a ride from someone you barely know (and often even from someone you do know).

I know this is a sensitive subject, because I know many have been assaulted and there was absolutely nothing you could have done. That is the nature of the crime. But if there are steps that can reduce the risk, should we not take them?

That’s the issue that I was trying to raise, but unfortunately I still raised some qualms of some readers. One commenter said this:

Although i believe modesty is a good idea for many reasons, it has no place in the rape discussion. Modest girls get raped.Immodest girls get raped. The problem with the idea that modest clothes will reduce your chances of getting raped is that it assumes that Rape is primarily a sexual act. It is not; it’s a violent act. It’s about control, not Lust. If a rapist just wanted sexual gratification he could easily enough find a willing participant…but instead he chooses to violate and control an unwilling one.

Which brings me to my second point: While all these things are good things to teach our daughters (and i will certainly be teaching my daughters to try to stay safe) they don’t actually reduce sexual assaults. At best, these things will insure that it’s somebody else’s daughter who gets raped.
In your article “actions have consequences” you gave a couple examples of women that were assaulted and suggested that this was a consequence of their actions. I hope you will reconsider that point of view and consider an apology to those reading who may have been hurt by it. Women who have been sexually assaulted are already experiencing a great deal of hurt and the community (especially the christian community) should be able to support and help them without criticizing them when they are most vulnerable.

I have a lot to say on this, and I’ll probably make it into two long blog posts. I’m going to address the modesty issue in another post, because it’s an issue of itself. And I do hope people understand that I am not trying to criticize–I am simply trying to stop this from happening again. I in no way want to hurt those who have been hurt already, but if we say nothing, then we make it more likely that others will be hurt in the future. If there are things that we can do to reduce the chance of sexual assault, should we not take them? Sexual assault is so awful; we should do what we can to make it less likely.

The big issue that this woman raises is that, even though it’s good to teach our girls about safety, if we say that certain things can reduce rape, we’re really blaming the victim.

That is not my intention at all. There is this misconception that says that if we say that we can reduce the risk, we are therefore blaming people if they do get raped. I think that’s faulty logic.

If We Can Reduce Rape–Even if We Can’t Eliminate It–Shouldn’t We At Least Try?

Look at it this way. If your goal is to reduce rape, and by lecturing boys and men you could reduce it by 5%, and by changing women’s behaviour you could reduce it by another 10%, is it not still worth trying to change women’s behaviour, even if it doesn’t reduce the risk entirely? If we can’t reduce the risk completely, should we not still be be talking about changing girls’ behaviour? After all, if changing behaviour is effective (and I think staying away from drunken parties does make you safer), then isn’t that worth teaching our daughters? Obviously a lot of sexual assault is incest, and there is absolutely nothing a girl can do to prevent that. But not all sexual assault is incest, and should we not be helping our daughters avoid it if at all possible?

I am less likely to die in an automobile accident than many. I wear my seatbelt always. I obey the rules. I do not drink and drive . But I can’t eliminate the risk, because others could hit me, or I could hit bad weather. Should I thus throw my hands up in despair and say, “I guess there’s no point in wearing my seatbelt, since I can’t eliminate the risk”? That would be insane. We do what we can, accepting the fact that it will never be completely enough. But it is something. And I think that something is worth doing.

Rape is Often a Crime of Opportunity–Reduce the Opportunity, Reduce the Rape Rate

Here’s another thought: The rate of rape in a society goes down when women have more protection. In the Middle Ages, for instance, rape was endemic. Men faced few consequences if they raped, and rich men had incredible power over poor women. Roads were deserted and dangerous places. Sexual assault was extremely common.

Similarly, sexual assault is very common in some countries today, like Kenya, where I have travelled extensively. When girls have no protection from family members, and the law is unlikely to help, they are vulnerable.

In contrast, sexual assault is less common here in North America than it was in history or in other places today. I am not saying it does not occur; only that it does not occur as frequently as it used to, or as frequently as it does elsewhere. Why? Part of it is that men had more opportunity in the past, and have more opportunity in other places. Doing what we can to decrease the opportunity, then, seems like a worthwhile goal. And let’s point out that even in our society, those in the most vulnerable sector are also more likely to be raped. Prostitutes, for example, are commonly raped. Children of single mothers are more likely to be assaulted than children of two married, biological parents. Having protection matters.

