Rape is Not a “Timely Reminder”

by Cara on September 21, 2010

in Australia, International, law enforcement, misogyny, paternalism, patriarchy, rape and sexual assault, violence against women and girls

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.

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{ 9 comments }

1 Jennifer Drew September 21, 2010 at 2:31 pm

Well there is one solution to the problem of ‘women needing to be constantly told “be aware of your surroundings” and that is to have a 24/7 curfew on males entering private/public spheres. In other words place all males in one enclosed space so that women and girls can freely go about their everyday business without having to constantly ‘be aware of their surroundings.’

But this is obviously ludicrous so instead of dealing with the issue of endemic male sexual violence against women and girls we have male police officers parrotting the same old women-blaming messages.

The woman who was raped by yet another male who believes women exist solely to serve his sexual needs was in fact in a private property and even then she was not safe from male predators.

But of course holding the male perpetrator accountable supposedly means making the ludicrous claim ‘all men are rapists’ which is not true. However, a very, very large percentage of men do commit sexual/physical/pyschological violence against women because we are female not male. But that basic fact must never be publicly stated because it upsets ‘male sensibilities.’ Far better to continue blaming women until such time as rape becomes non-rape only women are responsible for supposedly causing men to rape them.

2 Elyn September 21, 2010 at 5:03 pm

When are we going to see one of these journalists issue a timely reminder for men to stop raping.

3 Miranda September 22, 2010 at 12:11 am

Awesome post. Thanks for the Women’s Glib link! So excited that you read my post.

4 The Untoward Lady September 22, 2010 at 12:52 am

You know, it really seems to me that if I were to go up to a woman and say “you’d better watch your back because I might try to rape you,” that would be a pretty violent thing to do, don’t you think? Imagine what it would feel like to have someone say that to you and how traumatic and violent it would be.

As a society that’s exactly what we’re doing: We’re telling women “you’d better watch your back.”

5 vibes September 23, 2010 at 12:55 pm

what a great article…you hit the nail on the head in such a way that i want to print this out and stick it all over this scottish city

i wonder how many papers out there would publish this if you sent it?

thanks, for me this is one of my favs on this site

6 Katrina September 24, 2010 at 11:07 am

I am also tired of the excuse of “not being aware,” since it’s the most common one, from my perspective. If rapist had the decency to wear, “I Rape Stay Away” signs around their necks, then being a aware of your surrounds could help with safety. But it doesn’t insure safety since even with the sign you wouldn’t know until he/she/hir was close enough to you for you to read it.

Rape victims don’t get raped because they didn’t follow safety tip # 37. Rape happens because people rape other people. Rapist can be any race, creed, gender, ect. so you can’t just look through your peep hole and know the man outside your door with flowers is a rapist. I would open the door to let him know he had the wrong address since I would assume he was making a delivery. Not because I get myself raped all the time due to my like of caution. I look out a window and then open the door when the bell rings. If someone looks like he’s lost while making a delivery, I’ll open the dorr even if I know I wasn’t the one to order the item. What she did was natural, not careless, and an action I do everytime my door bell rings. That doesn’t mean I’m too foolish to not put myself in a potion to get myself raped due to my fail at life. It means some rapist enjoy carrying flowers while looking for a target.

The “Safety Tips” have been around since before my mother. When will society realize that the anti-rape check list doesn’t work? I’m tired of women getting blamed for their own rapes because they didn’t do some random ‘suggestion’ from the starndard anti-rape pamphlet and allowed themselves to be violated. I have the right to live my life. If I get raped while I’m at a bar, it’s not because I should have known how dangerous it is and never drink ever if thou I’m a legal age. It’s because rapist feel intitled to other people’s bodies. I sure as hell don’t ask for rape just by opening my front door.

I hope this woman receives justice for what happened to her. I also think she should get an apology from the cop who blamed her rape on her lack of ESP. If women aren’t told they asked for rape by the cops, then cops say they enabled their rape by not doing something. The mind set of a lot of officers and other law officals has to change before this type of rape apologism stops popping up in rape cases.

7 lauredhel September 26, 2010 at 10:40 pm

Hi –

Just popping back to add that there’s another round of rape-myth victim-blaming going on in the aftermath of this attack. One of the bigger local au pair agents, Heather Smaellie, held a meeting of local nannies, attended by police who were there to “caution them about potential risks”.

Smaellie’s contribution?

“I don’t care what nationality they are,’ she said. ‘All good-looking women between the ages of 19 and 25 in every suburb of Perth should be looking out for themselves right now.’”

8 Victim Status September 28, 2010 at 1:34 pm

Wow, thanks for this post. Sadly ‘timely’ does come into it, but only because I was raped last week. I agree with you entirely that the use of it in that context by the press and the police is disgusting.

I really wish, if someone with a voice really felt the need to issue some well-meaning rape-prevention advice, they had aimed it at HIM and told him not to rape me, rather than ME.

9 Uzza September 30, 2010 at 12:47 am

Victim Status: I’m really sorry to hear that you had to experience that, and wish you the best.

I don’t have much of a voice, but here is the advice:
Rape Prevention Tips for Men

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