Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Provocative dressing and rape (cheery topic, I know...)

I recently came across a Young Turks video about how women also perpetuate sexism towards women by writing crappy articles about "who wore it better" and bitchy articles from Daily Mail writers. They mention Liz Jones saying how Rihanna's outfits "invite rape" and there is a massive debate in the comments section about whether women's clothes do "invite rape". If you would like to watch the video, here it is:

Ok, so the idea that 'certain provocative clothes "invite rape"' is even being debated annoys me. What the person is wearing doesn't matter, what matters is that someone decided to sexually abuse them. A lot of it is actually to do with power over another person; just look at rape in male prisons - the perpetrators are men using rape to exert power over other men (i.e. make them their 'bitch'), not gay guys who just think the victims look "hot" (in fact, LGBT people are more likely to be a victim than others). The only 'sexual' reason for rape that I can think of would probably be sexual frustration, not just that someone "looked sexy"; to clarify, by 'sexual frustration', I don't mean the normal kind, I mean they wanted to have sex and they were frustrated that the other person said no so they did it anyway...

Now, some people spoke about advising women to not dress provocatively, saying it's not 'victim blaming' but just giving advice for women to be safer. Someone said that an equivalent would be if their friend got mugged in a bad part of town, say "well why did you go there? Take this other route next time" Another said that if someone gets robbed, they are advised to have better security after being robbed and if they get robbed again, it's kinda their fault for not listening.

Ok, let me break things down for you to explain why your argument is crap, especially when it comes to court trials: if the mugger goes to court, the judge doesn't go easy on them and say to the victim "but what did you expect walking round there?" The criminal is seen as exactly what they are: a criminal. They are charged. Same with the burglaries - burglars don't usually get lower sentences just because the house owner left a window open with the TV in view. However, with rape cases, the victim's actions (being nice to the attacker beforehand) and clothing (what is on 'display') is often taken into account when deciding how bad the level of the crime was and what the sentence should be. Mugging is mugging. Burglary is burglary. But rape, even with glaring proof, is sometimes only 'real' rape if the girl didn't have anything on show and didn't "encourage" (i.e. be flirty or nice, because apparently that = immediate invite for sex) the guy, or if they put up a real fight and show signs of real damage. She was wearing skinny jeans? The jury reckons it must've been consensual as they're hard to take off...(because apparently rapists don't use force to remove clothing). One bizarre example was a Judge saying that "some girls enjoy being raped". WTF?!

The truth of the matter is that we shouldn't have to have adverts telling us to hide our valuables when we walk along the street, or telling us to keep our windows locked and have burglar alarms installed, but we do. Robbers of all kinds are looking for an easy grab, a way to slip in and steal valuables, so we are advised to be careful and not stand out as an "easy target". It is not our fault if we are robbed, and nothing can guarantee you won't get robbed, but we are advised to take precautions.

Whilst robbers are not the same as rapists (please stop equating the two, people), it is a sad fact that women do have to be careful of certain creeps wanting to sexually assault them in the street. I was taught safety tips at school by some people who came in from our local council and some members of the Metropolitan Police. Wanna know something?

None of them said anything about not dressing "provocatively".

Most of the safety tips we were given were also paired up with avoiding muggings, as we were just as likely to experience either one (cheerful thought...), but here are a few things I remember being warned about when it came to opportunistic rapists who attack women walking alone in the street, and some of the safety tips we were given:

  • They often attack women with long hair (the stereotypical haircut for women) as it is easy to grab from behind and pull them off-balance. Ponytails are especially easy to grab.
  • Don't wear a scarf that hangs off the back of your shoulder(s) - another easy grab-point and they could strangle you.
  • Walk near the curb - do not walk on the inside of the pavement, especially when there is a man walking on the same side as you and especially if there is a wall on that side, as they can walk along the outside of the pavement and pin you against it.
  • If you are worried you're being followed by someone behind you, cross the road - if possible, walk into a nearby shop and tell the people behind the counter. Stay where there are other people.
  • Try to avoid secluded areas, stick to the main roads where there are more people and better street lighting.
  • Try to stay away from areas with lots of large bushes/trees that attackers can hide behind. Not just parks, but front gardens too.
  • Wear shoes you can run in.
  • Do be careful what you wear, but not in terms of provocativeness: some street attackers often choose their victim in terms of how easily they can run away and how easy it is to access their vagina. So, to spell it out for some people, a woman wearing an ankle-length skirt may be more likely to be attacked by an opportunistic street rapist than a woman with shorts that take more time/are more difficult to get off and are easier to run in. Rapists who attack a stranger in the street often need quick, easy access - they do not always have the victim contained in a room/vehicle and don't want them to have the chance to get away. They also don't want to be somewhere too long and get caught. Pinning a woman down and undoing zips and buttons is more difficult and time-consuming than pinning her down and lifting her skirt.
  • Carry something large-ish in your hands that you could easily hit an attacker with, such as an umbrella or tightly rolled-up newspaper. People don't want to attack someone who could easily fight back.
  • Walk along confidently, strongly, and look alert - attackers want to catch someone off-guard (don't walk & text, don't have your headphones in, etc) who looks timid and easily-overpowered.
  • Carry a rape alarm with you and make sure you have easy access to it (not right at the bottom of your bag/pocket).
  • If you don't have one, shout and scream at them to get away from you if they approach you - they don't want the attention.
  • If someone grabs you from behind, step on their foot or try and elbow them.
  • If someone comes up to you from the front, thrust the bottom of your palm up under their chin to push their head back and hopefully make them lose their balance/grip.
  • If they are able to overpower you and sexually assault you, shout "FIRE!", because people are more likely to run and help than if you shout "RAPE!" because people don't want to witness something so disturbing (poor them...).
Wanna know something else? They never made it seem like these things were a guarantee that you wouldn't get attacked, neither did they sound like they would judge anyone or blame them for not following these guidelines if they get attacked. Shitty people are shitty people and we should blame them instead of the person that decided to take a shortcut home because they needed to get back before 11, or wore a skirt because they thought it looked pretty. Neither of those things are "invites" to be attacked.

Another thing is, the "don't walk alone" argument is a brilliant way for rapists to offer to walk a woman home like a gentleman, with the sole intention of attacking them. Lovely. And you could get a taxi to avoid walking home alone, but then you have to be extra careful that it's a real cab driver from a reputable company that does background checks, as you could end up locked in a car with a rapist. Great. Are women just not supposed to go near any male strangers just in case they get raped? Dating for straight women might get a bit difficult if so...

Actually, the truth is most rapes are not attacks from strangers in the street. To quote Rape Crisis' website: "only 9% of rapes are committed by 'strangers'. Women are raped in their homes and in their work places where they are less likely to be believed and even less likely to report. This myth can control movements and restricts freedom. This can feel like women are living under a 'curfew' and that it is a woman's responsibility to be either in or out at certain times. Around 90% of rapes are committed by known men."

So, does this mean the only option is for women to avoid contact with men entirely, just in case? After all, available data shows that 95% of victims say their offender(s) was male and nearly one in four women worldwide may experience sexual violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. That'd be a bit extreme and kinda sad - I like my male friends and family, and I love my boyfriend, so much so that I trust him with my life. I understand little things like segregated train carts to avoid being groped by a stranger, but avoiding all male contact is just stupid, has huge negatives (yaaay segregation...) and would be stupidly hard to implement. Also, it only helps (possible) female assault victims, not male ones...

Ok. So, what if we all just covered up and made ourselves look undesirable, then maybe we won't be the targets of rapists? I mean, they usually go for *ahem* certain women.

Well, to repeat myself, the whole idea of rape victims just being attractive women or women who dress provocatively is complete bollocks... To quote Rape Crisis' site again: "Many women are led to believe that if they are not part of a certain category of women then they are 'safe' from being raped. Women and girls of all ages, classes, culture, ability, sexuality, race and faith are raped. Attractiveness has little significance. Reports show that there is a great diversity in the way targeted women act or dress. Rapists choose women based on their vulnerability not their physical appearance."

Vulnerability. See that word? See how the tips I was given by police/council were about trying to make yourself less vulnerable? Be able to run away? Be able to fight back? Be able to get help? Not once did any of the people advising us on our safety tell us to "not dress provocatively" or "make yourself look ugly" to "keep the rapists away". Why? Because it is complete bollocks.

The biggest danger noted with that whole argument of "it's what they were wearing" is that women who do not dress provocatively may assume that they're 'safe' because they dress modestly. But they're not safe. As many women will unfortunately know, modesty does not automatically give you a ticket to a rape-free life, even to a catcall-free life; I got leered at by two men when I was covered head-to-toe just because I was eating a long wrap. Some creeps will sexualise you in any way possible and covering up your body does not mean rapists will not think of what is underneath your clothing and attempt to get at it.