So we should do what we can to make sure that our daughters have protection. We should meet the men they’re with. We should let them know of our presence (and especially our husband’s presence, if my readers are married). We should teach our girls how the laws work and how to phone the police. They should be knowledgeable so that they give the impression, “mess with me and you’ll pay.”

The commenter suggested, though, that if we do this, it will simply be other people’s daughters that are raped. I’m unsure what she wants the alternative to be. Is it better if all girls have an equal chance? Is equality what we’re looking for? I think a parent’s main job is to protect his or her children. A mom was put on this earth to look after her offspring. Teaching our girls to be protected from rape is part of that.

But let’s look at this historical analogy again. If the commenter is saying that by teaching our girls to be safe, some other girl will just be raped, then she is perhaps arguing that rape is a constant; that if a rapist doesn’t rape our daughter, he’s likely to rape another.

That’s not true. If it were, rape rates would be even across history and across cultures. But they’re not. They’re extremely divergent, meaning that what influences rape is both culture and opportunity. If we limit the opportunity, we limit rape. It’s not like someone will try to rape your daughter, but if he fails he’ll turn to another. It’s that people tend to take advantage of opportunities. Few rapes are planned out ahead of time. The ones that are tend to be stranger rapes and kidnappings, and those likely will occur to someone else if they don’t occur to your daughter. But those are the vast exception, not the rule. Most rapes are acquaintance rapes. They’re assaults of opportunity. Take away the opportunity, and you decrease rape.

Let’s Make it Cool to Be Safe Again!

And if we start a campaign to educate our girls on how to act, how to avoid alcohol, how to avoid certain types of parties, how to avoid giving off certain messages, then we will also change the culture. Let’s make it cool to be safe. Let’s make it uncool to take risks. Do this, and we don’t just affect our daughters; we affect other people’s daughters, too. I don’t just tell my daughters to be safe; I talk to their friends about it. I talk to my nieces about it. I talk to our youth group about what’s safe and what’s not. It’s about protecting them and changing the culture.

Rape Is Not Only About Power. It’s Also About Just Plain Evil.

Finally, let me tackle the point she made that rape is about power, not about sex. I have a Master’s degree in Sociology. I heard this backwards and forwards. In our academic community, everything boils down to power. Rape is about power. Sex is about power. And it all started from Marx, who boiled everything down to power, which he defined as controlling the means of production.

Why is this important? Because modern ideologies that stress power above all else do so for a purpose: they are substituting power and victimhood for good and bad. Instead of talking about sin and evil, they talk about oppressor and oppressed. Marxism at its core is atheistic. Hence, it had to get rid of morality, and it did so by talking about power rather than about right and wrong.

Feminism has done the same thing, and hence we hear over and over again that rape is about power. But is this true? Personally, I think rape is a combination of lust and power or pride. It’s that urge to control that is endemic to human evil, the root of pride–that I am what matters. But it is also about lust. Most rapes, when they occur, are in highly sexualized situations, usually with alcohol involved. They are not men trying to wield power over another as much as they are men out of control. Certainly some men do rape with power as the main goal; they seek to humiliate their victims. Who in Canada, for instance, can forget our notorious Paul Bernardo, who still gives me nightmares? But too often we believe that the Paul Bernardos are the face of rape, rather than the university coed who our daughter is dating, who likes beer just a little too much. Most rapists will not grab girls off the street; most won’t even rape in normal situations. But get them alone, with a girl, with alcohol and lots of music, or after some heavy petting in the car, and an evil persona emerges. It’s lust, too.

Let’s Be Proactive in Preventing Sexual Assault!

Another post on modesty is coming up, but let me leave it at this. I know many of you reading this have been sexually assaulted. I know you are scarred. I talk to women all the time who have had these horrible wounds in their lives. And you, of all people, know how awful it is. You, of all people, want this to stop happening. So do I. I don’t want my daughters hurt, or their friends, or anyone I know. But I know I can’t prevent all rapes. Sometimes those that seem the most innocent end up being the ones to turn on us. All too often we are betrayed by those who should protect us. But at the same time, frequently women are assaulted after putting themselves in difficult positions. If we can teach women not to put themselves in those positions, we can potentially save many from the pain that all too many of you have been through. My goal is not to blame you; the blame lies solely at the hands of the men who do this. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take precautions. And that is all I’m trying to get moms to teach their daughters to do.

Other Posts in this Series:
Actions Have Consequences (the initial column)
Keeping Daughters Safe: 9 Ways to Protect Against Rape
More Thoughts on Helping Girls Stay Safe (this post)
Does Modesty Really Matter?


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