Trigger Warning for rape apologism, brief descriptions of sexual violence.
This morning I was reading about a rape that was recently committed in Perth, Australia, by an assailant who accosted a nanny answering the front door at her employer’s home. The details of the attack itself are, of course, horrible and distressing. That the assailant followed up his attack by placing a call to the victim’s employers demanding that they not report the assault (as though they own their employee in the first place …) is additionally loathsome and likely acted as an extra trauma to an already highly traumatized victim.
But up to that point, the story was still an incredibly routine one — and I use the word “routine” here with the saddest of all tones. It’s not that these assaults don’t matter, not in the least. It’s that there’s only so much one can say over and over and over again about the fact that somewhere, someone decided to commit an act of sexual violence against another human being.
So it was not the grotesque act of violence that caught my attention, but the only slightly less routine commentary that went with it:
Det Snr Sgt Glynn said the attack was a timely reminder for women to be aware of their surroundings.
“Stranger attacks resulting in sex offences are unusual, they do happen but they are not common,” he said.
“I don’t expect people to change their habits because of this offence but at the same time they do need to be aware of their surroundings.”
“People”? I highly doubt that Sgt. Glynn is telling men that they need to be aware of their surroundings due to the threat of rape. And while I would absolutely love it if a detective being quoted in an article about rape was a gender activist purposely using inclusive language to acknowledge the incredibly real and highly prevalent threat of sexual violence faced by people of non-binary genders (or non-genders), given the context I’m going to go out on a limb and make an educated guess that this is very sadly not the case. I’m really pretty sure that Sgt. Glynn is referring entirely or almost entirely to women. The same people who are always told to keep an eye out on their surroundings and to try their damn hardest to not get themselves raped.
So a timely reminder to watch our surroundings and learn an incredibly valuable lesson about taking responsibility for our own safety? No. What this case is yet another a “reminder” of is not how important it is to be cautious, but that women aren’t safe in their own homes. That women aren’t safe at their places of employment. That women don’t just have to worry about being a potential target out at parties or bars or dates or other social events, or when we’re out at the store by ourselves at night or riding public transportation alone, but all the time. We also have to worry about answering the goddamn front door. Not to even mention who we might be sleeping next to at night.
But the very last thing we need is a reminder. Because a part of living as a woman in a rape culture is being reminded of that threat every day.
These reminders aren’t useful, they aren’t infrequent, and they certainly aren’t harmless. Women know to watch their drinks, they know to use the buddy system, and they know to check the peep holes in their doors. They’re told close to every time they switch on the news or open up a newspaper or think of stepping outside their front doors. They’re told just about every time someone wants to pretend to engage in “rape prevention.” They’re reminded every time they check the back seat of their cars before getting in or make sure to walk home before it gets dark out or fish the keys out of their purses well before they reach the door. (This is called a rape schedule.) They know.
So what this constant “advice” actually serves to remind women of is the fact that their bodies exist in a constant state of both perceived and actual vulnerability to those who do not see them as fully human. What these tips actually serve to remind women of is that they need to be kept in line and constantly sheltered by a society that really isn’t usually so eager to “protect” them once they talk about having already been assaulted. What these tips serve to remind women of is that if they don’t follow each and every one to the letter all the time and they are assaulted, they will probably be blamed for their own rape. What these tips serve to remind everyone of is that the victim really should have been more careful, and what a shame it is that she wasn’t, because this whole thing could have been avoided if she’d just read a list of safety tips in a pamphlet. What they serve to instill further into the social consciousness is that we can’t stop rapists, so it’s women’s permanent curse to just have to live with them and watch out for them at every turn.
And I can’t even imagine how awful it would be to have a man break into the private residence where you’re working and tie you up and rape you, only to then read in the papers about how your rape is a really good opportunity to remind women like you how important it is be aware of your surroundings and do a better job of making sure that you’re not raped, too. I can’t imagine the feelings of shame and self-blame it would likely inspire, nor the anger at having your trauma used to browbeat other women into taking responsibility for the actions of violent people and events they can’t control.
The people whose actual job it is to stop rape responding to rape not by telling victims how to come forward or where they can find resources, and not by discussing means of actual violence prevention through a focus on perpetrators, but by telling women how important it is to make sure they’re constantly on the lookout for assailants? That’s rape culture.