Most rapes are done by people the victim knows because the rapist realises that the victim is vulnerable to them and know they can't fight back. They can't fight back because they're not physically strong enough or are caught in a position they can't move out of. They can't fight back because that person has the power to spread rumours about them or do other things to make their life a misery if they do. They can't fight back because they would never expect that person to ever attack them and are caught off-guard. They can't fight back because they aren't sober (or maybe not even conscious) because they trusted that person enough to get drunk next to them (or to buy them a drink without spiking it). They can't fight back because they're scared of what injuries they'll receive if they do. They can't fight back because someone else they love is in danger if they do. They can't fight back because they're scared that they'll be killed if they do. They are chosen as victims because the rapist has power over them that they can exert, physical or otherwise.

"Rape culture" is spoken about a lot, because it perpetuates stupid false ideas like "inviting rape" with clothes and creates another vulnerability for women who are raped: they cant fight back after it happens, because certain people won't believe them.
  • People won't think it was rape because they sleep around a lot anyway. 
  • People will think they were "asking for it" because of their "sexy", revealing clothes or their drunkenness. 
  • People won't believe it even happened because they're "not attractive enough". 
  • People won't think the guy did it because "he's a nice guy, he's not a crazy person". 
  • People won't think it was rape, because if she really didn't want it, she wouldn't have invited him back to her place for a chat. 
  • People won't think it was rape, because if she really didn't want it, she wouldn't have been nice to him and flirted with him. 
  • People won't think it was rape, because if she really didn't want it, she would've just pushed him off (this one especially affects men also).

A few things to finish this post:
  • Rape is asserting and abusing power for instant sexual gratification and/or the feeling of superiority over another person. 
  • It is not a crime only done by "sickos" or mentally ill people (quoting Rape Crisis again: "Studies have indicated that as few as 5% of men are psychotic at the time of their crimes. Few convicted rapists are referred for psychiatric treatment"). 
  • It is not women "asking for it" - most guys don't have to automatically stop themselves from raping a woman just because she has her legs and cleavage on show. It is a crime done by disgusting people that don't understand that no means no.
  • Women who are raped are 'chosen' by their attackers because they have a vulnerability that the attacker can exploit, not because they "look sexy" or are "asking for it".
Anyway, I'm just fed up of seeing idiots like this (usually male, I hate to say), who know nothing about rape or what victims go through, spouting crap about this like they're the bloody fountain of knowledge when it comes to sexual assault. You're not - neither am I, but as a woman who has received actual useful advice from professionals who know the facts, and as someone who knows people who have gone through this stuff, I just wanted to share my thoughts on your ignorance.

It's especially annoying when there is countless evidence, even stuff published back in 1978, that de-bunks all these stupid arguments time and time again.

I'm off to go and think about something more cheerful now. Thanks for reading, especially if you got all the way down to this bit. I didn't do this as a video, just because I knew it would be very long and I have other videos I want to do - another big reason is that I also find that certain stuff is more striking when written down in black-and-white.

Edit: just want to stick this Louis C.K. clip in here as it adds to some of my points and is bloody funny and should lighten the mood of this post...!
(won't let me embed for some reason, so here's a link: "There is no greater threat to women than men")

1 comment:

  1. I remember looking at this as part of my Law degree and being absolutely appalled watching a video showing the way aggressive defence barristers will try to turn it around on the victim giving the reasons you said. The video was a reconstruction, but it does happen that lawyers will try to get their clients off by using the way that the woman dressed/acted/was intoxicated to but the blame for the crime on to the victim. While I don't want this to turn into a debate about underhanded, cutthroat lawyers, it certainly goes some way to explain why I never took Law any further after I got through my degree, and certainly why I never wanted to become a defence barrister: I'd not want, and I certainly would not condone such strategies, to fight tooth and nail do defend someone who was obviously guilty - particularly if that crime is something like rape. As you say, there are very few people who actually can't help it.

    And I haven't forgotten your 'wrap' incident! Nor how your video said you were dressed at the time. The best thing for people to do, sadly, is be aware of the ever-present risk, and put yourself in the best possible position to avoid rape.

    I read those tips from the police with some interest; I don't necessarily fear getting raped but I do find myself walking around town on my own at night on occasion, usually on the way back to my car, which is probably the time I'm the most vulnerable should somebody mug me. It never even occurred to me to walk near the curb before, so thanks for that.